3 approaches to joining the crowded margins of November’s #marginalsyllabus reading

The digital margins of Nicole Mirra and Antero Garcia’s article, Civic Participation Reimagined: Youth Interrogation and Innovation in the Multimodal Public Sphere, are crowded with notes. As the second reading in Writing Our Civic Futures, this year’s #marginalsyllabus project, their piece has drawn a lot of reader response from educators interested in equity, civic education, and innovation. For the uninitiated, this professional project invites educators to mark up texts about equity using hypothes.is, a social online annotation tool. The notes respondents have written so far on this text include links to related reading, summaries of work that readers have done related to the topic of youth civic engagement, and even debates about the content of the article. (For a detailed discussion of the activity in the text to date, read Remi Kalir’s thoughtful analysis here.) Since the text, the marginal space and the notes are digital, the already-crowded margins don’t prohibit others from joining in the reading and discussion. On the contrary, we’d love it if more readers weighed in. Still, like a book club meeting that has morphed into an overly noisy party that spilled out of a house into the front lawn and onto the street, the volume of images, videos, commentary, and discussion in this margin might seem daunting to interested participants who want to respond. In this post, I’ll offer a few ideas for how would-be participants might navigate the crowded margin and join our social-reading-as-professional-learning project, which might seem at first glance like a noisy party.

This screenshot shows the crowded margin of November’s reading

Approach #1- for the student on assignment

A participant’s approach to participating in the annotation of Mirra and Garcia’s text would depend on her purpose for joining. For readers who have been steered to the piece as part of teacher education coursework, it might be particularly important to read the text carefully before looking at the marginalia. As a co-organizer of this project, I’ve found myself in circumstances just like a harried student might find herself- with a day or so to read a chapter, needing to come away from the reading with something intelligible to say about it. On these occasions, I prioritize reading first, and online discourse second. I like to print the article, read it on paper and make notes with a highlighter and pen in order to have a grasp of the text. Then, I look back at my notes in order to decide which I want to make public. This keeps my attention from being drawn away from the text to the margins and the discussion there. In the same way I used to pick over the overly scarred used books while shopping in the college bookstore, in this medium I prefer to avoid navigating too many markings when I’m trying to make sense of what I am reading.

Clicking the eyeball hides and reveals annotations in the hypothes.is sidebar.

Another way to read an unmarked, clean text the first time through without printing it out, is to click the eyeball icon on the hypothes.is sidebar. When clicked, it hides the notes and accompanying highlights in the text. Click it again and they’re back.

Approach #2 – for readers in search of interaction

Other participants might be drawn to this social reading in order to interact with the authors of the text, or to discuss the subject matter with other interested educators. For readers who want to extend the text in a social way, looking at the margins first might be the place to start. Skimming the interaction among readers and authors shows the social layer to this reading. This kind of interaction-focused reading holds potential for educators to share earnest questions about equity issues and civic education, or promising practices that they connect with the text.  Jumping into the collaborative annotation for the purposes of discussion could be very much like jumping into a conversation at an overcrowded party, it will require a quick study of the context and a reliance on social instincts. When marking up the text for this purpose, I could look for and respond to a note written by the author, or I might share a note I’ve written with the author on social media. (As luck would have it, Mirra and Garcia about both terrific folks to follow on Twitter, their handles are @Nicole_Mirra, and @anterobot, respectively). Using the hashtag #marginalsyllabus on Twitter amplifies the response and broadens the invitation for others to participate.


In the Tweet embedded above, Remi Kalir shares a link to an annotation, tags the authors of the piece, and incorporates hashtags to broaden the open invitation for educators to participate.

Approach #3 – for MOOCers and online learning enthusiasts

Skimming the crowded margins of Mirra and Garcia’s text, I see images, videos and links in addition to the text notes. Some readers might join this project out of a sense of curiosity about social annotation as a professional learning experience. The #marginalsyllabus project was hatched as an idea born out of experiments with playful annotations using hypothes.is, and in keeping with those roots, digital innovators might take to the text with a production-centered focus. When I come to a text with the goal of remixing it, I ask myself, “What does this text inspire me to make?” Would-be readers familiar with the work of the #clmooc community might ask, “How could these margins be a make cycle?” These digital margins of a text could be a creative canvas for connected teachers interested in testing the affordances of the hypothes.is tool for remixing, and tinkering with the way digital reading response might transform a text or spawn stimulating networked interaction among readers.

This screenshot illustrates how the margins provide a a creative space for response.

These recommendations are just a short list of possibilities born out of a very short history of online annotation-as-professional learning. For my part, social annotation causes me to be aware of my reading process, and to think about how I move from the text, to my notes, and then to a public and social layer of response. Surely, thoughtful readers, writers, and innovators, drawn to the crowded margins of Civic Participation Reimagined: Youth Interrogation and Innovation in the Multimodal Public Sphere, will bring new ideas about how such a professional learning experience might serve them best, and vital reflections about their experiences reading, responding and participating. My hope is that the potential problem of a crowded margin in this text becomes a larger problem of practice for an expanding community of practice of educators who are drawn to reading about equity and compelled to act, respond, make and inquire.

Reading Pathways Into and Beyond An Annotation Conversation

This post was authored by Remi Kalir and first appeared on his blog.


Summarizing an Annotation Conversation

November’s Marginal Syllabus conversation – the second of the 2017-18 Writing Our Civic Futures syllabus hosted by the National Writing Project – has been rather distinctive. For those less familiar with this project, the Marginal Syllabus convenes and sustains conversations with educators about equity in education via open and collaborative web annotation. This approach to sparking and supporting educators’ interest-driven learning embraces an intentional political and technical double entendre; the Marginal Syllabus partners with authors whose writing may be considered marginal – or contrary – to dominant education norms, and our online conversations with authors and text-participants occur in the margins of online texts using the web annotation platform Hypothesis. The Marginal Syllabus was piloted throughout the 2016-17 academic school year; the first syllabus features nine conversations with ten partner authors about topics including digital redlining, curriculum co-design, critical literacy, cultural relevant pedagogy, research writing, the business of educational technology, and narrative truth, among others. Marginal Syllabus conversations are publicly available open educational resources (or OER) and analyses of these conversations support ongoing research about how open web annotation mediates educators’ interest-driven and professionally-relevant learning.

A core commitment of the Marginal Syllabus are author partnerships. This month, as a part of Writing Our Civic Futures, we partnered with Nicole Mirra and Antero Garcia to read, mark up, and discuss their article Civic participation reimagined: Youth interrogation and innovation in the multimodal public sphere The article, published earlier this year, appears in the journal Review of Research in Education; as such, openly accessing, sharing, and annotating this text meant that Marginal Syllabus organizers had to partner not only with Nicole and Antero but also with Sage Publishing, the journal’s publisher. This multi-tiered partnership (i.e. scholars as partner authors, publishers of academic content, and Marginal Syllabus organizers) is a new and exciting aspect of the Marginal Syllabus that suggests important inroads for curating public learning opportunities that open access to knowledge.

Following a dedicated week of online annotation-as-conversation, this month’s discussion evidences several impressive indicators of educator engagement. As of Sunday, November 12th, this Marginal Syllabus conversations features:

  • 192 total Hypothesis annotations, including original in-line annotations (when a text-participant highlights and then writes about a passage in the focal text), replies to annotations (or reader-to-reader exchanges), and also page notes (comments attached the entire text);
  • 23 text-participants active in the conversation, many of whom are educators, teacher educators, or higher education faculty;
  • 8,652 written words authored by text-participants; and
  • 24 links to related resources, such as scholarship, reports, news media, and videos.

Of course, these numbers tell us little about the qualities associated with educator annotation and interaction, such as shared discursive practices like debate, resource-sharing, and questioning that can be found throughout the conversation. This public commentary about youth civic engagement, media practice, and civic innovation and interrogation is a rich, multimodal, and divergent discussion; readers of this post are invited to join as text-participants and further grow the conversation.

Reading Pathways

So how, in just over a week, did almost two dozen educators co-author a conversation as long as an academic article? As the Marginal Syllabus’ approach to open educator learning develops, the November conversation suggests a number of promising reading pathways into and also beyond an annotation conversation. Reading pathways, in the context of analyzing this annotation conversation, were distinguished by the following characteristics:

  • Reading pathways crossed multiple settings, including classroom (i.e. embodied), online (and digital), professional, and also interest-driven spaces;
  • Reading pathways were sociotechnical and featured a range of interrelated social relations (i.e. those between teachers and students, or among colleagues) and social networks (such as Twitter), technical platforms (i.e. Hypothesis), digital media, and media literacy practices; and
  • Reading pathways established entry points into the mediated annotation conversation of Nicole and Antero’s text and also beyond into other texts, spaces, and activities crafted by participants according to their needs and goals.

The five reading pathways I’ll briefly describe include: annotating as course activity, annotating text and video, annotation brokering, annotating via flash mob, and annotating via complementary texts.

Annotating as Course Activity

The week began with an exciting announcement from Kira Baker-Doyle, a university-based teacher educator who is helping to lead national #CLinTE (or connected learning in teacher education) efforts:

Kira incorporated both collaborative web annotation and the Marginal Syllabus into her literacy course. Annotating as a course activity likely required multiple steps and supports: Onboarding students to a new tool (i.e. creating a free Hypothesis account); modeling and encouraging new media practices (i.e. annotating with Hypothesis); introducing the Marginal Syllabus as an open and public approach to educator learning that leverages web annotation; and then facilitating the simultaneous reading and annotating of the focal text. Kira’s approach echoed a similar one taken by Christina Cantrill and her ED677 course last February (for the record, Christina is Associate Director of National Programs at the National Writing Project, and is an organizer of the Marginal Syllabus). And because Kira shared her process publicly via Twitter, she elicited a number of encouraging responses:

Annotating Text and Video

Thanks to support from the National Writing Project, select texts in the 2017-18 syllabus will be complemented by Connected Learning TV webinars featuring partner authors. Joe Dillon and I had the pleasure of speaking with Nicole and Antero prior to November’s annotation activities, and you can watch the entire webinar here:

Shortly after this webinar went live, Kevin Hodgson, a middle school literacy educator and regular Marginal Syllabus participant, shared the following:

Kevin uploaded the Marginal Syllabus’ Connected Learning TV webinar to the Vialogues platform. Vialogues affords viewers the ability to annotate video, using time-stamps to organize written (and potentially collaborative) commentary. Kevin, in this case, extended the text-based annotation of Nicole and Antero’s article to video-based annotation of the webinar featuring both authors. Whereas Kira curated a learning environment (i.e. a class session) that brought new readers (her students) into the online annotation conversation, Kevin initiated a new pathway beyond and outside the annotated article so that Marginal Syllabus participants could apply a shared literacy practice (i.e. annotation) in a novel digital setting (via the Vialogues platform).

Annotation Brokering

Annotation brokering was a third reading pathway present in the November conversation. Brokering, in this respect, invited new text-participants into the conversation and established both context and purpose for these newcomers’ subsequent contributions. Consider how Sarah Lohnes Watulak (SarahLW), on November 6th, began one of her annotations by noting: “One of my former doc students who graduated last year…” And, two days later, ltwiss appeared in the margins and replied: “For my research (I am the doc student), I defined…” A screenshot of the exchange is included below, or you can click here and read the annotations in situ.

ltwiss has, to date, authored four annotation replies. Her contributions share findings from her dissertation research and reference resources about civic life online. Perhaps most importantly, her annotations elicited four responses from three other participants, suggesting ltwiss’ comments were valuable to other people and helped to carry the conversation forward. It is important to emphasize that annotation brokering, like that practiced by Sarah, can be present in varied settings (i.e. not only online in the margins of a text, or oriented outward toward other digital spaces like Vialogues). Kira, for example, incorporated Marginal Syllabus annotation into a face-to-face class session, thereby brokering newcomer participation that established a clear context for conversation (i.e. a literacy course studying civic engagement) that spanned embodied classroom and digital media spaces.

Annotating via Flash Mob

Sundi Richard, a higher education instructional designer, is an organizer of the digital pedagogy, identity, networks, and scholarship community, also known as #DigPINS. As another reading pathway into the annotation conversation, Sundi organized an annotation “flash mob” of Nicole and Antero’s text. By promoting the flash mob via Twitter, Sundi invited anyone – though specifically those people who actively follow and contribute to #DigPINS – to gather atop the focal text and engage in a synchronous conversation via public Hypothesis annotation (hence a flash mob; for additional information about annotation flash mobs read my co-authored article in TechTrends and also this activity description). The flash mob model was initially used during the Marginal Syllabus’ pilot year to organize conversation; however, we shifted our approach to week-long conversations based upon participant feedback. Nonetheless, this month’s #DigPINS flash mob lasted about an hour and attracted multiple first-time participants – johnclawless, marisgillette, reruhlen, thefieldworker, and slrichard (Sundi) – and injected a more frenetic (and playful!) synchronous energy into the largely asynchronous week-long conversation.

Annotating Complementary Texts

Via her interests and annotations, Sarah also helped to organize a fifth reading pathway that, in this case, extended beyond the primary annotation conversation and into other discursive and digital spaces. The seeds of this reading pathway are evident in an extended exchange between me and Sarah (read it in full here):

remikalir: Speaking of the DML conference and community, have people seen Justin Reich and Mimi Ito’s new report? From Good Intentions to Real Outcomes: Equity by Design in Learning Technologies. The complexity you all speak of here is echoed in Reich and Ito’s stance, as they suggest: “Evidence is mounting that these new technologies tend to be used and accessed in unequal ways, and they may even exacerbate inequality” (p. 3).

SarahLW: It’s on my reading list for this week. Wouldn’t it also be a great reading for Marginal Syllabus? (hint :))

remikalir: Yes! This year we’re playing around with the idea of the syllabus having both “core” and also “complementary” texts. If we start annotating this report – or any other text – and tag our annotations with “marginalsyllabus” (as I’ve done below) then we can easily curate a list of recommended “complementary” texts to appear on the Marginal Syllabus website. Let’s do it!

SarahLW: I just started annotating the report, available here: https://via.hypothes.is/https://clalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/GIROreport_1031.pdf and I tagged with marginalsyllabus. Hope others will join in!

And, indeed, other Marginal Syllabus participants joined in and sparked a complementary conversation atop this recently published DML report. Sarah – joined by Jeremy Dean (Director of Education at Hypothesis) and tutormentor1 (a regular Marginal Syllabus participant) – have added 34 annotations over the past day. Why not join them, too!

A Concluding Note of Thanks

The five reading pathways described in this post were possible because of intentional planning and dedicated participation. There are many people to thank, and I am most appreciative of:

  • Marginal Syllabus organizers Christina Cantrill, Liana Gamber-Thompson, and Joe Dillon;
  • Nicole Mirra and Antero Garcia, our partner authors;
  • Kira Baker-Doyle, Sarah Lohnes Watulak, Sundi Richard, and Kevin Hodgson for crafting reading pathways that invited and broadened text-participation; and
  • All the newcomers and regulars who joined and shaped this month’s Marginal Syllabus conversation. We hope to learn with, and alongside you, next month.

Marginal Syllabus as OER and OEP

Yesterday, thanks to authors Dawn Reed and Troy Hicks, we launched the sixth Marginal Syllabus monthly flash mob via our emerging model of public and collaborative web annotation-as-conversation. We’re now more than halfway through the academic year, and as a Marginal Syllabus organizer I’ve been thinking a lot about how this experiment in equity-oriented, publicly networked, and interest-driven educator learning relates to open educational resources (OER) and open educational practices (OEP). This post is a rough attempt to connect dots by addressing the following question: How are everyday digital spaces transformed into open learning environments, and what might this look like for educator learning?

My motivation to explore the Marginal Syllabus as both OER and OEP can be traced, most immediately, to a few influences. First, I recently read Leo Havemann’s chapter “Open Educational Resources,” which will appear in the forthcoming Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory (here’s the preprint).

This brief and easy-to-digest encyclopedia entry traces the history of educational openness, defines OER and summarizes pertinent debates in policy and practice, and includes an important discussion of OEP as a means of shifting from static (and presumed to be freely available) “resources” toward the messier (and – here’s my bias – more organic and transformative) efforts “to open educational spaces, or open other spaces for education.” Havemann concludes by suggesting: “Openness in education is not a movement for the emancipation of resources, but of people and practice.” This is a great piece and useful foundation for practitioners and scholars alike who appreciate both historical perspective and conceptual clarity. Moreover, Havemann’s analysis helps to frame the Marginal Syllabus as a dynamic OER – a curated document of texts, and texts which contain layers of conversation. And as the Marginal Syllabus grows from month-to-month, dialogical and intertextual conversation using the web annotation platform Hypothesis evidences OEP that open these curated texts as educational spaces.

The second influence motivating this exploration of the Marginal Syllabus as OER and OEP is an emergent collaboration also opening new educational spaces and spaces for education. January’s Marginal Syllabus annotation conversation was organized in partnership with Christina Cantrill, Associate Director of National Programs for the National Writing Project. In addition to wearing her NWP hat, Christina teaches ED677 Seeking Equity in Connected Learning and Teaching at Arcadia University for preservice and in-service educators. Whereas the first five Marginal Syllabus conversations partnered with authors to discuss their texts (and so, too, yesterday with Dawn and Troy), in January we partnered with Christina and her course to read an excerpt from John Dewey’s The School and Society. Christina recently wrote about her course design and decision-making processes that led to our collaboration, and it’s illustrative to quote at length:

In the past I asked everyone to engage in recent work by John Seely Brown and the authors of the Connected Learning Design and Research Agenda while also reading the first chapter of School and Society by John Dewey, a publication of lectures he gave at the turn of the 20th century.

In the past, the Dewey piece has got short shrift from participants in my class and I kept wondering about it – maybe it was less interesting or relevant than I think it is when I read it. So I read it again. No, I decided – this article, despite a few archaic words and gendered descriptions, is still interesting and relevant today, 100+ years later. And JSB, in his 2012 keynote, directly challenges us to tackle Dewey’s ideas in the context of flowing on the tides of change today. So I decided to try something new this time around…

That “something new” was pairing both instructor facilitation and students’ social reading with participation in January’s Marginal Syllabus flash mob. In a distinctive pedagogical move embracing openly networked collaboration, Christina aligned formal course work (something that may be solitary and private) with the less formal – and rather improvisational – public activities of a conversation mediated by web annotation. As much as the Marginal Syllabus values partnership with authors to seed conversation, this decision emphasized the importance of partnering an emergent OEP collective with ED677’s established community of practice.

Because ED677 encourages public blogging, it’s possible to share some of Christina’s students’ reflections on their Marginal Syllabus participation. And in sharing their thoughts, let’s recall that these learners are themselves preservice and in-service educators; as such, their responses directly concern how everyday digital spaces can be transformed into open learning environments, and what this might look like in support of educator learning.

On the differences between independent and social reading:

Typically, in my online graduate classes, my study is conducted independently or through interaction with the teacher. The marginal syllabus allowed me to follow the thinking process of my classmates as they read an article and therefore broadened my own learning experience as I read.

On peer-to-peer exchange:

This method allows for a wonderfully free exchange of ideas and information, where future educators like myself can learn from each other.

On annotation as a teaching method:

I have already shared our annotating activity with my colleagues and I have decided to try to use it in my classroom… annotation is another skill that I would like my students to acquire, so when I introduce Romero Britto this week, I am going to require my students to create a Hypothes.is account to annotate the reading.

On pacing and thoughtfulness during the flash mob:

I initially anticipated that the annotation flash mob would resemble a Twitter chat… While I find these types of exchanges to be valuable and exciting, they can also sometimes stress me out. So many people respond to questions and prompts at once that the experience can feel a little overwhelming. It was to my pleasant surprise, then, that I was able to annotate through the Marginal Syllabus event at my own pace. I felt no pressure to rush through comments or responses. Rather, I was able to carefully construct my thoughts before sharing them.

And on active contributions to communal learning:

My appreciation for online annotation has grown significantly.  I LOVE the fact that I can read an article first then click annotations on so that I get insight into what sparked other readers’ interest.  I read through everyone’s annotations and felt as if I was in an actual class discussion of the text.  Leaving my own responses to other readers’ questions made me feel like I was not just passively learning but actively contributing to the understanding.  I had a definite feel of belonging to a group of communal learners.

These are powerful reflections and indicate generative learning opportunities associated with open and collaborative web annotation. Furthermore, the testimonials may be useful evidence for other educators and designers who are interested in open education and open pedagogy, and in particular the types of OER and OEP that usefully support such approaches to online and digitally mediated learning.

Perhaps because of these students’ enthusiasm and satisfaction, Christina made a second distinctive instructional decision. In the weeks following January’s flash mob, she encouraged her ED677 students to read and contribute to the Marginal Syllabus’ October text by Antero Garcia and Cindy O’Donnell-Allen. This marks the first time that a group has taken advantage of the curated feature of this syllabus and re/turned to a previous text to reinvigorate those layers of conversation. As this took place, I shared a few comments on Twitter about why this was notable:

I hope other educators follow Christina and ED677’s lead, and find useful perspectives and learning opportunities layered among the many texts and conversations curated within the Marginal Syllabus.

The Marginal Syllabus is both a OER and a source of OEP because some online platforms are particularly well-suited for architecting the technical and social conditions of collaborative and open learning. In this regard, the web annotation platform Hypothesis is an exemplar. Collaborative web annotation affords a repertoire of OEP, and the social practices afforded by collaborative web annotation have the potential to transform static online texts – whether news media or scholarship – into dynamic OER. As such, web annotation is a promising means for creating more open – and participatory – educational spaces, and the Marginal Syllabus’ advocacy and modeling of collaborative annotation-as-conversation is opening documents as new educational spaces for learning.