Marginal Syllabus Author Partnerships

This post first appeared on Remi Kalir’s blog.


“I was thrilled to do it. It gave me a ton of perspective on how to look at these things and how to think about it. And fortunately, it [participants’ annotations] will all still be there the next time I go there [the text].”

“That’s the thing with putting your work out in public. I mean, often you’re not face-to-face with them [readers] in the way you would be in Hypothes.is [web annotation].”

– Chris Gilliard (Marginal Syllabus partner author, August, 2016)


This post discusses the importance of partner authors to the Marginal Syllabus. The Marginal Syllabus sparks and sustains educators’ interest-driven learning about equity in teaching and learning. Organized around open and collaborative web annotation conversations, this experimental approach to educator learning is rooted in public discussions that mark up and comment upon openly accessible online texts. Marginal Syllabus conversations transform digital texts into discursive contexts. In order for that transformation (and subsequent collaborative learning) to happen, a source text is needed. And a provocative source text – that is, a text generative of meaningful conversation about educational equity – doesn’t just appear out of the digital ether. It is partner authors and their texts that center a project committed to engaging ideas that are contrary to dominant education discourse (i.e. marginal counter-narratives) through participatory web annotation (i.e. commentary in the margins of texts).

Were it not for the generosity of Marginal Syllabus partner authors – authors who graciously contribute their writing for the purpose of public conversation – this so-called geeky book club would not be possible. The 2016-17 Marginal Syllabus featured 10 partner authors, such as Chris Gilliard, whose reflective quotes about his Marginal Syllabus participation opened this post. The current 2017-18 syllabus, hosted by the National Writing Project and organized to explore the theme Writing Our Civic Futures, features 12 partner authors. All 22 authors are a mix of K-12 classroom teachers, higher education faculty, educational researchers, critics, and teacher educators. Whether with a blog post or book chapter, scholarly article or critical commentary, all of the authors agreed to have their writing opened up as a forum situating public discussion via collaborative web annotation.

Before sharing the perspectives of a few partner authors, I’d like to briefly note why author partnerships matter to the Marginal Syllabus. Here are three compelling reasons why partner authors are essential for an educator learning effort whose social and technological backbone is open web annotation.

Consent: Marginal Syllabus partner authors consent to have their writing publicly annotated. The proliferation of web annotation platforms has, over the past few years, witnessed parallel and robust debate about what online texts can (and should) be annotated, how such tools are ethically used, who has the power to annotate or block annotation, and the ways in which annotation may be exercised as a form of personal abuse or political resistance. Esther Dyson’s keynote at last spring’s I Annotate conference masterfully examined tensions and opportunities associated with the relationships among annotation, ownership of content, freedom of speech, and the organizations (or, as she suggested, “moderating entities”) that are shaping these sociotechnical practices (here’s my reflection on Esther’s keynote, and I highly recommend you watch it, too). Author permission is not a requirement of web annotation and, in fact, crucial fact-checking efforts Climate Feedback and Digipo might be stymied if all web annotation required author or publisher consent. However, in our case, the consent of partner authors is a prerequisite of all Marginal Syllabus annotation conversation.

Democratizing Inquiry: Now in its second year, the Marginal Syllabus is an emergent “social design experiment.” As described by Kris Gutierrez and Shirin Vossoughi, social design experiments are design-based approaches to teacher education oriented toward both inquiry and change. In this case, the Marginal Syllabus is part public experiment in educators’ open learning and part research into how educators learn via collaborative web annotation. Multiple stakeholders are often needed to grow social design experiments as a “democratizing form of inquiry.” For the Marginal Syllabus, our multi-stakeholder partnership includes university researchers, K-12 educators and administrators, the web annotation organization Hypothes.is, the National Writing Project, and – of course – partner authors. As Francisco Perez and I detail in a forthcoming book chapter about the Marginal Syllabus mediating educator learning across sociopolitical texts and contexts, author partnerships are critical to this social design experiment: “The Marginal Syllabus is predicated upon the need to create and maintain open learning contexts within which educators can exercise political agency through dialogue, question dominant schooling narratives, and critique inequitable educational practices.” The efforts of partner authors – both their texts and their consent – make that possible.

Open Access: Partner authors have helped to facilitate important inroads with publishers of academic content, expanding open access to both information (i.e. original texts) and conversation (i.e. annotated texts). As I noted following our recent November conversation:
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.

To date, author partnerships have helped the Marginal Syllabus open up for public annotation scholarship published by Corwin, NYU Press, Teachers College Press, Sage, the National Council of Teachers of English, WW Norton, and Heinemann. While facilitating more open access to academic content wasn’t an intended goal of the Marginal Syllabus, such outcomes are very promising and we are most appreciative of these publishers’ flexibility and commitments to accessibility.

Even when already published, obtaining consent to annotate scholarship – and, in particular, scholarship related to educational equity – matters. Moreover, creating democratizing forms of inquiry about educator learning – and doing so in partnership with scholars vested in fostering transformative approaches to teacher education – matters. And opening access to annotatable scholarship – scholarship previously published behind a paywall, or scholarship published in a digital form preventing annotation – also matters for creating a more equitable and participatory intellectual commons. For the Marginal Syllabus, author partnerships help to make all of this happen.


Having sketched out a few reasons why author partnerships are critical to the Marginal Syllabus, let’s hear from a few partner authors. The following three perspectives are presented chronologically, include a bit of context, and are followed by a thank you to all Marginal Syllabus partner authors who have contributed to this project.

Liana Gamber-Thompson (April, 2017)

Last April, Liana Gamber-Thompson helped to broker a connection with the team of researchers responsible for co-authoring By any media necessary: The new youth activism (including Henry Jenkins, Sangita Shresthova, Neta Kligler-Vilenchik, Arely Zimmerman, and Liana). Our Marginal Syllabus conversation focused upon Sangita’s chapter “Between storytelling and surveillance: The precarious public of American Muslim youth.” Then this past August, and in anticipation of launching the 2017-18 Marginal Syllabus, Liana subsequently participated in a National Writing Project Radio podcast and shared the following (from the 28-minute mark, and lightly edited for clarity):

“As a co-author, you don’t always know how people are going to react to your book outside of formal book reviews or in academic journals or elsewhere. So it was really fascinating and wonderful to see people’s first impressions and thinking as they read the chapter. And also to really engage with them, to read and think with and alongside readers… it was such a valuable experience for us. And it’s been a few years since we did the research, so it enabled us to really come back to it with fresh sets of eyes and think about how the current context applies, apply current events to the topic, too. I feel like it was such a valuable experience for me as a co-author, but also to see all of the learnings that emerged full from the annotation… how it pulled out findings that were really unexpected but really valuable moving forward.”
Nicole Mirra (November, 2017)
In November, we read and annotated Nicole Mirra and Antero Garcia’s article Civic participation reimagined: Youth interrogation and innovation in the multimodal public sphere.” In addition to sharing her scholarship and participating in a related webinar, Nicole also wrote a blog post for DML Central titled “Fostering democratic dialogue with digital annotation.” Among Nicole’s reflective observations, she shares a number of key insights about her participation as a partner author:
  • “I was struck by the ease with which annotation fostered productive conversations between individuals who soon became collaborators.”
  • “I enjoyed the experience of seeing my work challenged because it helped me to clarify my arguments and consider how I might present my claims differently moving forward.”
  • “This experience makes me long for a future (one I hope is not too far off) in which annotation becomes more prevalent across the academic community as a catalyst for public conversation. I see this process as teaching and learning made visible.”
Linda Christensen (December, 2017)
The recent December conversation occurred in the margins of Linda Christensen’s article “Critical literacy and our students’ lives.” Whereas both Liana and Nicole used various public media (i.e. podcast, blog post) to reflect upon their involvement as partner authors, Linda has been distinctively present in the ongoing annotation conversation of her article. To date, Linda has contributed 16 replies (among the 139 total annotations) to nine different text-participants (of the 19 total participants). Some of Linda’s replies are pithy and humorous (“When I grow up, I want to learn to add these cool images” and “Tonight’s homework“), others are paragraphs in length and discuss exploding the literacy canon because of excluded voices, #MeToo and breaking codes of silence through literacy education, and the importance of students as intellectuals. Linda’s annotations have also included linked resources and, in one reply that expands upon a “read around” activity discussed in her article, an additional example of student writing.

 

And prior to our public annotation conversation, Linda also participated in a related webinar which featured a great exchange about the challenges of “writing in silence” and how public web annotation is a means of providing feedback to such “resounding silence” in order to improve effective communication – watch her response here.

Thank You

Marginal Syllabus organizers are thankful for the involvement of the following partner authors (listed in order of their participation). Your texts have created expansive and experimental contexts for educator professional learning grounded in both the sociopolitical complexities of education and new expressions of media practice.

2016-17 Marginal Syllabus: Chris Gilliard, Mia Zamora, Antero Garcia, Cindy O’Donnell-Allen, Helen Beetham, Dawn Reed, Troy Hicks, Christopher Emdin, Sangita Shresthova (and the entire By any media necessary team), and Bronwyn Clare LaMay.

2017-18 Marginal Syllabus: Henry Jenkins, Nicole Mirra, Antero Garcia, Linda Christensen, Danielle Allen, Joseph Kahne, Benjamin Bowyer, April Baker-Bell, Raven Jones Stanbrough, Sakeena Everett, Erica Hodgin, and Steven Zemelman.

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 at the National Writing Project Resource Development Retreat

During the week of July 10th, we – Joe Dillon and Remi Kalir – are attending the National Writing Project’s Resource Development Retreat (RDR; and check out #NWPRDR17 on Twitter) in Denver, Colorado. Throughout the 2016-17 academic school year, we played key roles in organizing and facilitating the Marginal Syllabus, an openly networked experiment in educator professional learning that leverages web annotation, social reading practices, and author partnerships to advance conversations about educational equity. Part geeky book club, part digital learning resource, the Marginal Syllabus embraces an intentional double entendre; we partner with authors whose writing may be considered marginal – or contrary to – dominant education norms, and our online conversations with authors occur in the margins of their texts by using the web annotation platform Hypothesis.

Our passion project has grown, and the NWP RDR is a welcome opportunity to reflect, design, receive feedback, and plan for next year. As an entry point into the week’s collaborative work, we began by clarifying some of the core values that have guided our organization and facilitation of the Marginal Syllabus. These values include:

  • Fostering transparency and openness;
  • Designing experiments via technology;
  • Inquiring through partnership; and
  • Sustaining critical conversations about equity.

We’ve also been tasked with two broad responsibilities for our work during the RDR.

First, our retrospective activities will include the development of resources for educators that summarize what happened during the first year, curate information about our conversations, and make the entire syllabus accessible as an open educational resource (or OER; also, read more the Marginal Syllabus as OER). One example of this curation includes our recently published The 2016-17 Syllabus, a summary of author partnerships, nine annotated texts, and some educator takeaways (thanks to our many partner authors and participants!).

Second, our forward-looking efforts are all about design – sketching out a plan, sustaining and growing partnerships, and detailing concrete next steps for Marginal Syllabus activities during the 2017-18 academic year. Last year, Marginal Syllabus programming concluded on a notable high thanks to an emergent partnership with the NWP’s Educator Innovator initiative. While we welcome and are very thankful for this emergent partnering, we’re now eager to more proactively shape future collaborative activities.

The purpose of this blog post is to address – provisionally and formatively – one aspect of our retrospective work that, most simply, boils down to this question: What did we learn from the first year of Marginal Syllabus activities? As reflective educators who are both active in the world of digital media and learning, engaging a question about our own learning is a welcome opportunity for introspection, iterative design, and strengthened collaboration. We also approach this question from different yet complementary perspectives: Joe is a K-12 educator, Remi is a professor; Joe has a history of collaboration with the NWP and the Denver Writing Project, and has facilitated the Young Writers Camp, whereas Remi is a newcomer to NWP activities and communities. We’re engaging with the RDR – and, more specifically, this question about what we’ve learned – from both varied experiences and also shared commitments.

So, what have we learned? On the RDR’s second morning, we sketched out a poster that introduced the Marginal Syllabus to other RDR participants. As a part of this poster session, we literally spent five minutes detailing provisional inquiry prompts that have consequently helped us to answer our “what did we learn” question. What resulted were three writing prompts which suggest broad lessons related to partnerships, the design of professional learning, the emergence of a community of practice, and research.

Here are some of those prompts; we’ve each responded individually to highlight our personal experience, useful divergence in our thinking, and some common insights.

1. How has partnership defined activities, and how will partnership sustain activities?

JD: For Remi and I, our different vantage points – he’s from higher ed and I’m from K12 – have resulted in a diverse set of texts that frame marginality differently. Our different personal connections have also helped this work intersect with the work of organizations like Virtually Connecting and Educator Innovator. As we experiment with emergent design and seek to form a community of practice, we’ve had to think about the interests of partners and participants, and reflect on their reactions to social annotation and equity issues. In a couple of instances, a partner’s idea led us to include synchronous Google Hangout discussions as part of the monthly reading and response. Partnering with authors and publishers moving forward will allow us to continually surface new texts about equity issues and responses to the processes we use to facilitate social online annotation. Partnering will also surface emergent interests in the annotation technology.

RK: We launched the Marginal Syllabus with a core commitment to author partnership. It was important that authors consented to have their writing annotated – and annotated publicly as a means of conversation and professionally-relevant learning. Accordingly, we set clear expectations with authors about how to access, mark up, and talk about their texts. In some cases, we also consulted with authors about how to annotate texts published according to copyright standards. Partnership also meant establishing participation expectations, such as how authors would engage during live annotation activities and, eventually, Educator Innovator-hosted webinars (as we did last April and May). The lessons we’ve learned about author partnership indicate opportunities to improve how these partners develop and/or leverage their technical fluency (especially with web annotation), share their public participation, and continue to reference their annotated texts as learning resources.

2. How has this experiment in professional learning changed based upon structure and supports?

JD: We made a structural shift when we changed the time window for annotation from a one-hour “flash-mob” format to a week-long “annotathon” format. This may not have changed participation drastically, but it did change the way our invitations sounded – we created more opportunity – and increased potential participation.

Another structural consideration that arose was the technical barrier to entry, which snuck up on me as an issue because the first few authors and groups of participants picked up Hypothes.is readily. It wasn’t until the last month when Bronwyn LaMay, our participating author asked a few good clarifying questions in the lead up to our synchronous annotation and the webinar to discuss the chapter that I realized how much we’d asked of her technically. She needed to create a Hypothes.is account and familiarize herself with the tool at the same time we asked her to read over the planning document for the Educator Innovator webinar. The addition of the Google Hangout as a structure made the monthly reading increasingly social and also raised a technical hurdle.

RK: As I wrote about last January, our early annotation conversations were structured around the idea of a “flash mob,” though that organizing metaphor failed to capture people’s sustained participation in annotation over longer periods of time. Accordingly, one of the first major changes to the Marginal Syllabus structure was a shift toward week-long “annotathons.” This change in conversation format coincided with our Educator Innovator partnership, and was a new means of supporting and scaling how educators might access, learn about, and contribute to conversation activities. Among these changes to structure to support, we were reminded that web annotation aligns well with a broader media ecology; participating educators were not only using Hypothesis to mark up texts, they were also sharing publicly via Twitter and blogging to reflect on their distinct efforts. We’ve learned that it’s important to be flexible about the structures that support open and collaborative annotation, to welcome a broad range of complementary social media practices, and to amplify participant experiences.

3. What have we heard from our participants, including partner authors, and how does this help us inquire about what’s happened during our first year?

JD: Participants in social annotation comment about their reading process, which is notable. They sometimes reflect that the annotations pull them away from the text to engage in a discussion thread in the margins. Repeat participants have remarked to me that they prefer to read a text one time through before they annotate and consider the annotations of others. Why is this important? Increasingly, I’m familiar with definitive claims about the way people read in online spaces. It seems generally accepted that people read more closely on paper while they are more likely to skim digital texts. Still, If reading on paper is superior for close reading, research is needed about the potential for digitally-enabled reading and its capacity to support extended cognition. The reading people do using annotation software and encountering other readers’ thoughts, might prove to be closer reads because they consider different viewpoints and questions they otherwise wouldn’t while reading.

As for what we hear from authors, everyone we have asked for permission to read and mark up their work so far has granted permission. It bears noting that Bronwyn LaMay remarked that the conversation we had with her online was an uplifting experience, probably because it was the end of a school year and she appreciated us considering her work so carefully.

RK: As someone who regularly wears a researcher hat, I’ll keep my response here brief. First, it’s important to remind people that by using Hypothesis publicly, annotators agree to license their annotation content according to a Creative Commons CC0 Public Domain Dedication (check out Hypothesis’ Terms of Service). Second, my research about educator participation in open and collaborative annotation as professionally-relevant activity is summarized and publicly available here. And third, I’m quite thankful to have begun collaborating with amazing doctoral students, professors, Hypothesis staff, and others who are committed to inquiry about the ways in which (digital) annotation is changing reading, learning, scholarship, and publication. From a research perspective, the Marginal Syllabus embraces a design-based research methodology, and my retrospective analysis about the first year – as an initial iteration – is a focus of forthcoming presentations and publications.

Though these “lessons learned” read as somewhat declarative and definitive, we reiterate that these are rough draft thoughts and, as such, we welcome your responses, questions, and criticisms (and, it should go without saying, you’re very welcome to engage via Hypothesis annotation!). Moreover, we would be thrilled to hear responses from Marginal Syllabus participants, partner authors, or our colleagues at the NWP RDR.

Finally, a brief note of thanks: Throughout our experiences at the RDR, we’ve been deftly and graciously supported by NWP staff, most especially Tanya Baker, Christina Cantrill, and Liana Gamber-Thompson. We’re grateful for their support and critique in helping us to advance open and interest-driven educator learning about educational equity via the Marginal Syllabus.

Marginal Syllabus Announces New Conversation Format and Partnership

Three Major Announcements

The Marginal Syllabus is pleased to announce a new conversation format and partnership. First, the final three conversations of the 2016-17 academic year (during March, April, and May) will occur via annotathon, whereby participants are invited to read, annotate, and discuss a given text for a week. Second, the Marginal Syllabus’ March conversation will feature Dr. Christopher Emdin, Associate Professor of Science Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, and author of For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood… and the Rest of Y’all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education. And third, starting in April the Marginal Syllabus will launch a partnership with the National Writing Project’s Educator Innovator to provide robust open learning opportunities for educators via author partnerships, annotathons, webinars, and other online resources. Suffice to say, we’re really excited!

A Bit of Context

Given these notable announcements, it’s likely that some people reading this post may be unfamiliar with the Marginal Syllabus. If so, here’s a brief bit of context. The Marginal Syllabus is an informal educator professional learning effort that convenes monthly annotation conversations about issues of educational equity. Marginal Syllabus organizers partner with education experts whose scholarly perspectives may be considered marginal to dominant conventions of schooling and education. The openly accessible texts of partner authors – whether book chapters or blog posts – are selected as online forums for conversation among K-12 and postsecondary educators via the open educational practices of web annotation (conversations that occur in a text’s margins). Selected texts have examined digital redlining and information accessibility, critical literacy education, the politics of educational technology, and curricular design. Monthly annotation conversations seek to amplify collaborative discourse among authors, their texts, and a participatory readership. Both the individual texts where monthly dialogue occurs – and the syllabus as a cohesive, growing document – represent a dynamic, dialogical, and intertextual conversation that seeks to open texts as contexts for educators’ interest-driven learning.

From Annotation Flash Mobs to Annotathons

Since August of 2016, Marginal Syllabus conversations have been described using a flash mob metaphor. While flash mobs convey excitement and spontaneity, the metaphor fails on multiple fronts. First, flash mobs are quick bursts of activity. While the first six Marginal Syllabus conversations were scheduled for a given hour on a specific day, the resulting dialogue has often lasted many days. It is not uncommon for multiple participants to respond to other annotators for days on end, spanning nearly a week of sustained activity. Second, flash mobs are quite sophisticated, but they can also model collective uniformity (many people doing the same thing at the same time). While it’s accurate to note that Marginal Syllabus participants are all engaging in the social and collaborative practices of web annotation, annotation content is frequently divergent, sparking debate and evidencing critical thinking that uniquely conveys participant’s voices. Third, flash mobs are distinctive precisely because they orchestrate something improvisational among the mundane everyday. Yet the traces of such dissonant creativity are often fleeting, and the casual observer might never know that a flash mob occurred in that location just over there about an hour ago. Alternatively, web annotation affords searchable curation and descriptive tagging, creating an indelible and sharable record that can be referenced and joined by others who stumble across a recorded conversation even months later.

Given the limitations of the flash mob metaphor, as well as feedback from K-12 partners indicating that week-long annotathons are far more accommodating for educators’ busy schedules, it is necessary that we shift both our root metaphor and our conversation format. Where does the annotathon model originate? We’re inspired by Maha Bali, an early advocate and convener of annotathons; her model was recently adapted by learning scientists to discuss the need for a political theory of learning. The annotathon, as Marginal Syllabus’ new conversation format, will span a week, and we’re excited to see how partner authors and participants adapt this new discussion model to meet their interest-driven learning needs. Flash mobs were a useful pilot structure, and we anticipate annotathons will be a meaningful second iteration structuring Marginal Syllabus conversations.

March Annotation Conversation with Dr. Christopher Emdin

Starting on Monday, March 27, the Marginal Syllabus is excited to welcome Dr. Christopher Emdin as a partner author. Dr. Emdin is an Associate Professor of Science Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, and author most recently of the highly acclaimed book For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood… and the Rest of Y’all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education (Beacon Press, 2016). If you’re not familiar with Dr. Emdin, he was recently featured on PBS Newshour:

Throughout the week of March 27, the Marginal Syllabus will convene a conversation with Dr. Emdin via an excerpt of his book posted on Colorlines titled How Can White Teachers Do Better by Urban Kids of Color?

How can you join Dr. Emdin in an annotation conversation? Here’s the plan:

  1. When: Monday, March 27th through Friday, March 31st. As noted, we’ll adopt a multi-day annotathon model and invite educators to participate in a public conversation via the web annotation platform Hypothesis.
  2. Where: Visit How Can White Teachers Do Better by Urban Kids of Color? in order to access both the source text and the Hypothesis annotation layer.
  3. Who: K-12 educators, pre-service and in-service teachers, school administrators, and others interested in dialogue about “how White teachers at urban schools can overcome their class and race privilege and truly connect with their students.” Dr. Emdin will participate using the Hypothesis handle chrisemdin, and Marginal Syllabus organizers will include Remi Kalir (remikalir), Joe Dillon (onewheeljoe), and Jeremy Dean (jeremydean).
  4. How: We will use the web annotation platform Hypothesis for public conversation. If you are new to either open web annotation or the platform Hypothesis, follow these steps:
  • It is recommended that you use Google Chrome as your browser
  • Visit Hypothesis and select the red “Install” button (mid-page)
  • When prompted, select “Add Extension”
  • Follow instructions in the newly opened tab – create a username, enter your email address and a password, and that’s it!
  • Also, at hypothes.is/welcome note how to toggle the annotation menu via a button in Chrome’s location bar, as well as the different types of annotation you can add to a text – including page notes, highlights, comments, and replies to annotations.

The Marginal Syllabus & Educator Innovator Partnership

Starting in April, the Marginal Syllabus is humbled and honored to launch a partnership with the National Writing Project’s Educator Innovator initiative. Educator Innovator is “both a blog and a network of networks devoted to creative and connected learning.” In late February, leaders with Educator Innovator and the NWP, alongside Marginal Syllabus organizers, began a series of conversations about how to creatively support educators as they pursue professionally-relevant, openly networked, and interest-driven learning. The NWP and Educator Innovator have an established track record of distinctive accomplishments organizing and facilitating educator learning at the intersection of digital media and new literacies. Moreover, leaders at both the NWP and Educator Innovator are familiar with Hypothesis and the potential of collaborative web annotation to support transformative teaching and learning practices. Collectively, we’re excited to explore open learning opportunities for educators via author partnerships, annotathons, webinars, and other online resources.

April’s programming will feature the book By Any Media Necessary: The New Youth Activism (NYU Press, 2016) authored by Henry Jenkins, Sangita Shresthova, Liana Gamber-Thompson (who is Program Associate at the NWP), Neta Kligler-Vilenchik, and Arely Zimmerman. The Marginal Syllabus annotathon will feature Sangita Shresthova and her chapter “Between Storytelling and Surveillance: The Precarious Public of American Muslim Youth.” The annotathon will occur from Monday, April 24th through Sunday, April 30th. In addition to the annotathon, Marginal Syllabus organizers Joe and Remi will join Sangita and Liana for a Connected Learning TV webinar at 7p ET/4p PT on Tuesday, April 25th (broadcast details announced soon!).

And in May, please join author Bronwyn Clare Lamay as we read and discuss Personal Narratives Revised: Writing Love and Agency in the High School Classroom (Teachers College Press, 2016). The annotathon with Bronwyn will occur from Monday, May 29th through Sunday, June 4th. And while the annotathon’s focal chapter will be announced soon, in the meantime listen to Bronwyn discuss her book on NWP Radio. Similar to programming in April, a Connected Learning TV webinar will be streamed at 7p ET/4p PT on Tuesday, May 30th featuring a discussion with Bronwyn about her book, and blog posts and related resources will be featured via various online venues.

A New Year, a Few Thoughts, and More Conversation

The Marginal Syllabus is moving into 2017 building upon a successful and meaningful first semester during the fall of 2016. Throughout the 2016-17 academic school year, the Marginal Syllabus aims to foster a participatory and open experiment in educator professional development through critical conversations about education and equity. The Marginal Syllabus primarily does so by convening monthly web annotation flash mobs. These flash mob conversations use the annotation platform Hypothes.is to provoke interest-driven discourse among educators and the authors of consequential and equity-oriented texts. This past fall we discussed digital redlining and information accessibility with Chris Gilliard (in August), curriculum design in a “writing race” course with Mia Zamora (September), critical and culturally proactive literacy education from Antero Garcia and Cindy O’Donnell-Allen’s book Pose, Wobble, Flow (October), and the politics and contradictions of educational technology with Helen Beetham (November).

The next Marginal Syllabus conversation will occur this Wednesday, January 25th at 6p ET/4p MT/3p PT with Christina Cantrill, Associate Director of National Programs for the National Writing Project. Join Christina – and some of participants in her ED677 course at Arcadia University – in discussing via annotation the first chapter from John Dewey’s classic book The School and Society. Visit our resources for additional information, including directions for using the Hypothes.is platform and joining the public conversation. And in the coming months, anticipate additional updates about our developing collaborations with the National Writing Project and other NWP-affiliated authors.

As much as we’re excited about moving forward into 2017, the remainder of this post looks back at what happened during 2016. The following table provides some additional context and descriptive statistics that help to summarize Marginal Syllabus activity from this past fall. The table was put together over a month ago, in early December, so the total number of participants and annotations may have increased just a bit (such is the case with Helen’s post Ed Tech and the Circus of Unreason). Nonetheless, a few notable trends emerge from this data and provide useful reminders about the ongoing design and facilitation of Marginal Syllabus conversations via annotation flash mobs.

First, participation gets stretched over time. The term “flash mob,” by definition, connotes intense activity over a short period of time. In one sense, Marginal Syllabus annotation flash mobs echo related approaches to educator interest-driven and openly networked professional learning, such as Twitter chats (which occur at a designated time, last about an hour, and are facilitated following a set question-and-answer structure).

The activity of an annotation flash mob has also occurred for about an hour… kind of, but also not so much. Unlike a Twitter chat, participants have conversed based upon their availability, regularly annotating a text, interacting with the text’s authors and other readers, and receiving replies both prior to and after the designated flash mob. As noted above, sustained activity typically gets stretched across at least a few days (August seems to be an outlier, at least at this point). Given that annotation-as-conversation is anchored in an easily referenced source text (unlike the more ephemeral threads of a Twitter chat), our team is learning an important lesson about social annotation – such activity has blurred beginnings, remains open-ended, and there is no hard start and stop. To test a playful analogy, the Marginal Syllabus creates both the temporal conditions for a scrimmage (that is, people playing together at the same time) as well as the field upon which activity occurs (that is, the playground where people show up to play at varied and different times).

A second trend: We have had, on average, about a dozen participants each month, including k-12 educators and administrators, higher education professionals, graduate students, non-profit leaders, and others. With groups of this size regularly participating, focal texts tend to get pretty saturated with annotations and replies. This raises some interesting questions about facilitation, as well as what might occur over the coming months. What if closer to 20 people participated regularly, would that overwhelm the text and create too many incoherent conversational threads? On a related technical note, a big thanks to Hypothes.is for the recent updates feature which really helps people to manage the flow of information during a live event like our flash mobs. And what if our participation numbers grow to the point where a flash mob structure creates more noise than signal? In that case, perhaps we might shift to an “annotathon” approach that can be scheduled over multiple days, as modeled by Maha Bali and Nadine Aboulmagd during a recent annotation conversation grounded in Maha’s text about digital literacies. These are but a few questions, among many, that have emerged as a result of our ongoing activity. Perhaps regular participants might raise other questions you care to see our organizing team address – our thanks in advance.

And finally, something else that happened at the tail end of 2016: A conversation between Remi Kalir and Jeremy Dean about Web Annotation as Conversation and Interruption for the Journal of Media Practice. It wasn’t too surprising to see some regular Marginal Syllabus participants jump into that conversation, too, and our thanks for growing an important exploration of web annotation as disruptive media.