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.