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.