Marginal Syllabus wins 2019 John Lovas Award

As announced at the 2019 Computers & Writing Conference at Michigan State University, the Marginal Syllabus has been awarded the 2019 John Lovas Award.

What is the John Lovas Award?

The John Lovas Award is given by the journal Kairos to an “outstanding online project devoted to academic pursuits.” Founded in 1996, Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy is an open-access online journal that is one of the longest, continuously-published peer-reviewed journals in the field.

Here’s some additional information about the annual John Lovas Award:

The John Lovas Award is sponsored by Kairos in recognition and remembrance of John Lovas’s contributions to the legitimation of academic knowledge­sharing using the emerging tools of Web publishing, from blogging, to newsletters, to social media. Each year the award underscores the valuable contributions that such knowledge-creation and community-building have made to the discipline by recognizing a person or project whose active, sustained engagement with topics in rhetoric, composition, or computers and writing using emerging communication tools best exemplifies John’s model of a public intellectual.

Award Proposal

The award team of Remi Kalir (University of Colorado Denver), Christina Cantrill (National Writing Project), Joe Dillon (Aurora Public Schools/Denver Writing Project), and Jeremy Dean (Hypothesis) submitted a proposal in the spring of 2019 to Kairos.

A selection of our proposal is included here:

This proposal presents a project that uses open and collaborative web annotation to spark social reading and public writing about literacy, equity, and education. Since 2016, the Marginal Syllabus has organized 27 ongoing “annotation conversations” with educators about equity in teaching and learning. Currently in its third iteration, the Marginal Syllabus is now a multi-stakeholder partnership among the National Writing Project, the National Council of Teachers of English, the web annotation non-profit Hypothesis, publishers of scholarship, K-12 educators, and university researchers (the fourth iteration of the Marginal Syllabus in summer 2019 will partner with the journal CITE: English Language Arts to discuss connected teaching and learning in the context of literacy education).

What’s an annotation conversation? Authors contribute open access scholarship related to educational equity, perhaps also participate in a partner author webinar, and then conversation begins as educators use open-source and collaborative annotation to publicly comment upon and discuss scholarship. Over three years, hundreds of educators and university students have participated in Marginal Syllabus conversations by authoring thousands of Hypothesis annotations.

In addition to ongoing conversation, the initiative engages with various digital-native academic compositions and knowledge-sharing projects, including the Open Pedagogy Notebook, the open learning analytics dashboard CROWDLAAERS that visualizes how “crowds” of annotators contribute “layers” of annotation to online texts (see all Marginal Syllabus analytics here), and the San Francisco State University Marginal Syllabus, a local chapter of the national effort, whereby writing program faculty have read, annotated, and discussed the book Antiracist writing assessment ecologies: Teaching and assessing writing for a socially just future (Inoue, 2015).

By utilizing open and collaborative web annotation as both an everyday and disruptive media literacy practice (Kalir & Dean, 2018), the Marginal Syllabus enacts a participatory form of public discourse that exemplifies the “social scholarship of teaching” (Greenhow et al., 2019; see discussion of the Marginal Syllabus on p. 9). This “social scholarship” encourages educators to generate and share new knowledge about their teaching (e.g., Kalir & Perez, 2019; Kalir & Garcia, in press). Educator annotation of equity-oriented scholarship is a counter-narrative about pedagogical practice written and archived as complementary to published literature.

In this respect, the Marginal Syllabus has been described as public scholarship that seeks “to imagine a different paradigm for conducting, consuming, and responding to research” (Mirra, 2018), as well as as an open educational practice that advocates “non-traditional approaches to online collaborative reading of texts… [to] promote transformative learning as dialogue” (Bali & Caines, 2018; see p. 14-15). Furthermore, the Marginal Syllabus’ annotation conversations are a form of post-publication peer review that is openly accessible, democratic in practice, and welcoming of multiple knowledge stakeholders. Finally, the project’s three syllabi – comprised of open access scholarship, public and ongoing annotation conversation, and webinars and other resources – demonstrate how to collaboratively extend the social life of scholarship, curate knowledge for public discourse, and use participatory communication technology to author counter-narratives about educational equity.

Thank You!

Thank you, first and foremost, to Kairos for selecting the Marginal Syllabus as recipient of the 2019 John Lovas Award.

Our work would not be possible without the support of partner organizations the National Writing Project, the National Council of Teachers of English, and Hypothesis. Thank you for believing in this project and its people, dedicating time and resources to encourage our work, and promoting this new model of educator professional learning.

Thank you to the many partner authors who have contributed open-access scholarship about educational equity to the Marginal Syllabus so as to spark and sustain our conversations. You and your scholarship are, in many respects, the anchor of this entire project.

And, of course, thanks to all the educators and learners who have participated in Marginal Syllabus annotation conversation over the years – we are most appreciative of your time, interest, and contributions.

The Summer 2019 Marginal Syllabus: “Connected Learning in Teacher Education”

Welcome to “Connected Learning in Teacher Education,” the fourth iteration of the Marginal Syllabus. This syllabus is designed to support the professional learning of teacher educators who are interested in discussing and enacting connected learning.

This summer’s Marginal Syllabus programming starts Tuesday, May 28th with pre-readings and introductory conversations about connected learning. Thanks to a partnership with the journal Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education (CITE), four featured articles from a 2018 special issue titled “From Connected Learning to Connected Teaching” will structure participants’ annotation conversation from June 3rd through August 11th. After discussing connected learning throughout the summer, participants will also be supported in enacting connected learning through collaborative annotation activities during the Fall 2019 semester.

Stay up-to-date with the latest Summer 2019 Marginal Syllabus announcements by completing this very short form.

This post includes:

Introductory Information

Since 2016, the Marginal Syllabus has convened and sustained online conversations with educators about equity in education through open and collaborative web annotation. Throughout the summer of 2019, teacher educators are invited to read, annotate, and discuss four articles about connected learning so as to support their own connected teaching with pre-service and in-service educators.

In partnership with the journal Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education (CITE), the four featured articles in this syllabus have been selected from a special issue of CITE titled “From Connected Learning to Connected Teaching.” CITE is an open-access, peer-reviewed publication of the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education and is co-sponsored by four teacher education associations. The Marginal Syllabus has previously partnered with the National Writing Project and the National Council of Teachers of English to organize the 2017-18 syllabus and 2018-19 syllabus, and uses the open-source technology Hypothesis to mediate open and collaborative annotation conversation.As a summer reading group for teacher educators, “Connected Learning in Teacher Education” will begin with introductory connected learning texts followed by the four articles scheduled from June through August.

This syllabus will be facilitated by Kira Baker-Doyle, Program Director of the Transformative Teacher-Educator Fellowship and organizer of the Connected Learning in Teacher Education network, and Remi Kalir, Co-founder of the Marginal Syllabus.

Summer Reading Calendar

Click the following links to access all syllabus readings as PDFs. The web annotation tool Hypothesis will automatically open atop the PDF.

May 28-June 2

Introduction to connected learning (pre-reading):

June 3-23

Connected Teaching and Learning in K-16+ Contexts: An Annotated Bibliography, Sarah Lohnes Watulak, Rebecca Woodard, Anna Smith, Lindy Johnson, Nathan Phillips, & Katalin Wargo

June 24-July 7

This Is How We Do It: Authentic and Strategic Technology Use by Novice English Teachers, Betina Hsieh

July 8-July 21

The Fallacies of Open: Participatory Design, Infrastructuring, and the Pursuit of Radical Possibility, Stephanie West-Puckett, Anna Smith, Christina Cantrill, & Mia Zamora

July 22-August 4

I, Pseudocoder: Reflections of a Literacy Teacher-Educator on Teaching Coding as Critical Literacy, Kira J. Baker-Doyle

August 5-11

Debrief discussions, planning for fall teaching, and CLinTE virtual retreat

Fall 2019 Activities

In addition to summer reading and discussion, participating teacher educators will be encouraged to incorporate these same articles into their teacher education coursework throughout the Fall 2019 semester. Technical and facilitation supports will be provided to teacher educators who participate in the summer reading group so as to encourage social reading and collaborative annotation among their courses during the fall.

To help enact connected learning activities, the following reading calendar is intended to support teacher educators as they incorporate articles discussed during the summer into their fall semester syllabi and coursework for collaborative annotation discussion across multiple teacher education courses.

September reading and discussion: Connected Teaching and Learning in K-16+ Contexts: An Annotated Bibliography (Lohnes Watulak et al., 2018)

October reading and discussion: This Is How We Do It: Authentic and Strategic Technology Use by Novice English Teachers (Hsieh, 2018)

November reading and discussion: The Fallacies of Open: Participatory Design, Infrastructuring, and the Pursuit of Radical Possibility (West-Puckett et al., 2018)

December reading and discussion: I, Pseudocoder: Reflections of a Literacy Teacher-Educator on Teaching Coding as Critical Literacy (Baker-Doyle et al., 2018)

Annotation Conversation with Hypothesis

Annotation is the addition of a note to a text. Digital annotation tools afford the opportunity to comment upon, mark up, link to and from, and hold conversation about and atop online texts.

As an open-source and free tool, the open web annotation technology Hypothesis adds a new dimension to online reading – making reading public, social, and collaborative. Hypothesis is not a social network, however, and creating a Hypothesis account takes about a minute and only requires an email. You retain the intellectual property of annotations authored using Hypothesis, public annotations are attributed with a Creative Commons license to help build a more robust and open intellectual commons, and the organization’s principles are worth a read, too. It is for these and other reasons that the Marginal Syllabus has partnered with Hypothesis in every iteration of the syllabus since 2016.

Eager to read, annotate, and discuss? First, create your Hypothesis account. Then click on any of the reading links (above) and Hypothesis will automatically open atop the linked PDF. Once the reading is open in your browser, you’ll be able to easily read and respond to all public annotations authored by other participants. And if you’re really geeking out about annotation conversation, check out these resources for educators and consider how to incorporate similar social and collaborative reading practices into future learning environments and activities.

Questions about the “Connected Learning in Teacher Education” Marginal Syllabus may be directed to Kira Baker-Doyle and Remi Kalir.

Marginal Syllabus at 2018 Connected Learning Summit

The Marginal Syllabus project is excited to participate in next week’s 2018 Connected Learning Summit at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge. First, the following Marginal Syllabus researchers, partners, and collaborators will be attending:

  • Christina Cantrill, National Writing Project
  • Joe Dillon, Aurora Public Schools
  • Kira Baker-Doyle, Arcadia University
  • Francisco Perez, University of Colorado Denver
  • Remi Kalir, University of Colorado Denver

Please join us at the following three sessions:

Wednesday, August 1st, 2p: Research Paper Panel: Web Annotation and Exemplary Connected Learning in Saudi Arabia and India

During this research panel presentation, Francisco and Remi will discuss how the Marginal Syllabus has supported educators’ “connected conversations.” Here’s the paper abstract:

Research has yet to explore how the social and technical affordances of open web annotation (OWA) can mediate connections between educators in service of their professional learning. This study examined educator participation in the Marginal Syllabus, a computer supported collaborative learning environment that encouraged connected conversation via OWA. Multiple quantitative methods, including text sentiment and social network analyses, were used to discern key discursive characteristics among the nine conversations of the 2016-17 Marginal Syllabus (1,163 annotations authored by 67 educators). Key discursive characteristics include: (a) generally positive sentiment; (b) educators who annotated most prolifically also authored the greatest percentage of annotations with neutral sentiment; and (c) conversations of at least four annotations tended to demonstrate a greater percentage of negative sentiment. The sentiment trends and study limitations are addressed in the final discussion.

Researchers interested in learning analytics and open data are encouraged to attend as, during this research presentation, we will also share updates about our recent work to capture, report, and visualize educator collaboration and “connected conversations” through the CROWDLAAERS dashboard.

Thursday, August 2nd, 2p: Educator Connected Learning via Collaborative Web Annotation

This spotlight – an informal and big-picture conversation about the project – will feature multiple stakeholders sharing their experience with the Marginal Syllabus. Here’s the session abstract:

This spotlight describes a multi-stakeholder partnership that supports educator connected learning via open and collaborative web annotation. The Marginal Syllabus convenes and sustains conversations with K-12 classroom teachers, higher education faculty, and other educators about equity in education using the web annotation platform Hypothesis. The spotlight will feature stakeholders discussing the project’s development, design principles, and the 2018-19 syllabus.

Remi’s recent paper “Equity-oriented design in open education,” which discusses Marginal Syllabus design principles and project iterations, will also be referenced and shared during this spotlight.

Friday, August 3rd, 8:30a: Connected Learning in Teacher Education (CLinTE) Network Meeting & Mixer

Facilitated by Kira Baker-Doyle, join the Marginal Syllabus to help plan the 2018-19 “Pedagogies of Connected Learning” syllabus:

At the CLinTE network meeting and gathering, attendees will learn of collaborative research, teaching, and leadership work done by members of the group, and hear opportunities to take part in for the coming year. Also, the group will begin work on designing the “Pedagogies of Connected Learning” Marginal Syllabus project, curating a series of texts that teacher educators can use in coursework related to connected learning principles, and which classes can join in on collective text annotation activities.

Finally, if you’re not attending the Connected Learning Summit and would like to connect with the Marginal Syllabus, you’re very welcome to:

American Creed Screening- Writing into the day


 

At the invitation of Molly Robbins, a Denver Writing Project (DWP) teacher at Aurora’s Cherokee Trail High School, Remi and I will help facilitate today DWP’s screening of American Creed, a documentary which will be released nationally by PBS on February 27. We’ll share about the Marginal Syllabus after the film, but our first order of business will be to lead the “writing into the day,” a routine practice at National Writing Project professional learning.

Using hypothes.is, I highlighted three short excerpts from Danielle Allen’s “Night Teaching,” a chapter from her book, Our Declaration.

Above is a screenshot of three notes I made.

By remixing lines from Allen’s chapter into sentence frames for teachers to use as starting points for their own writing, I will ask them to write about their classroom experiences, or to reflect on the purpose of democracy…or both. (Or neither, if they want to write about what they had for breakfast instead.)

After the film, when we convene a breakout discussion group about the movie, we’ll invite attendees to add their informal writing into the margins. This small experiment with a “nerdy book group” convening is another example of the way this project tinkers with replicable professional learning practices in the context of equity conversations.

Here’s the first note in context.

Here’s the second note in context.

Here’s the third note in context. 

Lists and public syllabi; or what the Internet ought to be good for

The Internet is good for making and circulating lists. Blog posts with titles like “3 ways to engage students with Google Slides,” “10 ways to make your Makerspace buzz!” or “The 5 classroom management tricks you need for Monday,” abound online and elicit a clickbait response from curious teachers.

At its core, a public syllabus is a curated list of texts and resources that has more substance and transformative power than informal, clickbait lists. The most noteworthy and potentially impactful examples of public syllabi that I know of are the #Fergusonsyllabus and the #Charlottesvillesyllabus, both of which illustrate the way social tools mediate vital public conversations when current events provoke an activist’s response from educators. The vision for the #Marginalsyllabus is to tinker with the affordances of the Internet in much the same way other online social justice efforts have (though I would not want to compare our humble efforts with the aforementioned, mostly because of the way those two captured the response of educators of color so profoundly.)

The #MarginalSyllabus aims to convene equity conversations in the margins of texts about equity. It tests the potential of public syllabi and online annotation. In the conversations we convene, we observe all kinds of things, and the work gives rise to all manner of questions. Our project unfolds monthly, one author partnership at a time, one text at a time, one new reader at a time. Remi studies what emerges formally, and I chicken scratch in my notebook and blog about what I see informally.

While syllabi and their evolution have an importance historically that  predates Twitter and tools like Hypothes.is, the current social landscape of the web is fraught but fertile ground where things emerge. Reading Twitter as I do to better understand issues of equity, I’ve encountered two tweets lately that help me think about the role of syllabi. What is more, participating in the #MarginalSyllabus this month has helped me make two connections between texts. What follows is my attempt to describe the connections that I make between tweets, and between texts, a reader’s response of sorts to the wide reading I’ve done lately in a politically charged time.

Two tweets –> two lists

Chris Gilliard’s tweet is overtly invitational. The volume of replies he received on Twitter created a pop-up syllabus of sorts that kept me navigating back to his tweet and reading the responses for a few days. I think his tweet, complete with replies, should be required reading for anyone working educational technology in public schools.

Clint Smith’s tweet is a call to interrogate syllabi. His stance and tone are markers of our turbulent political climate. When I read Smith’s tweet it caused me to reflect on my own teaching and the texts I’ve put in front of my 11th grade students this year as an English teacher in an urban setting. It also reminded me that all teachers should regularly reflect on the texts we put in front of students, especially white teachers like me who work in urban settings, because choose texts for students with different cultural backgrounds than our own.

Two connections between texts

This project, and our partnership this year with the National Writing Project, has given Remi and I a few occasions to look back at our first year’s syllabus for the purposes of curating it. The internet’s good for that too- curating curation efforts. This month’s reading, Danielle Allen’s chapter “Night Teaching,” excerpted with her permission from her book Our Declaration, caused me to look back at last year’s syllabus because of the connections I made as a reader. I was reminded of two texts and found myself looking back at my notes.

Above is a screenshot of my note in Hypothes.is. Click the image to see the note in context.

In the note pictured above, I explain the connection I see between two important texts about social justice. I was inspired by the way Allen focused on the word “autonomy”  when reading the Declaration of Independence closely. She does so to foster agency in her students. It reminded me of the way Linda Christensen aims to foster agency among teachers with her article, Critical Literacy and Our Students’ Lives .

Though I didn’t  create the link in my notes, this same section of Allen’s text reminded me of the way Bronwyn LaMay asked her 11th grade students to define the words “truth” and “agency,” work she detailed in “Revising Narrative Truth,” a selection from our syllabus last year. Both Allen and LeMay explore words and their meaning with students as an way to unpack identity. Their teaching goes beyond word study towards a study of the self. For me, this intertextual connection helps me reflect on my own work as a teacher and see ways I can be more responsive to my students.

The monthly reading we do with educators invites educators to make these kinds of connections and to test out the bridges they see between texts with other readers who might tread over those bridges on the way to more equitable teaching.

Here’s hoping the Internet is also good for promoting more equitable teaching.

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 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.

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.