Annotation Within and Beyond the Classroom

Concurrent Session 3

Brief Abstract

Social reading tools are used by students and teachers in formal teaching and learning contexts, but also by educators, publishers, instructional designers, and other higher education professionals as part of their everyday practice. This session uses design thinking exercises to explore and develop these various use cases for collaborative annotation.    



Jeremy Dean, Director of Education, Hypothesis Jeremy was previously the Director of Education at Genius where he facilitated educational applications of their interactive archive of literary and historical texts. Jeremy is a scholar-educator with fifteen years of experience teaching at both the college and high school levels. He received a Ph.D. in English from the University of Texas at Austin where he worked as a Project Leader in the Digital Writing and Research Lab for four years developing units and lesson plans around a variety of digital tools. He also worked as a Program Coordinator at the University of Texas Humanities Institute, overseeing their education initiatives.
As the Assistant Director for Digital Learning, Sundi leads a joint team of technologists and librarians who promote student and faculty digital agility and the integration of new and emerging technologies in teaching, learning, and scholarship at Davidson College. Interested in empowering students to be active citizens in their online and offline worlds, Sundi works to explore digital identity and is part of an ongoing conversation in higher ed about digital citizenship #digciz.

Additional Authors

Jeremiah (Remi) Kalir is assistant professor of Information and Learning Technologies at the University of Colorado Denver School of Education and Human Development. Kalir’s research about educator learning and everyday digital media practices has been supported by a 2017-18 OER Research Fellowship from the Open Education Group and a 2016 National Science Foundation Data Consortium Fellowship. He is currently chair of the American Educational Research Association’s Media, Culture, and Learning Special Interest Group, is Co-PI of ThinqStudio, CU Denver’s digital pedagogy incubator, and serves on the board of directors for InGlobal Learning Design.

Extended Abstract

How are the ways that higher education professionals build, maintain, and leverage learning networks on the Web similar to and different from the ways that we ask students to use digital tools to engage with each other and course content? Collaborative annotation provides a unique opportunity to explore this question and imagine powerful new ways that we can improve how learn and collaborate in our intellectual communities online, both in formal classroom settings and in our work as professional educators.   


Collaborative Annotation Technology

In recent years, collaborative annotation technologies have become increasingly used in teaching and learning. A range of third-party tools exist for integration in learning management systems (LMS) and content management systems (CMS) and for use on the open Web. Several LMS and CMS providers have recognized the utility of annotation functionality and begun to incorporate annotation into their core product. Medium, for example, has a built-in social reading feature. In the LMS space, Instructure has made collaborative annotation a critical part of their teacher feedback mechanism.   


There is promising use of collaborative annotation technologies and learning practices by both teachers and students across a range of K-12 and higher education disciplines and contexts. Annotation is “a pervasive activity shared by all humanity across all walks of life” (Sanderson & de Sompel, 2011, par. 1). Annotation may be defined, simply, as a note added to a text and is often associated with book marginalia or expert commentary. The use of annotation in educational research has garnered attention across multiple disciplines and areas of inquiry thanks, in part, to advances in digital and Web annotation (Eldesouky et al., 2015; Pearson et al., 2009; Steimle et al., 2009; Yoon et al., 2013).


Whether in print or online, annotation is an important aid to thinking, reading, and writing (Brown & Smiley, 1978; Marshall, 1997). Regarding literacy education and annotation, readers annotate print material to enhance engagement with texts. Annotations provide procedural signals and placemarks, contexts for in-situ problem solving and interpretive activity, and visible traces of a reader’s attention (Johnson et al., 2010; Marshall & Brush, 2004; O’Hara & Sellen, 1997). While annotations are often considered marginal and secondary, in-depth analysis of annotations in books shows that they add value to the “primary” content and influence later readers (Liu, 2005). Annotation blurs the roles of reader and writer, and manifests as a social system wherein impactful interactions take place (Kalir & Dean, 2018; Marshall, 1997). Recent evidence also suggests Web annotation contributes to reading comprehension and critical thinking, the development of domain-specific knowledge, and learner collaboration (Johnson et al., 2010; Novak et al., 2012).


Collaborative annotation software occupies a unique space in the educational technology landscape as these tools not only have proven efficacy in formal teaching and learning, but they are also used daily by educators as part of their professional practice. At many institutions that have adopted collaborative annotation at scale, the technology is used in diverse ways in the classroom setting — for discussion, peer review, teacher feedback — but also in course design and other forms of professional development. Instructional designers use collaborative annotation to work with teachers in the development of online course content. Professors and editors use collaborative annotation in the composition and revision of digital educational resources. Teaching and learning centers use collaborative annotation for professional reading groups around relevant Web-based articles.


In addition to these institutional uses of collaboration annotation, openly accessible designs for annotation-as-conversation have also supported robust forms of educator learning and collaboration. The following section details one example of an established initiative that illustrates the central role of annotation in affording openly-networked and interest-driven learning for higher education professionals. The example of the Marginal Syllabus initiative as a networked community of educators established and sustained through annotation can serve as a model for other professional development projects and inform how instructors design courses to nurture intellectual community among students.    


The Marginal Syllabus: An Open Conversation

Since 2016, the Marginal Syllabus has convened and sustained openly accessible online conversations with educators about equity in education via Web annotation. Similar to an online book club, the project’s name, design, and programming embrace multiple interpretations of the term “marginal” — educators discuss marginal perspectives in the margins of online texts using an open-source Web annotation technology marginal to commercial (educational) technology. The project’s equity-oriented design leverages the open Web, fosters multi-stakeholder partnerships, features open content, and engages professional learning as an open educational practice. The 2017–18 Marginal Syllabus, for example, explored the theme “Writing Our Civic Futures;” it featured nine monthly conversations, 13 partner authors, and, on average, engaged 18 educators for 14 days of conversation. Eighty-seven individual educators participated in the 2017–18 syllabus, and 17 contributed during three or more conversations.


Research on Marginal Syllabus has studied educators’ “connected conversations” (Perez & Kalir, in press). This research has used quantitative learning analytics methods to examine network relations that have emerged through educators’ annotation conversation as well as the sentiment (either positive, neutral, or negative) associated with their annotation content. More generally, the Marginal Syllabus relies upon four interconnected design principles: leveraging the open Web, fostering multi-stakeholder partnerships, working with open content, and engaging professional learning as an open practice (Kalir, in press).


The Marginal Syllabus indicates that collaborative annotation can help create an open learning environment for educators to exercise agency through dialogue, question dominant schooling narratives, and critique educational inequality. The educators who participate in Marginal Syllabus annotation conversation evidence collaborative learning practices that include contributing multimedia content intended to expand upon text-based commentary and to signal camaraderie. Participants also share links from the focal text to related educational research, popular media articles, and teaching resources. Such annotation conversations help in visualizing educators’ expertise of pedagogy, curricular and instructional design, and domain-specific knowledge. Moreover, authoring and rewriting annotations conversations can function as open educational resources (OER) for other educators, teacher education courses, and professional learning communities to access and expand over time.


Session Agenda

This session will begin with a group discussion about how attendees construct and leverage personal and professional learning networks. What tools do they use? What obstacles do they encounter? Session leaders will then share research and best practices in knowledge and community building through annotation and lead participants in the hands-on application of annotation-powered exercises. The group will then work together to imagine and prototype specific applications for collaborative annotation across a range of use cases in higher education.


This presentation will feature hands-on experimentation with collaborative annotation functionality through the standards-compliant Hypothesis client. Attendees will engage in an annotation activity to comment on and discuss online writing using OLC publications. This annotated discussion is intended to continue beyond the session, to include OLC Innovate attendees who are unable to participate in the workshop, OLC members not attending the conference in Denver, and the broader community of educators and technologists interested in collaborative annotation. Individual annotations within this open and online discussion will be tagged with the OLC Innovate conference hashtag, and annotations will also be shared via social media to expand the session’s reach. Using the group’s annotations, presenters will demonstrate ways of harnessing collaborative annotation for teaching and learning


While participants annotate a shared text, Jeremiah and Sundi will track and share learning analytics associated with participant collaboration in real-time. Marginal Syllabus researchers have created a public dashboard for Capturing and Reporting Open Web Data for Learning Analytics, Annotation, and Education Researchers (CROWDLAAERS, pronounced “crowd layers”). As a synchronous dashboard relevant to collaborative processes, CROWDLAAERS reports learning analytics associated with group — or crowd — discourse layers added via Hypothesis open Web annotation to online content. CROWDLAAERS provides learning analytics about active participants, temporal activity (active days), collaborative discourse (threads), and also Hypothesis tags. The use of CROWDLAAERS during this session will demonstrate how open Web annotation data can be transparently leveraged as learning analytics for insight about educator learning and collaboration.


Finally, the session will feature a design thinking activity focused on the exploration of multiple applications of collaborative annotation within and beyond the classroom. This design thinking activity will feature hands-on paper prototyping (i.e. mock-ups of user interface and learning activities) and a rapid iteration cycle based upon participant-to-participant feedback. The intent of this activity is to encourage design practices associated with social reading and encourage participant exploration about the range of tools, learning environments, instructional scenarios. In order to contribute to the ongoing theorizing and application of collaborative annotation, artifacts from these design activities will be captured and shared widely after the presentation though social media and on the Hypothesis website.