An Invitation

In collaboration with The Politics of Learning Writing Collective and the journal Cognition & Instruction, a global community of scholars is invited to participate in an annotathon from Monday, February 27th through Friday, March 3rd. During this annotathon, participants will use the web annotation platform Hypothesis to advance a public dialogue with The Politics of Learning Writing Collective layered atop their article The Learning Sciences in a New Era of U.S. Nationalism.” This dialogue is one means of engaging with the article’s guiding question: “What responsibilities do researchers of learning have in the wake of Trump’s election and the proliferation of far-right, populist, nationalism across the globe?” Additional context, background information about the web annotation platform Hypothesis, and annotathon details are included below. All questions both prior to and during the annotathon can be directed via Twitter to Remi Kalir (@remikalir).

Grappling with a Political Moment

I did not watch the Presidential Inauguration on the morning of Friday, January 20th. Rather, I followed Bill Penuel’s advice to “grapple with this political moment” by reading an article.

That morning, I had the pleasure of reading “The Learning Sciences in a New Era of U.S. Nationalism,” authored by The Politics of Learning Writing Collective, forthcoming in the 35(2) edition of Cognition & Instruction, and made available via the newly launched C&I website and blog. In addition to the piece’s timely and critical content, I was encouraged by the broader agenda associated with writing that seeks “to prompt and engage a dialogue about the political role and responsibilities of our field at this historical moment.” More specifically, the authors extend a gracious invitation:

We write in this international journal to seed a meaningful dialogue across the global community of scholars. We hope others will respond from their particular cultural, spatial, and historical contexts as we collectively consider what it means to develop a political theory of learning at this historical moment.”

As a learning scientist, I would like to share in such dialogue and wonder how responses from varied scholarly perspectives will converse with and around this important text. Will dialogue emerge through subsequent publication in Cognition & Instruction? Perhaps during hallway interactions of upcoming academic conferences? Or through public – through sometimes noisy and irreverent – social media platforms? All will very likely occur as useful (and no doubt divergent) extensions of this necessary dialogue. And yet as someone who considers how (new) technologies and media practices spark and sustain learning opportunities, I would like to propose another discursive venue to meaningfully situate this dialogue: A margin. Or, more precisely, the margin of the blog post where “The Learning Sciences in a New Era of U.S. Nationalism” appears online and in pre-print. Let me explain.

Web Annotation as Conversation

One means of developing a meaningful dialogue might occur through the collaborative practices of web annotation. If the term “web annotation” is unfamiliar, please permit the following brief – and I hope useful – bit of context. The practices of web annotation are as old as Mosaic, the first web browser, with roots that extend back to the associative trails of Vannevar Bush’s memex, the work of medieval glossators, as well as the layered discourse which gives shape and substance to the Hebrew Talmud. More recently, and within the broad scope of academia, the social and multimodal practices of web annotation have played an important role in various pedagogical and scholarly innovations. Web annotation has also come to shape new approaches to participatory politics, legal education, journalism (as well as for those who fact check the news), and in the advances of machine learning for scientific research.

In my own work, I have developed an interest in web annotation, and have written about related sociotechnical affordances for graduate education and disruptive media, designed interest-driven and equity-oriented educator professional learning, and have launched a research partnership with the nonprofit Hypothesis, an organization that has created an open source web annotation platform (and that offers robust education and scientific research resources, and recently surpassed the millionth annotation mark).

Beyond my own professional practice, the affordances of web annotation have fundamentally changed how I read – and subsequently respond to – any online text. Whether with the news or a colleague’s blog, I can activate a tool like Hypothesis, and in either a public or private mode begin to highlight important passages, layer atop the source text my own written commentary, and even embed multimedia; all of which can be tagged, curated, and made publicly accessible. Still unsure about what this whole web annotation thing looks like in practice? See, for example, responses to the essay “Neoliberal Tools (and Archives): A Political History of Digital Humanities,” or the ways in which K-12 educators have discussed “digital redlining” and information accessibility.

C&I Annotathon Details

How will the social practices of web annotation help to create the conditions for dialogue with – as well as atop, and also in the margins of – “The Learning Sciences in a New Era of U.S. Nationalism”?

Here’s the plan:

  1. When: Monday, February 27th through Friday, March 3rd. We are adopting a multi-day “annotathon” model and invite readers to participate in a public conversation via the web annotation platform Hypothesis. 
  2. Where: Visit The Learning Sciences in a New Era of U.S. Nationalism” in order to access both the source text and the Hypothesis annotation layer.
  3. Who: Learning scientists, scholars, and others interested in dialogue about “paths toward a political theory of learning.” The Politics of Learning Writing Collective will participate using the common Hypothesis handle “TPLWC.” As organizer, Remi’s Hypothesis handle is “remikalir.”
  4. How: We will use the web annotation platform Hypothesis. 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.

A Discursive Path Forward

My own experience designing and facilitating both one-off annotation flash mobs and monthly thematic conversation with dedicated participants has taught me that such collaborative activity is both substantive and a bit scattered, emergent and messy and ultimately quite meaningful. Unlike the fleeting and sometimes superficial exchanges that characterize a public Twitter chat, web annotation-as-conversation benefits from activity that is situated in an authentic context (the source text) and is unencumbered by character limits. Moreover, the resulting dialogue is strengthened by open source technology that honors academics’ penchant for linked association (via searchable tags), resource curation, and openness.

As expertly guided by The Politics of Learning Writing Collective, readers of “The Learning Sciences in a New Era of U.S. Nationalism” are constructively (and perhaps uncomfortably) “forced to wrestle” with their professional commitments to scholarship, teaching, and service. How, I asked myself, do my commitments and capacities as a learning scientist form solidarities, aid in resistance to violence, and take both conceptual and concrete steps toward a more political theory of learning? Perhaps other readers asked themselves similar questions, and wrestled with their thoughts, too. And perhaps other scholars desire a subsequent dialogue of creative form and open transparency that can help sustain the urgency and relevance of this scholarly stance. If so, and particularly if you are curious about web annotation as a viable means of mediating such a conversation, please consider sharing and learning by joining this annotathon.

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