This post was originally published on the Marginal Syllabus.


An update on Marginal Syllabus activities is long overdue. Here are a few thoughts about what this emergent experiment in informal educator learning has done, where it may be going, and what some of us are thinking – particularly in a post-election context that demands critical thinking, resistance, solidarity, and activism. As a complement to this post, please read Joe Dillon’s rough thinking about annotation and online activism (Joe is a Marginal Syllabus organizer).

What has the Marginal Syllabus accomplished over the past three months?

The Marginal Syllabus has begun to:

  • Establish a community of practice that is driven by interest and curiosity;
  • Curate public conversations about education and equity that are grounded in texts and guided by experts; and
  • Leverage an open online platform (Hypothesis) and the social practices of collaborative web annotation as a sociotechnical learning environment for educators’ informal professional development.

Monthly annotation “flash mobs” are a hallmark of the Marginal Syllabus. These flash mobs are interest-driven conversations with educators and authors about issues of equity in teaching, learning, and education. For the past three months we’ve partnered with authors who are advancing necessary and critical conversations about digital redlining, emergent design, and critical literacy (these links will automatically open Hypothesis so that you can read – and join! – conversation in the text margins). Our thanks to the authors of these texts – Chris Gilliard, Mia Zamora, Antero Garcia, and Cindy O’Donnell-Allen. Moreover, during our August and September flash mobs, Chris and Mia joined in real time, providing a distinctive opportunity to converse with authors via annotation. We have had, on average, 12 people participate in each flash mob, including classroom teachers and university professors, school administrators and graduate students.

Regarding these flash mobs, we are excited to announce our November author and text! We’ll be reading and annotating Helen Beetham’s blog post Ed Tech and the Circus of Unreason on Wednesday, November 30th at 6p ET (Helen has graciously agreed to join us at 11p GMT – thank you!). Helen is an education consultant, writer, researcher and commentator whose work concerns digital capability, digital citizenship and digital wellbeing, the learning experience, and curriculum design. Prior to our next flash mob please visit Helen’s site and follow her on Twitter (@helenbeetham). And thanks Britni Brown O’Donnell for suggesting that we read Helen’s post and for making an initial introduction.

Where – and how – might the Marginal Syllabus expand?

In spite of our accomplishments, the Marginal Syllabus remains somewhat centralized. Of course it’s important to have a hub. And – by design – this site offers a curated and growing set of resources for others to access, learn from, and share. On the other hand, it is necessary to always question the organization and leadership of these conversations. As noted on our home page, this project draws inspiration from, and seeks to encourage, what bell hooks calls “the possibility of radical perspective from which to see and create, to imagine alternatives, new worlds.”

So yes, monthly flash mobs will continue throughout this academic year. Please send our small organizing team your text suggestions, connect us with provocative authors, and challenge our blind spots and assumptions about the types of public conversations that are necessary in this historic moment. And yet, we also need to encourage new social and technical practices that are more distributed and divergent.

What might this look like? It may be reasonable to assume that if you have participated in a previous annotation flash mob, that if you are reading this post, and/or that if you are interested in public and creative acts of resistance and solidarity, then you may be inclined to read and annotate other texts of social and political importance. In the wake of the presidential election, perhaps you want to read and annotate:

Whatever you may chose to read, if you annotate a text with Hypothesis you are invited to include the tag marginalsyllabus. That’s marginalsyllabus (all one word), with no # (as when tagging something on Twitter). If needed, here is a tutorial on how to add a Hypothesis tag to an annotation. As an example, check out how the educator Kris Shaffer and his students have publicly annotated Edward R. Murrow’s famous “wires and lights in a box” speech, including the tag marginalsyllabus in many of their annotations (thanks Kris and students!).

Why include the tag marginalsyllabus when publicly annotating a text with Hypothesis? In the coming days we are going to update this site with a public aggregator that will pull together all annotations tagged with marginalsyllabus into an easy-to-read feed. Right now it is possible to visit the Hypothesis stream and filter by the tag marginalsyllabus. However, we’re going to create something like this “latest activity” feed that will feature information about who is publicly annotating with the tag marginalsyllabus, what text they are reading and annotating (with a link to the text), and the content of both the annotated selection and the annotation. We hope this encourages people to:

  • Annotate any text that they deem to be important, knowing that tagged annotations will subsequently appear in an aggregated feed;
  • Visit the feed to learn about other texts that people are reading and annotating with the marginalsyllabus tag;
  • Jump off to other texts that have been annotated and tagged as part of the growing marginalsyllabus; and
  • Expand conversation in the margins of multiple texts about divergent topics, concerns, and curiosities.

Stay tuned for updates, and please send feedback (or add atop this post via Hypothesis!). Reading and writing has long served as forms of creative resistance and solidarity. Let’s add public and collaborative web annotation to the mix. Do take care.

– Remi

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