Earlier this week I was thrilled to read that the Journal of Learning Sciences has decided to facilitate a web annotation conversation:

In anticipation of this “trial run,” JLS has put together a nice set of public slides that introduce the focal text, provide some rationale for the annotation conversation, and detail step-by-step instructions for getting started with the Hypothes.is annotation platform. Starting next Monday, December 11th, Akkerman and Bruining’s text, “Multilevel boundary crossing in a professional development school partnership,” will become a discursive context for an online conversation that is anticipated to span two weeks, through Friday, December 22nd.

Much of my recent research has focused on web annotation as a form of computer-supported collaborative learning, the design of annotation environments and practices that support educator learning, and an exploration of the open qualities of such sociotechnical activity (i.e. web annotation as open educational practice, open annotation data as learning analytics). Through this research and related efforts, I’ve had the pleasure of organizing and facilitating various web annotation conversations as an emerging model of scholarly communication. In February, after the journal Cognition and Instruction chose to publish pre-prints via their new blog, we arranged a week-long “annotathon” with The Politics of Learning Writing Collective atop their essay “The learning sciences in a new era of U.S. nationalism.” To date, that annotation conversation has generated 239 public annotations by 46 text-participants spanning eight months. I am also an organizer and facilitator of the Marginal Syllabus, a multi-stakeholder partnership among the National Writing Project, K-12 educators, scholars, academic publishers, and Hypothes.is that sparks and sustains conversations about educational equity via open and collaborative web annotation (you’re very welcome to read about and contribute to this year’s syllabus Writing Our Civic Futures). Because of these experiences, I’d like to share a few thoughts about why, as a learning scientist, I am excited to support JLS in this endeavor and look forward to joining next week’s conversation.

Why Annotate with Hypothes.is?

The process of selecting tools to architect and orchestrate learning is inherently political. Whether in K-12 classrooms or higher education contexts, the adoption, proliferation, and study of educational technology is not without controversy. At a time when concerns over surveillance, privacy, expression, and profit are intimately entangled with formal and everyday technology use, I believe it is imperative that designers and researchers of learning – and learning technology – critically assess their choice of tools. From this stance, it is important to note that Hypothes.is is a mission-driven non-profit organization guided by equity-oriented principles. Hypothes.is isn’t an “edtech company;” rather, they’ve created a tool that journalists, researchers, and educators find quite useful across domains and professional settings.

Having actively collaborated with Hypothes.is for nearly two years, I am impressed by the organization’s commitment to building both an open-source technology and a social movement around annotation as a means of reading and writing the web. The organization’s efforts to design human solutions to technical problems are inspired, in part, by the adage of speaking truth to power. As Jeremy Dean, Director of Education at Hypothes.is, and I discuss in the article “Web annotation as conversation and interruption” (forthcoming in the Journal of Media Practice): “Web annotation complements everyday activities associated with mediated information literacy, such as how people access media, curate resources, converse, and critique ideas and power.” I am heartened that JLS’ decision to embrace an emerging model of scholarly communication (i.e. public annotation-as-conversation) is advanced by an organization and tool with explicit commitments to academic inquiry, openness, and social impact.

Learning Practices Afforded by Open Web Annotation

Why organize and facilitate an annotation conversation? As JLS organizers note in their introductory slides:

Web annotations can be a useful vehicle for getting conversations around published articles started, provide information to authors about who is interested in the article, provide feedback, and build connections. We think it will also be useful for graduate students whom are reading an article together. (slide 2)

I agree. We saw much of this – including synchronous social reading by graduate students as part of formal course activities – last February during the C&I annotathon. I’d like to build on this rationale, first by defining open web annotation (OWA) and then by explaining how Hypothes.is, as an exemplar OWA platform, affords key learning practices. It is these learning practices that are relevant to researchers, designers, and, in particular, learning scientists. Much of what follows is drawn from my manuscript, currently in review, titled “The emerging role of open web annotation in communities of practice.”

First, what distinguishes open web annotation from other approaches to digitally mediated and online annotation? I suggest OWA is defined by four characteristics:

  1. Standardized annotation architecture. Web annotation can be designed and deployed according to an interoperable, sharable, and distributed web standard. I highly recommend you read about the leading role that Hypothes.is played in brokering this recent accomplishment.
  2. Open-source software. The code of OWA platforms is available to all for modification and improvement.
  3. Creative commons attribution. OWA content is contributed to the public domain for others to reference, use, remix, and redistribute.
  4. Form of OEP. OWA promotes an ethos of transparent scholarly and pedagogical activity; as such, it is a form of open educational practice (OEP).

Second, what learning practices are afforded by Hypothes.is OWA? In my survey of academic communities of practices associated with scientific research, educator professional development, and web literacy that utilize Hypothes.is OWA to coordinate shared activity, I’ve identified five core learning practices that will likely resonate with learning scientists and other scholars who participate in JLS’ upcoming conversation.

  • OWA situates activity in authentic contexts. By layering new information atop a webpage (or PDF hosted online), Hypothes.is transforms an online text into a discursive context for collaborative activity among specialist and interest-driven domains, establishing the conditions for situated learning.
  • OWA supports multimodal expression. Hypothes.is annotations can feature text, digital imagery, and embedded video; such media expand the expressive register utilized for collaboration and interest-driven learning. This month’s Marginal Syllabus conversation about critical literacy features some great examples of multimodal annotation. Here’s Hypothes.is’ guide to adding links, images, and videos to annotations.
  • OWA establishes connections across contexts. Annotations can be tagged with descriptors applicable to other texts and conversations, establishing an information architecture that produces, stores, and connects knowledge across contexts.
  • OWA curates resources and conversations. Hypothes.is’ archival features aid searches among annotations by keyword, username, tag, URL, or group, signaling multiple pathways for others to access information, join ongoing activity, and contribute new content.
  • OWA contributes to OER and OEP. Attributed with a Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication, Hypothes.is annotations help create OER, layers of annotation can function as OER, and annotation supports varied OEP.

While these practices are not an exhaustive list, they begin to articulate how OWA can propel computer-support collaborative learning (CSCL) across formal settings (i.e. in courses) and during less formal, or interest-driven, instances (like the upcoming JLS conversation). Moreover, the open qualities of such activity suggest promising entry points for examining the relationship between CSCL and OWA as generative of both OER and OEP. Intersections among the open education movement and developments in CSCL remain under-researched, and studies of Hypothes.is OWA might provide fruitful entry points. I’ll also note that open metadata and data associated with Hypothes.is OWA can be studied as learning analytics, something I’ve only recently begun explore in my research (this Marginal Syllabus case study illustrates one approach, please contact me if you’re interested in these learning analytics methods).

Finally, a few technical notes for those who have read this far and plan to join Monday’s conversation:

  • It is my understanding that the JLS conversation between December 11th and 22nd will occur publicly (i.e. the annotations authored by text-participants will appear on the “public” layer). However, there is a private JLS Hypothes.is group (named “JrnalLearningSciences,” as noted on slides 4 and 12, and it appears as though anyone can join the group, too). Private annotations appear on a layer that can only be accessed and contributed to by members of that group. Perhaps some annotations will be shared privately among this group, too. And if I’m mistaken – if the JLS conversation is meant to occur privately within this group – please let me and others know!
  • Because of the way that Taylor and Francis’ cookies work on their publishing platform, it doesn’t appear possible to use a Hypothes.is “via proxy” link. Such links automatically display Hypothes.is annotations without the need for someone to add the Hypothes.is client to their web browser (click here to see an example). This means that text-participants should, as recommended, use the Chrome web browser, install the Hypothes.is add-on, and then activate Hypothes.is once you’ve landed on the webpage of Akkerman and Bruining’s text. (To avoid this issue in the future, and to easily share “via proxy” links with anyone so that they can immediately read the public annotation layer, I suggest hosting a PDF of the source text on a organizational website or blog, and then annotating the PDF.)

See you in the margins this coming Monday.

One thought on “JLS Annotation Conversation”

  1. Amazing to see the potential and variations afforded by web annotation, and Hypothes.is specifically. Very interested in the coming research and always appreciate the layer you provide Remi.

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