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Chapter 6

We are interested in how annotation aids learning. But how so? Under what conditions? And for whom? Education researchers have studied annotation for decades and have found some strategies, technologies, and arrangements to be effective for both students and their teachers.

Published onJun 05, 2019
Chapter 6

6: Annotation Aids Learning

School has conditioned me to highlight/annotate any book I read if I want to understand it.

—@CarolynneMeyers, tweet, July 29, 2018

When Mortimer Adler advocated, in 1940, for students to actively read and write inside their books, he declared: “Understanding is a two-way operation; learning doesn’t consist in being an empty receptacle. The learner has to question himself and question the teacher. He even has to argue with the teacher, once he understands what the teacher is saying. And marking a book is literally an expression of your differences, or agreements of opinion, with the author.”1

Adler then recommended that students employ a number of annotation “devices” to aid their learning. These annotation strategies included: underlining words; drawing vertical lines, stars, and other “doo-dad” in the margins; numbering key ideas and also writing page numbers for the purpose of cross-referencing; circling words and phrases; and writing all manner of questions and thoughts among the book’s margins, headers, footers, and end-pages.

Echoing Adler some 75 years later, educators Jeremy Dean and Katherine Schulten recently created a resource for The New York Times’ teaching and learning network in which they detail how digital annotation can help students “wrestle with” and react to a text, add contextual information to enrich their background knowledge, develop argumentative reasoning, establish new connections, and hone research skills when annotating primary sources.2

For decades, interdisciplinary research has affirmed that annotation - whether written by hand or typed via digital device - is an important aid to thinking, reading, and writing.3 And for learners like @CarolynneMeyers, the student whose tweet about annotation and understanding opened this chapter, we need only to peruse social media for anecdotal evidence that annotation is tightly coupled with everyday learning practices. A search of Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter for the term “annotation” reveals students across the globe, in many languages, from different grades, and from diverse disciplines commenting about the utility of annotation, or complaining about their homework, or photographing their marginalia, markers, and books.

So, too, are educators eager and regular practitioners of annotation. In Chapter 1, we shared a 1991 essay from the eminent philosopher Jacques Derrida when introducing the idea that annotation is intertextual. Yet 40 years before the publication of that essay, Derrida was a student. And, according to one of Derrida’s teachers, his writing was “quite incomprehensible.”4

In 1951, while preparing for his university entrance exams, Derrida wrote an essay about Shakespeare upon which his teacher commented with red pen (but of course): “In this essay you seem to be constantly on the verge of something interesting but, somewhat, you always fail to explain it clearly.” Given the complexity of Derrida’s scholarship, one wonders whether his teacher’s annotation aided his learning. Nevertheless, evidence overwhelmingly suggests that educators’ written feedback to students does aid learning, whether with young children learning another language5 or with medical students learning professional practices.6

Our previous discussions about annotation have already featured a few examples of annotation supporting certain types of learning. Recall that in Chapter 2, when we surveyed labeling as a type of annotation that provides information, we briefly discussed machine learning or the process by which AI systems are trained using labeled data to identify patterns, infer relationships, and perhaps also annotate similar data with greater speed and accuracy. In Chapter 3, we detailed how the Hebrew Talmud has featured annotation for centuries in order to share commentary and support study; the name “Talmud” can be translated as “the teaching.” As for annotation sparking conversation, many of the examples shared in Chapter 4 related to learning; Frankenbook makes expert opinion openly accessible and encourages shared literary exploration, whereas open approaches to peer review help authors to learn about the limitations of their scholarship from many readers. And we might also argue that as members of the public walk by and read Alexandra Bell’s annotation counternarratives, discussed in Chapter 5, they become aware of - and learn about - media bias and racial injustice.

This chapter is about the relationship between annotation and learning. In particular, we are interested in how annotation aids learning. But how so? Under what conditions? And for whom - an individual student like @CarolynneMeyers or Jacques Derrida, a group of students, or an algorithm? After all, Harry Potter wouldn’t have completed his Potions course were it not for an annotated version of the Advanced Potion-Making textbook.7

Before we discuss how annotation aids student learning, and before we discuss some promising annotation-powered projects in the field of education, it’s necessary that we talk a bit about learning.

Discussing Annotation and Learning

As we discuss how annotation aids learning, we recognize that this particular activity - like reading, and like other forms of literacy and communication - does not occur in a vacuum. Annotation is quite literally situated in texts and contexts. That’s been true whether annotation was authored in the medieval scriptorium, the one-room schoolhouse, or through social media. Like reading, annotation is also an activity supported by and connected to multiple tools, like books, pens, and digital devices. Both reading and annotating can aid learning, though both activities often do so in coordination with a repertoire of other practices, like writing, and memorization, and conversation.

A few caveats about this chapter and our discussion of learning. We’re education researchers and former K-12 classroom teachers who, now, study learning and educate both future and current teachers. While we both incorporate and value annotation practices and technologies in our own courses and with our own students, the purpose of this chapter isn’t to convince you of some magical panacea. Education researchers have studied annotation for decades and have found some strategies, technologies, and arrangements to be effective. Yet what works in one classroom, or for us, might not necessarily work for you.

In this respect, we do not presume a causal relationship between annotation and learning. Annotation does not invariably or always lead to better, more meaningful, or more engaged learning. Recent research, for example, found that there was no significant relationship between college students who highlighted portions of an open access biology textbook and their quiz performance.8 Rather, we recognize that annotation can aid learning when it is complementary to other activities under certain circumstances.

Furthermore, we don’t intend to review every single study, promising insight, bit of data, or contrary evidence relevant to the complex relationship between annotation and learning. This chapter isn’t a formal literature review or tool survey. Nonetheless, we do include references to considerable research and recommended readings, and - especially if you are an educator or a student - we hope you find this a useful introduction.9

What’s Learning? An Example

Whether inside or outside of school, whether from a teacher or religious leader, and whether with your family or peers, we’ve all learned stuff because we’ve all participated in activities that can be described as learning. Rather than write abstractly about a complicated concept, this brief explanation of what we mean by learning is grounded in the very thing you’re doing right now - reading. We’ll use the example of learning how to read in order to illustrate some of the broader concepts and complexities that will help us discuss annotation and learning throughout this chapter.

In one respect, learning to read requires that an individual practice and develop new abilities. Skills like letter recognition, phonemic awareness, sentence construction, and other reading comprehension strategies are developed over time and occur as the result of changing neural processes. As a child learns to read, their brain quite literally changes as language capabilities mature.10 From this perspective, learning to read is both an individual and a cognitive accomplishment. For some educators and researchers, learning is most appropriately understood as something associated with the individual student and their fluency. There’s something happening inside that learner’s head, mixed together with personal traits like curiosity and motivation, and - voila - the student learns to read.

Alternatively, learning to read also requires that people participate in shared activities. Perhaps a family member reads with a child before bedtime. Perhaps learning to read is encouraged by members of a religious community who study scripture together. Or perhaps an adult can read yet is unfamiliar with specialist language and literature; to gain membership in a community, whether a scientific laboratory or a trade profession, that individual must develop new literacies in order to comprehend and meaningfully use shared texts. From this perspective, learning to read is both a social and a cultural practice. For other educators and researchers, learning is most appropriately understood as collective activity that is situated in social contexts. There’s something happening among people, mixed together with ritual and routine, and - voila - learners become participants in a group’s literacy practices.

Though we have necessarily simplified some important concepts, our brief example of learning to read has introduced key ideas about learning that are woven throughout this chapter. In some cases, we’re interested in the ways that annotation can aid learning for the individual. In other instances, we’re interested in how annotation can aid learning for groups. Research shows that annotation can support individual reading comprehension, as well as the recall and retention of information.11 Research also shows how annotation can support group collaboration, shared meaning-making, and the social production of new knowledge.12

Learning is complex to do, and learning is complex to understand. It is necessary that we appreciate diverse people and practices, multiple purposes and scales of activity, and various tools, texts, and contexts if we are to make sense of the many ways in which notes added to texts aid learning.

How Annotation Aids Student Learning

If Adler’s 1940 essay and stacks of used textbooks are any indication, we can assume that students - across grade levels and disciplines - have authored handwritten annotation for many, many years. In 1997, Catherine Marshall, now a principal researcher at Microsoft Research, studied students’ handwritten annotation by camping out in the basement bookstore of a major university. Over the course of a few days she examined over 150 used texts.13 According to her analysis, annotation appears to have served a variety of purposes for students: procedural signaling, such as indicating importance; placemarking; problem-working, as with mathematical and scientific questions; interpretation; tracing progress; and incidental markings (like coffee stains). But what do we know about student learning when marking up books in this way?

Figure 22: textbook & learning

Reviews of research suggest that a student annotating a text by hand, pencil-to-paper, can clarify their conceptual comprehensive and develop active reading skills.14 A 2008 study of freshman and sophomores at a large, urban, American high school found that annotation - described by the authors as a cognitive literacy strategy - did help students to better analyze ideas, communicate, and strengthen their scientific vocabulary and discipline-specific conceptual understandings.15 Yet students’ handwritten annotation is often idiosyncratic and educators may not understand how to intentionally and systematically promote annotation as a cognitive strategy. Given technological advances and a trend to promote digital annotation by students in school, empirical findings are mixed regarding the evidence-based benefits of handwritten annotation for learning.

There is, however, much stronger evidence linking digital annotation with students’ learning processes and outcomes. Digital annotation is often social, meaning that students can access, read, comment upon, and otherwise work with annotation authored by their peers. In both K-12 and higher education classrooms, the social and collaborative affordances of digital annotation have been found to aid reading strategies and comprehension,16 benefit language learning,17 and support peer review and critique.18 Such collaborative approaches to annotation help develop students’ cognitive and metacognitive abilities,19 and can also motivate their learning.20 Students appear to like digital annotation, too, with some students reporting a generally favorable view of their annotation activities.21 A recent review of 16 studies across seven different higher education disciplines found that student reading comprehension, peer review, motivation, and attitudes toward technology use were all positively influenced by social and collaborative annotation.22

In some cases, digital annotation is used in lieu of other forms of online written communication like student contributions to a learning manage system (LMS) discussion forum. Some researchers have referred to this type of learning arrangement as anchored discussion.23 When students “talk” with one another about a shared text through digital annotation, evidence suggests annotation affords richer conversation as students pay closer attention to the text, establish more proximal connections between their discussion and the source material, and embrace opportunities to elaborate their ideas, clarify, and learn from the viewpoints of their peers.24 Anchored and social annotation can help “students highlight and discuss important issues in the reading, share different opinions and learn from others’ perspectives.”25 Students who author digital annotation as an alternative to discussion forum posts engage with texts as authentic discursive contexts and consequently participate in knowledge construction practices that include interpretation, questioning, and consensus-building.26 As LMS use and discussion forums become a tacit feature of K-12 and higher education learning environments, it is worth mentioning that annotation in an “unLMS” arrangement - that is, guiding student collaboration among public, private, and open discourses spaces - can be “useful for community building [and] collaborative sensemaking of challenging readings.”27

Were you to dig deeper into the studies that anchor our brief description of how both handwritten and digital annotation can aid student learning, you would likely notice some patterns about teaching and technology. Yes, Marshall’s seminal study does indicate that students annotate their textbooks for various purposes; that is, students might just annotate books because they think it aids their learning, whether or not their teachers encourage them to do so, in any particular way, and for any particular reason. Be that as it may, the educators in these studies have not encouraged student annotation as incidental or arbitrary. Rather, educators have intentionally selected texts and tools for annotation, with student annotation often framed in service of broader goals - like learning a language or providing peer feedback.

Take college professors like Robin DeRosa, Timothy Robbins, and John O’Brien who have each integrated Hypothesis annotation into their university literature courses to support student use of open textbooks and guide collaborative reading practices.28 Or Michelle Sprouse, whose use of annotation in a college composition course has helped students to “layer” multiple reading lenses atop their texts.29 Or Nathaniel Rivers and Craig Whippo, who have each created popular resources to guide and assess university students’ collaborative annotation in, respectively, English and science courses.30 Or Paul Allison, who administers the online annotation platform Now Comment that is popular among some K-12 educators and their students.31 Or MIT’s Hyperstudio group that created the open-source Annotation Studio and has partnered with professors to support university students’ learning in literature courses.32

This leads us to consider design. When educators and their colleagues - including researchers and technologists - work together and create new learning environments and new learning opportunities, annotation may play a central role. In some instances, the design of novel technologies and collaborative practices can explicitly encourage - and may be explicitly enabled by - annotation. We next consider how annotation contributes to the design of learning. And to focus our discussion, we’ll examine science education.

Annotation and Science Education

How have annotation technologies and practices aided the design of science education? It can be challenging for students to read primary sources, understand discipline-specific content, and comprehend the concepts and methods of a domain. Furthermore, it is necessary that students not only memorize content knowledge but learn to engage deeply with disciplinary practices. In response to these challenges, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has, over the past few years, advanced a project “designed to help pre-college and college students understand how science moves forward as a structured way of revealing the laws of nature.”33 And the initiative is powered by annotation.

Science in the Classroom (SitC) is a AAAS project that aims to demystify the nature of science, promote scientific communication, and support STEM education efforts.34 SiTC relies upon volunteer graduate students and early career scientists who add their expert commentary via public Hypothesis annotation to openly accessible articles published in the Science family of journals. This collection of over 100 expert-annotated articles in biochemistry, genetics, space science, neuroscience, and other areas provides students with an accessible way of reading primary scientific literature. To further assist students in reading annotated articles, individual annotations are tagged according to a particular “learning lens,” including: glossary, for key terms; previous work; author’s experiments; results and conclusions; news and policy links; connections to learning standards; and also reference and notes.

Initial research about SiTC suggests the project can help improve scientific literacy and communication. A pilot study with multiple undergraduate biology courses at Florida International University found that students perceived annotated articles as a useful study aid, particularly for understanding vocabulary and interpreting graphs.35 As for the graduate students and early career researchers who annotate Science articles, research about SiTC’s annotator training program suggests it improves annotators’ self-reported confidence in their science communication skills.36 SiTC demonstrates how students can easily access, read, and come to comprehend scientific concepts and inquiry methods through their engagement with annotated learning resources.

While SiTC is a particularly promising example, annotation has played a role in the design of multiple science education efforts. The Task Annotation Project in Science (TAPS) provides K-12 educators with annotated assessment tasks, aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards, that help guide teachers in more equitably monitoring their students’ learning.37 Osmosis is a repository of open educational resources (OER) created to crowdsource the future of medical education.38 Undergraduate and graduate medical students have access to thousands of digital resources, and they have also used annotation - through comments, feedback forms, and ratings - to improve the quality of these learning materials.39 The National Science Digital Library (NSDL), created in 2000, is an archive of open access teaching and learning resources for learners of all ages across science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines.40 Annotation has been used to tag the NSDL’s resources and improve information accessibility, support student interaction with multimedia content through a digital notebook, and educators have annotated NSDL resources to design online learning activities for their students.41 And research about the digital annotation tool Perusall, often used in conjunction with science textbooks, has shown that college students’ pre-reading and annotation practices can subsequently improve exam performance.42

TAPS, Osmosis, the NSDL, Perusall, and SitC all indicate how the design of science education environments, resources, and student learning practices can benefit from annotation.

Annotation and Educator Learning

As this chapter has primarily focused on students, we would be remiss to not briefly mention how educators and their professional learning can also be aided by annotation. In Chapter 4, when exploring conversation, we introduced the Marginal Syllabus, a project that sustains educators’ social reading and civic writing about educational equity topics through the use of Hypothesis annotation. Notably, the Marginal Syllabus is not the only initiative that leverages open annotation for educators’ professional learning.

Because Hypothesis affords open web annotation of any online text for both public and group-based discussion, various communities of educators have used Hypothesis to read and discuss texts together. In 2017, the Association of American Colleges & Universities first supported the work of multiple higher education institutions in Virginia to design and facilitate Open Learning. This “connectivist” course is geared toward faculty, in any discipline and from anywhere, curious about open education.43 Three iterations of Open Learning, from 2017 through 2019, have featured public annotation conversation as a primary means of guiding faculty to become familiar with, and to discuss their potential use of, both OER and open educational practices. Similarly, the Digital Scholarship Studio at Trinity College organized Digital Humanities in/of the Public, a “summer reading group” in 2018 that featured seven articles and ongoing annotation conversation among faculty.44 Around the same time, a group of K-12 educators read an open version of Jacques Rancière’s The Ignorant Schoolmaster and used annotation to discuss the book’s applications to their teaching practices.45 This effort echoed earlier efforts among educators to collaboratively read and openly annotate the digital versions of books pertinent to education, as with Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society46 and We Make the Road by Walking, an edited series of conversations between Myles Horton and Paulo Freire.47 And in the fall of 2018, annotation conversation was a featured means of educator interaction in Equity Unbound, an “equity-focused, open, connected learning experience.”48

Projects like Open Learning, Equity Unbound, Marginal Syllabus, Digital Humanities in/of the Public, and the collaborative annotation of digital books suggest, in our assessment, an emerging trend among educators to voluntarily participate in professionally-relevant learning as driven by their interests, as connected through their social networks, and as mediated by open and collaborative annotation. In other words, these efforts indicate a nascent model of annotation-enabled professional development.

Whether these discussions last for but a few days or extend over many months, the technical features of open web annotation can assist educators in finding, following, joining, and rejoining conversations of professional import. Because of its standards-based data model, Hypothesis’ open data can be collected and analyzed by third-party services. For example, CROWDLAAERS is a public service that visualizes how “crowds” of annotators add “layers” of Hypothesis annotation to shared texts.49 The dashboard has been designed in coordination with educators to chart the growth of annotation conversation over time, share social learning analytics, and inform their ongoing dialogue. Such tools are an additional indicator that open and collaborative annotation can be used to foster professional learning as educators join and shape accessible and participatory learning opportunities across texts and contexts.50

Figure 23: crowdlaaers

Annotation and the Right to Learn

In our introductory chapter we quoted Kenneth Grahame’s 1892 essay Marginalia in which he posits that a student’s marginal “scribbling” is more valuable - that annotation has more “worth” - than the content of the text. That may indeed be the case for some students, as evidence presented in this chapter strongly suggests annotation does support learners as they read, write, develop discipline-specific skills, and collaborate together to make sense of their texts and their learning. Research indicates that annotation, and specifically digital and social annotation, is a valuable aid for students’ reading strategies and comprehension, their language learning, motivation, collaboration, and shared knowledge construction. Yet might the use of annotation for learning also work toward a broader social, civic, and moral value? We conclude this chapter by describing how collaborative annotation is helping students to argue for the right to learn.

The Right to Learn Undergraduate Research Collective (R2L), directed by professor Manuel Espinoza, is a research group at the University of Colorado Denver that, for more than a decade, has studied the legal, moral, and philosophical criteria of educational dignity.51 The group is comprised of undergraduate and graduate students, and now university alumni, whose research pursues two interrelated goals: First, advancing an argument that education is a fundamental right of personhood;52 and second, seeking to amend the Colorado Constitution. In America, education law is a matter delegated to states. And in Colorado, the state mandates that a thorough and uniform system of free public schools be made available to all students.

Colorado’s educational mandate was written in 1876. As R2L argues for education as a fundamental right of personhood irrespective of a person’s social or legal status, and as R2L works to amend the Colorado Constitution and ensure that the state provide an education consonant with human dignity, the group has become self-described “dignity scholars” who have studied the notions and criteria of dignity in landmark legal cases. In doing so, R2L has used Hypothesis as their “human rights tool” to examine legal evidence and build an argument for legislative change.

R2L’s annotation practices are, in some respects, similar to those of students who annotate for course assignments or other learning activities. R2L members read texts, add original in-line annotation, read peer annotation, comment, work toward consensus or note disagreement, and collectively build knowledge together toward a common goal. Then again, the annotation activities of R2L are voluntary, with research team members motivated not by a grade but by the desire to enact change. While studying landmark cases like Tennessee v. Lane and Lobato v. Colorado, R2L members have read and annotated thousands of pages of documents, from the district to the Supreme Court, including amicus briefs, interviews, and opinions.

This social annotation has helped R2L define the contested idea of dignity, identify related concepts such as equality, and determine legal criteria for these terms. Currently, R2L is authoring a handbook, similar to a concordance or index, that delineates both criteria for and examples of dignity across multiple cases. This handbook, augmented by R2L’s annotation, will provide evidence necessary to argue that the Colorado Constitution be amended to provide an education in harmony with the dignity of the human person.

In April of 2019, at a digital learning conference, Manuel Espinoza spoke with educators, technologists, and annotation enthusiasts about R2L and “the role that Hypothesis plays in human rights work.”53 R2L’s use of open, social, and collaborative annotation has helped members to “disperse the mind,” to make their shared inquiry and intelligence “truly social.” Annotation has helped R2L “get smarter” about educational dignity. As Espinoza concluded:

Dignity is what makes our argument comprehensible and intelligible. The human mind makes it possible. But Hypothesis makes it realizable: It helps us to organize our thinking and to archive and curate it and carry it on. It allows us to see what conclusions we have reached. It allows us to learn from our past actions and… the steady expansion of our collective mind.

While this chapter has argued that annotation can aid learning, R2L is a unique example of learners collaboratively leveraging annotation to mine the legal record, amass evidence, and argue that learning should be a fundamental human right.

And what about you and your experience reading this chapter?

Figure 24: annotation & learning

Chris Aldrich: The relationship of this service to the authors should be disclosed somewhere explicitly. Given your work, it wouldn’t be out of line to go a bit more in depth on what it is and how it works as an example within this section. Otherwise it feels like it’s been lumped in here without much context, and I’m saying that as someone who is directly aware of the tool outside of the current text (meaning that unaware readers are likely to be even more lost).
Chris Aldrich:
Chris Aldrich:
Chris Aldrich: The use of anchor here is odd given that it’s done in a different context/meaning than the new concept of anchored discussion just above. Since the word is a relatively low frequency one from an information theoretic sense, you may be better off using a different verb so as not to muddle things up as well as for better variety.
Chris Aldrich: There are also now digital tools like [Anki](, [Mnemosyne](, and even [Amazon's notebook tools]( that allow highlights and annotations in books to be transferred into digital flashcards to be used for spaced reviews of knowledge and information. I suspect that even students that heavily highlight their textbooks are rarely reviewing over those highlights after-the-fact, and have generally found this to be the case when asking those I see actively doing so.
Chris Aldrich: Spoiler alert in the footnote!
Chris Aldrich: One also has to question for pedagogy’s sake why the new professor of the course continued the adoption of that text which was patently “off” in its recipes to the point that a student who had the corrections and better descriptions (via those annotations) excelled while others were only passable?
Chris Aldrich: I feel like there is also research that indicates the quicker the feedback is given and consumed, the more effective it is as well. Perhaps this is a more useful thing with digital feedback which can be done in near-real time. I’ll also note that many of the top writing programs in the country (Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars and Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop) rely on written and aural annotated feedback from entire classrooms of students on others’ work.
Chris Aldrich: Some of this extends as far as what has been called “productivity porn”. See also:
Chris Aldrich: This may be the first time I’ve ever read his name and it didn’t include his middle initial J. I’m also reminded after having recently rewatched the movie Quiz Show that Adler released a revised edition of this book with Charles van Doren in 1972.
Maha Bali: I found this paragraph frustrating to lead because it seems like a list of teacher names and one line of what they did. I was hoping for more details that would help someone who has never annotated or used it in class to imagine how they might use it
Maha Bali: I am sorry… I did not find this very useful. I think you are trying to say how learning is about a skill you did not have, then you develop building blocks for it, then you can do it. I don't think of learning exactly that way, but I also think if you want to focus on learning then you can weave in more of the content/context aspects (e.g. you may know how to read and pronounce a word but if you do not understand the context or have never seen it, you won't *understand* it, or you may misunderstand it because of cultural context or such). You also briefly mention attitudinal aspects but not deeply. For example, a child may become passionate about reading *about robots* but not read any fiction. A child may enjoy social reading with a parent but not like reading alone, etc. I say these things because annotation can influence how much agency a learner has over making reading more or less social, by annotating privately or publicly - because annotation is an extension of their learning through reading, an active, potentially visible engagement
Maha Bali: I am not comfortable with repeated use of voila here :) Especially in the social aspects, as reading can be seen by some as a private activity and they may feel uncomfortable doing it socially, no?
Maha Bali: here, I have a small problem. You are describing reading as a set of concrete technical skills. You learn the shape of the letters and later put them together to form words. You learn the sounds connected to letter combos. This is the instrumental/technical reading. But fluency in reading is something else and is not technical or instrumental but something more, a process of connecting to reading material, you know? And a book club allows social connection to reading, right?
Maha Bali: i was honestly expecting something more like a lit review here, but it's ok if this isn't it. I do wonder if you want to tie things to educational philosophy or curriculum theory. How you decide that something enhances learning, how you do that research to show it, differs by paradigm. For example, as an interpretivist/critical researcher I would never even attempt a correlational study on this, it would be absurd to the type of research question I have. I would also focus on the nuances of how each student used it in each context and whether finding annotations or responses by others demonstrate (or feel to the learner) learning- and tie it to what happens in class before and after, building on the annotation exercise. For example.
Maha Bali: and for PARTICULAR learners. In the same assignment, some learners may benefit more than others, but perhaps a well-designed assignment in a suitable context will be beneficial to more learners. It would be interesting to look at learners’ own individual choices to annotate (e.g. graduate students doing research) and how they use this, how it helps. I find it infinitely more accessible and organized than note cards which I have never used since my understanding freshman writing/ composition courses
Maha Bali: This feels different from annotation in the sense I thought this chapter was about. This feels like feedback to a person which can be given orally or textually (and often I read about learners preferring oral, more holistic feedback than the kind using red markers. Though I do see its usefulness in language teaching
Maha Bali: This is interesting to me because most of my schooling, I did not own my books, and had to return them to school, WITHOUT marks on them. Only a few situations existed where we were allowed to do this. In university, I did buy my own books, but often borrowed from the library, again books I could not (in all conscience) annotate. Only when I started to get second hand books with annotations I became interested in seeing other people's annotations
Jeffrey Pomerantz: There are many definitions of learning, as you know. Seems to me that the most useful definition of learning for your purposes here is that learning = behavior change.
Jeremy Dean: And public? Most social annotation in classrooms is still circumscribed to private groups. It’s a whole different thing when students annotate publicly and for the public good.
Chris Aldrich: monkey see, monkey do has always been one of the most powerful forms of learning…
Jeremy Dean: This is key for me: social annotation provides a way to teach these practices that I think wasn’t possible or at least wasn’t easy before.
Jeremy Dean: Hasn’t much annotation throughout history essentially occurred in a kind of vacuum? The personal notes readers have left that no one has ever seen?Yes, annotation has in certain senses always been social, but collaborative annotation does change things up a bit: By socializing annotation we enact the reality that learning is social.
Maha Bali: agreed. I think there is a big difference between annotating for oneself vs annotating for/with others. I guess the difference between constructivism and social constructivism?
Jeremy Dean: Not sure this anecdote works
Jeremy Dean: Citation incomplete?
Nate Angell: I’m so glad to see this linked here: Manuel’s talk was one of the most inspiring I’ve ever heard.
Nate Angell: Ask and thou shalt receive: Above I anticipated coverage of how annotation can benefit teachers, and here it is. I love the examples of annotation-powered professional development for teachers, but I also wonder if there isn’t something to say about how annotating with their students benefits teachers? I don’t have a concrete example, but I’m thinking back on Gardner Campbell’s #ianno19 keynote.
Nate Angell: I love how a thoughtful human-powered educational process like this can augment the experience of everyone involved, not just the “target audience”. I hope to read elsewhere how annotation can benefit teachers as well as students.
Nate Angell: What I love about the SitC example is that it shows how a human-powered, thoughtful educational process like SitC’s annotation and learning lenses augments the experience of everyone involved, not just the “target audience”.
Nate Angell: An opportunity to introduce my favorite Venn diagram:
Nate Angell: I felt a jump here between the learning to read example, and learning leading to literacy. Obviously they are connected, but I don’t think the transitions between learning to read and reading to learn are sufficiently well marked.
Nate Angell: I’d question these commas around “now”. They gave me too much pause ;)
Nate Angell: I feel like starting with Adler here sets the tone for annotation in education as a form of argument, when it might also be thought of as an exploration, or a conversation, or a mapped journey, or…
Miranda Egger: This section strikes me as an example of how social annotation works beyond teacher-student interaction, even so much as to foster the social justice work of R2L. But is it an example of a technology working toward that social justice? Does that distinction make sense? It’s a tool that is aiding people as they do this important work, but the tech itself isn’t proven to “also work toward a broader social, civic, and moral value,” as proclaimed early in this section. I hope that makes sense.
Miranda Egger: Maybe this is beyond the scope here, but I feel like you’re reaching towards a broadened sense of reader agency here. Am I wrong? Readers are learning via social annotation, but is social annotation also contributing to a grander conceptualization of reader as agent in meaning-making?
Nate Angell: Yes! Annotation as practice in feeling empowered to enter broader conversations.
Miranda Egger: And, I’d add, it’s not just hard to teach reading that makes it a challenge. Our mental models for what it even means to be a reader and to co-construct knowledge alongside the producer/author/designer is missing.
Nate Angell: Yes, and not just reading, but readings, as there are so many modes/practices of reading that can maybe not all be generalized to a single, generic reading practice.
Miranda Egger: Good. Here is where I get hints that you’re looking at reading in far more complex ways than highlighted in the section above (where I noted my concern over reading as a process of decoding).
Jeffrey Pomerantz: You may want to look at Karl Weick’s work on Sensemaking, which addresses this social production of new knowledge.
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Miranda Egger: Yet it’s problematic to me that the pedagogical debates around learning to read seem to end with the decoding process of those early learning experiences (phonetics, basic comprehension, etc…) and fail to account for the ways older readers learn to “read” (beyond decoding).
Nate Angell: Yes: merely “massaging the text into my eyeballs”,, is not the same as the deeper engagement we are thinking above beyond decoding, which we think annotation can assist.
Francisco P: One of the biggest challenges of developing technology is building something that is generalizable enough to be useful as many people as possible. As a developer, customizing solutions to every single use case is something that is difficult to achieve.
Maha Bali: This is self-evident, so I am unsure why you need to say anything about generalizability here. What I think you can do (and maybe you have? I am reading linearly here as I annotate) is offer contextualized case studies (so clarify what the course was, for what age group, what size class, what type of learning activity, how annotation was done) and report on how/whether they helped learning, and leave readers to gauge transferability to their own contexts. I don't think you need this paragraph here. You just need to signpost what it is you ARE able to do here.
Francisco P: as a UX note, I really like the way pubpub allows for citation popups. A clickable link in the popup would be cool too.
Lauren Zucker: Should this be singular if you’re citing a single review of the research?
Lauren Zucker: Can you introduce this quotation by giving more context? Who’s speaking, here? (I’m assuming this is a line in the discussion of the study by the authors of the study in the footnote, but it feels like a bit of a leap to make this assumption).
Lauren Zucker: You’re citing two studies, here. One from 1997 (with undergrad participants), and one with 45 pre-service teachers as participants. Here also, I think you need to contextualize the claims you’re making from the literature.
Jeffrey Pomerantz: Has there been any work on this, using the corpus of annotations? That would be some useful evidence here, if so. If not, there’s a future study for you.
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Lauren Zucker: As a reader, I’m craving more examples of annotations in action. This chapter feels like a literature review, which I appreciate, but I also would love to see evidence of learners’ actual annotations on real texts that show me how annotation itself (as opposed to discussion or even just thinking) can promote learning.
Lauren Zucker: Given that most of these studies examine higher education contexts, I’m not sure you can make this claim about K-12.
Lauren Zucker: I’m not sure if you’re going to keep a digital edition of this book after the review period, but if so, I’d like to be able to copy and paste from these footnotes. Right now, they don’t allow me to do so.
Lauren Zucker: Some of these claims feel intuitive to me (as a literacy researcher and teacher), but do you have any citations to support this? For example, I’m not so sure that the overall trend in schools is to promote digital annotation, or that it is explicitly prioritized/named/valued in school.
Lauren Zucker: Can you contextualize that the first lit review you cite was focused exclusively on higher education students?
Maha Bali: agreed
Betina Hsieh: and practices? I feel like annotation as a practice (an action) can also lead to empowerment which leads to other forms of action. Is that part of the argument here?
Remi Kalir: we need all the copyediting help we can get, thank you!
Maha Bali: 👍🏼
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Betina Hsieh: Could you cite these? I know it’s not necessarily a book named at an academic audience, but as a reader, I would get annoyed if you referred to these folks and there was no citation.
Betina Hsieh: I think you need a comma between read and yet. I think.
Craig Whippo: Why science?
Lauren Zucker: I agree. Are you diving into science because there is more research in this subject? Can you add a sentence or two explaining why you chose science as opposed to other disciplines? Your examples throughout the chapter have focused on reading and science (which could make readers feel like other disciplines deserve more attention).
Craig Whippo: What point are you making here? Are you comparing digital annotations to handwritten annotations?
Jeremy Dean:
Craig Whippo: delete
Craig Whippo: This study is a weak counterargument concerning the relationship between annotations and learning. I would like to see more about the relationship between reading-engagement levels and learning.
Craig Whippo: This a a bit of a stretch. Reading a research article published in “Science” is difficult for undergraduate students even with the help of SiTC annotations.
Betina Hsieh: What about saying “more easily access and engage with” the scientific concepts by negotiating comprehension in a dialogic way? Sorry that’s a lot of jargon, but I think this helps to not oversimplify a still complex process. Also, as a side note, I now want to try SiTC with my kid.
Alan Reid: Have to be careful here because there is research to suggest that students do not exhibit the same annotative behaviors in digital that they would in print. In other words, we lose some of our reading practices when we shift to digital, despite all the available tools. Print annotation is visceral and has a lower barrier to entry.
Alan Reid: Elaborate on this important point. The reason annotation can do this is because it is a cognitive strategy - generative learning. The practice of annotation activates different neural connections with the text than just reading it passively.
Alan Reid: Annotation is a humanly natural inclination. We have always wanted to interact with content.
Miranda Egger: Or, is it fair to say that annotation is a work-around to the natural inclination for dialogic that humans have? Annotation is our only way to make the printed word (a technology that could effectively work to end dialogue, implying that what is printed is the final say on the matter) more dialogic in nature, right?
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Alan Reid: Elaborate on this point a bit. It is an important one, I think.
Betina Hsieh: Can you cite this more? The two citations you give seem not to “overwhelmingly suggest” the power of feedback, even though I agree with this point.
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Connor Jay: Sönke Ahrens ‘How to Take Smart Notes’ seems relevant here.
Troy Hicks: This conclusion is unlike what you have done in previous chapters, calling directly to the reader. That is neither good nor bad, but I am just pointing out that it is curious to be addressed directly, as a reader and annotator, at this point so late in the book and in a manner unlike I had experienced before.
Betina Hsieh: Again, I’ve read less than Troy (just chapters 5 &6), and I personally appreciate the dialogic/ dialectic nature of this question, except that I wasn’t sure exactly what you were asking — my experience with annotation & learning (as the handwritten question asks below) or my experience reading this last section of the chapter related to broader social, civic & moral value? Because those are really different questions. And, also, my experiences reading this chapter in terms of that latter question are kinda meh, but my experiences of annotation and its social, civic and moral value (even annotation of chapter 5 with your examples there which resonated more with me because they were grounded in power) are stronger so I think the question itself needs more clarity so that I can have a stronger engagement with it (because it’s all about me….I mean, and other readers like me too)
Troy Hicks: Do you have another specific example to share? In addition to the Climate Change and Frankenstein examples from earlier, do you have an example that really shows how annotation can both aid learning and lead to social change?
Nate Angell: The annotation part is not always central, but has played a part in the literacies work Mike Caulfield has been doing, which arguably fosters social change. Check, Please! Starter Course Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers
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Troy Hicks: Push this one step further and, again, answer the “so what” question. What about this is important for us, as educators, trying to understand what we are teaching and what students are really learning?
Francisco P: I don’t mean to intrude on the authors’ intent here, but as with any digital media, the data underlying digital annotation can become unmanageable for manual analysis. Analytics tools are an aid for combing through large amounts of data.
Troy Hicks: Could you pull, from at least one of these examples, a specific annotation/dialogue amongst educators that you think highlights how powerful this form of PD really is? In short, show don’t tell here. An example would go far to accentuate your argument.
Alan Reid: I like this suggestion. A real-world anecdote / example would help here.
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Troy Hicks: Interesting that, among all the openly available options you have mentioned so far, that you now mention a commercial product. Why have you chose to do that here?
Nate Angell: I think it makes sense to talk about any annotation technology. Maybe an appendix guide to the tools discussed would be good, or maybe beyond the scope of this work.
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Troy Hicks: This is useful, and I wonder if you might offer other “learning lenses” that would be particularly helpful for annotating literature, historical texts, infographics, videos, and other modes/media?
Chris Aldrich: I once remarked on the evolution of scientific journal article titles and am surprised that they don’t mention visiting popular science journalism as a means of entering some journal articles from a broader perspective before delving into a journal article itself? They don’t always exist for all articles, but for those with interesting/broad impact they can be a more immediate way into the topic before getting in to the heavier jargon of a scientific article itself.
Troy Hicks: OK, so as a reader, I can “take” all of them. Then what? What do you want me to learn about annotation (and the teaching of annotation practices) from this list? Right now, it is a list of people using annotation on certain content, but not a list of specific intellectual tasks (ala Blooms) that these teachers are inviting their students to aspire toward. Help us see, clearly, what happens when students annotate. In other words, answer the “so what?” question rather than just providing a list of examples.
Chris Aldrich: x2
Troy Hicks: A clear concise list of these themes would be helpful.
Lauren Zucker: I need a “like” button for many of Troy’s comments.
Troy Hicks: Indeed. And, at risk of sounding cynical, are you going to offer some specific recommendations for how educators can “systematically promote annotation as a cognitive strategy”?
Troy Hicks: As an educator, it would be very helpful to see the ways in which we can teach these annotation “moves” to students, explicitly. Also, seeing how we can do these same moves with digital tools… that would be particularly useful.
Troy Hicks: Where is this list? Why not mention it earlier, and elaborate on the findings?
Betina Hsieh: I agree with this. There’s a lot of lead up and I would like evidence up front and then an unpacking of it throughout the chapter. It’s just hard for me to stay bought in when you keep referring to “overwhelming evidence” & “considerable research” and then I have to keep reading to find it.
Troy Hicks: Good to acknowledge the counterpoint. Again, do you have evidence to suggest that, empirically, annotation does improve learning?
Lauren Zucker: Hoping these studies are referenced later in the chapter, but I’m wondering the same thing as a reader at this point.
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Troy Hicks: OK, I believe you. Yet, this is a “trust but verify” moment. Do you have some citations of research (read: experimental/quasi-experimental) studies that proves, empirically, that annotation aids learning?
Maha Bali: I am also waiting for the same and am 90% sure I read something at some point that said digital reading is not deep enough unless you annotate it. If I find the link I will come back and share.
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Troy Hicks: And, this speaks to the power that the teacher had… what questions was he expecting Derrida to answer? What was Derrida himself aiming to do with these writings/annotations?
Troy Hicks: Yes, students could do this. Are they being taught to do so, explicitly? And, even if they are doing so, are they engaging at the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, or are they stuck at the lower levels?
Troy Hicks: When you are able to do so… Sorry, I am harping on this. But, I fear that you are taking a very optimistic view toward the ways that students are taught (if they are indeed taught at all) to annotate. I think that some students do annotate, and do it well. Most, I am afraid, do not annotate at all (or do not do it well). Even if they are doing it well, are they really doing it in deeply dialogic ways?
Betina Hsieh: I don’t know. I’m going to respectfully disagree with Troy on this one. I think that your citation of Adler is his advocacy, not necessarily your own at this point (but Troy’s read more of the book than I have) and I also think that annotation, even when done poorly, if done on one’s own (i.e. if not copied from someone’s else’s — like a teacher’s annotation) is an important step in dialogism.
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Troy Hicks: Wow… Going back to the concerns I expressed in the first chapter, this tweet could be read in very positive — or very negative — light. Is “understanding” the only goal for reading? Moreover, are you really “understanding” it, or merely going through the motions to demonstrate that you have marked up the text? This example deserves some unpacking.
Lauren Zucker: The negative reading reminds me of Gallagher’s Readicide. Are teachers inadvertently damaging students’ love of reading by forcing them to highlight/annotate/post-it/journal it to death?
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