Encouraging and Supporting Discussions Through Online Annotations

Alice Fleerackers, Juan Pablo Alperin, and Esteban Morales

Grant program: Dewey Fellowship Grant Program

Grant recipient: Juan Pablo Alperin, Publishing Program

Project team: Alice Fleerackers and Esteban Morales, research assistants, Remi Kalir, University of Colorado

Timeframe: May 2018 to June 2019

Funding: $6000

Description: Seminar courses are predicated on the notion that students learn by critically reading a text, and subsequently engaging in discussions with their peers and with the instructor. This project seeks to expand on this practice by bringing discussions about assigned texts online with an online annotation tool, Hypothes.is.

I have now successfully piloted online annotations using Hypothes.is in six of my own courses over four years and would like to encourage others to do so as well. In the Fall of 2016, I formally researched students’ use and perceptions of annotations with the support of a Teaching and Learning Development Grant (G0172) to get a better understanding of how annotations can improve learning outcomes. This study pointed to the value and challenges of encouraging annotations in the classroom.

As a Dewey Fellow, I hope to accomplish two things. First and foremost, I wish to recruit faculty from across the university to encourage the use of online annotations in the classroom. Second, I will collect data from annotations made by students, from the add-on notification system, and from surveys to study the practice of online annotations. As a result, I will be in a position to study how annotations are used in a diverse set of classrooms that span multiple disciplines and practices. I hope to use my observations to provide recommendations of how annotations can best be used to help students engage critically with texts and with each other in ways that puts them in charge of their own learning.

Questions addressed: 

  • What value did students find in annotating?
  • What is the student experience of annotating? How do they think it changed their experience of the course?
  • What motivates students to annotate?
  • What are the different types of annotations and annotators?
  • Does learning happen through the annotations?
  • How do different types of courses and set-ups affect the ways students perceive annotations and their practices?

Knowledge sharing: If possible, it would be ideal to set up a series of daytime talks at the three campuses to share the experiences of using Hypothes.is.

There has already been interest from other faculty members within the Publishing Program, and I believe it would be of interest to many social science and humanities programs, or any course that critically engages with written materials.