Something Opened

This is the final blog post associated with INTE 5320 Games and Learning during the Spring 2016 semester. Future posts about open web annotation and playfulness will now appear at PAHSIT. Moving forward, this blog will feature an occasional post about game-based learning, and will then reboot for the Spring 2017 iteration of CU Denver’s Games and Learning course. As for this post, no rambling thoughts, no media, no hyperlinks – just a few brief notes of appreciation and provocation. Thanks to all who were game this semester. – Remi

What began in early January as an experiment in open pedagogy and learning turns toward an official conclusion with the door ajar. While INTE 5320 Games and Learning ends this coming Saturday, May 14th, something has opened and persists as an untidy though delicious mess. Torn wrapping paper is scattered across the floor. And some gift – unwrapped, exposed – appears unfinished, a nascent form humming and still hungry.

Rather than debate some definition or benefit of open education among changing learning landscapes (a task for which I’m severely under-qualified), and rather than parse my students’ learning this semester (something I welcome, yet will require many months to respectfully engage with nuance), and rather than advocate particular forms of pedagogy as so-called best practice (something that is pretty useless), I offer three observations as a reflective practitioner. I’ve taught over 20 different courses online over the past seven years for three different institutions. This semester was different, and here’s what I’ve learned:

Open experimentation is social and invites reciprocal networking.

My experimentation with open pedagogy – and my attempts to guide students’ learning with/in and across open platforms – was a social endeavor that invited reciprocal networking. Should this come as a surprise given the socio-technical affordances of Hypothesis, Twitter, and blogging? Probably not. Nevertheless, I am deeply grateful for the participatory connectedness that defined our learning this semester. The generosity of those who were officially enrolled in this graduate course, of those who played along with us in games and chats and flash mobs, of those who boosted signals and challenged presumptions and provided feedback, you have all liberated community and connection from the constraints of static noun and re-imagined each as dynamic verb. Thank you.

Open education is contested and invites the (re)negotiation of power.

My embrace of open pedagogy and students’ open learning was not synonymous with free – as in free labor, or free of tension, or free from responsibility. Rather than some intellectual exercise in an unbounded and unaccountable education, I have learned that open pedagogy and learning is a step into ever more contested terrain. As a designer and facilitator, open pedagogy required my persistent recognition and (re)negotiation of power. My intersectionality privileges me as someone who can work in the open, who can be critiqued publicly, and who can leverage institutional supports while simultaneously speaking (at times) against those very same forces. This is not the case for all educators. This is certainly not the case for all learners. Moreover, I am more aware that certain privileges are amplified when moved into the open. I contend that open pedagogy demands a public responsibility to manage – through failure and shared insight – the extent to which authority is debatable, ideally less reified and pushed toward a state of decomposition and transformation.

Open education is improvisational and invites ambiguity.

My experience with open education was improvisational and invited ambiguity. I humbly suggest to other educators that such an approach moves from scripted planning to emergent activity, from teaching a course to orchestrating experiences, from assessing objectives to glimpsing expertise, and from expecting conformity to honoring curiosity. If this past semester was open source(d), then our code features a byline of shared authorship with chapters yet to be written.


About That Annotation Flash Mob

In reflecting upon and writing about this annotation flash mob, I recognize how this pedagogical experiment was only possible because of many generous individuals who write, share, and – to put it simply – work just so dang hard to ensure that the technical, the social, and the playful all come together. Thank you Sean Michael Morris, Jesse Stommel, Hybrid Pedagogy, and the Digital Pedagogy Lab. And thank you Dan Whaley, Jon Udell, Jeremy Dean, Nick Stenning, and others at Hypothesis. I am grateful for your support and inspired by your work.  – Remi

On less than 24 hours notice, toward the semester’s end, and coinciding with the due date of INTE 5320 Games and Learning’s affinity spaces project, my graduate learners and I organized an annotation flash mob. Yes, I did write up a flash mob invitation, two #ILT5320 learners graciously volunteered to help facilitate (thanks Tedy and Nik!), and various tweeps helped to spread the word far and wide, though apparently there really wasn’t a plan:

Despite circumstances that were less than ideal, ambiguous direction, and expectations that were very likely unrealistic and unrealizable, about 20 people came together and utilized Hypothesis to flash mob annotate Sean Michael Morris’ recent #digped article “Teaching in our Right Minds: Critical Digital Pedagogy and the Response to the New.”

Seven of INTE 5320’s 11 graduate learners participated. A who’s who of open pedagogy scholars and web annotation advocates joined, too, including Maha Bali, Robin DeRosa, Jamila Siddiqui, Joe Dillon, Jeremy Dean, Alexandre Enkerli, and Roy Kamada. And individuals I’ve never met before – like Britni Brown O’Donnell – and those whom I may never know (or whose Hypothesis handles I don’t recognize) also participated – thanks for your contributions Gandalf511 and mcjsa! We also received simultaneous engagement via Twitter, specifically from Sean Michael Morris, Jesse Stommel, and VTE (Vitrine technologie-éducation) Live, and subsequently many inquiries and likes – so yes, we’ll make plans for another bit of playful learning Christopher Haynes.

As of this writing, there are 85 annotations with many, many replies. There are embedded images, GIFs, and videos. And conversations about posthumanist literature, the affordances and nerd-love associated with “labs,” respect and empathy needed when designing and learning with educators, and the provenance of the Apatosaurus. And perhaps these varied – and very meaningful – conversations are just getting started:

I’ve written previously about how open web annotation appropriates (con)texts. In the case of this flash mob, the individuals who became an ad hoc collective appropriated: a) Sean’s text as the theatre within which we played; b) the multiple contexts of established social routines, from open web annotation as social reading, to the impromptu activities of a flash mob, to a broader frame of online and digital teaching and learning; and c) a hybrid (con)text mashing up formal with informal learning, participants in a university graduate course with a distributed network of learners, and academic with social expression. The hybrid nature of participation in – and across – time was also apparent; the flurry of synchronous activity bounded by about an hour of intense flash mobbing has been complemented by subsequent (and ongoing, and open-ended) asynchronous contributions. And, as will be noted momentarily, acts of reading and writing emerged from the margins and spanned other platforms and media.

If you haven’t done so already, go read our annotations – they’re wild.

And since this flash mob concluded I’ve been begun to consider this question: What might it mean to read and write an annotation flash mob? The remainder of this post shares my thoughts associated with this question – thoughts that are provisional, at times conflicting, and quite exploratory.

During the flash mob my social reading – and ongoing activity as a writer – was not confined to a single online platform or setting. That is, I was not only reading and then writing in the margins of Sean’s Hybrid Pedagogy article. Participants may agree that Roy’s comment accurately captured their stance in the moments before the flash mob.

However, as our activity commenced, and while using Hypothesis to annotate this given webpage, I quickly found myself simultaneously reading and writing across multiple settings. My improvisational practices were both grounded – in text, in conversation – while also unhinged – thrown across networks and platforms. Unlike a flash mob where I might dance with others in a park before dispersing as if nothing occurred, my practices in this annotation flash mob were circuitous, weaving among the following platforms and practices:

  • Utilizing Hypothesis to annotate in the margins of Sean’s article;
  • Promoting and responding to tweets about the flash mob via Twitter;
  • Reading notifications about annotations sent to my email;
  • Accessing – via email – the Hypothesis stream and then responding to threaded exchanges (rather than by responding to annotations directly on the webpage); and
  • Curating distributed resources – other media, articles, and related webpages – via hyperlink within layered annotation.

And all this cross-setting reading and writing left traces, bread crumbs as evidence of activity primarily in the form of Twitter and Hypothesis notifications sent via email. Here’s a screenshot of my email’s trash toward the end of the flash mob:


As much as I was reading a given text and (re)writing a growing and divergent set of conversations associated with that text, the flash mob required that I was also read and shape patterns of emergent interaction across networked settings. I was reading and writing back-and-forth across the multiple settings of a budding learning ecology. I was developing, sometimes awkwardly and through trial-and-error, a more unified approach to comprehending the unfolding text/s of interaction. What began as activity in the margin quickly spread – via Twitter, via email, via the Hypothesis stream – into cyclical and cross-context discussion. Seldom – in my experience as an educator and a learner – has a designed activity so quickly (within mere minutes!) morphed so as to demonstrate Freire’s classic concern for reading the word and reading the world.

This circumstance was even more complex and compelling because of the content that focused our flash mob’s collective expression. Consider this example from Robin DeRosa:


In response to Sean’s observation that “there are not texts” when designing a more human approach to digital teaching and learning, Robin recalled a recent experience with her students, noting: “We talked about weaving threads together to make custom textbooks out of dynamic feeds of information and analysis. In some places the threads connected us as learners in a class, in others they separated us or tied us to others outside our classroom.”

Robin’s comment about threads, connection, and separation resonates strongly with my experience reading and writing the flash mob as an in-the-moment event. Was I the only person who read and wrote this flash mob as threads connecting me with other people and ideas, while simultaneously loosing tangents of creative thought from the broader cloth of conversation? In what respect did others find themselves reading and writing across patterns of engagement because of specific points in an article? And am I missing other settings and practices that helped seed and propel participation in this flash mob? If so, please share.

Despite the fact that Hypothesis anchors annotation to specific text, I was not expecting that bursts of collective anchoring would result in such agile and trans-spatial reading and writing. As such, I’m left with additional questions that specifically concern the intentional inclusion of such an annotation flash mob in more formal learning arrangements.

  • Should such cross-setting activity be expected from this approach to synchronous open web annotation?
  • If so, how might designers and educators support learners in developing literacies to capably and meaningfully read and write during such threading, connecting, and separating activity?
  • Is appropriate to assess such activity (and it may not be!)? And if so, how might educators chose to do so given a range of social reading and writing practices?

The following tweets provide a few glimpses into broader opportunities, challenges, and unresolved questions associated with annotation flash mobs as an experimental approach to social reading and writing in the open:

Reading Britni’s comment – “Love[d] getting to play in the digital annotation flashmob” – I’m reminded of the frequently referenced analogy of the digital mimicking sandbox play. When children play together in a sandbox they utilize a range of tools – shovels, buckets, toys of various shapes and sizes. While playing in this setting, children often act in response to their built yet flexible environment – all this sand, all these possibilities! They navigate among shifting social relations – first we’re builders, now we’re enemies, now it’s time for tag – all while pursuing emergent goals, from castle construction, to destructive battle, to collaborative artistic expression. Children’s activity is socially and materially situated, with interaction both intentional and improvisational.

This annotation flash mob created similar sandbox conditions, yet the playfulness of our reading and writing spanned settings. While our annotation was socially and materially situated in a particular place and time, so too was it mediated across connections and networks. Though fleeting, these new social relations – and the emergent goals of associated conversation – helped model a promising practice of inviting play for more open-ended, connected, and interest-driven learning.


The #ILT5320 Affinity Space Projects

Since this past Friday, INTE 5320 Games and Learning graduate learners have begun to share projects about their three months of participant observation in games-related affinity spaces. For readers less familiar with the concept of affinity spaces, a brief primer. At the beginning of our semester, we read Jim and Elisabeth (Hayes) Gee conceptualize affinity spaces (click through to read our Hypothesis annotations!); they describe affinity spaces in the following ways:

  • “The concept of affinity space stresses that the organization of the space (the site and what it links to, including real world spaces and events in some cases) is as important as the organization of the people. Indeed, the interaction between the two is crucial as well.”
  • “Most fan sites are completely open; anyone can find them and access their content. Some sites require visitors to become “members” which, typically, merely involves creating a username and profile. Accordingly, one of easiest and best ways to answer the question of “who belongs” is simply to say that whoever enters the space (the fan site) is in the group and belongs.”
  • “There are many different types of affinity spaces (and other kinds of communities) on the Internet and out in the real world. Some are inclusive, supportive, and nurturing, while others are not. Affinity spaces and other sorts of communities can give people a sense of belonging, but they can also give people a sense of “us” (the insiders) against “them” (the outsiders). People can be cooperative within these spaces and communities, but they can also compete fiercely for status. They can communicate politely and in a friendly fashion or they can engage in hostile and insulting interaction.”

Learners in #ILT5320 have joined, participated in, and now analyzed the following games and gaming affinity spaces: BreakoutEDU, the Unity community, the Kerbal Space Program, BoardGameGeek, Graphite,Denver’s Strategy Board Games Group, Code Combat, Teachers Pay Teachers, and ActiveWorlds.

It’s been fun watching learners share their projects via Twitter – a mix of excitement, shout outs to games and learning scholars, and relief:

And now, on to feedback as a form of discussion that began yesterday – Monday, April 25th – and spans the next two weeks, through Sunday, May 8th. First, please read my previous post about feedback and commentary guidelines for our affinity space projects (these guidelines are explicitly written for INTE 5320 learners, though the general background is helpful for anyone who wants to jump in and comment). Second, we’re anticipating that commentary will reach beyond our immediate course participants, including: other graduate learners and colleagues affiliated with CU Denver’s Information and Learning Technologies program (like #ILT5340 and #INTE5670Spr2016), Maha Bali and her students (who are also seeking feedback on their own game design projects), game-based learning scholars and designers whom we’ve read and interacted with throughout the semester, and certainly regular readers of this blog interested in the open and playful aspects of our collective learning. And third, our thanks – in advance – for the public feedback and networked commentary that will propel our course forward through the next two weeks and on toward its conclusion.

And so, without further ado:

Brian and BreakoutEDU

Kelly and a Game Design Subreddit

Kirk and the Unity Community

Lainie and the Kerbal Space Program

Lisa and BoardGameGeek

Nik and Clash of Clans

Robert and Graphite

Susan and Denver’s Strategy Board Games Group

Susannah and Code Combat

Vail and Teachers Pay Teachers

Tedy and ActiveWorlds

Thank you for jumping in and advancing our conversations about games and learning!

An Annotation Flash Mob Invitation

Readers of this blog are well aware that INTE 5320 Games and Learning has conducted a semester-long experiment with open web annotation through our use of Hypothesis. Over the past three-plus months our open annotation has influenced learners’ experiences with communication and collaboration, fostered playfulness, confronted challenges associated with open pedagogy and learning, and pushed boundaries of professional development.

Much of our learning, however, has yet to trouble open annotation as an asynchronous activity. Whether in response to course readings or peer blog posts, our use of open annotation has largely operated over fractured timescapes – learners contribute when it is convenient, based upon the constraints of their individual schedules, and often around (or in spite of) other commitments. This dynamic is almost entirely the result of a particular approach to online teaching and learning, and not something inherent to open web annotation (or Hypothesis as a platform).

So what happens when the social and networked affordances of open web annotation become synchronous? One approach is an annotation flash mob.

What’s a flash mob? Wikipedia tells us that a flash mob is: “A group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then quickly disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment, satire, and artistic expression.”

In the case of an annotation flash mob, however, the shared activity is anything but pointless. Yes, a group of people assemble in a public place – in many cases, an online resource (like a blog post) that is easily accessible. And yes, there is a performance of shared activity that encourages expression and creativity. But pointless? I think not. My recent experiences with annotation flash mobs – one organized as informal professional learning, and one atop this blog that literally played with my own thoughts about playfulness – have demonstrated that these impromptu and improvisational gatherings are distinctive opportunities to converse, spark connections, and extend interests into new learning pathways.

Here’s your invitation to an annotation flash mob:

When: Tomorrow – Monday, April 25th – at 6pm MT (8p Eastern, 5p Pacific).

Where: Sean Michael Morris’ recent #digped article “Teaching in our Right Minds: Critical Digital Pedagogy and the Response to the New.” As I noted when this brilliant article was published this past Friday:

A few brief notes about location and participation. First, if you’re new to open web annotation and want to join in, follow my instructions at the end of this post. Second, if you want to follow along without installing Hypothesis, then use this “via” proxy link to Sean’s article so as to access and watch the open annotation in real time. Third, expect that flash mob activity in one location will seed sharing across other connected platforms, particularly Twitter via #ILT5320, #digped, and perhaps #OER and #OpenEd. And fourth, why this article? Because Sean emphasizes play as critical inquiry, questions the limits and opportunities of “open,” and challenges us to literally and metaphorically unearth the human and relational aspects of learning. I’m game – and I hope you are, too.

Who: You! This flash mob is hosted by INTE 5320 Games and Learning, a graduate course at CU Denver that converses via both Twitter and Hypothesis at #ILT5320. Folks who contribute to the #digped and #connectedlearning communities may certainly be interested. Other CU Denver Information and Learning Technologies courses may want to join, like #ILT5340 and #INTE5670Spr2016. I also anticipate that educators and designers tinkering with open annotation, and particularly those folks who appreciate Hypothesis, may want to join – or encourage their courses to swing by. Please spread the word!

Why: A colleague recently asked me, in the context of learning about and then providing feedback on my teaching in INTE 5320: “What do you intend for students leaving the course to know and be able to do? And how does ‘learning in the open’ facilitate this?” I responded to her with the following:

I hope that students leave the course knowing a bit about how people learn – with various tools, through social participation, within and across settings, and given designed systems that scaffold developing expertise. And ‘learning in the open’ immerses students in these experiences so very well – with various tools (Twitter, blogs, Hypothesis), through multiple spheres of social participation (course peers, affinity spaces, other networks), within and across many online and everyday settings, and through both academic and playful learning experiences (as “designed systems”) that guide developing familiarity and more-expert knowledge.
So why this annotation flash mob? As yet another experiment in open and playful activity that seeks to develop more-expert knowledge among a distributed collective. And because – in a slight tweak to Sean’s very apt phrase – to see what will happen.

Let’s see what happens during our annotation flash mob.

Affinity Space Presentations & Discussions

Greetings INTE 5320 Games and Learning,

For the past three months you’ve acted as participant observers in various games and learning affinity spaces – including BreakoutEDU, the Unity community, the Kerbal Space Program, BoardGameGeek, Graphite, Denver’s Strategy Board Games Group, Code Combat, Teachers Pay Teachers, and ActiveWorlds. As you know, the purpose of your engagement with(in) these affinity spaces has been three-fold:

  1. To observe the ways in which knowledge is produced, shared, and contested in interest-driven participatory cultures;
  2. To contribute to a learning community invested in games, game play, and learning from and about games; and
  3. To reflect upon the ways in which your participation in an informal learning community shapes your understanding of games and learning, with potential implications for learning in formal settings (i.e. schools, workplaces).

By this coming Sunday, April 24th you’ll share with our learning community a screencast – approximately 10 minutes in length – via your blog that summarizes your affinity space participation and learning experiences. As you also know, our Cycle 7 texts are your collective affinity space projects. Accordingly, I’ll comment briefly upon the type of feedback and commentary that will help to structure our forthcoming discussion. And I do so because everyone’s affinity space blog posts will soon become discussion forums. And because our collective blog commentary (like your previous comments here, here, and here) and Hypothesis annotation (when possible) will comprise our shared learning activity.

For every member of our learning community – and whether via blog commentary or Hypothesis annotation (or both!) – please respond to at least one question from each of the following question sets aligned to the criteria of our affinity space project.

A. Observing the affinity space:

  • What observations about game/ing communities and cultures are shared?
  • What does it mean to be an insider?  How do you know?  And how would you describe this space to an outsider?
  • What are the cultural norms – the means of interaction and  discussion – that are prominent in this space?  And why?

B. Contributing to the affinity space:

  • How did your peer first begin contributing to the affinity space?
  • How did other members of the affinity space respond?
  • How did the nature of your peer’s contributions change over time?  And why?
  • What insight about games (and games and learning) did your peer learn through her/his contributions?

C. Reflecting upon affinity space participation:

  • What does your peer perceive to be the strengths of this affinity space?
  • What does your peer perceive to be the limitations of this space?
  • How did your peer learn about games and learning?
  • How was learning social, collaborative, and/or contested?
  • How would you describe your peer’s experience learning in another setting (i.e. not Canvas, not a “classroom”) as complementary to our other course activities?

D. Connecting affinity space participation to literature and theory:

  • What 3 features from Gee and Hayes (2008) describe your peer’s experience, and why?
  • What other aspects of learning theory helped your peer to understand this affinity space?
  • What other examples of games and learning literature were useful points of reference, and why?

A final note about our facilitators during Cycle 7: Tedy and Nik will be modeling various commentary and annotation responses through the cycle, and – as others have with our previous readings – they will help assist with responses, pose follow up questions, guide resource sharing, and establish connections across various projects so as to move our shared conversations forward.

I’m looking forward to a substantive cycle of sharing, engagement, and discussion about our affinity space adventures.

A Few Additional Glimpses

This is the second post in which I’m sharing graduate learners’ reflections on their use of open web annotation in INTE 5320 Games and Learning (my first post is here). The previous post generated favorable attention from students and supporters alike:

However, it is entirely my shortcoming that in a rush to share I failed to articulate a deliberate – yet easily overlooked – rhetorical choice. Before highlighting a few additional perspectives, I’d like to comment upon my use of “glimpse.”

In the book Ignorance, the neurobiologist Stuart Firestein recalls a story about how a team of cognitive psychologists came to alter how they studied animal self-awareness. At first, this team of scientists defined a priori – that is, in advance, and by set criteria – one specific concept of animal consciousness. Only one particular expression by a given animal would count as evidence of self-awareness in the study. The scientists then created various experiments to prove self-awareness behavior. But the animals failed to produce the particular self-awareness behavior, time and time again. Eventually, the experimental design and the role of the scientists changed, as the team sought “to provide an opportunity for an individual creature to simply show us whether it acted consciously” (Firestein, 2012, p. 97). In other words, an environment was created whereby researchers could observe a range of animal behavior. More importantly, multiple forms of self-awareness could now be demonstrated – and demonstrated on the animals’ own terms. Perhaps not surprisingly, animals began to demonstrate their self-awareness.

Given the co-designed and playful approach to INTE 5320 Games and Learning this semester, Firestein’s story echoes as an apt analogy. Within the context of social reading afforded by Hypothesis, no a priori definition of acceptable annotation was established as a rigid given against which all contributions would be measured. Rather, a range of open annotation practices have been encouraged on learners’ own terms. And unlike a controlled experiment that evaluates a particular activity in an often sanitized setting, this course has sought to create the conditions for varied annotation practices to span multiple authentic settings – from selected readings to peer blogs, from news and popular media to affinity spaces. As I have noted before, such annotation is playful because it appropriates (con)texts – texts, contexts, and the hybrid in-between of social and academic practice.

Such playful – as well as emergent and contingent – activity is similar to what Firestein (2012) terms a “glimpse.” He defines glimpses as new types of knowledge that do not “stand still,” but rather are perceived peripherally or retrospectively. While glimpses may be difficult to predict, glimpses are important because they push against assumptions of what counts as knowledge. Here, then, are three more glimpses pushing the boundaries of design, pedagogy, and learning associated with open web annotation.

A glimpse from Lainie, her cautionary note about open and closed opportunities, safety, and a need for multiple discursive forms:

As for ILT5320’s use of open discussion through (mostly) Twitter and Hypothesis, I think it’s mostly added to our discussions, allowing us to connect with different people and get a better feel for what it’s like to have your work “out there.”  That being said, there have been times (I’m mostly thinking of the Gamergate section) where I think it’s made people cautious about having a real discussion with their classmates.  It’s not as safe an environment to talk about more sensitive issues as it might be if we were having conversations in more closed environments.  I think it would be worthwhile to consider something that’s like a “fireside chat” on occasion in order to give students the opportunity for some reflective conversation in a less open environment.

A glimpse from Brian, his dialectic of building and breaking ideas:

Interacting with my classmates via Hypothesis has made the strongest impact on my learning.  Our collegial nature has made an environment where it feels safe to push against each other’s’ ideas… Hypothesis makes it very convenient to have a very focused discussion about specific ideas in a text.  It enables us to build or break our ideas in a very constructivist manner.

And a glimpse from Robert, his appreciation for the playfulness that emerges from the margins:

I actually believe that being overly serious hinders one’s ability to produce that which is truly creative. For me, playfulness is a must, or else I revert to being anxious and a bit angry when I work. Hence, I appreciate the playfulness that I have experienced in this courses, as it precludes my reverting to my old anxious way of being. The play which surrounds the gameplay in the course transfers to the course in general and can often be found in the discussions which take place in the margins.

With only a month before this course concludes, I find myself increasingly attuned to emergent expressions of learning – and what those contingent yet consequential glimpses may mean for future course design and facilitation efforts. Similarly, I’m also concerned about creating – and sustaining over time – equitable opportunities for learners to demonstrate interests, insights, and opinions on their own terms. Open web annotation plays an important role – alongside related social practices afforded by blogs, Twitter, game play sessions, and affinity space interactions. Creating the conditions for (more) open pedagogy and student learning does not seamlessly translate into predictable, or conflict free, or cleanly defined outcomes. Lainie’s reflection about the benefits of a “less open environment,” Brian’s appreciation for the ability of open annotation to “break our ideas,” and the way in which Robert “appreciate[s] the playfulness that I have experienced” collectively attest to the complexities of learning as opened across settings, as opened to publics and conflicts, and as opened to ways of knowing that do not “stand still.” In this respect, a range of playful learning practices may be glimpsed when acknowledging participation that occurs within, from, and in reference to the margins.

Glimpsing the Impact of Open Annotation

Three times throughout this Spring semester, graduate learners in INTE 5320 Games and Learning are asked to reflect upon – and then blog about – their own learning. These learning reflections are semi-structured; I provide a few guiding questions alongside more open-ended and learner-initiated contributions. One of my prompts asks the following:

How have the more open and public aspects of our course – such as blogging, our use of annotation via Hypothesis, and your affinity space participation – informed your learning?

With the second round of learning reflections due this coming Sunday, posts are appearing that share quite a lot about the impact of our emergent approach to open learning, and the specific role of open web annotation in that process. I’ll turn this over to the very wise individuals whom I’m honored to call co-designers and collaborators:

From Lisa:

I continue to be challenged by my peers in our annotations (through of the course readings, challenged by their questions and reflections…. I appreciate the open honesty in the responses and questions from my peers and I feel that this type of interaction is forcing me to understand the material at a deeper level, and to be a better student and better digital citizen.

From Susan:

The way Hypothesis works also encourages our class discussion and our interaction in the margins of texts, while engaging with our readings. I would guess that most of us write in the margins of our readings anyway, so using an open annotation tool like Hypothesis encourages us to do so in front of and with other readers. The conversations that have been happening in the margins of our readings are engaging, insightful and fun – all things that we hope for in-class discussion as well as online discussion. Personally, I feel more motivated to discuss via annotation because the references are tangible and visible, unlike an LMS-hosted “discussion board” (more like discussion bored, am I right??) where following lengthy threads and navigating multiple submissions can be cumbersome and demotivating.

From Susannah:

Annotating the course readings through has led to new streams of curiosity. Often times a conversation over a reading would lead to my next article to critique. I have become quite picky about my articles because I’m not simply completing the assignment, I’m carving my own unique, educational pathway.

I’ll save my own analysis and commentary about what this all might mean for a future post – reflections are still being written and I look forward to reading additional contributions over the coming days. More importantly, I encourage this blog’s readership – especially those who are not enrolled in this course and/or affiliated with CU Denver – to read the various blogs linked at right – there’s some very inspiring, honest, and critical learning happening at the moment.

Introducing PAHSIT

I am pleased to announce the beginning of a formal research partnership between the University of Colorado Denver and Hypothesis, a non-profit organization building an open platform for web annotation and discussion. A small team of learning scientists at CU Denver’s School of Education and Human Development, alongside educators and developers from Hypothesis, will launch Playful Annotation with Hypothesis Studying Interactive Text (PAHSIT). This new research collaboration is supported through the National Science Foundation’s Data Consortium Fellows program.

A tongue-in-cheek reference to the word posit, PAHSIT seeks to identify educational designs that support open annotation as a playful learning practice. PAHSIT will advance inquiry at the intersection of open education and pedagogy, learning analytics, and the role and importance of play in everyday activity. Extending learning analytics research concerned with multiliteracies, discourse-centric analytics, and rhetorical moves (Dawson & Siemens, 2014; Liddo et al. 2011; Shum & Ferguson, 2012), PAHSIT embraces Salen Tekinbas and Zimmerman’s (2004) definition of play as “free movement within a more rigid structure” (p. 304) to examine playfulness within the conventions of annotation and the technical affordances of the Hypothesis platform.

Specifically, PAHSIT will address two research questions:

  1. Under what conditions is the collaborative and networked practice of open web annotation playful?
  2. What does Hypothesis metadata reveal about the playful qualities of open web annotation?

PAHSIT plans to study learning associated with both informal activity structures, like annotatathons and flash mobs, and more formal cases like INTE 5320 Games and Learning course. Whereas some “technologies for learners… allow novices to lurk in the margins until they are ready to join experts” (Halverson & Shapiro, 2012, p. 3), PAHSIT will reveal how playful patterns in the margins constitute expert learning practices at the intersection of academic discourse and emergent social collaboration.

Most immediately, the initial PAHSIT collaboration will be presented at Hypothesis’ I Annotate Conference this May in Berlin. And look forward to the launch of a PAHSIT project website in conjunction with I Annotate (heads up Reclaim Hosting!).

Finally, and most importantly, I have many people to thank for their various contributions – conceptually, pragmatically, logistically – to the initial development and launch of this collaboration, including: the amazing team at Hypothesis, specifically Jeremy Dean, Jon Udell, and Dan Whaley; CU Denver colleagues Brad Hinson and Adam York; incredible thought partners across the Twitter-sphere, specifically Robin DeRosa, Sarah Honeychurch, Laura Gogia, Terry Elliot, Alexandre Enkerli, Scott Robison, and Joe Dillon (to name but a few!); and – of course – my graduate students in INTE 5320 Games and Learning. Thanks to these wise and kind folks for helping to refine, critique, and support this ongoing experimentation in playful open annotation!

Annotation in the Open: Part 3

This is an open letter to my amazing graduate learners in INTE 5320: Games and Learning. My letter is motivated by recent debate about open annotation, free speech, abuse and harassment, and the challenges of expression and interaction in a networked and open web. As background, blog readers and/or graduate learners are encouraged to also read these articles – and the accompanying Hypothesis annotations – here, here, here, and here. – Remi

To INTE 5320 Games and Learning,

It has been nearly three months since we began playing in the open with our annotation of course texts. What began as a means of facilitating annotation-as-discussion in the margins of our readings has – and perhaps not surprisingly – transformed into a more complex social practice. Our use of Hypothesis has now spread beyond what was originally intended as a replacement for LMS-based (and closed) threaded discussion. We’re becoming playful in our use of annotation. We’ve paired annotation with Twitter to engage the authors of our texts (a special shoutout to Ian Bogost!). We’re also layering annotation atop our blogs as a means of feedback and continued conversation (examples here and here). And – especially in the past week – we’ve begun following and joining conversations about the impact and importance of open web annotation:

And it is that ongoing conversation – or, more accurately, a set of conversations – that I’d like to reference and extend for the purpose of our collective learning. This is, after all, quite the teachable moment. Yet teachable about what?

Hypothesis founder Dan Whaley wrote recently about a need to:

rethink how the technology we are building can be used not only to discuss and enlighten, but also to harass and abuse. Here’s the heart of the matter: most web annotation systems, ours included, don’t currently provide adequate tools to prevent abuse.

I became aware of various conversations – and concerns – at the intersection of open annotation, free speech, and abuse early last week. Here are some brilliant people (and familiar faces, thanks for reaching out!) who first invited me into this debate:

I’m neither a lawyer nor an ethicist, and sometimes conversation about free speech and harassment can quickly become abstracted beyond recognition. But that’s not the case here. The scenario on the tip of everyone’s tongue can be summarized along these lines:

I set up a blog, probably for free, and on a platform that gives me a lot of choice with limited hassle in return (like this blog, on WordPress). It’s my blog, where I write and share important thoughts about my life. [And, thanks Jon Udell, a blog is also this, too.] And based upon what I write, I chose to moderate and approve comments so that any ensuing conversation via commentary is appropriate and not hateful. All of sudden I learn that I have no control over what anyone writes atop my blog because of tools like Genius and Hypothesis. Why can’t I moderate those annotations? Can I opt-in or opt-out? And what happens when I write something very personal on my blog and then someone else comes along and spews hatful, sexist, racist, or abusive garbage using one of these annotation platforms? To whom do I turn in that case, the company or organization that created the platform? And does that group have a policy in place for me to report – or challenge – abusive annotation? Even though I can chose to “turn off” the annotation platform and not see such abuse, the annotations are still there as an invisible layer – can the annotations be permanently deleted?

These are challenging and necessary questions for the developers of any open annotation platform (Genius, Hypothesis, others) to hear and consider. And, as noted, the good folks at Hypothesis are taking careful next steps to prevent abuse:

At this point – especially as as a graduate learner in INTE 5320 – you may be asking yourself: Given this conflict, why would Remi advocate the use of open web annotation in our learning this semester? Here’s the teachable moment – my brief rationale, followed by a set of questions that I hope we consider as a learning community.

First, our Information and Learning Technologies (ILT) graduate program prides itself on a core set of values and associated practices. Among them, we seek to position our learners as active producers of knowledge through the creative use of tools, platforms, and media. We also advocate engagement with real world challenges that are pertinent to professional problems of practice. Whether you’re an instructional designer or a middle school mathematics teacher, our courses provide theoretical perspective and practical strategy applicable to your real world needs and curiosities. And our program – because we’re housed in CU Denver’s School of Education and Human Development – embraces a strong stance toward issues of social justice and equity. In this respect, it is the responsibility of every ILT instructor to address injustice, power, and privilege through our study and use of learning technologies. For example, INTE 5320 began by foregrounding equity (i.e. access, participation, expression) during Cycle 1, engaged directly with the misogyny and sexism of Gamer Gate during Cycle 4, and now concludes (in Cycles 5 and 6) with an emphasis on educators as designers – an expression of agency contrary to the often disempowering position that constrains many K-12 and higher education practitioners. In sum, experimentation, relevance, and equity are core principles that we practice.

It is this rationale – this orientation to the co-design and shared facilitation of a graduate course – that prompted the prominent inclusion of open web annotation as one of our shared practices. While any tool has the potential to be used abusively or for abuse (open annotation, Twitter, the internet, a billboard, a blimp, the Manhattan Project’s reactors), so too do many tools allow those with less privilege to speak truth to power, to question official knowledge, to respectfully dissent without retribution. And, in this respect, open web annotation has the potential to serve as a transformative tool in our INTE 5320 repertoire. You can share curiosity with – and speak your inquisitive and critical truth to – both reading authors and to me. You can react (more) honestly, a bit more “openly” in the open. And you can turn the margins – literally of a given text, and more conceptually of our entire course – into a playground where my power as a professor is de-centered; I’m less the police, more a participant.

I’ll conclude my open letter with a few questions that I hope will guide a very necessary and productive struggle with our tools, practices, and (divergent) orientations to annotation in the open:

  • How would you respond to someone layering abusive annotation atop your blog?
  • What recommendations do you have for platforms like Genius and Hypothesis to manage (the potential for) abuse? Are there technical solutions you would like to see developed and enacted?
  • As we use Hypothesis this semester, what are the benefits – and the limitations – of serving as an early(ish) adopter?
  • How is your learning enhanced – and also complicated – when debate about social and technical dilemmas become part and parcel of our shared experience?

Thanks INTE 5320, I appreciate your willingness to play along with consequential tools and ideas, and I look forward to your responses, concerns, and questions. Take care – RH



Playful Annotation in the Open: Part 3

This post is the third in an ongoing series about playfulness in open web annotation. Here’s Part 1 and Part 2. Hope you enjoy. – Remi

A central observation in my previous post about open web annotation was that through playful expression – such as a reader’s experimentation and sarcasm – it is possible for the practices of digital annotation to appropriate (con)texts. That is, through open annotation an attitude of playfulness can imbue a context not intended for play (like a graduate course or asynchronous online discussion) and also a text not intended for social annotation (such as a video or medical research). Moreover, such playful appropriation creates something new – a (con)text, or a liminal and hybrid space:

somewhere between social networking and academic inquiry, somewhere between close reading and distributed commentary, somewhere between content consumption and media(ted) production.

Since writing last week about two qualities of playful annotation (experimentation and sarcasm), I’ve had – and no surprise here – the pleasure of furthering my own learning about open annotation. I’ll begin by sharing two complementary perspectives on open annotation. I will then utilize these perspectives to share two additional qualities of playful annotation in the open that I have experienced as graduate learners in INTE 5320 Games and Learning annotate their course readings.

A Play on Appropriation

In describing open annotation I have made repeated reference to Miguel Sicart’s (2014) qualification of playful as an attitude that results in the appropriation of a context not intended for play. Sicart’s definition prompted this Hypothesis annotation from Enkerli, quoted in full:

My own (playful) pun, which I’ve been using for a while (long before this interview), is that appropriation is about making something our own and making it appropriate in a context. Was told (by an English teacher) that it wasn’t “what appropriation means”. Been prefacing it more since then. But it’s a way to distinguish the concept from the negatively-loaded “cultural appropriation” while keeping the same principles as drivers for a different kind of change. Been especially interested in technological appropriation, overall, and now in technopedagogical appropriation.

Enkerli’s playful pun seeks to (re)frame “something” – an action, someone’s speech, perhaps a comment in the margin –  descriptively; appropriate is now an adjective. Here, appropriate describes a “something” that is suitable and relevant within a given context. For example, Gene Kelly signing and dancing in the rain is behavior that not only appropriates a street at night (a context not designed for play), it is appropriate given his character Don’s experiences (falling in love with Debbie Reynolds’ character Kathy – “From where I stand, the sun is shining all over the place.”). Irrespective of the police officer’s condescension – his stern gaze brings this improvisational playfulness to an end – Kelly’s actions are (to him, and to us as viewers!) entirely appropriate.

Consider another aesthetic example, though one with a bit more bite. The street artist Banksy not only appropriates contexts (such as buildings, streets, and parks) with provocative visual commentary, the content of this art further underscores a subliminal argument – it is appropriate, perhaps even necessary, to reimagine the Queen, or to resist occupation, or to reconsider where (and how) dreams come true.

In contrast to stereotypes of play as superfluous and inconsequential, Enkerli reminds us that playful activity – like open annotation – can appropriate (con)texts, and that in doing so such activity may be entirely appropriate (if not imperative) across those (con)texts.

Annotation as Social Reading

In the past week I have also seen open (that is, web and/or digital) annotation referred to – and on multiple occasions – as social reading. First, my friend and colleague Noah Geisel referred me to his blog post about Authentic Student Collaboration Through Social Reading. Noah’s post reviews three annotation platforms (Subtext, Ponder, and Genius), with a bent toward pedagogical affordances for K-12 classroom teachers. Preferring the term uptexting to social reading, Noah concludes:

all of three of these tools (and others that surely exist or soon will) offer teachers and students a valuable communication device to share with parents, colleges and employers. Student’s annotations can be displayed as a part of their portfolios, serving as powerful artifacts that are the evidence of a child’s learning.

And earlier today, Mia Zamora wrote for DML Central about Reading as a Social Act. As I have done with this blog, Mia highlighted the open annotation platform Hypothesis and noted the ease with which Hypothesis “invites communities of readers into an extended (and asynchronous) close reading conversation.” Whereas Noah discusses the specifics of pedagogy, Mia attends to the political implications of open annotation-as-social reading. As she observes in her conclusion:

A collaborative reading environment seems to me a fair foundation for dynamic and thoughtful interaction, which, in turn, holds the potential to mirror the kind of rich and complex dialogue we aspire to in a working democracy.

Two Additional Qualities of Playful Annotation

So what happens if we mash together Enkerli’s playful pun with Mia and Noah’s concern for social reading? And how do these perspectives help to identify – and explain – additional qualities of playful annotation? If open annotation appropriates (con)texts, then certain annotation qualities, like sarcasm and experimentation, are not only appropriate, they are socially acceptable among a given community of practice.  I’ll now discuss two additional and socially acceptable qualities of playful annotation that I have seen appropriate – and emerge across – (con)texts associated with the teaching and learning activities of INTE 5320.

1. Uncertainty

Open annotation appropriates (con)texts through uncertainty. It can be terrifying to publicly acknowledge uncertainty or ignorance – and whether for kindergarteners, graduate learners, or educators (including professors!). In the too-frequently sanitized forums that pass for the trappings of interactive online discussion, learners rarely – if ever – admit to public not-knowing. Because so many online discussions rely upon a question-and-answer-with-evidence format, a recognition to one’s learning community of confusion is an admission of defeat. “Go ahead,” such a response would read, “Subtract this week’s points.” And what a wasted opportunity. Why not learn more about people who are learning? Why not grapple with emergent not-knowing? Why not embrace ambiguity and curiosity?

And yet uncertainly can – and does – emerge as a distinctive quality of open annotation. The last INTE 5320 cycle examined two topics related to games and learning – GamerGate and neuroscience. Having previously shared examples of sarcastic and experimental annotation atop GamerGate texts, I’ll highlight an example of uncertainly associated with Bevelier and colleagues’ (2012) lauded article “Brain plasticity through the life span: Learning to learn and action video games.” In a passage that explains the elements and demands of a player first acquiring and then adapting her “neural architecture” to successfully play a game (like soccer), two INTE 5320 learners – bjauw and Hoffmaca – voice their uncertainty about “representations that are invariant to irrelevant internal limb motions.” Yes, it is a wordy – and confusing – passage:


bjauw begins by offering a “translation,” suggesting this means a player is learning how others are moving during game play. And then bjauw qualifies – in parentheses, as if distancing and yet still owning – the contribution: “I think… I might be wrong on this one.” This public uncertainty elicits Hoffmaca’s response, equal parts interpretation and skepticism: “I’m not really clear on the ‘internal’ part. Otherwise, I’d just say that they’re cutting out some of the ‘noise’ with mental models, yes?” Rarely have I seen such close reading as candid confusion shared in the threaded discussion forums of an LMS.

Hoffmaca and bjauw’s social reading – their conversation with one another, with Bevelier and colleagues, and publicly before their peers – interjects uncertainty as an appropriate response to the playful appropriation of (con)texts.

2. Honesty

Open annotation also appropriates (con)texts through honesty. Annotations have – at times and under certain circumstances – expressed candor atypical of more prescriptive (online/asynchronous) course discussion. I wonder if the honesty present in playful annotation reflects the fact that I am not formally assessing learners’ annotation. As I have previously written in response to questions about assessment:

…no, I have not mandated a quantitative frequency for annotation – whether of a given text, or throughout a two-week reading cycle. And no, I did not create an a priori rubric to assess either a single annotation, or a reader’s annotation practice… And no, I had little expectation about the emergent semiotic qualities of annotation.

Maybe it is this lack of summative assessment that motivates, in part, instances of honesty in open annotation. Or maybe not. Whatever the case may be, I appreciate those moments when honest commentary serves as both annotation means and end. One example appeared as a complement to our reading of Ian Bogost’s article Gamification is Bullshit. In response to Bogost’s claim that “gamification is reassuring,” LisaDise and SusannahSimmons participated in a conversation about the connections among gamification, faculty professional development, and digital badges. Here’s the exchange, also pictured below:


To summarize, LisaDise is discouraged by social and technical limitations associated with the use of digital badges in faculty professional development activities that she helps to facilitate. SusannahSimmons’ question – “Do you think the faulty sees the badges as meaningful?” – identifies core concerns with gamification, like internal versus external motivation, the role of rewards, and whether meaning-making is possible or even valued through such learning. The forthright question elicits a revealing response from LisaDise: “Honestly? I don’t think they care.” This exchange utilizes honest questioning and assessment to appropriate the (con)texts of:

  • Course annotation-as-discussion, given SusannahSimmons’ role as the annotation facilitator;
  • Gamification, as the text content and a familiar (and critiqued) strategy; and
  • Faculty professional development as the site of LisaDise’s professional practice (and a context not intended for play).

I hope this observation of honesty is not misrepresented as conveying naïveté about the role and prevalence of honest conversation in learning – whether in a classroom, online, as guided by various pedagogies, and as critical to many fields of study. Rather, I am pleasantly surprised that open annotation as social reading so seamlessly affords honest expression as acceptable.

And so I’ll leave it there, at least for now. Open annotation, as a form of social reading, can be playful. As playful learning, open annotation appropriates (con)texts not designed for play – whether neuroscience research, GamerGate media, or faculty professional development. And various socially acceptable qualities describe such playful annotation in the open – including sarcasm, experimentation, uncertainty, and honesty.


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