(Re)Marking upon #ProfChat

This past Tuesday evening’s #profchat discussed open annotation in higher education. I had the honor and pleasure of serving as moderator. How come? I volunteered to moderate based entirely upon my rather nascent experiences learning with Hypothesis this semester in INTE 5320 Games and Learning. And in an effort to open – that is, to make public, transparent, and participatory – my facilitation as chat moderator, I wrote a welcome blog post last Sunday that described my rationale and goals, and that also shared the chat questions in advance of our discussion.

Tuesday evening arrived and #profchat commenced with conversation that brought together practitioners, learners, designers, and healthy critics of open and digital pedagogy from various institutions and with varied backgrounds. We discussed prior experiences with open annotation, noted pros and cons, identified useful pedagogy and learning strategies, and shared resources. We even considered the “the future of open annotation in higher education,” including implications for coursework, collaboration, and research (as a related aside, I’m still pondering this question).

And unlike some Twitter chats – which too readily prompt a collective preaching to the choir – #profchat participants began asking about their genuine curiosities:

And unlike some Twitter chats – which too superficially inquire about problems of practice – #profchat participants began parsing with nuance certain taken-for-granted relations:

And unlike some Twitter chats – which too readily position expertise as the distinguishing feature of a moderator, or as the secret code among some in-crowd – #profchat participants turned to a distributed and impromptu collective rich with divergent insight, know-how, and wondering:

Interested readers are encouraged to view the chat Storify, a thread that sequentially captured all #profchat-tagged tweets from the hour-long conversation.

As the residue from Tuesday’s chat lingers, I’d like to feedforth a few observations that will likely guide my own future work – among distributed publics, through various formal and less formal learning arrangements, and with a repertoire of collaborative social practices – as afforded by open annotation.

1. Tool is to task as repertoires of tools are to learning

#profchat reminded me that we learn not with isolated tools (often hyped as silver-bullet solutions), but with repertoires of tools. A repertoire of tools is often cobbled together – across platforms, services, media, and relations that meet authentic needs and that bolster interest-driven practices. And our repertoires are often (re)arranged on-the-fly so as to meet contingent and emergent needs, whether individual or collective.

In this respect, Tuesday’s #profchat was not confined to the constraints of Twitter. Some participants began on this blog, then used Hypothesis to annotate my welcome post, then jumped into the Twitter chat and shared thoughts and resources. Others contributed media as a complement to their conversations (thanks again Terry Elliot for your amazing question images, originally embedded via Hypothesis in this blog!), whereas some people traced their participation from ongoing course hashtags (like #ILT5320, #DS106 and #inf155), into the chat, and then out to new networks and social relations. If annotation is a trans-media practice (that is, annotation is writing in a book, and graffiti on a wall, with similar activity and content appearing in each medium), it follows that open web annotation also spans repertoires of tools.

2. Platforms should privilege questioning rather than guarantee answer delivery

#profchat confirmed my bias towards learning technologies that cultivate curiosity. The challenges and opportunities confronting higher education pedagogy will not be adequately addressed by platforms designed to provide answers. How frequently have we practitioners received invitations to adopt a much-hyped LMS, or to attend a skill-building workshop, or – in what must surely be the worst of cases – watch an online tutorial so as to actually use some unintuitive software?

Seldom does a new technical feature usefully mitigate a problem of teaching practice. Seldom does a promised innovation disrupt entrenched power relations or challenge institutional privilege. More frequently is there a need for some type of platform – both technical and social, instructional and open – to afford questioning. Low-barrier opportunities for interest-driven inquiry are far more valuable than high-tech solutions to someone else’s problems. This is why, for example, INTE 5320 moved away from LMS-based threaded discussion forums and into the margins via Hypothesis. And aside from my experiences and those of learners in INTE 5320, the responses during Tuesday’s #profchat are an indicator that Hypothesis has fostered a loyal community that values a responsive platform engendering questioning and curiosity.

3.  From learning in the margins, to learning with and at new margins

Finally, #profchat also showcased the value of translating learning in the margins to learning with and at new margins. Open annotation platforms like Hypothesis can deftly support discussion and reflection in the margins of online text and resources. And in INTE 5320, for example, our discussion-in-the-margins often evidences playful qualities. In other contexts, such discourse is a form of civic engagement. Or conversation buoys informal educator learning. Across these – and other – examples there is a marginal quality to the shared activity; this learning can be a bit raw, unscripted, perhaps even subversive.

Tuesday’s #profchat was also a reminder that consequential learning can occur through the creation of new margins. The chat brought together (sometimes disconnected) K-12 and higher education practitioners. The chat brought together learners from formal course contexts (like INTE 5320) with individuals whose learning is more informal and untethered from institutional requirements. And the chat brought together people with a wide range of open annotation experiences; what some people would call more expert and novice experiences. Operating at the intersection of K-12 and higher education, formal and informal, expert and novice, #profchat created new margins – new conversational creases – for shared activity. In other words, #profchat created the conditions for learning at new margins (and yes, there is resonance here with the concepts of joint work and third space, though I’ll save that level of analysis for future posts). Of course, these new margins were temporal – they appeared in-the-moment, they were fleeting, and they eventually disappeared. And yet there remain traces of interaction, glimpses of expression and engagement that occurred largely because of these emergent margins.

So there it is… a rough summary and some rougher thoughts as I (re)mark upon Tuesday’s #profchat about open annotation. See you in – and with – new/emergent/hybrid margins.



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