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.

5 thoughts on “An Annotation Flash Mob Invitation”

  1. I am reminded of Twitter chats as synchronous channel. I find I reach signal noise thresholds fairly quickly in those. One of the ways I have suggested to get around this noise issue is to extend the ‘synchrony’ by having slo-mo 24 hour tweetchat or barring that to enforce periods of silence and activity. In other words bursts of activity followed by moments of reflection and response. This punctuated synchrony works particularly well with tweetchat questions. You drop a question, encourage a river of responses, then you stop before the next question.

    Also, I think we all need to request a “copy to clipboard or to html or to txt” function in

    Are you going to suggest any tagging protocols?

    Will you be recommending that folks have private group breakouts after the initial synchronous bout?

    I am making every effort to be there. I commute home from 4-5 CDT so I should be home.

    What about folks who crash the party early and begin to inhabit the annotation space before the game begins?

    OK, I am not asking these questions because I have the answers. I don’t have the answers. Curious if you have considered them and if how would you answer them.

    Awfully glad you are pursuing this. Am very much considering having my incoming freshman meet me online before school starts for some preliminary “close, collaborative reading”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Terry for these thoughtful comments and questions. I’m also becoming a fan of “slow” chats, as few hour-long Twitter chats extend beyond choir preaching and resource sharing. I often crave more substantive questioning, debate, and exploration. A grounding text seems to help with that – hence the work with Hypothesis and annotation. And yes, there are certainly limitations to the flash mob approach – it is fast, temporal, and raises questions about “what’s next.” As an organizing tactic and invitation for a low-stakes commitment to shared activity, I think the flash mob approach has promise. This is my first attempt to incorporate this type of activity into a formal course context.

      As for your questions:
      – Tagging protocols: Explicitly – at least not yet. We’ll see what happens in the next 24 hours! #ILT5320 learners will likely use “ILT5320” as we’ve been on that tag all semester. As you know, “playfulannotation” has also popped up from time to time. And I like the unanticipated emergence of new tags – it gives an interesting glimpse into how people think. Also, because tags within Hypothesis operate a little differently than Twitter, I’m curious to see if how tags cross platforms, diverge, etc.
      – Private group break out: Hadn’t even considered it. What a nice idea. Perhaps if people are interested?
      – If people “crash the party early” that would be awesome. I suppose that’ll prove the point that open annotation is a pretty egalitarian and messy practice. And it’ll give us something to work with.

      These are all rough thoughts, and this is one big improvisation. Thanks for your engagement, it’s really appreciated.


    2. Hey Terry,

      I’ve already marked up the article but I’ve got all of my annotations set to private. I planned to watch what others did and then respond, revealing my notes (or not) as I would during a synchronous discussion. As for groups, your question makes me wonder if it would be worthwhile to have a Google Hangout on Air going for folks to join and talk through their process. I might launch one if the idea interests you.


      1. I find the idea of “seeded” annotations that are revealed based upon interaction dynamics really interesting. And yes, given how you facilitated an annotation flash mob previously, I was wondering about a simultaneous GHO. Now, a few hours after our burst of activity, I did like the fact that I wasn’t on camera. I was listening to music, focusing on text and networking, and not on “performing” via video. Yet, as was the case with our previous experience together, there were some tremendous benefits to hanging out and annotating at the same time.


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