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.


Playful Annotation in the Open: Part 2

This post is the second in an ongoing series about playfulness in open web annotation. My comments are exploratory, driven by curiosity, and rooted in the experiences of INTE 5320 Games and Learning. I am grateful to the graduate learners of #ILT5320 whose annotation with the platform Hypothesis has greatly challenged my practices and conceptions of learning. – Remi

Playfulness as Appropriation

I’ll begin where I concluded in my first post about playful annotation in the open. I drew upon Miguel Sicart’s book Play Matters to emphasize the distinction between play, as a practice, and playfulness as an attitude. As Sicart observes: “Playfulness assumes one of the core attributes of play: appropriation. To be playful is to appropriate a context that is not created or intended for play” (p. 27).

What does Sicart mean by the “appropriation” of a context? A few examples are helpful, as there are many everyday contexts – that is, contexts not specifically designed or intended for play – that are regularly and stereotypically appropriated by the physical, psychological, and emotional attitudes of playfulness. Here are a few: Stickball and various expressions of street play. Skateboarding and parkour . Graffiti on a wall. The use of an “icebreaker” to begin a meeting. That time when grocery shopping became basketball. And guerrilla theatre… to name but a few. While the idea of a “playground” likely conjures images of protected space, often with grass and perhaps defining a park, with swings, slides, and other colorful equipment or “play structures,” a playful attitude – and whether expressed individually or shared socially – can appropriate a street, the city plaza, a building facade or foyer, a store, or an office as a playground. It is as if inanimate objects and everyday settings contain a form of potential energy, some latent capacity for agency, and it is our attitude that then transforms action into play, and environment into playground.

Open Annotation and Appropriation

Open web annotation provides a distinctive perspective on the appropriation of context. Platforms like Hypothesis afford readers the ability to augment online resources – with their own written commentary, with embedded media (images, GIFs), and with connections to other ideas and networks (through hyperlinks to anywhere/one/thing). In this respect, open web annotation comprises a repertoire of practices that both contribute to – and also expand – conversation. Unlike the commenting feature of a blog, and more substantive than a tweet, open web annotation is a more democratic pathway for deep reading, reflective interaction, and layered discourse. Such expression may not only appropriate contexts unintended for play, like a graduate course, or debate about current events; such annotation also appropriates (con)texts.

By appropriating (con)texts, playful annotation in the open presents readers, learners, and educators with a “both and, and also” dynamic. First, playful annotation appropriates both texts (see our readings) and contexts (such as ILT5320’s current discussions about GamerGate and neuroscience). And second, playful annotation also appropriates a hybrid (con)text that exists somewhere between social networking and academic inquiry, somewhere between close reading and distributed commentary, somewhere between content consumption and media(ted) production. There is simultaneous engagement with text, context, and (con)text. Playful annotation is a pathway into, among, and beyond laminated and multimodal discourse.

So if playfulness means appropriating a context not intended for play, and if playful annotation in the open appropriates (con)texts, then what might curious people – whether annotators of this post (see you in the margins!) or researchers – glimpse of such playful appropriation? In other words, what are some qualities evident in the appropriation of (con)text?

Two Qualities of Playful Annotation

In the remainder of this post I’ll describe two qualities of playful annotation. These are only two qualities, not an exhaustive accounting of all possible expressions of playful annotation. And I urge readers to consider these qualities not as practices – or intentional strategies, utilized across various platforms, and to achieve specific goals – but rather as my initial attempt to name some characteristics present in ILT5320 annotation. In future blog posts I’ll describe others. The two qualities I’ll first describe are sarcasm and experimentation.

1. Sarcasm

Open annotation appropriates (con)texts through sarcasm. Perhaps sarcasm emerges because the technical affordances of Hypothesis – and the social conventions of annotation – encourage short, perhaps messy, even off-the-cuff and witty commentary.

Consider one recent example. In the current INTE 5320 cycle, graduate learners are reading about the GamerGate controversy. We have annotated a Rolling Stone interview featuring Anita Sarkeesian. At one point in her interview, Sarkeesian says: “GamerGate is really a sexist temper tantrum.” To which susanvlaws has remarked: “Feminists are ruining everyone’s fun and gamers’ rights to be immature, obnoxious and harmful.” And kdhicks2 has also responded: “HA. Right. Darn feminist. If only we could just live in a world with only men seen and heard publicly. How sad would that be?” Now, if you don’t know susanvlaws or kdhicks2… well, I suppose it is hypothetically plausible to read these annotations as advocating misogyny. However, my interaction with both individuals – alongside the collective whole of their annotation commentary, both of this interview and other texts – strongly supports the assertion that this annotation is decidedly sarcastic.

Below is an image of these annotations appropriating simultaneously the (con)texts of peer interaction, Sarkeesian’s interview, GamerGate, and social criticism.


Following the lead of susanvlaws, kdhicks2, and others, I have also begun to experiment with sarcastic annotation, primarily in my response to student blogging and through the use of images and GIFs (here’s one example and another). I appreciate sarcasm as a quality of playful annotation because:

  • First, these contributions are easily read in reference to the broader and ongoing conversation, and not as a dismissive or rude slight;
  • Second, such annotation adds levity to more rigorous discourse, and whether about controversy like GamerGate or conceptualizations of learning theory; and
  • Third, sarcastic annotation reveals certain personality traits of a reader-writer.

2. Experimentation

Open annotation appropriates (con)texts through experimentation. In this respect, I am not referring to the ways in which learners may be “playing with ideas” (though yes, that is a wonderful sentiment). Rather, there is an experimental quality to the means employed by learners to author – quite practically – their annotations.

Here’s another example featuring Anita Sarkeesian, though in this case the given text is a video of her 2014 XOXO Festival address. Despite knowing that Hypothesis (only/currently) supports the annotation of written text, a few INTE 5320 learners were eager to somehow annotate this video on Youtube:

In this instance, both Lisa and Kirk are experimenting with their annotation given the technical affordances and limitations of mashing together Hypothesis with YouTube. And here’s what happened:


Lisa utilized Hypothesis’ page commenting function (which attaches annotation to an entire webpage or text, rather than a specific location within a given text), and added multiple annotations that she then marked with video-specific timestamps (i.e. 2:45, 3:15, 7:45). For example, she watched Sarkeesian’s video and added this page comment: “2:45 – 4chan, it’s like the bottoms of the internet. Completely anonymous, a lot of hated. I don’t recommend every [sic] visiting the website unless you have a deep, unsatisfied curiosity; and then [be] prepared to be disappointed in the human race.”

As an alternative approach, Kirk was able to annotate specific moments (i.e. 0:39/16:23 and 1:20/16:23). Though he encountered some difficulty, ultimately he succeeded in contributing an experimental annotation to the various (con)texts of a course assignment, the history of video game development, and gender inequity in gaming: “‘For several decades the gaming industry catered almost exclusively to a straight white male demographic’ [Kirk quoting Sarkeesian]. I don’t know where there is evidence to back up ALL of this claim, but, a Wikipedia entry for ‘Women and Video Games’ cites ‘historical prevalence’ and uses statistics to back it from 1982-present.”

I appreciate experimentation as a quality of playful annotation because:

  • First, these contributions are akin to activity in a sandbox, pushing the technical affordances and social conventions of annotation to an edge;
  • Second, such annotation is rather game-like – a voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles; and
  • Third, like sarcasm, experimental annotation reveals traits of a reader-writer as someone who is willing to try, fail, get frustrated, and share working solutions.

I’m also intrigued by experimentation as a playful quality of open annotation because of my own pedagogical opportunities. Because I’ll be teaching CU Denver’s Learning with Digital Stories course again this coming summer (as I did a year ago), I’ll soon begin to explore how annotation in the open may be complementary to the storytelling practices of DS106.


Earlier today I had the pleasure of listening to a colleague describe her attempts to build “humble theory” in one realm of mathematics education. She emphasized a “grounded” approach to perceiving – “line-by-line” and across time – the interactions and sense-making behaviors of high school students participating in a rather innovative and dynamic design experiment.

As I think about playful annotation in the open, I resonate with her humble and inductive approach. Like her, my thoughts are guided by theoretical influences – hence, why this post began with Sicart’s framing of playfulness and appropriation. And yes, learning in ILT5320 is neither overtly prescriptive nor entirely free-form. Rather, designs for graduate annotation-as-discussion have created conditions for unanticipated expressions and outcomes. As I read, respond, and analyze, I’ve noticed sarcasm and experimentation as two playful annotation qualities. There are certainly more qualities to observe, and perhaps a typology of sorts is in order. As we continue to play, and as we continue to playfully approach our annotation in the open, I am eager to name the many ways in which learners creatively engage amongst text, context, and (con)text.


(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.


#ProfChat about Open Annotation

March 8th Update: Here’s a Storify from tonight’s #profchat about open annotation in higher education. I’ll dig into thoughts, questions and resources in a forthcoming post. Thanks for all who joined this evening!

Most Tuesday evenings at 8 pm EST, a thoughtful group of higher education practitioners gathers together on Twitter for #profchat. As organizers Rusul Alrubail and Paul Wilson note at the beginning of each chat, “This weekly Twitter chat is for Higher Ed teachers who are interested in talking about teaching practices at the Higher Ed level.” I enjoy participating in #profchat and usually do so a few times a month. I have also previously moderated #profchat conversations about game-based learning in higher education, as well as teaching and learning across settings.

When I saw a request yesterday to facilitate #profchat this coming Tuesday, March 8th, I jumped at the opportunity to share and deepen a conversation that is increasingly defining my own teaching:

As readers of this blog know, my graduate course INTE 5320 Games and Learning is publicly and creatively playing around with the social practice of open annotation. We’re using the platform Hypothesis to mediate our annotation-as-discussion of course readings. And as we read, and as we annotate, I have begun to share observations about students-as-readers’ initial annotation practices, the playful qualities of their open annotation, and my contingent solutions to learners’ concerns about open annotation.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the more I write about annotation in the open, the more meaningfully I connect with other higher education practitioners who share similar interests. Within the past week, encouraging responses – such as those below – indicate a willingness among thoughtful practitioners and designers to further discuss the intersection of open annotation, pedagogy, and social practice in higher education teaching and learning.

I’m thrilled that #profchat this coming Tuesday will serve as a forum for people to discuss open annotation in higher education. I hope regular #profchat participants are joined by folks who come for the first time because of our given topic. However, I’m also aware that various everyday realities – whether time zone differences or dinner plans – will prevent wise thinkers from contributing in-the-moment. Thank goodness a solution is so easily enacted:


Well then, here we go.

First, for regular #profchat participants who may be less familiar with open annotation, and specifically the platform Hypothesis, I highly recommend starting with Hypothesis’ Education resources (and directions for installing and beginning to use Hypothesis are included at the end of this post). Second, consider exploring various learning activities that either utilize, or reflect upon, open annotation as a social and networked practice. Examples include:

I also highly recommend Howard Rheingold’s recent DML Central interview with Jeremy Dean – Annotation, Rap Genius and Education.

Finally, this post serves the practical purpose of inviting readers to utilize Hypothesis, to annotate this post, and to refine, perhaps reject, and certainly to remark upon my questions for Tuesday’s chat. Whereas some Twitter chats are more free-form (such as monthly #digped chats, and the recent #profchat I co-moderated with Anna Bartosik about reflective practice), #profchat typically structures the hour-long discussion through a sequential question-and-answer format (e.g. Q1/A1).

Here are my draft questions, accompanied by related thoughts about why these may be useful questions to discuss. Readers will invariably use Hypothesis to comment upon – and begin discussions about – the following, and I will synthesize contributions and alter my chat moderation plans accordingly.

Q1 What are your experiences w open annotation in teaching, learning? And/if none, what are your curiosities abt open annotation? #profchat

This question allows the chat to start with “where people are at,” and recognizes that while some people may have extensive experience with open annotation, others may be learning about open annotation for the very first time. And irrespective of prior experience, everyone likely has curiosities to share, providing (ideally) a rich set of subtopics and tangential questions that can help sustain conversation.

Q2 What are pros and cons of open annotation in #highered teaching and learning? And how best to promote & also address concerns? #profchat

This question builds upon Robin DeRosa’s request and my subsequent response. All tools, platforms, and teaching practices have advantages and limitations. By surfacing these qualities early in the chat, we can hopefully return to and build upon these throughout the discussion.

Q3 For teachers, what pedagogy helps you facilitate open annotation? And for students, what supports help you to annotate in open? #profchat

Students are always welcome participants in #profchat. This question seeks to address pedagogical strategies associated with open annotation from multiple perspectives.

Q4 What is the future of open annotation in #highered… in courses, civic engagement, institutional collaboration, and research? #profchat

Participants in #profchat often play multiple roles in their higher education worlds – as teachers, designers, researchers, and provocateurs. Let’s do some agenda-setting and consider the varied implications for open annotation across higher education settings and purposes.

Q5 Let’s crowdsource open annotation resources! Who are the people and what tools, networks and texts should we know about & why? #profchat

We’ll conclude with some crowdsourcing of people, ideas, and resources.

Thanks for helping to refine – and to begin discussing – questions for this coming Tuesday’s #profchat. Please join us at 8 pm EST (6 pm MT, 5 pm PT).

Annotation in the Open: Part 2

A few days ago, Robin DeRosa – open pedagogy advocate and superstar Hypothesis annotator – shared the following via #digped on Twitter:

I read Robin’s invitation as an opportunity for me to advance my own thinking – and continue my own writing – about INTE 5320 Games and Learning graduate students bloggers, annotators, and players who are working in the open this semester.

Some background: My approach to course design and pedagogy is influenced by an ecological approach to learning (read my related thoughts about designing a DS106 course last summer). I intend for a course, like Games and Learning, to create the conditions for learners to access new ideas and networks, to share information, and to generate knowledge across an ecology of multiple settings. Some of those settings are academic, while others are social; ideally, learning across those settings is connected. Learning, in the best of cases, spans a variety of everyday contexts, from classrooms to online blogs, from LMS platforms to social networks, from neighborhood encounters to interest-driven interactions. Accordingly, my approach to open course design and pedagogy extends public participation to connected and cross-setting agency.

This semester, our learning in INTE 5320 is shared at various public scales – from individually authored blog posts (see our blogroll, at right) to collectively networked conversations via Twitter (follow #ILT5320). We have also begun experimenting with Hypothesis, a tool for open web annotation. I’ll address Robin’s request by sharing some challenges related to public annotation in the open. These challenges are not concerned with the technical affordances of Hypothesis as a tool; rather, they are associated with open annotation as a practice. Over the past few weeks, I’ve begun blogging about our planned annotation-as-discussion, as well as students-as-readers’ initial annotation practices and the playful qualities of their open annotation.

Here are three concerns about working with annotation in the open, and the contingent solutions that have defined the first few months of Games and Learning.

1. Identification and ownership: Some learners were initially concerned about publicly identifying with their open annotation, and subsequently owning the ensuing discussion.

There are 12 graduate learners enrolled in INTE 5320 this semester. How are they publicly identifying via their chosen Hypothesis handle? The course has split equally in thirds. Four have adopted a handle that combines a name initial with either their first or last name; with a little digging, a savvy reader could discern the individual associated with the given Hypothesis handle. Four have chosen a handle that combines their first with last name (as have I, remiholden). And four have chosen a handle combining either a personally meaningful or entirely random assortment of letters and numbers; in these instances, it is nearly impossible to identify who is authoring the associated annotations.

I did not provide recommendations about how annotators should create their Hypothesis handle. Chosen handles indicate a range of preference – from assured anonymity to full identification. It appears as if personal identification (and, in some cases, concern) may be related to comfort owning learning in the open: the greater an individual’s concern, the more likely she may annotate anonymously; less, or no, concern often leads to more public ownership of annotation.

My contingent solution: Honor learners’ decisions as they embrace a range of identities to annotate in the open. While I know each of my annotator’s Hypothesis handles (for course administrative purposes), I must respect their desire for public work to sometimes mean anonymous expression.

2. Assessing annotation: Learners have been concerned about my assessment of their open annotation.

How frequently should readers annotate a course text? By what standards am I assessing the quality of either a single annotation or a collection of annotations? And might learners be assessed favorably if they annotate with more than text (for example, if they link to related resources, or embedded images or GIFs)? I am grateful that my class has raised these critical, honest, and necessary questions.

And 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 any rubric would invariably be co-constructed, like last year’s “crowdsourced” rubric for the Games and Learning affinity space project). And no, I had little expectation about the emergent semiotic qualities of annotation. The messier the media(tion), the merrier.

My decision not to formally assess learners’ participation in open web annotation is informed by own experience reading – and writing inside – books. When in college and graduate school, notes I made in a book’s margin most frequently served as a means to synthesize information or to express an opinion. Perhaps I shared annotations with a peer when studying for a quiz. Certainly I referenced my notes when writing a paper. In this respect, annotation was both a generative and a formative practice. No professor ever asked me to photocopy my annotations and submit them for approval. No professor ever required that I count and report a summary of highlighted lines of text to measure my comprehension. When the practice of annotation moves into the open – and becomes social and networked – should a formative and self-directed practice become a means for summative assessment? I think not.

My contingent solution: I encourage learner annotation as a practice that engages curiosity, pursues interest, and promotes experimentation – all without fear that this social practice will be quantified into a measure of some irrelevant objective.

3. Facilitating annotation: Learners have expressed concern about how best to turn open annotation into substantive discussion.

INTE 5320 adopted open annotation as a replacement for LMS-based threaded forum discussions. Not only is a single reader annotating a given text, readers are collectively discussing ideas, engaging questions, and sharing resources through their networked annotation. I previously wrote about the rationale for annotation-as-discussion as a shift that moves:

From the privacy – and primacy – of LMS (specifically Canvas) discussion forums to the public “playground” afforded by Hypothesis;
From the formality of pre-determined questions (which can privilege the scope and purpose of reading) to open-ended and less formal (re)action and exchange; and
From an instructor’s authority to center and control textual discourse to a de-centering of power through a fracturing of attention, interest, and commitment.

Our shift towards discussion as public, more open-ended, and de-centered has not, however, replaced the utility of active facilitation. I presumed readers would annotate text, but I was uncertain about the extent to which such annotation might remain isolated or disjointed. How, then, to design for more substantive annotation-as-discussion in service of shared critique or debate? Such dialogic annotation would likely require elements of planning, response, and encouraged collaboration. As our course began, I shared a set of generic annotation-as-discussion facilitator guidelines that – for better or worse – were largely modeled after LMS-based discussion expectations. Here they are, slightly edited:

  1. Annotate readings with thoughts, questions, highlights, confusions, and related resources.
  2. Present annotations that are both insightful and informal, and that invite others to contribute and respond.
  3. Ask follow-up questions during the back-and-forth of annotation.
  4. Reference complementary resources, recommended readings and media, and/or other experiences and insights that both deepen and broaden our collective engagement with course material.
  5. Respectfully challenge your peers’ lines of argumentation, helping us all to address blind spots in our logic or perspectives, to confront our biases, to check (if not also work against) our privileges, and to be a critic in the most encouraging sense.

During the course’s first two-week cycle, I facilitated our annotation activities to model these fairly traditional discussion practices; my annotations asked questions, shared opinions, established connections amongst texts and ideas, and prompted responses to key ideas and general themes. The second cycle featured our first pair of learner-facilitators. Kirklunsford and LisaDise (yes, those are public Hypothsis handles) capably adopted many of the practices I modeled; they successfully sustained a discussion around three rather complex texts (complex in further introducing sociocultural learning theory and ethnographic descriptions of game play). Our third cycle of annotation-as-discussion concludes today. A second pair of learner-facilitators – SusannahSimmons and Hoffmaca – are continuing these practices. They have also embedded five scavenger hunt-style clues among the texts (here’s Clue #1). Peer response to this playful layer has been positive. This is another indicator that playfulness may “appropriate” open annotation (something I’ll write more about in a forthcoming post).

It may not help mitigate some learners’ concern that I have – and will continue to – avoid articulating so-called “best practices” for facilitating open annotation-as-discussion at the graduate level. And by the way, Hypothesis – to their credit – has done a great job developing education resources, including these annotation tips for students. However, these tips are just different than naming practices for discussion through annotation – and particularly for graduate learners. We’re less than two months into our shared endeavor – why cramp people’s creativity? I’m committed to describing how certain qualities of annotation emerge and are socially negotiated (such as playfulness). But I’m not very interested in making definitive claims about the relative effectiveness of this or that facilitation strategy. Our annotation-as-discussion is improvisational; this open experiment is not intended to build a decontextualized method.

My contingent solution: I will continue supporting learner experimentation with varied approaches to annotation-as-discussion. Open annotation can spark fascinating expressions of conversation, from playful flash mobs to civic annotatathons. In our open work, I anticipate continued ambiguity, confusion, and even frustration as we (re)shape this mashup of more formal academic discussion facilitation with informal and emergent social annotation.