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.



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!

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.

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 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.