About That Annotation Flash Mob

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_0860

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

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

threads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The #ILT5320 Affinity Space Projects

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

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

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

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

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

And so, without further ado:

Brian and BreakoutEDU

Kelly and a Game Design Subreddit

Kirk and the Unity Community

Lainie and the Kerbal Space Program

Lisa and BoardGameGeek

Nik and Clash of Clans

Robert and Graphite

Susan and Denver’s Strategy Board Games Group

Susannah and Code Combat

Vail and Teachers Pay Teachers

Tedy and ActiveWorlds

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

An Annotation Flash Mob Invitation

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s your invitation to an annotation flash mob:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Affinity Space Presentations & Discussions

Greetings INTE 5320 Games and Learning,

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

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

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

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

A. Observing the affinity space:

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

B. Contributing to the affinity space:

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

C. Reflecting upon affinity space participation:

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

D. Connecting affinity space participation to literature and theory:

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

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

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