Annotating documents and working with ideas

The course Learning Analytics: Theory and Practice taught by Bodong Chen  (Twitter) at the University of Minnesota is an online graduate-level course where students engage with core readings, and develop research projects. Part of the course materials are open, and the full reading list and many resources can be accessed at the link above.

Bodong has long had an interest in how students can work individually and collaboratively with ideas and sources, and has recently been investigating how can be used to support students’ critical reading of texts, and make the learning experience more social.

Image result for is an open-source tool that lets users annotate any web page or PDF, publicly, privately, or in a private group. The tool provides open APIs, making it easy to access the data generated.

Screen Shot 2018-10-02 at 15.58.32.png

Students are asked to read and annotate several documents each week. They then meet with Bodong using the Zoom video conferencing platform, which also allows him to create group rooms, and have the students join the rooms corresponding to their pre-defined groups (which are consistent throughout the semester).

Screen Shot 2018-10-02 at 14.24.06The script that we designed together imports the annotations that students have made in during the last week, and maps the user id of each thread to the corresponding FROG users. We assigned the same groups in FROG as the students are already using in Zoom, and gave each group access to the annotation threads they themselves had started, and a collaborative editing notepad with some prompts.

Screen Shot 2018-10-02 at 15.48.27.png

In the next activity, the students were shown all of the group notes from all of the other groups, and each group were given an additional writing task. Finally, all the pads from the second task were collected and displayed to the whole class.

There are many other possible scripts we could have designed around these annotations – we could have students voting up the most interesting ones, moving them around on a Ck-Board, posting the result of their writings to a blog, etc.

The students had been very active during the week, and some of them had a large amount of annotations to go through, which was a bit overwhelming. We are planning to experiment with better interfaces for dealing with many items, for example the possibility to filter what is shown using a full-text search, and the ability to “bookmark” certain items, and then toggle whether to show only bookmarked items, or all items. We will test these changes in future sessions.

Of course, we could import other kinds of artefacts, and map them to student IDs, such as Tweets with a particular hashtag, RSS feeds, etc.

PS: In the video, I referred to the example article as part of the “critical curriculum”, I meant “the marginal syllabus”


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