Hypothes.is Social (and Private) Annotation
How I use Hypothesis myself and with my students
SO in addition to personal note-taking, I've become very excited about public note-taking, AKA social annotation. This morning I want to talk about Hypothesis in a little more detail. Although I've been using it for a couple of years now (I joined in Dec. 2018), and it seems like old news to me, I have to remind myself that a lot of the people I work with are just discovering it, so someday soon I'll probably do a how-to sort of video. Today I'm going to mention a couple of things that make the app really useful in my own research and in my teaching. Since I'm going to talk about both aspects, this video may run a bit longer.
First, Hypothesis is super useful in my own research and reading process, because it allows me to quickly and easily make highlights, annotations, and tags on any html or pdf document I'm reading. The html annotation is sort-of the native mode of the app. When you've installed the extension to Chrome, you'll actually get an annotation count on any document you look at online. Not all of these annotations will necessarily be visible to you -- in the case of my ebook, some are inside private groups. I'll talk about that in a moment.
I DO like looking at heavily-annotated public documents, for my own research. Social annotation is a sort-of movement these days, with a core group who are very interested in its potential to democratize and fundamentally change the way people interact with information. I'd love it if MORE people were using Hypothesis to publicly annotate web docs, because then I'd be able to learn even more. One of the cool things you can do, if people have embraced the philosophy of working in public, is you can sort-of look over their shoulders.
Everybody has a Home page on Hypothesis, which keeps track of all of our annotations. I can use this to recall what I've been doing recently, or to return to what I've done in the past. I haven't used tags particularly effectively yet, but they could be hugely beneficial to me. And since EVERYBODY who annotates publicly has such a page, when I find that someone else has been to a page I've annotated, and they said something that makes me think they're smart and worth seeing more from, I can click on their name and visit their home page. This allows me to see what this interesting person has been up to. And I can follow THEIR tags to see what they've read about topics that interest me that maybe I'm not aware of yet. And what they thought. I can see their comments, follow them to the article they commented on, and if others have made interesting comments as well I can continue following these trails. It's a very fascinating way of learning what a few people who use this tool are thinking -- it will get exponentially cooler as more people begin using it. This will be a true network effect. Occasionally I'll respond to a person's annotations (which, if they have notifications turned on, they'll find out about) , just to say hi or let them know I've been lurking in their reading list.
However, I don't force my students to embrace this open approach all at once, as a condition of using the tool. As I've mentioned before, I create private groups in Hypothesis for the courses where we use the app. This has two benefits:
1. It allows the students to use their real names when annotating. I think this facilitates course discussion, since students seem more likely to respond to a comment when they know who made it. It also prevents the students from having to worry that something "dumb" they might say or an unpopular opinion might haunt them in later life, since the internet can preserve such items forever.
2. It also allows me to grade students more easily than if I had to keep a decoder document to match code-names or aliases with actual students. This is easy enough when there are just a few students in a group, but it gets exponentially harder for me as class sizes grow.
Private groups are also my solution to the potential "saturation" problem that many people have asked me about. I DO think that there's a potential disincentive to students who I've asked to annotate a document, if they open it and find hundreds of comments already there. I already face a situation when I post questions for discussion that people answer in a visible way, where some students say their peers have already made the point they were going to make. It's easier to address this objection, I think, when EVERY LINE of a document isn't already yellow!
But another thing I do with online textbooks sometimes, is look at the patterns left by others who HAVE done their class annotations in the public space. As I've been writing my own US History OER, I've been referring to a couple of existing Open textbooks, not only to see how the authors have presented information and interpretation, but also how students have responded. In this chapter of the *[[American Yawp]]*, for example, I can easily get a sense of which parts of the chapter interested students and which parts they skipped over and didn't say anything about. Was this because that information was unnecessary and superfluous to the point of the chapter? Was it presented in a boring or a confusing way? This is great information for me, as I try to write lectures and chapters that will interest students (which I think is the first step to engaging them and making the content stick). I can also see, in many cases, how other instructors have used the text. Here's an example of a teacher who layered the text with his own lecture video, which he asked questions about and had his students respond to them here. When I follow him back to his public page, I can see that he did a whole course in this way, and I could follow other links from there to his notes and videos in the other chapters, if they interest me.
This public feature of the Hypothesis ecosystem creates a lot of very exciting possibilities for learners and teachers. And, I think, for anyone who is interested in not just information, but how people react and respond to information. As I've been looking for some quick info on the state of the discussion of public annotation, I ran into this ebook published by Stanford University Press by Remi Kalir (Hypothesis) and Antero Garcia. When I click the Hypothesis extension button, boom, there are a new bunch of names I can explore -- although there's Chris Aldrich again, who I've already been following. Small world of annotation enthusiasts, but hopefully getting bigger!