Enabling Social Learning for Large Classes: Annotating in Sections

By frannyfrench | 8 June, 2020

Group of penguins on a beach

When class sizes are so big you can do the stadium wave, barriers to teaching and learning arise: students can feel invisible, and instructors may struggle to engage the entire class — or even most of it. Lately, the problem of connecting in classes with high teacher-to-student ratios has been compounded by the stampede to remote education. Students who might have been blurred faces in a crowded room could be even more invisible online. Whether classes are delivered online or not, we have an opportunity — even an obligation — to reach every student. Beyond the lecture halls and video calls, we can use digital tools to engage everyone in social learning.

In “Pedagogical Choices Make Large Classes Feel Small,” a National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment study, authors Karen Singer-Freeman and Linda Bastone discuss the ways large classrooms can be barriers to student success. They describe how dropout rates can rise as a result, especially for first-year students — who are most likely to be in big intro classes — and vulnerable members of the student population. Singer-Freeman and Bastone recommend breaking students into groups as a basic strategy to build community in large classes.

More and more educators are seeing the deep pedagogical value in collaborative annotation as a social-learning practice, but it doesn’t always work to have hundreds of students annotating the same text. At Hypothesis, the No. 1 request we’ve gotten from teachers has been to have a way to segment large classes. We listened, and we created a solution: new functionality that works with the Canvas LMS to break large classes into sections. This feature can be deployed by the instructor or automated by the LMS.

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We chose Canvas as our starting point because it’s the most widely used LMS in the USA, and because it has a developer-friendly API (application programming interface). Soon Hypothesis will develop similar capabilities for other learning management systems, like Blackboard, D2L, Moodle, Sakai, Schoology, and more.

All new installs of the Hypothesis LMS app will come with the sections feature by default. If you’re already using our app, get in touch with Hypothesis support or with your success manager so we can help you make the right choices as you add this new feature in Canvas.

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