Researching Annotation’s Impact on Student Reading and Writing

By Mary Traester | 18 September, 2018

As use of Hypothesis in education has grown in recent years, researchers have begun to study how collaborative annotation affects student learning in various ways. Bodong Chen at the University of Minnesota, for example, explores how social reading technology can be leveraged in the design of networked collaborative discourse among students, what he calls an “un-LMS approach”. Meanwhile, research by the University of Colorado Denver’s Remi Kalir looks at how professional learning communities leverage open web annotation, based in part on the viral virtual reading group “Marginal Syllabus“. Their research and that of others was featured in a presentation at I Annotate 2018 this past spring. Learn about a new intercollegiate annotation research project in our guest post by Mary Traester, lecturer at USC and primary investigator for “Digital Annotation Tools in the College Classroom: An Analysis of the Impact of Hypothesis on Student Reading and Writing Competency.” If you are conducting research on annotation in education, whether using Hypothesis or another platform, please let us know at In the near future, we plan to gather scholars studying collaborative annotation in order to share projects and identify areas for collaboration.

— Jeremy Dean, Hypothesis Director of Education

Researchers from seven institutions of higher learning will begin enrolling students this fall in a new research project, “Digital Annotation Tools in the College Classroom: An Analysis of the Impact of Hypothesis on Student Reading and Writing Competency.” The study will draw student participants from across the United States, and from university and community college populations, to understand how recording and sharing annotations online with peers and instructors impacts student reading comprehension and writing outcomes. Research into the role and impact of digital annotation tools in the classroom is relatively new; to our knowledge this is the first systematic study of their impact on college reading.

The study responds to increasing scholarly focus on reading as a formative skill within composition studies, and to a longstanding concern that the invisibility or intangibility of student reading has made it difficult for instructors to intervene directly in it. As Robert Scholes writes, “We normally acknowledge, however grudgingly, that writing must be taught and continue to be taught from high school to college and perhaps beyond. We accept it, I believe, because we can see writing, and we know that much of the writing we see is not good enough. But we do not see reading. We see some writing about reading, to be sure, but we do not see reading.” Often, the only concrete record of student reading comes in the form of citations in final essays, when it is too late for instructors to better assist and coach them on their analysis.

This study will leverage the open-source tool Hypothesis to make their reading process visible as they interact with assigned texts. Students will be set up with the free tool in class and prompted to make comments in the margins about assigned texts, including asking and answering questions of each other, as well as the author. At the end of the course, their annotations will be collected, coded, and analyzed alongside other work produced in the normal course of the class, including final essays. Student reports of their habits, perceptions, and comfort-level gathered through pre- and post-survey questionnaires will additionally inform the findings and theories researchers develop.

The knowledge that will be gained by this study is intended to better understand the role that reading plays in effective college writing to improve reading instruction and outcomes at the college level, and the researchers aim to disseminate these in research journals, as well as at academic conferences.

Participating Researchers

Noel Holton Brathwaite is an Assistant Professor of English at The State University of New York’s (SUNY) Farmingdale College. Her research interests include rhetoric and composition in first-year learning environments, reading-writing transfer, and the rhetoric of science and technology. In addition to serving as the Coordinator of Composition Studies at Farmingdale, she is also the faculty advisor for the college student newspaper The Dale News. As a former journalist, who wrote for The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Roanoke Times, she draws upon her newsroom experiences to get students excited about academic and professional research and writing.

Bess Fox, Marymount University, VA. Bess is an associate professor at Marymount University, outside of DC. She teaches writing and literature and directs first-year writing. Her research interests include: gendered composition, multimodal writing, and psychoanalytic theory.

Christine Kervina, Northern Virginia Community College, VA. Chris is an Associate Professor of English at Northern Virginia College (NOVA) and a doctoral student studying Writing and Rhetoric at George Mason University. Her research interests are reading, reading-writing connections, professional development, and transfer of learning. Chris teaches composition and technical writing at NOVA, and taught at the high-school level.

Carolyne King, University of Delaware, DE. Carolyne is a doctoral candidate, focusing upon reading theory and practices as they are taught, understood, and used in first-year composition. She is completing her dissertation, “Further Reading: Literacy Practices and Perspectives from the First-Year Writing Classroom,” and she teaches first year composition and professional writing classes.

Maureen McBride is the Director of the Writing & Speaking Center at the University of Nevada, Reno. Her research interests include peer responding, reading-writing connections/intersections, writing assessment, writing center rapport building and agenda setting, and basic writing concerns. She is also a director of the Northern Nevada Writing Project.

Michelle Sprouse is a doctoral student in the Joint Program in English and Education at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Her current research focuses on social annotation as a tool for improving reading in post-secondary contexts. She teaches first-year composition and English Language Arts Methods.

Mary Traester is a Lecturer in Writing at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA. After receiving her Ph.D. in the Department of Comparative Literature at USC, she trained in the Digital Humanities as a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, Irvine (2016-2017). Her research interests include reading interventions and literacy in the digital age, with a particular focus on social annotation.

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