Social Annotation and the Student Voice

By frannyfrench | 6 December, 2021

We often hear teachers talk about how they love social annotation. Ultimately, though, it’s students who benefit most when they seed the margins of assigned readings with comments, questions, answers, links, memes, GIFs, emojis, and more. So what do students consider the advantages of reading with social annotation? We looked through the many ways we hear from and about students to distill what they say into a few top benefits. Students say social annotation:

  • makes reading more active and interesting
  • helps their understanding
  • leads them to make new connections between texts and ideas, within and across classes
  • makes writing easier
  • enables them to learn with and from their peers
  • builds community and collaboration

Behind it all, students say they feel “less alone” while reading with social annotation. That’s great to hear because we believe that reading can be more powerful when it becomes a social, not just a solitary, act. In a time when some people are lamenting lost literacies, the idea that students appreciate reading in community inspires our work on tools and practices to make reading social.

Given our priority to protect student privacy, it’s not often we are able to quote students directly. To enable everyone to see what students say in their own words, we have secured consent to publish a few anonymous testimonials about their experiences with social annotation.

Student voices

I really like how you can highlight and annotate on any site. It helps me to understand what I’m reading.

I like to see my thought process on paper so this is a great tool for breaking down my thought process online.

I love sharing my thoughts using annotations and reading other people’s annotations. Using Hypothesis helps me become more interested in what I’m reading. I think I might continue to use Hypothesis, even after I finish school.

Annotation is indispensable to active reading and active readers. To actively read is to actively think about, and even challenge, what is being read. Hypothesis helped me to do that. Thank you!

Hypothesis broadens the idea of close-reading a passage and makes it more interesting and interactive.

I love the ability to include images and direct links. Having visual aids adds more to the text.

I think it’s a good way to see the ideas of classmates before entering the classroom, which in turn generates good discussions.

I love how Hypothesis allowed me to interact with all my classmates!

It’s really cool to read everyone else’s thoughts and viewpoints on the same texts, because it really opens your eyes to things that you might have not seen prior to the annotations, and I just think it’s a really really rad way to learn and connect with all of your other fellow thinkers and scholars.

I loved using Hypothesis to annotate class readings — it was especially helpful when annotating with my classmates because they made extremely insightful comments that made me think more critically about the passage.

This is a really amazing tool for research. I will definitely be using Hypothesis for my work in the future. It helps to streamline and simplify my note taking process which allows me to conduct more research in a short amount of time.

Hypothesis has been really helpful to me and has allowed me to organize my thoughts and ideas. It has given me an opportunity to formulate my argument through marking and annotating relevant evidence. It lets me quickly jot down an idea so I can use it later when I’m writing an essay.

Hypothesis is a perfect learning tool for going beyond the classroom — students can research material only briefly mentioned in the text more deeply. Links to videos or other websites can also be included for supplementary material.

Student viewpoints from educators

Educators aren’t shy in speaking out about the benefits their students experience using social annotation. Our social streams are full of teachers posting about what their students say and how social annotation transforms classroom experiences, online and off.

So that’s it. TL:DR — Students experience JOY when they can engage with each other, contribute to a larger purpose, and feel a sense of relatedness. I’m trying to avoid mimicry & encourage authentic engagement instead. Bonus TL;DR — Students are awesome in moments of JOY!
David Buck, Professor of English, Howard Community College

Students in my Viewing Black Girlhood class mentioned my use of technology was the best they’ve ever experienced. Hypothesis was a great tool. One student declared, “annotation is collaboration.” Love to hear it! Vimeo’s video review was also a great way to annotate/collaborate.
Daye Rodgers, Assistant Professor of Film, Emory University

Thanks to collaborative tasks some of my students have also changed their mind concerning the value of asynchronous tasks. Besides this one, work with Hypothesis has been what they seemingly enjoyed the most in this context.
Katrin Horn, Assistant Professor of American Studies/Anglophone Literatures and Cultures, University of Bayreuth

I’m finding that my students really seem to like online texts that lend themselves to social annotation, so they feel less alone when doing the readings and actually engage in dialogue (voluntarily!) before class discussion. Hypothesis is a hit. I wish I had it in law school.
Raina Haque, Professor of Practice of Technology, Wake Forest University

Reading course evaluations from the Spring, and Hypothesis is — as usual — getting a lot of love from my students. What a great resource.
Spencer Greenhalgh, Assistant Professor of Information Communication Technology, University of Kentucky

I introduced students in my linguistic anthropology class to Hypothesis today. I too had been a little uncertain of how it would work. It took us a few minutes to figure it out. But they really liked it! They understood the value. Thanks!
Susan Blum, Professor of Anthropology, University of Notre Dame (and author of “Ungrading”)

As if I needed another reason to love Hypothesis I really hope my uni keeps their blackboard integration, but even if they don’t, I’ll still use it. It was by far the tool my students loved the most this semester!
Tawnya (Ravy) Azar, Assistant Professor of English, George Mason University

Researching student viewpoints

Beyond all the informal, qualitative evidence that students are finding benefits in social annotation, we are also working with scholars in the AnnotatED community to deepen our understanding of social annotation and student outcomes with formal studies of pedagogical practices. Among other things, we seek to understand the specific ways students feel and think about social annotation through our multi-year research project in collaboration with Indiana University Bloomington (IU) to investigate how social annotation improves reading and writing practices for undergraduates in core English literature and composition courses for majors and non-majors. Instrumental in this study is a research team at Indiana University headed up by Justin Hodgson and in coordination with Dr. Remi Kalir, Hypothesis’ first Scholar in Residence.

Simon Fraser University

Researchers at other institutions are also looking into student engagement with social annotation. Outcomes from a study conducted by the Scholarly Communications Lab led by Juan Pablo Alperin, Assistant Professor at Simon Fraser University, found that greater than 70 percent of students said that social annotation helped them learn, over 70 percent said that it helped them understand different points of view, and more than 65 percent said that it inspired them to think about the course content outside of the classroom. The data also revealed that students “relied on the tool for interpretation, using Hypothesis to draw hypotheses or conclusions, summarize information, or suggest problem solutions.” To get the most current data from this research project, see the study outcomes that are now published formally.

Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México

For Spanish speakers, hear directly from students talking about their experiences with social annotation in classes led by Rosario Rogel-Salazar, Profesora-Investigadora in the Facultad de Ciencias Políticas y Sociales at the Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México.

Future research directions

With over 31 million annotations across nearly two million different documents made by over a million annotators, we now have one of the world’s largest collections of evidence about what people do while they read, and we have only just started to explore what it can tell us. In keeping with the ethical practices we’ve laid out, we will continue to conduct research as well as support, contribute to, and follow others’ studies on social annotation. And, whenever possible, we will elevate student voices speaking for themselves about their own reading and annotating.

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