Success Story 

University of Colorado Boulder


Leysia Palen

Distinguished Professor, Information Science and Computer Science

“Hypothesis has been a game changer. After all these years of teaching, there is nothing like walking into a classroom and knowing that, for example, 44 out of 50 students have done the full assignment to a high standard. Knowing that everyone has read the paper, that you know they read the paper, and they all know they all have read the paper, changes what we can all do in the classroom significantly. Nobody has to cover for anybody. Nobody has to be afraid of raising their hand.” 

What first drew you to social annotation?

I remember being an undergraduate student, and when things got tough, the first thing that went off my to-do list was reading! And I was a very good student! So I really wanted to support the reading aspects of my course. I wanted reading to be a collaborative experience because I knew that would be incentivizing. If students know that they can read alongside others, including using annotations with me as their in-reading coach, there’s support in that. It’s less lonely. You’re not alone in conversation with this author who may or may not be on the planet anymore. You’re doing it with others.

What has been the benefit of using Hypothesis in your teaching?

Everyone tells instructors to create a learning community in our classrooms. But, for example, we meet early in the morning for 45 minutes, and students are tired, and it’s snowy, they have had a hard time getting to school, and we have a lot to do. What I like about Hypothesis is that it’s an environment where we all are meeting together no matter what. And as an instructor, I get to show my students what my values around teaching are. With Hypothesis, everyone’s visible to each other and so we really do have a chance at creating a learning community. Students get to know each other’s names. Conversations with Hypothesis feel very warm and collegial.

What has the student response to social annotation been?

I ask students to provide me a “daily note” at the end of every class. I have asked them, “Would you recommend Hypothesis to other instructors for their students?” Every single person in that class of 33 students said yes. Every single one! It’s so important for the user experience when using a specialized reading interface to feel as though it’s almost like reading on paper, but with the benefit of taking notes that they can’t lose, that they can index and find again and that other people can see. The students all want that, and they want their peers to have that experience as well.

Did anything surprise you about your students’ use of Hypothesis?

I taught a course where we annotated a paper on medical racism as it connects to online disinformation and COVID-19 vaccines. It’s a very heavy paper and empirically dense. I had a student who often didn’t come to class because 9:30am was just too early for him. But he came up to me after class and waited patiently for me to be free. After everyone had left, he said, “Professor Palen, I have to tell you, I read this paper last night, and I couldn’t go to sleep.” I said, “Oh, I’m sorry,” because the paper was really emotionally heavy. But then he said, “Yeah, but it’s important. It excited me because now I really understand what information science is. These are topics I care about and that I want to do something about, and I couldn’t sleep because I was so excited about what it could mean.” And then he said, “I now understand why I need to read for my classes. I wish we had Hypothesis in my anthropology classes. I’m going to try to read for my anthropology class now, because I see how much I get out of it.” I’m not kidding. That was a strong testimonial, and it captures what I aspire to as a teacher.

If you could sum up your experience with Hypothesis in a few sentences, what would it be?

I have this idea of what it must be like to teach at the best university in the world, say Harvard or Cambridge or Oxford. I imagine all the students are reading everything, right? That may or may not be true, but it’s the dream. We at the University of Colorado have great students with a variety of backgrounds and experiences, and some have had a lot of training, and some haven’t. We serve a broad public, which is why I love teaching at the University of Colorado—I want everyone to have access to education. I am pretty sure I would not teach any differently in an imaginary Harvard or Cambridge classroom than I do now with Hypothesis. I think I would be delivering the same thing in that imaginary classroom as I do here, because students are doing the darn reading, and that’s all it took to get us there!

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