Case Study

Enhancing RSI and Elevating Grades with Social Annotation at the University of Alaska Fairbanks

Jennifer Young

Finance Officer and Adjunct Instructor, University of Alaska Fairbanks

The University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) aimed to enhance RSI and student outcomes in online courses. Jennifer Young, the Finance Officer and Adjunct Instructor integrated Hypothesis, a social annotation tool, to foster a community of practice among students.


UAF faced challenges in ensuring regular and substantive interaction (RSI) in online courses, an essential component highlighted by COVID-19 and accreditation requirements. Traditional discussion boards were largely ineffective, particularly for non-traditional students who often manage multiple responsibilities. The delay in responses and high failure rates necessitated a more dynamic and engaging solution.



Young adopted Hypothesis in her courses, moving away from traditional discussion boards. Hypothesis enabled students to annotate course materials collaboratively, facilitating real-time interactions and deeper engagement with the content. Young’s courses, including Employment Law, Business Law, and Investing, utilized open educational resources (OER) to eliminate textbook costs.


Young structured her courses to incorporate Hypothesis annotations as a central activity. Each week, students were required to annotate the reading materials, pose questions, respond to peers, and find external resources related to the content. This approach ensured that students were not only reading the material but also actively engaging with it and their classmates.

Linsa Varghese, an Instructional Designer who works with Young, explained the concept of communities of practice: “Communities of practice are social learning systems where knowledge is co-created and collaboratively contextualized. Social annotation tools like Hypothesis are instrumental in fostering these communities, especially in online environments.”


The impact of integrating Hypothesis was profound:

Significant Increase in Interaction

The RSI in Young’s courses increased by 1400-2100%, as students posted nearly 40 times more annotations than they did commencts in traditional discussion boards. This massive surge in interaction was crucial for meeting accreditation requirements and enhancing the learning experience.

Enhanced Engagement

The freedom provided by Hypothesis allowed students to engage more creatively and substantively with the course material. Young noted, “The students are engaged from the very beginning. They’re helping each other, they’re learning, and they’re not just waiting for the instructor to respond.”

Improved Grades and Retention

There was a notable decrease in failure rates, ranging from 5-33%, and a 4-24% increase in course grades. Students felt more connected and supported, leading to fewer withdrawals. Young highlighted, “I think only two students failed the Income Tax course this spring, which is unheard of.”

Building a Community

Hypothesis facilitated the formation of a supportive learning community, even in an asynchronous setting. Students appreciated the immediate feedback from peers, which bridged the time gap between different zones. Young remarked, “With Hypothesis, students are responding to each other whenever they’re in there and getting answers to questions quickly.”

Reduction in AI Misuse

Young also found that using Hypothesis helped in identifying students who might misuse AI tools to complete their assignments. By observing their annotations and interactions, she could better gauge their understanding and authenticity of their submissions.


The integration of Hypothesis at UAF demonstrates the transformative potential of social annotation tools in online education. The substantial increase in engagement and improvement in academic performance underscores the effectiveness of fostering communities of practice through collaborative learning.

“Even the most introverted person wants to know that somebody cares. Hypothesis shows students that their learning experience is shared and valued.” – Jennifer Young

Young’s experience with Hypothesis provides a compelling case for its broader adoption in online education.

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