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A new way to engage students in course readings

The group annotation tool Hypothesis allows students to collaborate, connect and interact more meaningfully with content.

By Steve Krizman and Emily Ragan, Ph.D.

May 18, 2020

Student working on laptop.A persistent challenge in online instruction is assigning course readings but discovering, through sluggish discussion or poor test scores, that students did not complete the reading or absorb the content. An exciting solution to this problem is to have students collaboratively annotate the reading.

Meredith Flynn, Ph.D., associate director of teaching and learning at the Center for Teaching, Learning and Design, led a faculty learning community last fall in which participants piloted the online annotation tool Hypothesis.

Steve Krizman, assistant professor, Journalism and Media Production, used Hypothesis to apply principles of Just in Time Teaching (JiTT). In place of warmup questions, students were required to annotate the online reading assignments.

“I provided prompts like I would in a JiTT warmup quiz, and I encouraged students to make comments and reply to others’ comments,” Krizman said. “I read the annotations before the class lecture, just as I would a JiTT warmup quiz. Lectures were animated because the students had already begun to engage with the content. And class time was more fun for me because we were getting deeper into the topics.”

Ann Obermann, assistant professor, Social Work, notes the benefit in having increased space for the student voice.

“Social annotation in digital formats brings the reading alive and gives student voices a place right beside the author and experts,” Obermann said. “Their lived experience is integrated, allowing the student to see real-life application to theory, authors with differing perspectives and much more.”

Comments from social-work students indicate that they find annotations meaningful and a way to connect with classmates and their professor. Such comments also show students feel comforted to see that other students are confused by certain topics too.

Meredith Jeffers, associate professor, Modern Languages, uses Hypothesis for her Introduction to Literature in Spanish course. In one assignment, students were tasked with embedding images as they read through poems. Then the next student would comment on or like the images that the previous student(s) had posted.

“This converted challenging poems – some in medieval or Golden Age Spanish – into living, visual works of art,” Jeffers said. “Students said this helped them better visualize the words on the page, as well as the associated imagery suggested by rhetorical figures and tropes. It also fostered a deeper discussion on how even short works of literature strike different readers in different ways.”

Krizman said Hypothesis also creates more student-to-student interaction than Blackboard discussion boards. “I notice that students tend to start individual threads in discussion boards,” he said. “In Hypothesis, they were more likely to respond to classmates’ comments, in the moment, as they worked their way through the article.”

All MSU Denver faculty members can easily use Hypothesis to increase student engagement with course readings. While Hypothesis is available publicly as a web extension, allowing any group of people to annotate PDFs, websites and more, it is also integrated with Blackboard to allow easy use in the classroom setting, including grading if desired. Documentation and videos about how to use Hypothesis are on the CTLD Ready website. Hypothesis will also work with Canvas.

Flynn and Obermann would be happy to answer questions about Hypothesis or talk with faculty members further about how they might incorporate it into their classes.

Topics: Academics, Center for Teaching, Learning and Design, Faculty Learning Communities, Student Success, Technology

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