April 18, 2021

Hypothesis — A Digital Tool to Foster Student Ownership of Reading Assignments

This text was initially published by Profweb under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence, before Eductive was launched.

Hypothesis is a free open-source platform that not only provides students with a different way to demonstrate they’ve done the reading but more importantly allows students to work together to share information and build on the work of others.

Sharing annotations with other students (comments, notes, images or diagrams, etc.) in the margins of an assigned reading for a course is an interactive reading strategy called social annotation that has been gaining a lot of traction in higher education because of its social nature.

Online social annotation tools add another dimension to the learning process. These tools allow students to read and annotate a digital text collectively and simultaneously. Together, the annotations function like a conversation that is taking place around the text. As you are quite literally on the page together, you “share” the task of understanding with a group…

The Academic Commons of The City University of New York

Use social media habits to enable knowledge sharing

Public annotations can be tremendously useful. There’s a special type of personal learning network that people build through this type of public marginalia. With some texts, it might allow you to develop and refine interpretations with diverse people across the world. In this sense, social annotation bears some similarities to social media and social networking services.
Anchoring those activities to texts helps avoid some issues associated with mainstream tools. Plus there’s no need to associate any personal information with annotations. In some cases, encouraging learners to annotate in public has been a low-stakes gateway to other forms of public writing, including blogging.

At the same time, there’s value in making annotations private to a group. When you use it in Moodle (or another learning management system), Hypothesis sets up class-specific groups and you can grade students’ annotations when they’re part of assignments. Group-specific annotations also help in organizing web content according to learning contexts.
You can create all sorts of private groups which can then work across classes or even institutions. If you conceive of teaching as a way to build learning communities, such a practice goes a long way to make social connections more manageable than on the public web. There have been many initiatives to build education-specific social networks. Even more than forums, Hypothesis groups constitute a low-effort way to enable learning-focused collaboration.

How To create Hypothesis-Enabled Readings in Moodle

Leverage social annotation for learning

In the article Back to School with Annotation: 10 Ways to Annotate with Students , Jeremy Dean, VP of Education at Hypothesis, suggests ways to integrate social annotation into a course using Hypothesis such as:

  1. Teachers can pre-annotate the text with conversation starters or questions to draw the students’ attention to the important concepts. Students can either reply to the questions in their own annotations or prepare to discuss in class.
  2. Students can flag difficult or confusing sections of a text (even the teacher’s lecture notes. Share a slide deck of your presentation as a PDF or if you recorded your lecture, some video platforms,such as YouTube or Stream, will generate automatic transcripts of your lectures that you can also post).
  3. In a composition course, students could be asked to analyse works of literature by marking and explaining the author’s use of various writing techniques.
  4. Students can experience a new writing format by annotating using multimedia elements such as images, GIFs, videos. This could be useful as a differentiated instruction strategy.
  5. Teachers can assign a topic and have each student annotate a different text on that topic. Hypothesis’ Stream will allow the teacher and other students to view and reply to everyone’s annotations on that specific topic in one place.
  6. Have students prepare a research assignment by selecting a series of documents to be used and then annotate each with an outline, creating an annotated bibliography and a glossary of the vocabulary specific to the topic.

A variety of Hypothesis’ features help teachers review students’ work. (Source: Grading Student Annotations in Moodle)

Resources for getting started

Hypothesis provides a wide range of resources from tutorials to sample assignments to help you get started using their digital annotation tool with your students.

Final thoughts

In bygone years as a reading strategy, teachers would have their students highlight (with yellow markers) the important information in the textbooks. Did the yellow marker truly help students improve their understanding of the text and retain the important information? Probably not!

Social annotation has become the strategy to use for productive academic reading. Digital tools, such as Hypothesis, encourage students to take ownership of their reading assignments by making those assignments active, visible and social.

We are looking for a few teachers interested in trying social annotation in their class using Hypothesis in Moodle. The limited pilot project would take place in the fall of 2021. If you are interested please get in touch with Alexandre Enkerli.

About the authors

Alexandre Enkerli

Alexandre helps learning professionals make technology appropriate for their contexts, just like he did as a technopédagogue for Vitrine technologie-éducation from 2014 to 2016 and as a Technopedagogical Advisor for Collecto from 2021 to 2023. Alex comes back to this role after a few in Ottawa (creating cybersecurity learning pathways and a Massive Open Online Learning Experience on public engagement), and in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean for participatory-action research at COlab.

Susan MacNeil

She has had a busy career in education. With a M.Ed she taught all levels from kindergarten to university. However, most of her career was spent at the college level teaching ESL. She gave Performa courses, lead workshops at SPEAQ, RASCALS and l’AQPC. She served at the Ministère de l’Enseignement supérieur where she contributed to the evaluation of the general education components. She received grants from L’Entente Canada-Québec for various
research projects. Susan is also the recipient of the AQPC Mention d’honneur Award. Having retired from teaching she became a contributor to Real Life Stories of education technology integration at Eductive. Chinese ink painting helps her relax and travel keeps her energized.

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