Annotate the Web with

This week’s Digital Pedagogy workshop, “Annotate the Web with,” will occur Tuesday, November 3, from 4:30–5:30 pm, with a repeat on Wednesday, November 4, from 11:00 am–noon. The location is the library computer lab (Abell 208).

A previous DP@AC blog post explored the theme of annotation, marginalia, and textual commentary and markup as we transition from analog and print to digital forms of text and media. There is growing interest among academics, scientists, and journalists, among others, for making web-based documents open to enrichment with comments, questions, explanations, references, links, glosses, and other forms of markup that are tied to specific words and phrases of the text and that are situated in the context of the document itself. Among the applications being developed to make this possible is, which “seeks to enable a conversation over the world’s knowledge” by “leveraging annotation to enable sentence-level critique or note-taking on top of news, blogs, scientific articles, books, terms of service, ballot initiatives, legislation and more.”

Brian Watkins is planning to use in his spring 2016 class, History of Anthropological Thought. As Brian points out in his Mellon grant proposal for the project,

I have taught my upper level course, History of Anthropological Thought, three times in three different institutional settings, and I can say that students have consistently found one part of the class to be the most important and yet the the most impenetrable: the texts of the anthropological theorists themselves. I wondered if there was a way to make them more accessible. I can’t make the text any easier to read, nor could I legitimately choose simpler theorists. What if, instead, it were possible to change the way students engage with the texts? I recently learned about a set of technologies which I believe could achieve this goal: social annotation software.

…[M]y current plan is to use software called Instead of struggling alone with Claude Lévi-Strauss or Victor Turner, students could connect with others in sharing their struggles and insights. Students would log in and see where in the text other students had questions, tentative answers, or are debating over the meaning of a key term. I would be able to log in before class and see how the reading went and adjust the class discussion accordingly. In an 80 minute class, I would typically spend the first half discussing the texts with students, and it is my hope that this software makes that discussion much more interactive.

Brian’s students will be reading many texts in pdf format; the texts will be scanned, processed with optical character recognition, and uploaded to the course Moodle site. This past summer he and I tested with one of those texts, a journal article by Bruno Malinowski entitled “Kula: The Circulating Exchange of Valuables in the Archipelagoes of Eastern New Guinea” (Man, Volume 20 [Jul., 1920], 97-105). Here are a few screenshots displaying some annotations we made on the first page of the article. First, this is the page with several highlighted phrases, each indicating a distinct annotation, but without the annotation panel visible:


Next, I click the first highlighted spot to open the side panel and reveal the associated annotation. I had annotated Malinowski’s passing reference to “Dr. Seligman’s Melanesians” to provide the full title and a link to the book in Google Books:


Another click on the phrase closes the panel, and returns us to the original view. For the second annotation, on the phrase “Gulf of Papua,” I inserted a map of that region; again, clicking on the highlight opens the annotation panel to reveal the map:


The third annotation shows a comment and reply:


And we could continue, but I think you get the point. With, you can easily annotate any text that can be displayed in a web browser. Students can pose questions, register observations and analyses, debate interpretations, add supplementary resources, and create further forms of marginalia. They can reply to one another’s comments and generate conversation threads. These annotations remain attached to the original document but can also be tagged and searched. Students thus read and annotate texts in a social environment that opens up greatly enhanced possibilities for engaging the subject matter and one another. Jeremy Dean’s recent blog post, “Back to School with Annotation: 10 Ways to Annotate with Students” offers an excellent overview of distinct annotation use cases. is also being used by a group of climate scientists at the Climate Feedback project to comment upon and evaluate articles and documents related to climate change:

Using the Hypothesis annotation platform, our community of scientists go through a variety of online media articles and provide ‘feedback’ on the scientific accuracy of the information presented. Readers can view these annotations directly alongside the original texts and see exactly where the article’s information is consistent — or inconsistent — with scientific thinking and state-of-the-art knowledge in the field.

For example, here is a small section of their analysis of a recent article in Forbes, “Updated NASA Data: Global Warming Not Causing Any Polar Ice Retreat” (they rate the entire article as having “very low” scientific credibility):

climate thus seeks to fulfill the original vision of those who developed the web browser: to make it possible to mark up and creatively interact with web pages and to enable robust conversations about their content.

There’s much more, so check out the resources listed below and come to our workshop this week for conversation and demonstration.

Curated Resources

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