Bodong Chen

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Notes: Schneider-2016-Making Reading Visible: Social Annotation with Lacuna in the Humanities Classroom



Citekey: @Schneider2016-du

Schneider, E., Hartman, S., Eshel, A., & Johnsrud, B. (2016). Making Reading Visible: Social Annotation with Lacuna in the Humanities Classroom. Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy, (9). Retrieved from






we find that student annotations and writing on Lacuna give instructors more insight into students’ perspectives on texts and course materials. (p. 1)

The visibility of shared annotations encourages students to take on a more active role as peer instructors and peer learners. (p. 1)

Teaching with Lacuna (p. 8)

There is no single way to teach using Lacuna—or any social annotation tool, for that matter. Of the dozen or more instructors who have used the Lacuna at Stanford and other institutions, each has made his or her own instructional design choices about how deeply to integrate the platform into course activities. (p. 8)

On the “light integration” end of the spectrum, some instructors used Lacuna as the equivalent of a course reader . (p. 8)

On the “deep integration” end of the spectrum, instructors read students’ annotations and responses in advance of class and integrated them into class discussion; in these courses, a minimum number of annotations per week were often expected and counted towards a participation score. (p. 9)

In many ways, “Futurity” exemplifies the ways in which social annotation tools like Lacuna can be intentionally used by instructors to create a more student-centered and learning-centered humanities seminar. (p. 9)

The “Futurity” Course (p. 9)

The 2015 course required 20 annotations per week from each student. This was reduced from the previous year’s requirements based on student feedback indicating that higher requirements led to annotating in order to get a good grade, rather than annotating as a way of increasing comprehension and engagement. (p. 9)

Across 10 students, the course participants ranged from postdoctoral fellows in philosophy , to graduate students in comparative literature, to undergraduates in the interdisciplinary Science, Technology, and Society (STS) major, under which Futurity was cross-listed. (p. 9)

One of our key research questions was how the visibility of students’ reading with Lacuna changed instructor practices. For Eshel and Johnsrud, a simple yet powerful shift was the ease of ascertaining which students had done the reading and how well they had understood the texts—questions which, as many instructors know, can consume considerable classroom time and assessment work (such as reading quizzes or short reading response papers). (p. 9)

Visible annotations also changed the focus of class preparation. Johnsrud described his and Eshel’s process of preparing for class with Lacuna as akin to drawing a Venn diagram, where one circle represented the students’ interests, as evidenced by annotations and responses, and the other was the topics that the instructors wanted to cover. (p. 10)

Examining students’ online work in advance of class sessions (p. 10)

Eshel and Johnsrud also used annotations to get to know their students as readers and thinkers. Johnsrud said, “After Week 1, I could tell you so much about each student, how they think, what they struggle with, what kind of level they are at, that had nothing to do with any class behavior.” (p. 10)

In addition to encouraging responses and dialogue among and between students, deliberate integration of online discussion into the classroom also appeared to have a democratizing effect. (p. 11)

This particular in-class discussion illustrates a few of the practices of integrating social annotations into the classroom. By using Lacuna as a window into students’ reading, Eshel and Johnsrud were able to pinpoint the exact places in the text that generated the most frustration, confusion, or disagreement in their students. (p. 11)

This Week 5 class session also demonstrates a type of negotiation that can take place between the students’ interests and the instructors’ instructional agenda in classes that integrate Lacuna into the classroom conversation. Throughout the conversation, the instructors attempted to steer the conversation away from the shortcomings of the essay and toward the reasons they had had the students read it. (p. 11)

Learning with Lacuna (p. 11)

What is the online reading experience like for students? Across surveys of students in Futurity and six other courses using Lacuna (N=45), digital annotation with Lacuna appears to have both benefits and drawbacks (p. 11)

For most of the students surveyed, annotation was a familiar strategy which they used frequently, according to self-reported habits. (p. 11)

It was social annotation, however, that emerged through the surveys as the most salient aspect of Lacuna, compared to both paper and digital reading environments. In open text responses describing their experiences, students reported an appreciation of the opportunity to hear one another’s perspectives and learn from one another as well as from the instructor. This was particularly true for less advanced students in courses (p. 11)

Survey respondents also emphasized that timing matters when it comes to the social experience. For example, one student said he was usually the first to read and comment, so he didn’t have the opportunity to experience others’ annotation unless he took the time to return to the text after class. (p. 11)

Exploring Social Annotation from the Student Perspective (p. 12)

W ith Lacuna, however, they each noted that the platform allowed them to annotate more extensively than they were accustomed to doing on paper. (p. 12)

Even more salient, however, were the ways that the platform created a stronger sense of community and new opportunities for social learning. Jenna eloquently expressed the connection to other course participants that the platform enabled her to feel: “It’s like all of our head space is kind of in the same area. […] I’ll just be like oh, this is what Amanthi was thinking when she read this part. How interesting, it’s a Sunday afternoon and we’re both reading this. […] It’s like there is constant fluidity, between when I’m in class and outside of class.” (p. 12)

The collegial nature of the course community appeared to be a crucial element for supporting peer learning. “I have learned just as much from my peers in the course as [from] my instructors,” Jenna noted at two different points in her interview. She described social reading as an additive process, where her own understanding of the text was enhanced by the perspectives of others: “That’s the beauty of it. It’s because we have all of these minds bringing together these very fragmented understandings of the text. Then it just only adds to yours.” (p. 12)

king the social annotation process that enables this more complete understanding, however , reveals multiple opportunities for an individual to engage socially, or alternatively, remain solitary in their interpretive process. (p. 12)

As explored in the Marshall and Brush (2004) research, the first decision in social annotation whether to share at all. For some students this appears to be a more sensitive issue than for others (p. 12)

But as the quarter progressed in Futurity, sharing was the norm, rather than the exception. This was due in part to the default setting of “public” on annotations, which meant that students needed to check a box to intentionally opt out of sharing each time they hit “save” on an annotation. Over time, students also had more practice exposing their opinions without negative feedback. Another incentive may have been the instructors’ use of annotations and students’ written responses in the classroom discussion. (p. 12)

Other reasons that students shared their annotations were because they “didn’t care” (Jenna) if someone saw what they wrote—perhaps a typical perspective from the social media generation (p. 12)

The second aspect of social annotation is choosing to read others’ annotations. In the interviews, it became clear that in the dialogue taking place through social annotation, not all utterances are necessarily “heard” by others. (p. 12)

In discussing what made a “good” annotation, Jenna and Allegra generally focused on the informational content and novelty of the annotation. (p. 13)

With these examples, a vital aspect of social annotation becomes evident: the act of annotating has multiple goals and as a result, there are multiple ways to understand whether annotation is a productive utterance in the online discourse community. Social annotation is a way of reading simultaneously for oneself and for the community. The individual reader, traditionally ensconced in a paper book, thinks entirely of himself. With social annotation, a diverse audience emerges—an audience including an instructor who is in a position of evaluation and other students who can be “told” new information. Moreover, both instructors and students are fellow participants in a dialogue which can be carried out in class as well as online. Finally, the reader is also an audience member herself, for the performances of others in her class. The mental model of the activity of social annotation, then, is multifaceted, requiring a level of self-awareness (and other-awareness) significantly beyond that of being a private reader. (p. 13)

this summary is really good (p. 13)

oncluding Remarks (p. 13)

equipping learners to engage individually and collectively with texts across media, Lacuna and other social annotation platforms are designed to encourage critical thinking and sensemaking, skills which are at the core of disciplinary work in the humanities and vital to 21st-century citizenship. Critical reading has long been a hallmark of the humanities and a skill which the traditional seminar has sought to foster in its students; however, the practice itself has often been all but invisible to instructors. By transforming reading into an activity that is done socially, rather than in solitude, Lacuna created a bridge between the physical classroom and online reading space in Futurity. (p. 13)

But dialogue isn’t always easy. Social annotation appears to create new demands on students and instructors alike to negotiate one another’s perspectives and reflect on the goals of their participation and practices. For students, this negotiation and self-reflection largely takes place during reading. (p. 13)

Instructors working with social annotation tools like Lacuna are presented with the opportunity to incorporate students’ interests and struggles with texts into teaching, which can include the potentially discomfiting need to cede to the students some measure of control. (p. 13)

Our case study has surfaced themes of authority, agency, and new forms of relationships in courses where technology makes student activity visible to instructors. (p. 14)

While the current study focused on classroom dynamics, a vital question that needs further consideration is the specific way in which student learning is influenced by the pedagogical moves that Lacuna enables. (p. 14)

Using annotations as evidence of critical reading and dialogic practices is an opportunity that is relatively unique to digital learning environments which capture traces of student activity. These data provide critical insights into student thinking, both on an individual and collective level, and can be used as a type of formative assessment for tracking learning over time (Thille et al. 2014). (p. 14)