Citekey: @Kennedy2016-qw

Meegan Kennedy (2016): Open Annotation and Close Readingthe Victorian Text: Using with Students, Journal of Victorian Culture, DOI:10.1080/13555502.2016.1233905


Summarize: This commentary introduces an instructor’s thoughts and experiences in integrating, an open annotation tool, into an undergrad course.

Assess: Thorough intro to all kinds of considerations that would inform another instructor’s design efforts.

Reflect: I’m planning on using H in my SNA class, so this piece is very helpful. Building on the issue with lack of connection with a traditional LMS/CMS, I am considering combining Slack + (on course text book and web pages) + an open textbook authored by me (mostly weekly orientation and curation) to form the backbone of this class. Open annotation will be the thread to weave things (ideas in readings, my open textbook, anything students find interesting) together. Slack will facilitate class communication. Slack offers a way to subscribe to H annotations. Slack also offers data exports that would work for student practice in my SNA class.


Many students write critical essays without quoting a word from the primary text; others quote passages and hastily move on without considering the text they have just offered or discussing why it might be relevant. (p. 2)

How can we coach stu- dents to train their attention on the text, on the unique force of a particular phrase or moment, before broadening their perspective to wider horizons? (p. 2)

This essay’s commentary on open annotation in the classroom grows out of the particular challenges and rewards of the course where it was used. (p. 3)

I considered a number of annotation tools. After trying many and consulting with colleagues and the distance learning team at FSU,3 I chose It offered sta- bility, good reviews, open source, creative commons, the option of private annotation, a clean and inviting interface, and flexible possibilities for the course and beyond. (p. 4)

Assignments (p. 4)

‘Literature and Medicine: Diseases and Debates, Then and Now’ included six opportu- nities for annotation, all of which were structured as individual contributions to a group discussion of Victorian primary source texts. In one assignment, the students group-an- notated an e-text of George Eliot’s novella The Lifted Veil, an assigned text, which had been discussed in other course materials (p. 4)

Annotation in requires students to attach their response to a specific element in the text. (p. 5)

This assignment replicated the kind of class discussion we might have had in a face-to-face course. (p. 5)

In browsing the highlighted text, the reader can also quickly identify ‘hot spots’ where more interesting or controversial material occurs. Because I required students to respond to two other annotations as well as posting their own, clusters of postings quickly built up, signalling knotty textual moments and inviting students to pause and read more closely. (p. 5)

For this course, I simply required students to post literary, historical, or ethical anno- tations, sometimes guiding them with a broad prompt. Using on Victorian texts lends itself to focused annotation along a number of axes: (1) Historical: highlight a literary, medical, judicial, or historical reference and dis- cuss its history; (2) Linguistic: highlight one word and discuss its history, usage, and connotations; (3) Literary: highlight a phrase or sentence to discuss using particular literary or analytic concepts discussed in class (metaphor, free indirect discourse, irony, etc); (4) Ethical: highlight a sentence that represents an ethical choice in this text and discuss the costs of that choice; (5) Multimedia: highlight a phrase or sentence and link to a visual, audio, or video clip with a brief explanation of the connection you see. (p. 5)

Issues and resolutions Jeremy Boggs has noted three roles for instructors using technology in the classroom: role model; tech support; and cheerleader.12 (p. 6)

Students’ two major problems were not technological but practical. First, they posted to the wrong websites. The advantage offers in being able to attach to nearly any website becomes a disadvantage when students simply performed a Google search for The Lifted Veil (for example) and annotated whatever they found, rather than fol- lowing my posted link to a specific version of the story. (p. 6)

Second, students annotated the correct website but in the ‘public’ channel rather than in our private, class channel (p. 6) allows easy shifting between public and private annotation. I needed to ensure students’ anonymity online because FSU’s Office of Distance Learning was con- cerned about FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) violations. There are good reasons to reconsider the assumption that all student work must be submitted pri- vately and/or anonymously in order to comply with FERPA. (p. 7)

finally, due to the sensitive nature of the course material, I worked to establish trust and community so that we could respectfully disagree upon difficult matters. I strove to mitigate the ethical dilemmas of open annotation in the curated space of my classroom, but they remain in the larger context of the web. (p. 7)

Some websites do not integrate smoothly with the shell. is designed to work with PDFs, but page frames and embedded readers as in Googlebooks and Gutenberg still caused us difficulties. (p. 7)

Student experiences (p. 8)

They specifically mentioned its key features: anchoring commentary to specific moments in the text and facilitating replies to those annotations (p. 8)

They also described the experience as ‘inventive’, ‘interactive’, and ‘thoughtful’. Six students explicitly preferred to the context-free comments permitted in Blackboard’s Discussion Board. (p. 8)

Thirteen students acknowledged some difficulty in learning how to use the tool. They requested a more deliberate introduction to and mentioned site-navigation issues, which are being fixed. (p. 8)

Some students felt disoriented because the tool was not explicitly within the CMS. (p. 8)

With a large class, some responsibility must fall on the student to follow directions and ask for help. However, since students working in haste may not follow instructions to the letter, some may have difficulty with the first assignments. I recommend a deliberate, staged introduction to the tool to ensure that students do not go astray. If (p. 9)

My students’ literary analyses were indisputably enriched by It facilitated easy online interaction with a variety of texts and each other, and it required students to anchor their comments rigorously in specific textual passages. (p. 9)

Conference speakers could choose to post their talks so that conference participants could register responses and continue the discussions started in live panels; or so that scholars who did not attend could partic- ipate. (p. 9)

Ideally, will continue to work with organizations and sites large and small – like the HathiTrust, Project Gutenberg, Google Books, and the Dickens Journal Project – to ensure seamless use of open annotation on the texts they make available. (p. 9)

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Bodong Chen, University of Minnesota

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