Using Hypothes.is in the College Classroom

Hyphothes.is is a web annotation tool that allows highlights, annotations, page notes, and replies. As we know from reading hard copy text, marking text can encourage critical engagement with the content, helping us to understand and evaluate what we’re reading. But adding another layer to the web can also promote collaborative reading practices, allowing for more interaction between students, instructors, and the text. Below is a breakdown of five approaches for incorporating web annotation into your class.

1. Reading Accountability & Promoting Active Reading

If you want to move away from the “reading quiz” but still want to hold your students accountable for doing the reading assignments, requiring students to post a certain amount of comments can serve as a nice alternative. If you want to structure the assignment to hone in on those active reading skills, you could add more specific instructions (e.g. highlight what you think to be the author’s thesis statement and her two most salient examples; turn the subheadings into questions and answer them in your comments).

I always found that when my students annotated a text before we met face to face to discuss it, we would begin with concrete, student-generated topics that not only focused but energized the conversation. And the more I structured the assignment, the more sophisticated discussion resulted.

2. Collaborative Reading & Modeling 

Discussion boards are great tools, especially when specific guidelines gear them toward your learning goals. But if you are looking for a way to keep the discussion focused on the text, web annotation is a useful tool. Instead of having students post one comment or question to a discussion board after reading, consider having them post one or two comments on the text itself. You could also require students to reply to one another’s comments, or to post links to more information. This allows students to make connections to your other course materials.

This method also allows students to learn from each other’s (and yours, if you are participating) comments, modeling those critical thinking skills that are often so hard to articulate. Seeing how other people ask analytical questions, or how they are comparing/contrasting texts can help students improve their own analysis.

3. Public-but-Independent Research

Web annotation can be collaborative not only when students are on a common text but also when they are exploring texts independently. Students can engage in their own research of a chosen topic, but continue to share their annotations with a group or the public. As the instructor, you can aggregate individual inquiries by using a class tag, or require students to provide peer-feedback as they generate and develop their research question.  This assignment is a nice example of requiring student annotations as a research/pre-writing tool.

Providing a space to get peer and instructor feedback at this early stage has proven more useful for me than reviewing a product that has already been drafted.

4. Instructor Feedback/Self-Assessment

If your students are posting their writing assignments online, perhaps as part of a class blog, you can provide feedback using Hypothes.is. You can also require students to annotate their own writing either to show where they could revise or to explain how they have revised a post and why. This could be a great end-of-the-semester project or could be a part of a student portfolio.

If you want to keep the feedback between you and your student private, you can set up a “group” for just you and the student. You could also use a tag (e.g. “grades”, “feedback”) to keep your feed organized.

5. Citations

Because of a lack of page numbers, citing from a web-based source can be challenging. Hypothes.is. allows you to cut and paste a link to the specific quote or passage you are citing. Web annotation tools have interesting implications for the future of citation processes as we move deeper into the digital age.

These are just a few quick and easy uses of this web annotation tool– what other uses can you think of?

4Humanities Advocacy Group

Last year I got involved with an international community of digital humanities scholars who were invested in advocating for the humanities and promoting public humanities. Since the recession, budget cuts have resulted in a decline in university funding for humanities. How can we get government and private support for the humanities—research, teaching, preservation, and creative renewal in such fields as literature, history, languages, philosophy, classics, art history, cultural studies, libraries?

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Uses of the Discussion Board: Student-Generated Discussion Questions

When I taught my first online class, I knew that I had to be even more intentional about facilitating student interaction with (1) the course materials, (2) the other students, and (3) myself as the professor. Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 3.25.00 PMI wanted to make sure my students were not only understanding but also thinking critically about the assigned readings. However, instead of thinking of more creative ways to hold students accountable for this, I gave very simple multiple-choice reading quizzes. While this is not necessarily bad practice, it was not active, interactive, or critical at all. I then started requiring students to use the discussion board to discuss the readings. But when thoughtful, analytical discussions didn’t always spring up naturally, I began to create discussion questions for them – directing them to answer the types of analytical questions they should be learning to ask on their own instead of actually helping them build that skill. Learning how to ask interrogating and analytical questions is learning to be a critical thinker.

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Suggestions for Effective Video Lectures


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Here are 10 quick tips for creating more interactive (and thus more effective) mini-lecture videos. A few of the tips utilize the specific tools in the Janux platform, but most of them can be applied to any lecture– live or on video.

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See my latest article in Perspectives on History

My article “Puzzling It Out: Teaching Marketable Skills in History Courses with the Jigsaw Technique” appeared in the November issue of Perspectives on History, the flagship publication of the American Historical Association for commentary on teaching, computers and software, and history in the media. The article describes specific examples of using the “jigsaw” — a small-group learning technique — to scaffold students’ experience naming and practicing the critical thinking skills the humanities so often claim to teach. Thinking about both content and skills in humanities courses can help us not only appreciate the beauty of human culture, but also improve the skills that are necessary for work outside the academy.

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