This is the third installment in a three-part series about social annotation. Part 1 explored social annotation in the context of teaching in the undergraduate Core: “Part 1 (Teaching in the Core)”; part 2 focused on a variety of language pedagogy contexts: “Part 2 (Language Pedagogy)”. This series on social annotation and collaborative close reading builds on a March 2021 post on the ATS blog: “Social Annotation and the Pedagogy of“.

Sharpening Methods and Bolstering Community

While Parts 1 and 2 of this series have examined and social annotation in the context of undergraduate instruction and, more broadly, coursework-oriented pedagogical contexts, digital practices of social annotation are equally useful in graduate instruction.

Collaborative annotation practices find resonance across many academic purposes and instructional contexts foundational to graduate training, staging opportunities for close readerly engagement with the crucial sources, critical discourses, and research forms of a given scholarly field. Whether students make use of annotation exercises to perform comparative analyses of research articles and field-specific theoretical works, to synthesize sources in preparation for a long-form seminar paper or dissertation prospectus, or to break down and immerse themselves in the constitutive elements of new genres of academic writing (such as the journal article or conference paper), social annotation enables graduate students to practice and hone the methodologies of their fields on a granular level. Moreover, digital platforms such as invite students to undertake this work collectively – reading, writing, and learning in ongoing conversation with colleagues and mentors – in a rich and unusual opportunity for collaboration in the sometimes highly isolating experience of graduate education.

Disciplinary Immersion: Access and Insight through Annotations

Scattered pages

By creating and animating a space for focused reading and speculative thinking, David Archer (Professor of Geophysical Sciences) and Benjamin Soltoff (Assistant Director, Computational Social Science program, and Assistant Instructional Professor in Computational Social Science) challenge their graduate students to develop mastery of the theoretical foundations and scholarly foundations of their fields and to seek out new connections and fresh questions that arise from visiting these bodies of work in the present moment. Through their distinct implementations of, Professor Archer and Professor Soltoff seek to reach their many students – some of whom are entering a new field in beginning graduate study, in Professor Soltoff’s case, and who comprise graduate and undergraduate students, in some of Professor Archer’s courses – by opening a space in which questions of many flavors can be raised and considered.

Professor Soltoff works with new students in the Masters in Computational Social Sciences program from their very first quarter at the University. Students in this graduate program arrive with a diverse set of academic and professional experiences, many with a background in Computer Science or related fields but no prior experience in the Social Sciences, and some with additional professional experience in computing. Professor Soltoff makes use of annotation exercises to provide a bridge into scholarly conversations with respect to which students have varying levels of familiarity, thus providing an opportunity for experiential immersion in the discourse and methods of social scientific fields. Over the course of their first quarter, his students work in small groups to annotate one or two journal articles each week – focusing their annotation energies on a subset of their weekly readings – and develop new insights into social scientific research while developing their practice as readers and, particularly, collaborative interlocutors.

Early in the quarter, with the help of a teaching assistant, Professor Soltoff models how to read and annotate academic articles in the social sciences by prepopulating activities with a limited number of annotations to provide a starting point for students’ reading and conversation. As the term proceeds, these small student groups (of 8-10 students) work progressively more independently, coming into increased fluency with the field’s conventions, bringing their own distinct insights and interests to bear, and learning through immersive and iterative practice what collaborative scholarly work can look like and generate.

In addition to providing graduate students with an opportunity to reanimate seminal works of a shared discipline together, practices of social annotation can immerse students in the methods and conventions of a given scholarly field, making new genres of academic writing more accessible. Professor Archer first approached as a tool that might help his students to break down field-specific journal articles – to demystify, in other words, both the content and the form of an important professional writing genre. Through weekly annotation exercises, which encouraged students to engage closely with one work of scholarship, his students not only gained an understanding of current work and recent literature in the discipline, but further came into an understanding of how this specific academic genre worked rhetorically. This process, Professor Archer reflects, was “empowering” for students, enabling them to reverse-engineer a published work and re-approach the academic journal article as a genre accessible to them as readers and writers.

In-Person Horizons

Exercises and assignments in social annotation emphasize process, exploration, and polyvocality over product, comprehension, and individual mastery. After well over one year of collective turmoil and dispersed experiences of isolation, centering such practices of intellectual and social connectedness can hold a great deal of meaning – and can hold out many pedagogical opportunities – for instructors and students alike. In approaching a gradual and uncertain return to in-person instruction, digital practices of social annotation invite instructors and students to linger together over the process of reading, sounding out, and widening the orbit of ideas.

Using Information and Support

If you have any questions about or digital social annotation, Academic Technology Solutions can help. Set up a consultation with us, or drop by our Virtual Office Hours. To learn more about, please see Use the Hypothesis-Canvas Integration and complete the pilot program survey for more information.

Image Attributions

Markus Winkler, @markuswinkler on Unsplash. 2020.

Annie Spratt, @anniespratt on Unsplash. 2018.