Teaching & Learning

Universities Embrace Social Annotation Tools to Improve Learning

College and university educators can streamline communication, reduce workload, and improve efficiency by using social annotation tools. These tools can also positively impact how students perceive their learning.

“I find there is something so unique about having students interact closely with a text,” said Katherine Gaffney, Graduate Teaching Assistant, English, at the University of Southern Mississippi. “I was really searching for a way [for students] to foster collaborative engagement with each other,” she said. In using a social annotation tool, Gaffney found that it empowered students to facilitate their mutual learning. “Learning is facilitated by students, not just me as the instructor at the helm,” she said.

Hypothesis is the social annotation tool these three professors used in their online courses. Hypothesis is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to develop and spread open, standards-based annotation technologies and practices that enable anyone to annotate anywhere on the web. Using social annotation tools in class fosters collaborative discussion, critical thinking, and a deeper understanding of readings.

Dr. Jeremy Dean, VP of Education at Hypothesis, has more than 15 years of higher education teaching experience. When he taught English and Composition at the University of Texas Austin, he used annotation to increase student engagement to think deeply and critically about reading. “Social annotation keeps everyone focused on the course material,” he said.

According to these four educators, student response to social annotation has been very positive with most saying they value the deeper connection with texts and their fellow students. “Students feel empowered to share their voice,” said Dean. “By collaborating with peers in a deep engagement with text, they are actually practicing a core academic skill.”

Hodgson of the University of Indiana agrees. He described students’ response to using Hypothesis’ social annotation tool as overwhelmingly positive. He measures success by the progress students make toward completing the required annotations. “Across the board, students were hitting the goals,” said Hodson. He pointed to cases where students left more than 200 annotations on a single reading—well above the requirement—to show how students embraced Hypothesis.