New Social Annotation Tools Enter The Education Sphere

As schools were forced into an online format nearly three years ago, the education realm as a whole struggled to redefine rules and regulations for learning and socialization.

Online forums seemed to be the best option for most, so schools globally embraced this new online challenge head on.

However, a new concept coined “social annotation” brings up the efficacy of these online methods and explores new avenues as well.

A recent article by Inside Higher Ed details this shift and how tech is affecting students and educators alike.

“Matthew Luskey, assistant director of the University of Minnesota’s writing across the curriculum program, wants undergraduates in his classes to talk with each other when they first encounter an essay such as Vershawn Ashanti Young’s “Should Writers Use Their Own English?” But several of his classes are blended, which means that some of the “talking” needs to happen online.

Luskey could direct students to a discussion board in the learning management system, but “talking” there tends to be linear; one student may comment, followed by one or two replies, followed by another student comment and so on. Also, when a student wants to refer to a section of the text on a discussion board, they must import the quote, where it sits apart from the rest of the essay, cutting short conversations that might have naturally emerged from the context.

For these reasons, Luskey is a proponent of online tools that facilitate social annotation—collaborative reading, thinking and marking up of an article, webpage, podcast, collection of images or video. Now, a new study offers evidence supporting what Luskey has long observed: online social annotation helps students understand and construct knowledge around scholarly content, while at the same time building community.

Social annotation tools may be the natural evolution of collaborative learning and reading in online spaces. Instead of students engaging in discussions about a text in a corner of a learning management platform, they congregate over the source itself. Many faculty members are enthusiastic proponents of social annotation tools, even while acknowledging their limitations.

“It’s bringing that collaborative energy right to the thing, with zero distance between it and our peers,” said Dan Whaley, CEO and founder of Hypothesis, a company that creates open-source software and pushes for standards in online social annotation.”

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Most schools can agree that the one thing that suffered the most throughout the pandemic was the lack of social interaction students and educators collectively experienced.

Meetings in a classroom setting were completely eradicated, and Zoom meetings became the new norm.

What was lost is more than just socialization; students were no longer able to interact with one another and their materials in real time.

Enter new automation tools that are designed to help facilitate conversation and collaboration between students, helping to bridge that gap.

Automation tools have the potential to erase any issue, regardless of origination or the industry the problem resides in.

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