Collaborative Annotations: Using Annotation Studio to Foster Writing and Thinking in a Learning Community

Ethna Lay (Hofstra University)

My students’ report real success using MIT’s Annotation Studio, working with it as solo commentators or in the sharing of group work. Strong annotation skills support reading, writing, and critical thinking, especially when students have the opportunity to annotate collectively, a digital collaboration made possible by Annotation Studio. What is also promising about this kind of collaborative annotation tool is the role it plays in learning and transfer of learning across disciplines. In short, Annotation Studio facilitated student understanding in and outside of my class.

In a first-year learning cluster consisting of three courses – philosophy, psychology and writing studies – I used Annotation Studio to develop my students’ reading skills. My goal was to have them become curious about their reading and to interrogate the texts they read so that they would be come better writers and thinkers. For a final project, students in my composition class were asked to annotate essays selectively, which required them to read the assigned essays and make connections to material they learned in either philosophy or psychology. They were directed not to duplicate another student’s annotation but to offer (when possible) additional remarks about the way that text applies to the essay they were reading. This activity is designed to facilitate transfer of what is learned in one course of the cluster and apply it to another. Students were further invited to supply connection to their reading in additional discipline, annotating the text with that insight as well. Finally, students were encouraged to annotate the essays for rhetorical style.

What’s most interesting, I think, is the variety of ways the students interpreted the project, some focusing on the interdisciplinary nature of the learning cluster, some on the cluster theme, and others centering on the primary text. Some students relied heavily on course readings across the cluster; some relied each other’s annotations in important ways.

In their conclusions at the end of the annotated essay, they make some observations about learning transfer in the learning cluster. For example, one student, LaRainne concludes:

The experience of annotating the essay with what I learned from other classes was very thought provoking. I’ve often read things before and thought that it related to some previous knowledge but I never directly commented on the connection between two ideas. At times I found that the information was there in my head, but I could not remember where I first encountered it. It was interesting to note, however, that a single essay could be associated to several different subjects, and this assignment made it clear how my knowledge from the various parts of my life interact in an intricate way.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. This is what collaborating digitally can do.