Client Success Manager Story: Journey from Educator to Hypothesis
How do we better engage our students?
My role in education has shifted throughout the past decade, from high school teacher to instructional designer to customer success manager. But the common career thread has been a constant search for answers to the question: How do we better engage our students? Seemingly endlessly, I’ve tested tools and strategies to increase active learning; while I’ve had success with some, they are often time- or resource-intensive — or both. Instructors need the time to completely reimagine their teaching, but time’s frequently at a premium. In terms of my own teaching, it often seemed impossible to better engage students without an intense time investment — until I stumbled upon Hypothesis.
But the road to Hypothesis was winding. My first job out of college was teaching history at an under-resourced high school. After my first year, I didn’t feel that my students were connecting with me or the material. They had so many more important things to worry about in their lives than their upcoming history quiz.
During the summer break that followed, I spent a lot of time reflecting: How could I better engage my students? I joined Twitter to connect with other educators and created a blog to document my experiments and struggles with different technological and pedagogical approaches. I had some successes, a lot of failures, and gained a lot of blog followers. While I didn’t discover any magic bullets, I wanted to help my colleagues incorporate the tools that did increase engagement in their own classroom, so I began hosting training sessions for them. I eventually started a Master’s in Instructional Design and Technology and transitioned into the world of instructional design.
My pursuit of student engagement followed me to my instructional design position at Rutgers–Camden (RUC) in 2014. My role was to support faculty pedagogy and their use of educational technology. RUC doesn’t serve a traditional college population: A majority of students are commuters, many are juggling families and jobs, and a large portion is made up of transfer students coming from community colleges. Like many other colleges, however, RUC struggles with student retention. So again: How could I help faculty engage students and create a sense of belonging?
And at Rutgers, I encountered the same problem I had faced many times as a teacher myself — finding strategies and technologies faculty could use to engage their students, but without asking teachers to spend hours learning a new technology, or completely reimagining how they taught their courses. Over the next five years, my department rolled out new methodologies via workshops, a yearly fellowship program and an annual eLearning conference. Throughout these experiences, I learned what some faculty had success with, as well as the tools and strategies that were often too onerous for them to continue to implement.
In fall 2019, I had the opportunity to teach an online course in the Gender Studies department at RUC called Gender and Technology. I wanted to experiment with the sustainability of some of the technologies I’d been supporting in my own course. I had also been curious about Hypothesis, which I had been interested in for a semester or two. Prior to 2019, Hypothesis didn’t have an LMS app. The time investment required for faculty to learn and use Hypothesis’ web app was a no-go for me as an instructional designer advocating new tools to faculty. But with the introduction of Hypothesis’ LMS app, I was eager to try it out in my own course as a way of reevaluating it as a tool we could promote. What I found truly surprised and impressed me.
Hypothesis took something my students were doing anyway (reading every week, albeit alone) and gave them a space to blossom and build community by reading together. My students were engaging with one another and connecting with the material. Even better, I did not face the same problems I typically do while implementing new edtech tools. First, I did not have to reimagine how I was teaching my class. I simply added Hypothesis to the readings. Second, the tool itself took almost no time for my students and me to learn. And while I did not conduct formal research, based on anecdotal evidence, using Hypothesis increased engagement and learning in my course. My 25 students added nearly 2,000 total annotations to 26 readings that semester. In the end-of-semester evaluations, 57% of my students strongly agreed and another 33% agreed that using Hypothesis helped them learn in the course (I had similar success with 27 students in spring 2022, except my students reached nearly 3,000 annotations!).
After that initial semester using Hypothesis, I was sold on it as a transformative teaching tool. The world then created circumstances where online engagement was much needed: COVID-19 caused an emergency shift to remote teaching just a few months later. One of the tools I most encouraged Rutgers faculty to use was Hypothesis, due to its ease of use and the level of engagement and community it fosters: it’s the magic balance I had been searching for since I started teaching. Many faculty saw its value and continue to use it today after returning to in-person classrooms, including Rachel Derr at the Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden, who appeared on an episode of Liquid Margins. Last academic year nearly 7,000 students and faculty at Rutgers used Hypothesis.
When the Customer Success Manager position opened up at Hypothesis, I saw a focused opportunity to increase student engagement in a way that benefits both instructors and students, and I jumped at the chance. Now that I’m on the other side of the Hypothesis workshops, I’m excited to continue to explore the various ways that faculty are already implementing Hypothesis in their courses, and I’m eager to help others start using it. Although I saw interesting uses of social annotations in my work with Rutgers–Camden faculty, there are so many other examples out there to explore (and create). For example, recently, Sheryl Swain (another Liquid Margins guest) from Temple University shared how she differentiates annotation assignments between reading types with her first-year seminar students to enhance metacognition of their reading purpose. I’m looking forward to learning from and collaborating with faculty to expand student engagement through social annotation at Hypothesis.
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