How often should students participate in collaborative annotation?

By Christie DeCarolis | 15 August, 2023

Here at Hypothesis, one of the questions we are often asked is: how many annotation assignments should I give my students within a semester? Using social annotation with Hypothesis is flexible and has the potential to meet a wide variety of instructional goals, so there’s no single correct answer to this question. However, we can give you some questions to consider and some tips to help you make the best decision for your course.

The goals of your course, discipline, course modality (asynchronous or live), class size, and document type can all influence how frequently you may want to have students participate in social annotation assignments.

Question 1: What are your goals for your social annotation assignments?

The goals of your social annotation assignments can influence how frequently it may be appropriate for students to annotate. For example, in an asynchronous online course, social annotation may be acting as a replacement for in-class discussion. In this case, I may want my students to annotate at least one course reading weekly  and provide generalized annotation instructions so that they are interacting with one another and demonstrating engagement with the course materials. 

In another example, I may want to use social annotation primarily to help my students prepare for exams. They could annotate course documents such as study guides, essay questions, and learning objectives in order to help them prepare. You can review how Kristin Polizzotto of Kingsborough Community College has her students annotate the learning objectives in her Biology courses here. In this case, the number of social annotation assignments may match the number of exams in a semester (Kristin’s example contains five Hypothesis assignments). 

Question 2: What types of documents should students annotate to meet those goals?

As we’ve already seen in Kristin Polizzotto’s example, your goals for social annotation can directly influence the type of document students might annotate to meet those goals. Let’s look at a couple of other examples.

Perhaps I’d like students to better critically read academic literature. My social annotation goal would lead me to have students annotate articles published in academic journals. In this case, it may take students some time to thoroughly read a scholarly article and write thoughtful annotations to demonstrate their understanding of the text. Depending on the level of the course, this may only be appropriate to do three to five times through a semester (this is just an approximation and could be even more, or fewer, though!) 

In another example, I might want students to improve their textbook reading skills using Hypothesis so they come to class better prepared. Asking them to complete a scaffolded textbook annotation assignment before they complete each chapter might help meet those goals. The number of textbook chapters would determine the number of social annotation assignments they complete. 

Question 3: What are you comfortable trying out first?

As you can see from the examples above, some instructors have their students annotate multiple documents per week, while others may only have students annotate a handful (or maybe even just one document–the syllabus– each semester). So really, anything goes!

For your first semester using Hypothesis, you may want to consider what frequency you’re comfortable trying with students so that you have the space to assess the success of your annotation assignments and refine them for the future. 

Check out our resources to help you get started

We have plenty of sample annotation starter assignments as well as instructor-submitted resources to help you get started. The starter assignments are designed to be generic no matter your discipline and can be used in most courses. The instructor-submitted resources are discipline-specific and provide a broad range of ideas for you to adapt!!

If your institution is a Hypothesis partner, your Customer Success Manager can always meet with you to brainstorm the best strategy for incorporating Hypothesis into your courses. All of our Customer Success Managers are former educators who are happy to help. Reach out to to connect to your Customer Success Manager today.

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