“Hypothesis has been an essential tool to train students new to critical reading and discussion in the kinds of interactions with text that contribute to the most dynamic seminar style classes. I recommend Hypothesis to people by saying: this makes the project you are doing easier. Minimal investment, and it’s flexible enough that it fits into a variety of different courses. And it’s really fun.”
What’s your approach to social annotation?
What I care about is that students start interacting with and thinking about the reading and how it applies to their lives. These may not be skills they have developed before, and they often don’t have the tools to make those connections. The idea of having opinions about a text is actually a little bit wild for some of my students. It’s like, what do you mean I’m supposed to say how I feel about it? I’m not the expert. And so I ask them to make five Hypothesis notes, and I don’t care what they are. Maybe it’s defining a word, saying a word that is confusing to you, making an exclamation mark, writing an experience that the text makes you think about, or responding to your classmates’ responses. I try not to get myself in the headspace of assessing my students’ first thoughts. Instead, I give them this low stakes assignment that helps them build classroom community and interact. I give them a chance to practice having opinions about a text, and I give them something that they can scaffold into in-class discussions, which can be very threatening and very anxiety-producing for students, especially students who aren’t used to these kinds of interactions.
What has been the biggest benefit you’ve seen while using Hypothesis?
It has been a really joyful space to get to know students. Sometimes students will engage with things in the reading and say that they hate them. But that’s still a response, and it’s been a very full space for me to see students interacting with texts that are theoretically important and maybe novel for them in ways that are passionate. That charges me up! That’s wonderful.
What has the student response to social annotation been?
What I have found thus far is that even though I only ask for five Hypothesis notes, most of the time they’ll give me twenty. Really. That’s huge. That’s amazing! They’ll give me a lot more.
Did anything surprise you about your students’ use of Hypothesis?
Through Hypothesis, I came to understand that they were reading every word, but they weren’t as familiar with the formats of professional writing as I am. What I found when I invited them to use Hypothesis was that they were getting thrown off by a lot of things. They were reading the words, but maybe not the style. They were having a hard time getting the point sometimes. But once they were able to team up, they really liked that. They could bring somebody else in and say, I don’t know what that is, or, that’s a hard word. I’ll define it, and that’ll be my comment. I’ll look it up on dictionary.com, and then we’ll know what “emergent” means.
What would be your advice to a new user of Hypothesis?
Sometimes it’s hard to take on a new tool, especially when everything can be new and everything can be a pain. It’s hard to learn a new thing on top of everything else. But you can do it incrementally. You can start playing with it. It has really given me more energy than it has taken away. It’s more fun for me to read the comments than it was ever a pain to set up. There is enough simplicity and flexibility in Hypothesis that it can be used in a lot of different ways, and I find that really nice.
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