Success Story 

Kalamazoo College


Josh Moon, PhD

Education Technology Specialist and Music Professor

“I definitely got one of the benefits I was hoping to see, which is that I could recognize students’ direct access points into the text. I could know what sections in the text interested them the most. I could identify where misunderstandings might be, where fruitful points of discussion and debate could come, and a lot of those things were missing in previous models.” 

What was the first thing that drew you to social annotation?

I imagine, like a number of people, my major entry point was being tired of LMS discussion boards. I had done so many “one post by Wednesday, 2 replies to a classmate”, and it felt so artificial and not intrinsically engaging. I was looking for some other way to get students to directly work with the text and I felt something like social annotation would be a good avenue to explore. I was thinking “one post and 2 replies” for the industry standard, but it’s like, can we do better? I hope so? Yeah. So I wanted to think outside of the discussion board box a little bit.

What has been the biggest benefit of using Hypothesis?

The overwhelming majority (of the classes where I use Hypothesis) have been face to face, so it has always been to supplement and enhance in-class discussion. At the same time I always recognize that the annotations are a tool for students who may otherwise not be as comfortable trying to come up with ideas on the fly when I’m staring at them. I recognize that there are students who can have their insights/thoughts live within the online environment (while) using social annotation, who are not as ready to just jump in during a class discussion. Having evidence of students’ thoughts through social annotation,  I feel like I can do something that isn’t quite as jarring as a cold call. I can look at a student and say, “Hey? I know in that hypothesis (assignment) you mentioned a really useful point, so I was wondering if you could share it for anyone who didn’t read it and maybe we could talk about it…” They’ve already thought about the topic, so it might give them a more comfortable entry point to contribute in class.

Did anything surprise you about you or your students’ use of Hypothesis?

What sets the tone for a conversation. I’ve had classes where everyone starts offering these very rich multiple annotations, like 4 or 5 sentences that are quite insightful. And at the same time I found situations where the tone is set differently, and people are kind of minimalist, or underbaking some of their comments. So I continue to think about onboarding and class management solutions to help students feel comfortable and get to the level of insight that I’m expecting. You can’t just open the box, and because it worked once, expect that it’s going to work again. You have to massage it and adjust it for your particular cohorts and subject matter and class level. I’m constantly tinkering. Also, on intrinsic motivation versus guidelines and scaffolding, I think social annotation dovetails really nicely on the broader pedagogical question of how to create opportunities for students to have meaningful engagements with the course content, while also not being so free-form that students are disincentivized or confused. Social annotation is one more area where the discussion plays out and we can investigate that question.

Have you seen any examples of how Hypothesis might support equity in your courses?

Social annotation is an avenue for all students. Often we use the language of introversion and extraversion just to refer to people who aren’t as excited to speak spontaneously or out loud in class. It definitely gives people an opportunity to find different voices particularly when they can read peer comments and replies. There’s some real affinity formations between people across identity lines of class, gender, race, ethnicity and ability where they “find each other”  in reference to what’s going on in the text and then something resonates. So people find a community in which for various structural dynamic reasons might not happen naturally in an in-class situation. That helps create a sense of connection between the students.

Ready to give students a whole new way to engage with scholarly content? Fill out the form below to get started: