Annotation and Connecting Our Learning


This is my third year of teaching ED677 at Arcadia University, a course titled “Seeking Equity in Connected Learning and Teaching.” There always so much to record, document and share along the way. Always true in the dynamics of teaching; always challenging to accurately capture.

Let me start with some thoughts about the power of annotation so far this semester.

Over the years, I have been learning from educators I work with about the power of annotation and new tools that support online annotation/social reading. These tools have included Google, Vialogues, Now Comment, Soundcloud, Genius and I have dabbled here and there, jumping into conversations that have been organized or creating a new thread in one of the various tools or forums myself. I’ve also been fascinated by the power of annotation historically and across disciplines, worked with on projects like Letters to the Next President 2.0, and am interested in the power of projects like Climate Feedback to support scientific accuracy and reporting.

It wasn’t until this semester though that I focused on the ways that participants in ED677 were encouraged to annotate – and the results, so far, have been noticeable and encouraging.

I started this process really during the first week when I asked the participants in my course, who are both inservice and pre-service teachers, to use the commenting feature of Google docs to highlight things they noticed and that raised questions for them on the ED677 Spring 2017 syllabus. Publicly visible, the comments show me where the group’s interests and questions are within the framework that I have created for the semester. I have also found that reviewing the syllabus carefully like this created a shared understanding of ED677 that, previously, has required many individual conversations to support as the semester got started. The structure of ED677 is fairly different than other courses and requires the individual participants to set their own timing and priorities and therefore it is important that everyone reads and understands the goals and resources of the course right at the beginning.

The next step we took with annotation came during our second week together. After we get oriented to the course and introduce ourselves to each other, I encourage us in week 2 to move into thinking about the larger context of this course, ie. the rapidly changing technological landscape in which we are thinking about learning together. In the past I asked everyone to engage in recent work by John Seely Brown and the authors of the Connected Learning Design and Research Agenda while also reading the first chapter of School and Society by John Dewey, a publication of lectures he gave at the turn of the 20th century.

In the past, the Dewey piece has got short shrift from participants in my class and I kept wondering about it – maybe it was less interesting or relevant than I think it is when I read it. So I read it again. No, I decided – this article, despite a few archaic words and gendered descriptions, is still interesting and relevant today, 100+ years later. And JSB, in his 2012 keynote, directly challenges us to tackle Dewey’s ideas in the context of flowing on the tides of change today. So I decided to try something new this time around, and I turned to my colleagues Joe Dillon and Remi Kalir who were working on a fascinating project called Marginal Syllabus and asked them if we, as ED677, could join in.

Why “marginal”? The creators explain:

  • our conversations will engage authors and their texts, topics, and perspectives that may be considered marginal to dominant conventions of schooling and education.
  • conversations associated with The Marginal Syllabus will occur in the margins of online texts through practices of open web annotation.

They then write that “The Marginal Syllabus is collaborative and emergent attempt to create a new sociotechnical genre of educator professional development in which authors and readers, the practices of amplified marginalia, and learning technologies begin (re)marking on equity and education.”

Perfect, I thought. Here at ED677, we are all about new sociotechnical genres to support equity in learning and teaching, so I decided to barge my way in. And not only were Joe and Remi welcoming, they seemed excited and promptly made a space for Dewey’s 1907 text and created an annotation “flash mob” event to support us during that week. Amazing. Going back to ED677 then, my only job then was to invite the class. I did so by introducing them to the project, adding related scaffolding between the texts and supportive approaches (for those who might be new to this or nervous about doing the work publicly), and an opening annotation of my own, which read:

In 2012 I heard John Seely Brown give a keynote at the DML Conference where he said that “perhaps John Dewey (and Marie Montessori) were 75 years ahead of their time” when driving models of education that brought the learner into the flow of what they were learning. Maybe, he posits, “their intuition was right but their toolset was wrong." See:

I was so excited by this thought and have been wondering it ever since. So how might we do what JSB does in his speech and recast some of John Dewey’s work here from 1907 in today’s networked age?

The results of this experiences, and the differences in the ways we engaged with this older text, were significant. Not only did almost all of ED677 participate and contribute their significant knowledge as teachers and learners into the mix, but their reflections that week posted to their own blogs were filled with connections they made between Dewey’s work, John Seely Brown’s, and the research report/agenda for Connected Learning. They also quickly made important connections between to their own work and with their classmates through their shared blog posts. Eric, a graduate student in education aspiring to teach math, wrote “I feel like a conspiracy theorist… I’m finding connections everywhere!”

I should mention that ED677 is an entirely online course taught in the open, meaning that all of the activities and readings we engage in, and our writing and reflections about this work, are posted to our own blogs which are then aggregated together at our shared blog (Domain of One’s Own inspired). While we meet via video every other week, I have found that it always takes time to develop a sense of ourselves as a community and that this sense develops as our comfort with being a community of educational bloggers begins to grow. What I think I am noticing this time around, however, is that this kind of online social reading activity seems to have been a significant jump-start to that sense of belonging to a community, both within the course and beyond it. And since the goal of this course is to be connected learners ourselves, as educators, in order to support equitable access to connected learning and teaching with the youth we work with, this jump-start could have significant implications.

This week we are diving back into annotation as a way to explore the idea of “wobble” as in Pose/Wobble/Flow, and thinking about that idea within communities of other connected educators. I look forward to seeing where this all brings us.

Readings re: Science and Social Justice Teaching

Excerpted compilation by Kathy Walsh, April 6 2015

I am reading a book called The Art of Critical Pedagogy:   Possibilities for Moving from theory to practice in urban schools,  which is filled with very empowering ways to engage students who have been marginalized in schools.  Other books I have read in the past month that have a lot of Student-driven action projects and ideas for engagement:  Deep Knowledge: learning to teach science for understanding and equity by Douglas B. Larkin; Urban Science Education for the Hip-Hop Generation by Christopher Emdin; Teaching Science for Social Justice by Angela Calabrese Barton, and Democratic Science Teaching: building expertise to empower low income minority youth in science by Basu, Calabrese, and Tan. and Empowering Science and Mathematics in Urban Schools by Tan, Calabrese, & Barton.   For science teachers there seems not to be a lot on the subject of teaching for social justice compared to teachers of other subjects so I thought this list could prove helpful if this is something you are interested in. 

Save Mr. Frog & Ms. Cat: A Mini-Figs remix

While I have a great deal of respect for Scratch as a forum and a platform for visual programming and creation, I haven’t done that much myself in it as a creator. So I figured I would start with a remix during this week of remix and play in ED677 … Here it is: “Save Mr. Frog & Ms. Cat: A Mini-Figs Remix”

Can you save Ms. Cat from going in the water while allowing the Mr. Frog to make it to the pond? It’s kind of tricky! :)



If you ever thought that twitter was just for sharing what you had for breakfast, then you probably never had a twitter chat with Joe Dillon regarding #techquity.

This past Wednesday evening, Joe Dillon – a colleague of mine from the Denver Area Writing Project and instructional technologist for the Aurora Public Schools – visited my ED677 class at Arcadia via Google hangout. I had invited him to come because we are starting to naming equities/inequities in connected learning and teaching and I was interested in the #techquity conversation he had been leading recently via social media:

This was also the first twitter chat that we had done in ED677. And for several of those participating, the first use of twitter at all. But bravely the group dove in … both as readers as well as tweeters. And it was not about breakfast at all. In fact, Joe took us right into a set of deep and important topics regarding the use of new technologies for learning and unpacking equity/inequity.

The design of this chat was based on work by Peter Below re: doubting/believing which has been iterated many times and in many ways by educators over the years. Joe Dillon iterated it once again, posting images of statements drawn from a set of five curated-by-Joe blog posts we had read beforehand, and then asked us to respond with I believe … #techquity or I doubt … #techquity.

For example:

1. Believe and doubt….#techquity
2. Believe and doubt. #techquity
3. Believe and doubt. #techquity
4. Believe and doubt. #techquity
5. Believe and doubt. #techquity
6. Believe and doubt. #techquity (4 minute warning.)

You can see the full transcript of our chat.

I have reflections on this to share since then that cover a range of topics related to this chat …

First, I have been thinking about the topic of #techquity and the form/facilitation of this chat to get underneath these complex systemic issues. I am struck by the power of it actually, not to finish a conversation but to start some …. I noticed this week (and yes, this is the first of my 5 things this week) that the quality of the blog posts by those participating in ED677 have just rocketed forward … I see a lot less abstract ideas and many more personal reflections about self and practice (note added: I actually love abstract - and think it’s important - but also need to get down to it too. So both/and :). And in getting to equity, I think that kind of personal and visceral response and shared reflection is necessary and promising.

I do, however, also feel like I threw everyone in this week … unintentionally? I’m not sure and I’ve been thinking/reflecting about that all week since the chat. I know these topics are big topics and in some ways I know that I do feel like we just have to go at them, together and in community, to make any progress at all. But/and I realize that we are all still new to each other, most of the participants in this class are new to using social tools in this way, and that we haven’t really had much conversation about equity yet. On the other hand, how do you get to underneath these difficult topics unless you just go there – and I mean that content wise as well as technology wise. And as adult learners I think we have to go there with our full selves and as learners and peers. If we don’t how will we ever support youth in grappling with what is hard and challenging about all of this?

I’m reminded of the Buddhist concept of approaching each thing with a beginner’s mind. And if we can do this together, what are the implications? That’s the question I am left with and in the weeks ahead I hope we can reflect on this even more as we move into a focus on our syllabus on inquiry communities, practitioner research and communities of practice (both on and offline).

(That all said … I also probably could have/should have provided a bit more support for jumping in because, as you know if you’ve ever been on a twitter chat, these things are a bit frenetic. Everyone did great though and while I am comfortable with everyone choosing for themselves whether to be a reader or a tweeter or somewhere in-between, whenever the technology and/or the content is new. And I probably also could have made that clear from the get-go … as the authorized teacher of this class, even though I am interested in prompting a peer-based way of working together, I realize I have a certain authority that I need to also accept and address in these kinds of situations. So note to self … and happy to get feedback from those in ED677 about this too.)

That’s my second find this week – both my own learning and checking in as well as how impressed I am by how everyone in the class is making their own decisions and and working through their own questions while also working with each other in these new environments. Kudos all around.

My third find this week has to go to Joe himself. I am impressed by his attention and commitment to this conversation and to his vision of continuing to support it by connecting it to other activities and conversations happening both on and offline. For example, colleagues of his joined us from the Aurora Public Schools and this is clearly an important thread of conversations happening there right now … we were also joined by Kim Douillard, a colleague from the San Diego Area Writing Project who earlier that day we had noticed online working with local colleagues to #createquity. Joe and Kim have in many ways had important impact on my own thinking over time, I always appreciate their shared leadership and insight into these discussions, and I appreciate Joe creating opportunities to bring the pieces together.

My fourth find this week is related to ongoing questions I have about how to continue this discussion about equity in connected learning (ie. #clequity). I saw Selma last night, for example, which just reminds me again how important it is to share powerful stories of change and justice … and before that I spent last weekend at Educon where thought leaders such as Melinda Anderson, Jose Vilson and Rafranz Davis encouraged conversations about privileged voices in education. Melinda Anderson, in particular, struck cords within me related to the value of ethnic studies for all students as well as a demand, as a parent, that the education community do something about the lack of educators of color in the profession in a “Connections” panel on Sunday (note to self: will try to find the livestream or transcript of this).

Then my fifth find has to go to the authors Joe evoked in this “five entries” blog post … as well as all those who continue to write/share and surface the essential questions, tensions and systemic implications of inequality and injustice whether in education or society more generally. A few things I noticed online and bookmarked just this week that relate include:

I am filled with gratitude.