Supporting Experimental Pedagogy with Social Animation Tools

Experimental pedagogy sometimes creates anxiety for both students and instructors as they don’t know what to expect. However, the traditional mode of online discussion can be enhanced  social annotation tools that build student engagement in asynchronous classes.

Dr. Kyle M. Jones, an Associate Professor in the Department of Library and Information Science at Indiana University-Indianapolis, presented his experience with the social annotation tool, Hypothesis, at the recent virtual REMOTE Summit hosted by Arizona State University. Dr. Jones researches information ethics and policy issues associated with student privacy, and was asked to create an asynchronous graduate seminar about intellectual freedom.

He believes that technology is an engaging way to shape a learning environment in which students interact with materials, their peers, and the instructor to learn. “I wanted to push back against the preconceived notions about online discussion forums as the de facto tool to promote learning in online courses,” said Dr. Jones. “I am trying to break down predefined ideas of what online learning is by experimenting with my pedagogical style.”

Risks, challenges, and opportunities

New technology tools may have stability issues to be resolved when integrating into an LMS. Another risk is student data privacy, the subject of Dr. Jones’ research. “Whenever you introduce a new tool, you need to be concerned about the datafication of student life and student privacy.”

Dr. Jones recommends:

  • Introducing tech tools with purpose and intent
  • Onboarding software requires training of self and students
  • Creating scaffolded learning opportunities for students
  • Making sure students feel comfortable with the tool

“The important thing is that new types of experiences lead to authentic learning, deeper engagement, and a more impactful educational experience,” he said. Using Hypothesis provided opportunities to express values and opinions, bring in outside theories and concepts to create a more complex view of the material.”

Creating meaningful engagement

Dr. Jones realized that he needed to think about a different strategic design as it is difficult to facilitate deep discussion and engagement with the traditional discussion rooms for online courses. He wanted the students to engage with the text in close reading and then have a social experience with themselves as they discussed the text. Hypothesis is open source software that “sits on top of a website or PDF or any document and enables a community of users to privately or publicly annotate that text,” he said. “The annotation can be textual, visual, or auditory responses that engage readers by bringing in outside resources that are related to the text in some way.”

Evidence suggests that anchored discussions like this help learners participate in a rich and meaningful conversation about the source material allowing them to embrace new ideas and clarify and learn from the viewpoints of their peers.

In describing his experimental philosophy, Dr. Jones said, “this is all about close reading and active learning.” Additional resources, such as a slide deck or an image, can be embedded into the software, so students can more deeply understand the text. Students value the opportunity to see and hear what their classmates have responded to. At the end of the course, Dr. Jones found that the amount of responses created by students far exceeded what they normally would publish in a traditional discussion forum for an online course.

Dr. Jones cautioned that training on the software is important for both instructors and students. “Don’t just assume that students will pick it up right away,” he said. “Onboarding is absolutely key to use the tool to accomplish a new learning outcome.”

For more articles from the REMOTE event, see:

Lessons Learned: 8 Strategies for Effective Instruction

Faculty Needs to Be Drivers of Institutional Change