Using a Web Annotation Tool with Primary Sources

I had the pleasure of attending the first ever Hypothes.is Educator Institute just recently, and it made me realize the power this tool can have for education.

For those who don’t know what Hypothes.is is, it’s a web annotation tool that lets users annotate and/or highlight anything textual on the web. “Annotate with anyone, anywhere” is their slogan, and it is truly annotation for the digital age. Best of all, they are a nonprofit and always looking for new and innovative ways to integrate their software into the educational setting. You can either download the Chrome extension or add a bookmarklet to use in other browsers. They also have HTML code to add the sidebar to your website and a WordPress plugin (that is enabled on this page). Hypothes.is allows you to annotate publicly or create groups so that only invited people can join, which is great to ensure student privacy.

I’ve heard it said before that a book isn’t truly yours until you have marked it up, bent the edges of some of the pages, and scuffed up the cover. First thing I do when I buy a book is grab a pencil (mechanical 0.3mm to write in the smallest of margins) and throw away the dust jacket. The first thing I do when I find an online article that interests me is turn on the Hypothes.is Chrome extension. Hypothes.is allows addicted annotators to mark up a webpage or PDF open in the web browser so that it truly becomes mine, and so that I can remember why I bookmarked it 6 months ago.The Gift Outright by Robert Frost The land was ours before we were the land’s. She was our land more than a hundred years Before we were her people. She was ours In Massachusetts, in Virginia, But we were England’s, still colonials, Possessing what we still were unpossessed by, Possessed by what we now no more possessed. Something we were withholding made us weak Until we found out that it was ourselves We were withholding from our land of living, And forthwith found salvation in surrender. Such as we were we gave ourselves outright (The deed of gift was many deeds of war) To the land vaguely realizing westward, But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced, Such as she was, such as she would become.

Annotation is an age-old practice. When I saw George Washington’s handwritten notes on a copy of the constitution for the first time, it helped me realize how it was originally a work in progress. I took for granted the idea that the founding fathers developed the Constitution throughout many drafts and it didn’t just appear out of thin air. Annotations seem to humanize the text and bring it back down from its academic pedestal after publication.

For education, Hypothes.is allows educators to assign and assess student’s research and annotations. Jamie Jordan, an English instructor at Colorado State University, for example, created an Annotated Bibliography assignment using Hypothes.is instead of the traditional bibliographic format. Another example: Jeremy Dean, Director of Education at Hypothes.is, asks his blog readers to annotate Billy Collins’ “Marginalia” poem. By the way, Billy Collins was the 11th Poet Laureate Consultant from 2001-2003 and developed Poetry 180 – a poem for every day of the 180 day school year.

The power of this tool isn’t just for English studies, however. I think it could be great for Social Studies and online primary source analysis. Give students a link to any website that has text and they can collaboratively gain a deeper understanding of the text by having a conversation in the margins of the webpage. Annotators can even add images, gifs, videos, and links to other related resources as well. It is sort of like doing collaborative note-taking with GoogleDocs, but for webpages.

Here is another idea: How about flipping the traditional primary source analysis? So instead of analyzing an image using text, how about analyzing text using only images – forcing students to not only make connections between mediums but also connections between the content. Students could use both primary and secondary source images to enrich their understanding. Or, students could have an online discussion about all of the resources surrounding the Constitutional Convention. It could even be used to give instructions or prompts to students on individual web pages or PDFs.

Let’s try some annotation! Below is the transcription of Robert Frost’s poem entitled “The Gift Outright” written in 1942 and given on the day of John F. Kennedy’s inauguration. Feel free to add your own, reply to mine, and start a discussion.

 

The Gift Outright by Robert Frost

The land was ours before we were the land’s
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. She was ours
In Massachusetts, in Virginia,
But we were England’s, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.
Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
To the land vaguely realizing westward,
But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
Such as she was, such as she would become.

Hypothes.is is still a bit new, so expect some limitations. It can only annotate text, but theoretically you could create a page or pdf with text below the image asking students to respond to a set of questions or statements.

I still don’t know of all of the possibilities for online annotation, so if you have any ideas, leave a comment below. And please, join in on the annotating!

*Writing the Declaration of Independence, 1776 | https://www.loc.gov/item/2002719535/

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