Late last summer (and heading into the fall), I found myself in the unusual position of actually having the cart before the horse. Earlier in the summer, my team had redesigned the online first-year-composition (ENG-W131) course at IUB (initially intended for like 12 sections) and as part of that redesign we included 5 Hypothesis (social annotation tool) activities to help improve student engagement with required course readings as well as the overall online learning experience–trying to help foster some of the sense of peer-to-peer community that gets stripped by education through LMS + Zoom. However, when our writing program decided to adjust our design and make it scale for all the traditional W131 offerings, what we realized is not only the needed to assess the overall course (as part of our regular assessment), but that we would have over 55 sections in the fall and spring, each with a max of 23 students, engaged in 5 social annotation activities (with five annotations per activity). Couple this with the other kinds of writing in the course, from skill focus activities to analytic essays, and what we were staring at was a large data set of social annotation activity and writing. Not only was I trying to figure out the what and how to assessing this amount of data, but it became clear that this was an opportunity to do more than just an internal review.
As such, I put together a now 9 member, multi-departmental, multi-institutional research team, and we began this journey to study social annotation, student writing, and instruction practices at a scale that has not, to our knowledge, been done before on this topic. As part of this work, we formed a research collaboration with Hypothesis, have partnered with IU’s eLearning Research and Practice Lab, and have secured a small starting grant from IU’s College of Arts and Humanities Institute. Though we are still early in this process–with us just now collecting data in earnest (as we had to secure IRB approval first)–we have been able to contribute information to a blog post at Hypothes.is about the study/partnership and, more recently, was featured in their podcast series, Liquid Margins (see above): Episode 16 – Community in Composition).