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Public Annotation as a Tool, not a Solution

For this week’s reading I centered my thoughts on Jason B. Jones, “There are No New Directions in Annotations”, with particular interest to how public/digital annotation carries on a tradition of learning pedagogy and comprehension of literary materials, whilst also balancing the responsibility of digital pedagogy, an action described by Jones as “the critical approach to canonical  work”. How can (if possible) these two polarizing notions meld and encourage students to feel more empowered in the classroom?

While idealistic in his argument, what Jones does not consider are the systemic silencers that have historically pushed marginalized voices away from feeling represented in the classroom and learning process. To collaborate in such formats might encourage deconstruction of texts within the traditional literary cannon, but does not consider students as independent creators of knowledge. It also does not consider the social construction involved in collaborating to offer bodies of knowledge that has historically been left out of consideration into academic settings. How do we being to plant the seeds to empower students to feel voiced in the classroom in an way that engages with positive deviance?  To be able to achieve the goals Jones describes, would require a radical deconstruction and social training that recognizes the disparity in cultural productions in academia, rather than pour down information and texts to students, with limited engagement and comparison that draws from other texts. While Hypothesis and other annotation tools are incredibly useful in engaging with material, it fails to cross-engage students across texts, and does not foster students to provide much outside of it’s contents unless provided by facilitators in the learning process. The concept of seeing one’s self in any cultural medium can have impact beyond which can motivate students to incorporate these digital tools into their learning process to create the change Jones explained, but they are also not required to achieve this.

Collaborative Close Reading, by Danica Savonick delves into what public annotation might look like in paper form within the classroom. As she describes, most of he students have not had experience in being expected to annotate in a traditional style, which makes this version of written/public annotation a way to introduce students without the intimidation of dropping a new tool on them with the expectation to produce thought in a specific matter. I was most struck by the use of handwriting, which is arguably a dying skill and expression of individuality, and the inherent practice of what it means to share a physical space with peers in the classroom. 

The beauty in this work in rooted in understanding the dismantling of power dynamics in the classroom, while providing a framework of direction to give students a foundational set of knowledge rooted in interdisciplinary and collaborative scholarship. She states, “In most of the classes I’ve taught, the first step is always teaching students how to annotate: how to notice the peculiarities and perplexities of literary language in its efforts to estrange readers and push us to think differently about the world”. This again reflects the structural process of engaging students with openly criticizing texts presented to them in the traditional literary cannon and the beauty that comes from students and educators fostering an equal production of wisdom and learning. Even in the simplest comprehension the vividness of colors, coding, written word, and community engagement are calling back to a history of oral tradition, and visual knowledge that is so often overclouded in the framework of the illusion-ed concept of what is traditional in any literary context.

2 thoughts on “Public Annotation as a Tool, not a Solution

  1. Thanks for the link to Savonick’s piece, which is great. You engage a few different oppositions here: digital/manuscript, live/asynchronous, free-form/”refereed.” As with Anthony’s most recent post, you engage the important question of how “freedom” is best expressed/maintained. The kneejerk libertarian response is always, “with no one looking over my shoulder and no elites or hierarchies setting the terms.” You explore a more subtle answer: that one can’t be truly “free” in a sphere characterized by (for example) too much noise, no agreement on the terms of rational discourse, lack of agreement on norms of respectful language, absence of guidance on the disciplinary protocols at work in the mode of analysis, and so on.

  2. I’m a huge fan of collaborative annotation, and the vibrant examples in the image here are energizing. While digital collaborative annotations come with some wonderful benefits, I do love the paper versions as well which, as the Jones article celebrates, encourages students to break through the seeming sacrosanctity of the unmarked text.

    In addition to showing students how richly plumbed any text can be, collaborative annotations also (again as you’ve noted) put the students in the driver’s seat of knowledge. A favorite technique for me is having students rotate through short texts, so that every student gets first and last dibs. The first dibbers enter confidently, going often for the low-hanging fruit. As they move through texts that have been annotated more and more by their peers, they are pushed to see more, and that’s often when they bring their most original voices to the table, tapping into their personal experiences and connections. When those texts return to the students who first marked up the text, the kids often start to find true value in what their peers have offered–especially those reluctant to speak on the spot in class. (It also seems to embolden those same shy kids who start to see their own worth.) Collaborative annotations democratize literary authority in a way Barthes would doubtless love.

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