A&S Learning Design & Technology Knowledge Base

Collaborative reading and annotation tool:Hypothesis

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Whether one is reading for pleasure or education, the act of physically highlighting a book or article can be a valuable part of the reading and learning experience: These marginalia can help the reader to process the information, reflect on it, and provide a glossed version of the text for streamlined later reference. As the world has marched toward digital realms, however, more reading is taking place on a screen instead of paper. This digital shift can be readily seen in the college classroom, where more and more college course readings are in digital format and students are no longer able to physically write on their course texts. Reading solely on a screen with no way to annotate the text provides a very different (and, some would argue, inferior) learning experience than being able to mark up and interact with the text.

Enter Hypothesis.

What is Hypothesis?

Hypothesis is a digital tool that brings the conversations from the margins of physical books and articles into the digital world. Any website or digital article or book can become a canvas for annotation through Hypothesis. Not only are individuals able to mark-up their own digital texts, but these annotations can be shared among groups, thus making the conversation with the text expand beyond one reader and the author. Groups of collaborators--students, courses, universities, friends--can annotate the same digital document and engage in discussion with each other about the content. Since Hypothesis is integrated with UVACollab, it can bring the power of social annotation directly to your students.

Read on to see if Hypothesis could be a useful addition to your course.

What features does Hypothesis have?

On a Hypothesis-enabled document, a reader is able to select portions of the text and create either highlights or annotations.  These annotations appear in the right-hand side of the screen. Group members can reply to annotations in threaded comments.

UVACollab : Community: Hypothesis : Student Resources - Google Chrome

These annotations can be text, images, links, and even embedded YouTube videos. (See how to add media here.)

UVACollab : Community: Hypothesis : Student Resources - Google Chrome

You can create Hypothesis groups--friends or colleagues or a class of students. Annotations posted to the group will be visible to all members of the group. Any member of the group is able to post a reply to an annotation. Highlights of the text without annotations will remain private and not be shared with the group. This prevents the group view of the text from becoming overcrowded by just highlights.

Hypothesis is integrated with UVACollab, allowing instructors to share annotatable documents or websites within their courses. Instructors can also use Google Drive to share public documents for annotation. 

Enable Hypothesis for your course through the Lessons tool. (See how to add Hypothesis-enabled assignments here.)

Once an instructor enables Hypothesis on their UVACollab site, a group is automatically created that includes all of the members of the course site. Students and instructors are able to see each other’s annotations and respond to them. An entire course discussion can take place in the digital margins of a course reading. Instructors can even grade students' Hypothesis submissions, and grades will sync directly with Gradebook.

Why would I use Hypothesis in my course?

Group reading and annotation can provide many benefits to your course. Inviting students to engage in a digital conversation together about a text can help reading transform from a solitary (and sometimes isolating) endeavor into an engaging and community-building activity. Social reading can be particularly helpful to students engaged in online learning during the pandemic--at a time when many of their regular avenues for social connection are unavailable, the ability to connect with peers via the margins of a digital text can be very helpful. Allowing students to see what their classmates are thinking can enliven the reading process and help students feel they are not reading in a bubble.

Annotating a group text can also allow students time before class to develop their thinking around a reading. Much of the learning in a course comes from listening to and contributing to discussion with classmates and peers. With Hypothesis, this collaborative discussion can now start even before the class period, allowing students to begin class with a deeper understanding of the text. It can also provide a great springboard and structure for in-class discussions: students and instructors can see what points were most intriguing, difficult, or important.

Social annotation also increases accountability for the reading in a low-stakes way. Students feel the need to read deeply enough in order to make comments, particularly when they know their classmates and instructors will be viewing these comments.

Some considerations

Of course, as with any tool or pedagogical approach, there are some limitations to take into account when implementing this tool into your course. Students may procrastinate the reading and thus not provide their comments in time for other people to see them before class. Conversely, those students who do the reading early may not see the later comments unless they intentionally return later to read the comments. But with the proper invitations from course instructors, students will be enabled to engage in productive conversations on the margins of their readings.

It is also important to remind students to refresh the Hypothesis tool regularly as they are reading in order to see the most up-to-date comments that their classmates are making. (These updates do not happen automatically as they do with a Google doc or other platform for simultaneous collaboration.)

Additionally, as of this writing, documents must be publicly available in order to be used as a Hypothesis-enabled assignment in UVACollab.

For more information, look at the official Hypothesis website  and UVACollab's guide

If you are interested in discussing how you can use Hypothesis in your course, request a consultation with the Learning Design & Technology team.


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