Annotating in the Open with


For the 7th app in the series, we bring you !

Ever wanted to have a really great, stimulating intellectual conversation with students or colleagues?
Do you think it’s just crazy talk to dream that you could actually have a meaningful conversation online, with people who have never met face to face before? Read on.

seven swans swimming-six white swans and one black swan

Have you ever assigned a reading–a novel, an article, a bunch of poems, a play, etc.– for your students to read thoughtfully before they came to class? Or, maybe you’re like me and you participate in a book club where you actually read--in addition to eating, drinking, and catching up–to discuss ideas that you’ve read and really thought about? is an open source software that enables you to annotate text on the web and PDF files, and layer a conversation over it. non-profit organization funded through the generosity of donors, and through donations from individuals.   No implementation required by the author or publisher. Simply install a browser extension (I used the one from the Chrome web store), and you’re good to go. Until you click on the talk bubble, it might look like this:

screenshot of Hypothesis website showing some of annotations on it

See the screenshot below, this time with the extension expanded:


Imagine the possibilities! For example, you can design instruction to have your students annotate the reading before coming to class so that you can formatively assess…

  • what ideas students find interesting and would like to discuss more
  • what ideas students have difficulty understanding
  • what ideas students have misconceptions about
  • etc.

From the annotations, you have data–yes, data–to inform your teaching and adapt your lesson plan accordingly (of course, if you want to conduct research with this student data, you will need REB or IRB clearance; check with your peeps). You can adapt the curriculum to meet the needs of individual learners, groups, or whole class. Now how cool is that?

Need Inspiration? Check out These Educational Innovators…

Bodong Chen: Designing an un-LMS approach to conversations

Dr. Bodong ChenBodong Chen is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at University of Minnesota. His research focuses on devising computer-supported collaborative learning environments (CSCL) and analytics for knowledge building (KB). Bodong is brilliant and publishes prolifically. But did you know he’s also an innovative teacher? His humility belies how leading edge he is in open educational practices. Bodong writes open textbooks on very on-trend things like social network analysis for his course CI5330 Social Network in Education, and learning analytics for his course CI5371 Learning Analytics: Theory and Practice. He uses to design a networked conversation outside of the LMS for these courses.

Recently, I caught up with Bodong when he joined a Community of Practice event organized by Dr. Rebecca Quintana, a Learning Experience Designer in the Office of Academic Innovation at University of Michigan. Rebecca designed a conversation where we used to annotate Bodong’s article (Chen, 2018) before the event AND THEN discuss them at the event, attending in person OR online. Very cool!

Community of practice event at Academic Innovation at UMich


Now, I have to confess…I’ve known both Bodong and Rebecca for many years. We all completed our PhDs at OISE/University of Toronto, and come from the same “stable of illustrious researchers” (to quote Niki Davis) and share a love of design, learner-centered pedagogy, learning sciences, design-based research, visualizations, knowledge creation, etc.

Through social networking via Bodong on Twitter, and serendipity as I tweeted about critical digital literacy for a Community of Practice conversation with guest Dr. Bonnie Stewart, I was introduced to Dr. Remi Kalir‘s work on the Marginal Syllabus Project.

Dr. Remi Kalir-Marginal-Syllabus-Dec11-sessiion

It interweaves web annotation using, geeky book club, and equity conversations. It plays on the multiple interpretations of the term “marginal”–authors whose writing may be considered contrary–or marginal–to dominant education and schooling norms (see

Experiential learning is a powerful thing. I was invited to participate as a reader-respondent in a webinar–with people I have never met–to discuss “Generative Principles for Professional Learning for Equity-Oriented Urban English Teachers” by Allison Skerrett, Amber Warrington, and Thea Williamson on December 11


I was quite literally marginal to this conversation in more ways than one. I connected with my American colleagues via Zoom from Windsor, ON in the marginal lands of Detroit, MI (Please note: The University of Windsor sits on the traditional territory of the Three Fires Confederacy of First Nations, which includes the Ojibwa, the Odawa, and the Potawatomie. We respect the longstanding relationships with First Nations people in this place in the 100-mile Windsor-Essex peninsula and the straits – les détroits – of Detroit).

In my work, I have strayed far from a background that includes a MA in English Literature and teaching K-12 students written composition. I’ve focused on teaching or analyzing written communication or networked online discourse in the higher education, especially at the graduate level, for the past 16 years or so. But this work, annotating in the open not just for an individual, the teacher who grades the assignment, hits close to my heart in teaching K-CEO learners to write for an audience.

Join the conversation #MarginalSyllabus for 2018-18 at      



This post is part of a 12 Apps of Christmas series from UWindsor’s Office of Open Learning. Celebrate the season with us by coming back each day until December 21st to learn about a new technology-enhanced teaching & learning tool!