Public highlighting and annotation

My personal take on tools for adding various types of annotations and prompts to existing online resources has emphasized the educational potential for teachers and students. I see these tools as ways to convert information resources (web pages, online video) into instructional resources.

Many of the tools I have reviewed in writing about the potential for education were developed by individuals with a different vision. They view their tools as a way for individuals to contribute to the public discussion on important issues or as a form of curation. I suppose either of these visions might be considered a way to influence learning on a broader scale than might occur to K-12 educators. The following are my own thoughts on the possibilities these tools allow.

Annotation as a form of commenting:

The tools (I will offer a couple of links at the end of this post) I have in mind might be understood as providing an improved or at least more precise form of commenting. Some online resources offer a place at the conclusion of the post to add a comment. If the service allows and the author is willing, readers have access to a text box that allows input and then appends this input to the end of the original post or possibly linked to a previous comment. This sounds great, but as most familiar with social services understand the opportunity is often abused as a way to garner personal attention or to harass the author. Some services allow comments to be moderated so the original author has the opportunity to approve comments before the comments become part of the public post.

The form of annotation I am describing does not fix this problem and it may make it worse. What it does to potentially improve the process is to make commenting more specific. The highlights and comments (or similar additions) are inserted (layered) on the existing document (highlights on top, other additions typically linked to the side). Think of this as a way to identify the precise existing content that has generated the addition – support, objection, additional information, external link, etc.

On a grand scale (many participants), this could create quite a mess. However, the value of such public systems improves as the developers find ways to embrace multiple contributors in a useful way, additions can be shared with designated users only, or the number of participants is not large. These services typically have some form of on/off switch – you can turn the service on to make contributions or to observe what additions have been added by others or you can leave the service off to see a clean copy.

Highlighting as a form of curation:

A major issue of online resources for many is that there is just too much. Curation offers a group approach to deal with great quantity. For example, Twitter is often used to identify useful “reads” others might find worth their time. This form of curation (see Nuzzel as build on top of this model) reduces the number of articles, but not the amount of content per article. Now, imagine others you trust have gone through content you might find valuable and highlighted what they think is most important. You may have experienced such a think purchasing a used college textbook or using the public highlight feature available when reading a Kindle book. The idea is that you can skim and use the existing highlights to make decisions what you might consider reading more carefully.

Is this a good idea? I would refer you to your own experiences with used textbooks. You may have found the highlights to be helpful and you might have found the highlights to be distracting. I know there has been research with have been described as “experts” (expert note takers, highlighters), but this may or may not apply to the content you would experience. Kindle has a way of aggregating highlighting so you see only the most frequently highlighted material. To my knowledge, this has yet to be tried with the type of services I am describing here.

Again, if you have installed the extension in your browser, this model of curation can be turned off or on so you as a reader have control.

One issue may have occurred to you as you read this content. If you are the content creator, you really have no control of whether others add highlights or notes to your material. This is the case and this situation might be imagined as more traditional commenting that cannot be turned off and is not moderated. Just to be clear, these additions do not actually modify the author’s content, but might be understood as a layer added on top. The author presents content as intended and this content is there without any changes for viewers who have not employed one of the services I have described. I guess I will leave it at that for you to evaluate.



Highly – a tool for highlighting the web (Highly explains its own vision) – highlight and annotate

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