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Blog by
Joe Dillon
Nov 17 2017

Emergent Problem- Crowded Margins; 3 approaches to jumping into a bustling #marginalsyllabus reading


This post also appears on the marginalsyllab.us site

The digital margins of Nicole Mirra and Antero Garcia’s article, Civic Participation Reimagined: Youth Interrogation and Innovation in the Multimodal Public Sphere, are crowded with notes. As the second reading in Writing Our Civic Futures, this year’s #marginalsyllabus project, their piece has drawn a lot of reader response from educators interested in equity, civic education, and innovation. For the uninitiated, this professional project invites educators to mark up texts about equity using hypothes.is, a social online annotation tool. The notes respondents have written so far on this text include links to related reading, summaries of work that readers have done related to the topic of youth civic engagement, and even debates about the content of the article. (For a detailed discussion of the activity in the text to date, read Remi Kalir’s thoughtful analysis here.) Since the text, the marginal space and the notes are digital, the already-crowded margins don’t prohibit others from joining in the reading and discussion. On the contrary, we’d love it if more readers weighed in. Still, like a book club meeting that has morphed into an overly noisy party that spilled out of a house into the front lawn and onto the street, the volume of images, videos, commentary, and discussion in this margin might seem daunting to interested participants who want to respond. In this post, I’ll offer a few ideas for how would-be participants might navigate the crowded margin and join our social-reading-as-professional-learning project, which might seem at first glance like a noisy party.

This screenshot shows the crowded margin of November's reading

Approach #1- for the student on assignment

A participant’s approach to participating in the annotation of Mirra and Garcia’s text would depend on her purpose for joining. For readers who have been steered to the piece as part of teacher education coursework, it might be particularly important to read the text carefully before looking at the marginalia. As a co-organizer of this project, I’ve found myself in circumstances just like a harried student might find herself- with a day or so to read a chapter, needing to come away from the reading with something intelligible to say about it. On these occasions, I prioritize reading first, and online discourse second. I like to print the article, read it on paper and make notes with a highlighter and pen in order to have a grasp of the text. Then, I look back at my notes in order to decide which I want to make public. This keeps my attention from being drawn away from the text to the margins and the discussion there. In the same way I used to pick over the overly scarred used books while shopping in the college bookstore, in this medium I prefer to avoid navigating too many markings when I’m trying to make sense of what I am reading.

Clicking the eyeball hides and reveals annotations in the hypothes.is sidebar.

Another way to read an unmarked, clean text the first time through without printing it out, is to click the eyeball icon on the hypothes.is sidebar. When clicked, it hides the notes and accompanying highlights in the text. Click it again and they’re back.

Approach #2 - for readers in search of interaction

Other participants might be drawn to this social reading in order to interact with the authors of the text, or to discuss the subject matter with other interested educators. For readers who want to extend the text in a social way, looking at the margins first might be the place to start. Skimming the interaction among readers and authors shows the social layer to this reading. This kind of interaction-focused reading holds potential for educators to share earnest questions about equity issues and civic education, or promising practices that they connect with the text.  Jumping into the collaborative annotation for the purposes of discussion could be very much like jumping into a conversation at an overcrowded party, it will require a quick study of the context and a reliance on social instincts. When marking up the text for this purpose, I could look for and respond to a note written by the author, or I might share a note I’ve written with the author on social media. (As luck would have it, Mirra and Garcia about both terrific folks to follow on Twitter, their handles are @Nicole_Mirra, and @anterobot, respectively). Using the hashtag #marginalsyllabus on Twitter amplifies the response and broadens the invitation for others to participate.

In the Tweet embedded above, Remi Kalir shares a link to an annotation, tags the authors of the piece, and incorporates hashtags to broaden the open invitation for educators to participate.

Approach #3 - for MOOCers and online learning enthusiasts

Skimming the crowded margins of Mirra and Garcia’s text, I see images, videos and links in addition to the text notes. Some readers might join this project out of a sense of curiosity about social annotation as a professional learning experience. The #marginalsyllabus project was hatched as an idea born out of experiments with playful annotations using hypothes.is, and in keeping with those roots, digital innovators might take to the text with a production-centered focus. When I come to a text with the goal of remixing it, I ask myself, “What does this text inspire me to make?” Would-be readers familiar with the work of the #clmooc community might ask, “How could these margins be a make cycle?” These digital margins of a text could be a creative canvas for connected teachers interested in testing the affordances of the hypothes.is tool for remixing, and tinkering with the way digital reading response might transform a text or spawn stimulating networked interaction among readers. This screenshot illustrates how the margins provide a a creative space for response.

 These recommendations are just a short list of possibilities born out of a very short history of online annotation-as-professional learning. For my part, social annotation causes me to be aware of my reading process, and to think about how I move from the text, to my notes, and then to a public and social layer of response. Surely, thoughtful readers, writers, and innovators, drawn to the crowded margins of Civic Participation Reimagined: Youth Interrogation and Innovation in the Multimodal Public Sphere, will bring new ideas about how such a professional learning experience might serve them best, and vital reflections about their experiences reading, responding and participating. My hope is that the potential problem of a crowded margin in this text becomes a larger problem of practice for an expanding community of practice of educators who are drawn to reading about equity and compelled to act, respond, make and inquire.

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