This past Monday and Tuesday I attended eCampusOntario’s Technology + Education Seminar + Showcase (TESS) atop the Globe and Mail Centre in Toronto. As part of this conference I presented an Ignite Talk on a recent Open Pedagogy project I have been involved in: Hypothesis and Alice B. Toklas: Student Annotation of a Public Domain Work.
This presentation described an annotation assignment that was part of an Introduction to Non-fiction course that was taught at Ryerson University in the spring of 2019. The text of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein (public domain in Canada and Australia) was pulled into Ryerson Library’s Pressbooks authoring platform so that it was freely available to students on the web. In the EDU version of Pressbooks, Hypothesis can be turned on within a book. This makes it easy for students to create annotations as all they need is a Hypothesis account.
This text lends itself well to annotations that provide additional information about the contents of the text as many names, places and works of art are discussed. Students paired up and chose a chapter to annotate. They then presented their annotations to the others in the class. Feedback from the students was positive; this was a new experience for them as they had not done this type of assignment before and they enjoyed the sleuthing involved. The instructor found that using the annotation assignment was a good way of working through the text and felt confident that the students had actually read the text. She also thought that it encouraged peer-to-peer learning and helped them uncover themes between the chapters.
Several lessons were learned as a result of this project. A private Hypothesis group was set up for this class, but students ended up editing in the public layer. In future this could be remedied by reviewing the first few annotations to ensure that they were being made in the correct group. The text of the book that was pulled into Pressbooks contained a considerable number of typos – introduced during the OCR process. These were corrected after the book had been “published” in Ryerson’s Pressbooks site by Library staff. This could be built into the assignment for students by encouraging them to report errors (using tags in Hypothesis) as part of the assignment. The last lesson learned had more to do with pedagogy. The instructor indicated that in future she would do a bit more scaffolding to model how and what to annotate. Some annotations were deemed to be excessively long, and some not relevant to the content of the course.
The Open Syllabus Project shows that half of the top 20 assigned required texts are for public domain books. Because these texts are no longer copyrighted, they are readily available to pull into Pressbooks and ideal candidates for assignments such as this and for other open pedagogy projects.