Collaboration Tools

App Allows for Open Annotation of Web Content; Schools Sign on to Pilot

In the early 1990s, the creators of Netscape apparently built a function that enabled each web page to be annotated by those visiting it, as a way for viewers to discuss the page's content. But according to a video produced in 2013 by a nonprofit called Hypothesis, the feature was turned off.

Now that same nonprofit is working to bring that functionality back by offering an app that allows for "open annotation." As it's described, this is a "layer over the web," based on open standards, that allows people to comment even when and where comments aren't allowed. The project is based on the annotation standards for digital documents developed by the W3C Web Annotation Working Group.

Hypothesis app

The organization is especially interested in wooing educational users (both K-12 and higher ed) to serve as test pilots, and it has drawn its first two institutions. The pilot for Hypothesis currently includes California State University Channel Islands (CSUCI) and North Carolina's Davidson College.

The purpose of the pilot is to see whether students and teachers engage more deeply with course content and with each other when they use the app. People can add comments and annotate documents that are being used in courses. It's available as an external tool in whatever learning management system the school is using.

The program uses the Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) standard to integrate with LTI-compliant LMSes, including Instructure Canvas, Blackboard Learn, D2L Brightspace, Moodle, Sakai and Schoology. Eventually, Coursera and edX are expected to be added to that list.

The pilot at CSUCI, which uses Canvas, will span the duration of the spring 2019 semester and take input from 12 instructors, who have committed to using Hypothesis at least once in their courses.

"We're very excited to have our faculty as part of the Hypothesis pilot at CSUCI," said Instructional Technology Lead Michael McGarry, in a statement. "After just running [an] initial kick-off webinar, there's already a lot of buzz about the possibility of putting this level of engagement in the hands of students. Ideas have begun flowing. Light bulbs are turning on. I'm excited to see our faculty excited."

Davidson Lead Instructional Designer Sundi Richard said more Hypothesis users are surfacing in classes and using it for their own independent or social reading. "We see this pilot as a way to expand that usage to groups who might not want to just jump into web or social annotation," she suggested. "We hope this leads to varied uses of the tool for meaningful reading and engagement in digital spaces."

Hypothesis is open to more schools joining the pilot effort. But even if they don't, they can try out the software. Implementation guides for the various LMS integrations are available on the Hypothesis website.

Eventually, schools that make "substantial use" of the utility will be expected to join the organization's "sustaining partnership program" and pay an annual fee.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.