Teaching Hub

Teach Your Students Active Reading: Assign Texts in Blackboard with Hypothesis

by Lauren Horn Griffin, Department of Religious Studies

screenshot of blackboard build content menuYour Blackboard course menu includes Hypothesis on your “build content” menu. Hypothesis works with files you add to your course. It also works with any website.

Hypothesis is a teaching tool that allows you to have your students “show” how they are reading your course content. With the Hypothesis tool, anyone in the course may add annotations with text, images, websites, and LaTeX equations. Anyone in the course can reply to those annotations, too. All of these activities can be graded in the Blackboard gradebook.

We teachers know that marking a hard copy text as you read encourages critical engagement with the content. Doing so helps us to understand and evaluate what we’re reading. But adding another layer to the readings in Blackboard can also promote collaborative reading practices, allowing for more interaction between students, instructors, and the text. Below is a breakdown of five approaches for incorporating web annotation into your class.

1. Reading Accountability & Promoting Active Reading

If you want to move away from the “reading quiz” but still want to hold your students accountable for doing the reading assignments, requiring students to post a certain amount of comments can serve as a nice alternative. If you want to structure the assignment to hone in on those active reading skills, you could add more specific instructions (e.g., highlight what you think to be the author’s thesis statement and her two most salient examples; turn the subheadings into questions and answer them in your comments).

I always found that when my students annotated a text before we met face to face to discuss it, we would begin with concrete, student-generated topics that not only focused but energized the conversation. And the more I structured the assignment, the more sophisticated discussion resulted.

2. Collaborative Reading & Modeling

Discussion boards are great tools, especially when specific guidelines gear them toward your learning goals. But if you are looking for a way to keep the discussion focused on the text, web annotation is a useful tool. Instead of having students post one comment or question to a discussion board after reading, consider having them post one or two comments on the text itself. You could also require students to reply to one another’s comments or to post links to more information. This allows students to make connections to your other course materials.

This method also allows students to learn from each other’s comments (and yours, if you are participating), modeling those critical thinking skills that are often so hard to articulate. Seeing how other people ask analytical questions, or how they are comparing/contrasting texts, can help students improve their own analysis.

3. Public-but-Independent Research

Web annotation can be collaborative not only when students are on a common text but also when they are exploring texts independently. Students can engage in their own research of a chosen topic but continue to share their annotations with a group or the public. As the instructor, you can aggregate individual inquiries by using a class tag or require students to provide peer feedback as they generate and develop their research questions. This assignment is a nice example of requiring student annotations as a research/pre-writing tool.

Providing a space to get peer and instructor feedback at this early stage has proven more useful for me than reviewing a product that has already been drafted.

4. Instructor Feedback/Self-Assessment

If your students are posting their writing assignments online, perhaps as part of a class blog, you can provide feedback using Hypothes.is. You can also require students to annotate their own writing either to show where they could revise or to explain how they have revised a post and why. This could be a great end-of-the-semester project or could be a part of a student portfolio.

If you want to keep the feedback between you and your student private, you can set up a “group” for just you and the student. You could also use a tag (e.g. “grades”, “feedback”) to keep your feed organized.

5. Citations

Because of a lack of page numbers, citing from a web-based source can be challenging. Hypothesis allows you to cut and paste a link to the specific quote or passage you are citing. Web annotation tools have interesting implications for the future of citation processes as we move deeper into the digital age.

These are just a few quick and easy uses of this web annotation tool. What other uses can you think of?