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Social Annotation Lets Students Learn in Their Own Way

Instructors share their experiences using Hypothesis.

Jacqueline Garnett, CTL Grad Fellow

Hypothesis is an innovative educational technology tool that allows students and educators to collaboratively annotate texts on webpages and PDFs. By creating a social environment to critically analyze and discuss course material, Hypothesis promotes a community of dialogue to provide new and unique learning opportunities.

Lecturers Ragini Maddipati (left) and Amy Gais (right) use Hypothesis in their courses at the Brown School and in Arts & Science.

Dr. Amy Gais uses Hypothesis as a core component of her political science and humanities courses. “Hypothesis really helped me accomplish a goal that’s important in all of my classes, which is reading,” she says. In her experience, articles can sometimes be dense and difficult to read, which can be alienating or frustrating for undergraduate students who are encountering course material like that for the first time.

Gais finds that Hypothesis helps students learn how to read thoughtfully and carefully, enhancing the teaching experience that she aims to facilitate in her courses. She says that by promoting active engagement and collaboration, social annotation empowers students to be a part of their learning process.

In the Brown School, Professor Ragini Maddipati also uses Hypothesis in her seminars that encourage graduate students to dive deeper into case-based issues and important themes across public health.

Maddipati alternates between asking students to analyze readings in Hypothesis and via reflection essays. She finds that varying educational modalities helps to avoid student burnout on otherwise repetitive assignments. Where reflections often elicit synthesis, Maddipati observes that annotating in Hypothesis allows students to deeply engage with the particular aspects of an article that resonated most strongly with them, removing the pressure to always reflect on an article in totality.

Both instructors express that using Hypothesis creates a more inclusive environment for their students to participate because it gives space for different forms of engagement.

“You might get someone who wants to do thirty short annotations or ten well-developed paragraphs,” says Gais. “There is no right or wrong way for a student to engage with the material, it’s just what’s right for them.”

“I see the value in that. Participation comes in different ways, and I think that for us as instructors, it helps for those students who maybe don’t feel as comfortable speaking up in the classroom” Maddipati adds. “In order to include the most voices in your classroom … [Hypothesis] is not a heavy lift on the part of the instructor but does allow for students to just engage in your content in a different way.”

Visit the Center for Teaching and Learning’s Resource Page on Hypothesis to learn more.