The social annotation of texts online to support seminar work

#tagginganna started when something David Weinberger wrote about tagging and knowledge architectures (Everything is Miscellaneous) made one of us think about Frances Yates, Renaissance Palaces of Memory and the problem of holding a novel in your head when you had stopped reading it (and had moved on to talking or writing about it). What if you could access the ideas you had when you were following a long narrative using the kind of index that tagging made possible? What if you could search the ideas other people had when they were making explicit some of the implicit meanings of a text?

We adopted the project name because Tolstoy's Anna Karenina was one of the books set in the class in which we first invited students to work on online social texts. We also imagined that tagging would be one of the chief ways in which a group created a social text. One of us was a Twitter newbie, hence #.

The pedagogic dimensions of this project have expanded as we have trialled online platforms for annotating digitized texts. They include:
  • Forms of attention: how framing readers' engagement with a text can develop their power to notice what is there (this is the first stage in close reading or critical analysis).
  • Making explicit what's implicit, and showing your working: students of literature in the UK are expert at reaching general and abstract conclusions, sometimes overlooking the need to show how such conclusions are reached. Preparation which focuses attention on problems of interpretation at the level of the word or paragraph engages participants directly with the responsibilities and the rhetoric of exegesis.
  • Formative writing in informal contexts: one of our platforms facilitated discursive commentary - students have seized on the opportunity to write at paragraph length about paragraphs of the text. In practice, this has created temporary but strongly focused discussion groups, in which students amplify or modify their interpretations in dialogue with each other.
The project also holds a technical dimension, as we have selected, tested and amended tools which meet the pedagogic needs identified.