Social Learning with Hypothes.is
ISTE Standard for Coaches 4
Coaches model and support educators to design learning experiences and environments to meet the needs and interests of all students.
- 4c. Use collaborative tools to expand students’ authentic, real-world learning experiences by engaging virtually with experts, teams and students, locally and globally.
In online learning there are typically three types of regular interactions that instructional designers look for that work together to create opportunities for deeper learning as well as social connections that increase belonging and improve the overall climate of a course. These interactions are Faculty to Student, Student to Content, and Student to Student.
In this post I want to focus on the Student to Student interaction and a tool that may help increase opportunities for those interactions to take place, while also engaging with the content. Hypothes.is (the period is important for finding the right tool) is designed to be a social annotation tool. This isn’t a new idea or technology persay, tools like Diigo have been around for a while, but it’s a different framing and way of interacting with online content without the use of an underlying site (hypothes.is).
This tool has been brought to my attention through other instructors where I work and while I’ve done a technical review for the integration according to my department’s method of tool review, you can see that the review does not include use of the tool to meet course or lesson objectives in the classroom; the review instead focuses on protecting the institution and the individuals who use the tool.
So the question I wanted to investigate this time is “How can I enhance student collaborative learning experiences with Hypothes.is?”
Why is Social Learning Important?
I touched briefly on this in my introduction, but as Shannon Riggs writes, “When students interact with each other, they feel like they are part of a learning community, but this interaction also helps students engage in higher-order thinking that would be more challenging to accomplish if they were studying alone.”
This means, “Beyond completing assignments and assessments independently, how will students work together to ensure that they feel like they are part of a learning community and have the opportunity to collaborate, think critically, be intellectually challenged, and make meaning with others? And how can students work with others while they are isolated in their homes? (Riggs)”
Hypothes.is is a web based tool that’s free to use, unless your institution wants to configure the Learning Management System (LMS) Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) aka integration between two systems. In order to get started, you need to create an account and either download the Chrome web extension (which also works in the new Microsoft Edge browser since it’s also built on Chromium) or use the bookmarklet link. You can then annotate any web page or PDF that you can open in your web browser and begin annotating.
Since it requires the creation of a free account, like any other tool, good account management practices like using different passwords for different accounts should be encouraged and some students may receive their verification email in their junk email or spam folder. There may also be other Federal or State, local or district laws and guidelines that also apply to your age group of students that you’re teaching, so make sure you’re aware of those requirements before you have students use this tool.
Overall, I felt that the interface was simple and easy to learn. Since this is a tool that primarily focuses on annotation and sharing these annotations, it’s a fairly straightforward tool. It’s easy to create annotations or highlights by selecting text and clicking a button or use the side menu bar to create and view annotations. Annotations can be in a variety of formats and not just text. Students can add images or links to other resources that relate to the topic at hand as well as add tags so that it’s easy to come back to a note later.
We used Hypothes.is briefly in my office to mark up one of our wiki pages that needed updates, it was really nice for me to be able to share my thoughts and perspectives in a way that my student workers could use for reference later. One of the confusing points for them was that when I shared the link it wasn’t clear to them that they also needed to create an account first, so my recommendation here would be to make sure you’ve talked with students in advance and that everyone knows what to expect, especially if you use this link outside of your LMS. When integrated, issues like accounts tend not to be a problem because most applications will create and authorize an account as soon as a student accesses the tool – there are some that are not like this, which can cause other misunderstandings and frustrations.
I think one often overlooked aspect of a tool that impacts students is knowing where and how to get help with the tool. Especially, if the assumption or in the testing experience, the tool feels intuitive. In my 10+ years of technology support and experience, intuitive means that the person has had a previous interaction with a tool that had a similar design or user experience, not that it’s really that straightforward. That’s why I like the ? icon, though I wish it was bigger, in the side-bar with an easy link to access Help Topics, but also create new support tickets. It would be better though if they indicated when to expect a response – especially for institutions that pay for the integration, there should be some communication of what the service level agreement is and when to expect responses.
Accessibility, Privacy, The Company as a Whole
One of the things I have appreciated about Hypothes.is is their overall value and ethic towards learners. Their Accessibility statement isn’t just there to meet legal requirements, but is written in a way that supports their ethos and worldview.
“Inclusivity and availability have always been central to our mission. We’ve worked hard to design and develop Hypothesis to reduce geographic, financial, or logistical barriers to users who want to read and write annotations on the web. That’s why Hypothesis is built on open web standards, will always be free to use, and works on a wide range of formats and platforms.”Accessibility Statement, Hypothes.is website
There are strategies listed and they’ve broken down how they evaluate accessibility into language that the end-user can understand. There are completed Voluntary Product Accessibility Templates (VPAT) as well as a completed Higher Education Community Vendor Assessment Toolkit (HECVAT), which are important documents that help show a commitment to certain standards of accessibility and data privacy that can help systems administrators evaluate and grade how well a tool works.
Lastly, the company as a whole. One of the conversations in my office when evaluating technology is the ethics of a company. Over the past year, there’s been a lot of attention on online proctoring and the companies that provide those services, what that means for students and the effects the use of the technologies has had on learning. From what I have seen, this company prioritizes the well-being of its users (students if you will) and the protection of their work. In a recent blog post from December, the company posted that they were donating funds in support of Ian Linkletter because of the following: “I, and the team at Hypothesis, find this wielding of legal power by a technology company abhorrent and below the decency we should expect, especially around the practice and institutions of education. Technology companies don’t alone know what’s best for students and instructors. We need to listen to practitioners like Ian if we want to best serve teachers and students. (Hypothes.is Blog)”
Overall, I like Hypothes.is as a tool and a company for the following reasons:
- It’s open and free to use, there aren’t additional costs to students or instructors to use the tools.
- It can be used as a tool that helps students collaborate, but also for instructors or industry professionals to share their voice with their students, and share information together.
- It can be used in hybrid and fully online courses both to collaborate synchronously and asynchronously
- The annotations don’t have to be text only
- Works across multiple browsers
- The tool provides multiple ways to add annotations
- Easy to access help menu and is a fairly simple/straightforward tool
- The ethics of the company
- It integrates into an LMS (Canvas, Blackboard, Schoology, Moodle, Brightspace, Sakai) and through that the account creation is automatic and the notes are kept within the class.
- Bonus: You can also annotate class documents.
Some things that would be nice, as I think through issues of equity and access to technology for students, is the ability to view notes offline. Many students have had challenges with having a good internet connection and in some cases, trouble with having access to a computer, so it’d be nice if the mobile experience was as clean and simple as the computer web browser experience.
I would also like to see the group that you’re posting your notes to stand out more, since in the Terms of Service, all public annotations become part of the public domain. I think when it comes to what happens in the classroom, that it should be harder for students to accidentally post to the public domain, especially when it comes to sensitive topics – since they are at an age where ideas and arguments are still forming.
As a collaborative tool for students to create deeper learning moments, I would say Hypothes.is delivers on that premise well and is worth instructors trying it out in the classrooms.
ETM. (2021) Evaluating campus education technology tools. https://wiki.spu.edu/x/pYAQDw
Hypothes.is Blog. 2020. In defense of Ian Linkletter. https://web.hypothes.is/blog/in-defense-of-ian-linkletter/
Kalir. J. H., 2019. Open web annotation as collaborative learning.https://journals.uic.edu/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/9318
Riggs, S. 2020. Student-centered remote teaching: Lessons learning from online education. https://er.educause.edu/blogs/2020/4/student-centered-remote-teaching-lessons-learned-from-online-education.