Do you live in dread of blank stares from students when beginning a classroom discussion on a new topic? There are many reasons for this, one of which being that students can struggle completing pre-class reading assignments. A recent study by Jae-eun Russell et.al. (2023) found that if students are not supported through the process of completing reading assignments, only 37% will read any of the assigned reading (down to only 21% in asynchronous online courses) and will not normally return to the reading after it is due.
But do not despair! That number can be greatly improved by implementing teaching strategies that employ research-based solutions. For example, by implementing a social annotation strategy, the same study by Russell & co. found that over two-thirds of students will make an annotation in the assigned reading, will read more pages of the assignment on average, and will persist (return to) the reading over the course of the semester.
Social annotation is the process of encouraging students to collaborate to make comments on digital texts. There are many ways to do this, such as using discussion boards or study guides, but there are also dedicated tools to allow students to work together to mark up texts, such as Perusall and Hypothes.is. The general idea is that students initially need access to the discipline-specific knowledge that is shared by experts in the field to successfully access a reading assignment: that is, when a chemist reads a text, they are looking for different information than a philosopher or sociologist would. Over time, in our disciplines we learn to key in on important concepts and central ideas specific to our fields. For example, as a literary scholar, I might analyze a chemistry text for style or intended audience. Those are different concerns that those specific to chemistry, biology, or physics.
So when students read assigned texts, they benefit from transparency—being supported in their reading by being given a description of why they should be reading any particular assigned text. To use the previous example, I might describe for students how to analyze a text looking for clues to identify style choices or intended audience, giving some appropriate examples to help get them started.
What a tool like Hypothes.is does is give the instructor the ability to mark specific instances in a text where they might want students to pay attention or to ask themselves questions about the text. This also then allows students to ask each other and respond to questions themselves. Ideally, students then show up to class not only having read the assigned reading, but with a basic understanding of some preliminary questions or observations about the text, allowing for a much deeper discussion of the content in class (in-person or online, or asynchronously through discussion boards). And, in fact, research done at IU has conclusively demonstrated the benefits of using Hypothes.is to boost student engagement.
To find out more about how to try out a low-stakes social annotation assignment, please join me during my workshop September 28th, 2023 at 2pm, Social Annotation for Student Engagement with Readings: Getting Started with Hypothes.is. And, as always, if you have any immediate questions or concerns, feel free to contact us or request a consultation.