Annotation Studio – MIT Digital Humanities

I have used this blog on several occasions to provide tutorials on several online services that could be used to implement the instructional strategies I outline in my book “Layering for Learning“. The book has a very specific focus – educator amplification of online resources (video, web pages) – to create better learning experiences for students. An important focus here is that the content comes from a third party (or at least that is what is assumed) and the methods do not violate the copyrights of the original creators. So, educators can make use of YouTube videos and web content they did not author.

Many of the tactics I cover in the book and in my free online resources could be applied to other content. For example, Google docs allow peer editing, commenting and the opportunity for educators to distribute content they have available with overlays of comments and questions.

The Annotation Studio Digital Humanities project from MIT is an online option developed more specifically within the framework of educational applications I outline in my book. It is specific to content uploaded by educators and so is different than the approach I have described in my own work.

It is important to me that I recommend tactics that have demonstrated value. My own approach relies on the work of educational researchers. The Humanities project is less based in quantitative research and focuses on the argumentation style of those from the humanities. MIT has generated a White Paper that describes Annotation studio, provides a tutorial on the service, and provides additional comment justifying such activities that may interest educators. The program was developed at the university level, but has been used in high schools.


Personal history

I received what I thought was an interesting email this morning. This email notified me that my content contained an out-of-date link and provided a more current address. I have generated so much content that finding a way to keep information current is a problem so I appreciate assistance when offered.

The unique thing about the request was that it concerned a blog post I had written rather than the content I might try to keep current. The blog post was written in 2002. Unlike web page content I create, blog posts are kind of a temporary offering I assume fades into the mists of time. Just to address the emailer’s request, here is the original post updated to include a current link.

OK — just in case you don’t know and were wondering — what is a blog?

Blog is web slang for “web log.” Think of a blog as a web page that the author continues to update with new and typically short comments. Blogs entries tend to be dated and the entry appearing at the top of the page is the most recent. Blogs are created using a simple web form through a service provided on a remote server. There are several such services and basic blogs can be created for free. Blogs are either hosted on the remote server or can be ftp’s to a server of your choice.

We must admit that we are new to blogging and we are learning as we go. The experience of jumping in and trying a new technology venture in a public way is becoming a pattern of learning for us. We think this is a great way to learn and we would encourage you to take the same approach.

It seems to work best for us if we learn within the context of an actual project. Here is our proposed project. We will be attending the National Educational Computing Conference in San Antonio (June 17-19). Experiences at NECC should provide us something to write about. We intend to share both our NECC and blogging experiences with anyone who might be interested. We hope the combination will be of some value.

History of weblogs

For some reason, I found the topic addressed by the broken link, then and now, interesting. Blogging could not have had much of a history in 2002 nor could other forms of online authoring. I occurred to me that we (my wife and I) have lived through the history of something that continues to shape many aspects of our world. We were working with technology before the Internet was available and before the web browser. We did things for ourselves (e.g., running a server and generating web content “by hand”) because sharing content and opinions had yet to be developed as a service. Our first book on technology integration for educators was written in 1995 and we were working with computers in classrooms some years before we wrote about the topic. I like to explain our earliest personal work in the field by noting that we first used the Apple II when you had to add an extra card so you could have lower case text. It does occur to me that a comment about adding and pulling cards probably makes little sense to many technology users. Trust me – it is the kind of thing you used to have to do yourself.

It is interesting being old in a field often associated with the young. You must pardon our smiles when you share your enthusiasm and sometimes assume we don’t understand. We are not putting you down because of your enthusiasm. We were once where you are now and remain involved and excited by the present. When it comes to broad access to technology, the good old days were not that great.

This post from 2002 contains some history. The post mentions attending NECC in San Antonio. Some of you may have just returned from ISTE in San Antonio. Same organization with a new name 15 years later.

I was thinking that blogs of some duration end up being historical accounts in the raw. The many entries speak to current events and in doing so offer by accident an account of the topic the posts tend to address. I will have to take the time to reread some of my old stuff.

Quality of your summer reads

The summer is a great time to do some reading. Various folks, including me, have offered educators some suggestions for what they might read. I think putting some time into the “long form” is a great form of professional development. However, there is still reason to be critical when making selections on which you are willing to spend time.

I recently encountered an extended blog post that emphasized this point. The post references Drezner’s book The Ideas Industry which expresses the concern that many now encounter “thought leaders” promoting one cause or another. I suppose many such books are encouraged by what I think is a much more intense interest in “political issues”, but books for educators focused on leadership, how students learn, or how to teach some new skill or knowledge areas should be included.

The blog post author offers what seems a familiar list of critical thinking skills to be applied to pretty much any form of content (quoted below) but were focused in the post on books for professionals.

  1. Do they have an advanced degree in the field they’re discussing? If not, do their cited sources?

  2. What’s their methodology? Does their case rest on anecdotal evidence or scientific studies? Do they cherry-pick certain studies and ignore those that don’t support their view?

  3. What’s their motive? Who funded their research? Are they transparent about funding and other organizational ties?

Many of the books for educators I would place in this “thought leader” category offer few references of any type, but do tend to throw in a number of anecdotes to support their advocacy.

The blog post uses Gladwell’s book Outliers as an example. I happen to like Outliers and would still recommend the book even recognizing the validity of the complaint. The blog criticized the 10,000 hour rule Gladwell highlights in the book. I have also read accounts carefully demonstrating that the 10,000 standard need not be met and I suppose arguing that those who use this value are discouraging educators from taking on instructional challenges that cannot commit this amount of time could be an issue.

In fairness to Gladwell, I would describe the intent of Outliers a little more broadly. I interpret the book as an argument against “extreme genius” being responsible for the accomplishments of certain individuals (e.g., Bill Gates, the Beatles). It has been some time since I read the book, but I remember the explanation suggesting that “outliers” tend to be talented individuals who have the luck to fall into an endeavor or area before others and to work very hard. So major accomplishments are a matter of talent, luck and hard work. So, from Gladwell’s anecdotal analysis, such achievements result from more than talent.

Gladwell did not make up the 10,000 standard. If I remember from cognitive psychology textbooks, the 10,000 value comes from studies of the development of expertise. So, Gladwell did have some basis for using this value and it was probably appropriate to the examples he used (self-taught programming, musical creativity, etc.).

I do agree with the blog authors concern regarding the glut of “thought leader” books and critical analysis is certainly warranted.