Building on the success of Annotation Studio—MIT’s collaborative, open source annotation tool—a new application called the Idea Space expands the functionality of the platform to cover the point in the cycle of close reading where annotation turns to writing composition. This new interface allows students to arrange annotations into an outline, which, when exported to a word processor, retains citations of the original text along with full metadata and links to their annotations. This paper discusses the basis for the Idea Space in assessment of student annotation and in conceptions of digitally aided student scholarship. It also describes the development of the Idea Space as a modular application, complementary to Annotation Studio but easily adaptable to other environments, and presents a working prototype of the Idea Space.
The Annotation Studio online application has been used successfully over the past three years as a tool to support student textual annotation and collaborative reading, and its user base has expanded exponentially over the past two years in educational institutions around the world. In addition to facilitating textual annotation and reading-group formation, Annotation Studio has the potential to provide a writing space in which student annotations may be organized and used as the basis for the development of arguments by the individual or by collaborating groups. We are working, in effect, to develop a pedagogy and a tool that will support a seamless integration of the processes of close reading, annotation and writing. The aim of this new tool, the Idea Space, is to help students learn to collect sources, analyze content, form arguments, properly cite sources and confidently manage the writing process.
Recent assessment has shown that deep engagement with texts through forms of close reading and annotation can have a significant impact on students’ ability to become better academic writers. A few studies have pointed specifically to the role of collaborative annotation in strengthening and expanding students’ annotation practices, their engagement with textual analysis, and their ability to incorporate and analyze sources in their written work. Yet, collaborative annotation, supported by an online social annotation tool, such as HyperStudio’s Annotation Studio, is a relatively new pedagogy, and initial adoption of Annotation Studio has focused on its efficacy as a tool to improve students’ critical reading. Preliminary experimentation has suggested that the tool can help students visualize verbal patterns in texts; deepen their in-class discussions; anchor their claims with more detailed textual evidence; dig deeper into contextual and cultural meaning; and provide more thoughtful peer review of each other’s texts in progress. Other parts of the writing process, such as organizing evidence, analysis, and claims into coherent argument structures, lie just outside the scope of the current implementation of Annotation Studio.
The Annotation Studio team have therefore prototyped a new “Idea Space” extension of Annotation Studio, in which each student’s annotations are displayed and organized around key terms. In this space, the student’s or group’s annotations (including images and other media) may be sorted, arranged and structured to form arguments and provide the basis for developing supporting materials that compose the substance of academic writing. The Idea Space will help students organize citations, comments, and preliminary text to create an outline of an essay which in turn can be fed back into the annotation tool for further revision and for review by writing instructors. The Idea Space will provide both a workshop space for the development of writing and a window into the writing process itself, from which an instructor will be able to engage with the student.
While the Idea Space presents a novel interface, its scholarly and pedagogical basis is as grounded in ancient practices as annotation itself. When Juliet Fleming takes on the question of how we can usefully define “what reading is,” she proposes the metaphor of “cutting.” Fleming’s suggestion—that reading has always been a process of pulling material from a text and adapting it to the reader’s purposes—resonates with the way in which many students currently use Annotation Studio: first flagging evidence in the text through the collaborative annotation process, then later drawing on these same pieces of evidence to compose written arguments. Just as digital interfaces help realize an ideal environment for annotation, they also offer myriad ways in which to support and enrich this process of cutting. The ease of sorting, filtering, duplicating and rearranging material in digital settings affords a fast and intuitive way to turn from annotative reading to composition. The capacity of these virtual materials to retain links to one another, keeping track of where and when annotations or edits have been made, can not only relieve reader-authors of some of the work of managing citations, but also give scholars a greatly augmented record of their own process. This record can, persist throughout the scholarly cycle when works exported from the Idea Space are themselves uploaded into Annotation Studio.
While the Idea Space is conceived as adding to Annotation Studio’s support for student work, its modular design and implementation enable it to work in combination with other tools and sources of data. The application’s first data module retrieves annotations from the Annotation Studio database, whose format conforms to open annotation standards, meaning that the interface could easily extend other annotation environments. A simple design for adding new data modules gives instructors the ability to tailor the application for use with their own combinations of tools and archives. Far more than a visual organizer for annotations, the Idea Space is a tool through which users can combine, juxtapose and adapt any scholarly material in the composition of compelling and richly contextualized writing.