Open Web annotation as collaborative learning
First Monday

Open Web annotation as collaborative learning by Jeremiah H. Kalir

This paper describes the use of open Web annotation (OWA) for collaborative learning among online communities. OWA is defined by the open standards, principles, and practices associated with the open Web. Specifically, this case study examines collaborative learning mediated by the OWA technology Hypothesis, a standards-compliant and open-source technology that situates collaboration in texts-as-contexts. Hypothesis OWA supports a repertoire of six collaborative learning practices: Affording multimodal expression, establishing connections across contexts, archiving activity, visualizing expertise and cognition, contributing to open educational resources, and fostering open educational practices. The use of Hypothesis OWA is then described in three online communities associated with scientific research and communication, educator professional development, and Web literacy and fact-checking. The article concludes by advancing three broad questions and related research agendas regarding how OWA as collaborative learning attends to linkages among formal and informal learning environments, the growth of both open educational resources and practices, and the use of open data as learning analytics.


Annotation as collaborative learning
Collaborative learning practices across texts-as-contexts
OWA as collaborative learning among online communities




This paper describes how online communities use open Web annotation (OWA) for collaborative learning. Whether in print or digital form, annotation is “a pervasive activity shared by all humanity across all walks of life” [1]. Web annotation draws upon centuries-old practices of adding marginalia to books and extends this layer as an interactive feature of the Web allowing a reader to comment upon, correct, highlight, and categorize online content. The seeds of Web annotation appear in Berners-Lee’s (1990) proposal for an information system linked by hypertext — what we know as today’s World Wide Web — with a requirement that “one must also be able to annotate links, as well as nodes, privately” [2]. Writing in First Monday’s inaugural issue, Brown and Duguid (1996) discussed annotation as a “rich cultural practice” that demonstrates how documents have a social life. This social life, according to Brown and Duguid, is evident when annotated documents facilitate the negotiation of meaning among diverse audiences, propel shared activity across multiple contexts (i.e., material, digital, organizational), and spark novel forms of collaboration. Today, in an era distinguished by digital networks and workflows, robust uses of Web annotation have been incorporated into various professions and fields, including scholarly publication (Staines, 2018), journalism (Cillizza, 2015), scientific research (O’Reilly, et al., 2017), and education (Novak, et al., 2012).

Growth of the annotated Web has paralleled development of the open Web, including the emergence of open standards, principles, and practices (e.g., Berners-Lee, 2010; Pomerantz and Peek, 2016). Consequently, OWA is defined by three qualities of the open Web — open standards, open principles, and open practices. First, OWA technical specifications follow a standardized architecture that is interoperable, sharable, and distributed. This data model indicates that “annotations have finally become first-class citizens of the Web” [3]. Standardized annotation can be “linked, shared between services, tracked back to their origins, searched and discovered, and stored wherever the author wishes” [4]. Second, OWA is guided by principles of openness such as accessibility, decentralization, and transparency. OWA technologies draw upon a history of software development that values “code whose source is available to all, to be taken, to be modified, and to be improved” [5]. Moreover, the principles of openness that distinguish OWA have, for example, informed commitments by researchers to the use of open-source technology, open data, and transparent scholarly inquiry (e.g., Elman and Kapiszewski, 2018). Third, the open practices encouraged by OWA are similar to those found among participatory cultures (Jenkins, et al., 2006) whereby collaborative activity — including both more formal and interest-driven learning — is accomplished through distributed networks, collective intelligence, and negotiation. As a repertoire of open practice, OWA is akin to a new literacy (Lankshear and Knobel, 2011) that has changed the everyday ways in which people read, write, and remix online texts across digital contexts (Kalir and Dean, 2018).

As noted, this article concerns the relationship between OWA and collaborative learning. Accordingly, OWA will be discussed as representing distinctive technological and social practices that are pertinent to the field of education and the study of learning, with particular relevance to developments in open education (Jhangiani and Biswas-Diener, 2017; Deimann and Peters, 2016), the proliferation of open educational resources (OER; Hilton, 2016), and concern for open educational practices (OEP; Cronin, 2017). While many Web annotation technologies can encourage collaboration and have been adopted for use in various educational contexts (e.g., Novak, et al., 2012), not all Web annotation technologies embrace open standards, advocate open principles, create and disseminate OER, or nurture OEP. The use of Web annotation for collaboration, and whether in more formal education or interest-driven learning arrangements, must be distinguished from the use of OWA in similar circumstances. In the case of OWA, resulting collaborative activities are invariably imbued by technological — as well as political and epistemological — commitments that favor open Web standards and principles, as well as the resources, practices, and ethos of open education.

There is a need to survey and discuss the ways in which collaborative learning as mediated by OWA becomes more openly accessible to various types of learners. Moreover, complementary needs concern how OWA can scaffold more open-ended participation through learning opportunities, how annotated information more easily moves among digital networks and across digital spaces, and how annotation data as a form of open data can more transparently support design, learning, and research activities. To examine, then, the relationship between OWA and collaborative learning, attention is focused upon Hypothesis, an organization and eponymous technology that exemplifies the open standards, open principles, and open practices that define OWA. As open-source and standards-compliant technology, the Hypothesis tool and associated collaborative practices have been embraced by various online communities in multiple scholarly and professional fields (i.e., journalism, scholarly publication, scientific research, education).

In the following sections, this case will address how Hypothesis supports collaborative learning through OWA. In particular, a repertoire of collaborative learning practices supported by Hypothesis OWA will be detailed, followed by a survey of three online communities whose collaborations feature OWA. A concluding discussion will consider how Hypothesis OWA mediates new forms of open and collaborative learning, as well as innovative instantiations and interpretations of both OER and OEP. By affording collaborative approaches to reading and writing the open Web, by broadening open approaches to learning, and by strengthening open information environments, Hypothesis is a paradigmatic case highlighting the important role of OWA for collaborative learning among online communities.



Annotation as collaborative learning

How might learning theory and research help to describe OWA as a form of collaborative learning? Having defined OWA as predicated upon mutual commitments to open standards, open principles, and open practices, this section attends to the ways in which Hypothesis OWA coordinates collaboration and learning online. To do so, two well-established approaches to learning theory and research are briefly presented; each help to frame, in different ways, how OWA may be understood as collaborative learning. This initial orientation to theory and empirical research about learning is presented as a foundation upon which to then substantiate a repertoire of practice (Gutiérrez and Rogoff, 2003) afforded by Hypothesis OWA that is routinely used to mediate collaborative learning among online communities.

First, OWA may be conceptualized as a type of collaborative activity associated with communities of practice. Communities of practice are formed through, and are defined by, people’s participation in a domain of interest, their joint activity through regular interaction, and a shared repertoire of practice (Wenger, 1998). Research has established the important role of community-oriented technologies (Wenger, 2001) within communities of practice. As concerns, for instance, how educators have participated in and learned because of online communities of practice, collaborative and community-oriented technologies have included discussion forums mediating professional discussion (Goos and Bennison, 2008), as well as blogs guiding pedagogical reflection (Yang, 2009). Regarding annotation as collaborative learning, the open standards, principles, and practices associated with OWA may be relevant to communities of practice whose shared practices occur among a networked peer community that blurs distinctions between author and audience, creates new knowledge, and helps to build a more participatory intellectual commons (Deimann and Peters, 2016). The use of OWA among online communities of practice supports collaborative activities associated with reading the Web, writing and rewriting the Web, and creating new information infrastructures to support learning goals. For example, OWA-enabled collaborations have assisted communities in crowdsourcing and curating open medical education content (DeFilippis, et al., 2015), and in creating and sharing openly accessible annotated literature to support scientific communication among varied publics (McNutt, 2014). In circumstances whereby OWA functions as a community-oriented technology, it may be both sensible and useful to examine how communities of practice coordinate their collaborative learning, particularly in online contexts.

Second, OWA may be discussed as a means of computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL). CSCL is an interdisciplinary field that draws significantly upon advances in learning theory and research to examine the role of technology in mediating group collaboration, knowledge construction, and the negotiation of meaning (Stahl, et al., 2006; Wise and Schwarz, 2017). Collaboration, as both conceptualized and studied in CSCL, emphasizes how people negotiate with one another during coordinated and technology-enhanced learning activities, and how shared meaning develops through “continued attempt[s] to construct and maintain a shared conception of a problem” [6]. Web annotation technologies and practices have been featured throughout the CSLC literature as a means of studying the coordination of collaborative learning (e.g., Sun and Gao, 2017; Su, et al., 2010; Yang, et al., 2011). For example, Plevinski and colleagues (2017) examined how an anchored annotation system helped learners coordinate shared reading practices online and construct new knowledge by elaborating upon ideas and interpreting new information. Similarly, Gao (2013) researched how learners used a social annotation platform for collaborative reading, finding that shared activity afforded by Web annotation helped “students highlight and discuss important issues in the reading, share different opinions and learn from others’ perspectives” [7]. Despite promising CSCL research about Web annotation as collaborative learning, few studies have investigated how OWA can help design and mediate CSCL efforts aligned to open Web architectures and open learning practices (a notable exception is Chen, 2019). Amidst an outstanding need to more robustly align CSCL efforts with open Web standards, principles, and practices, CSCL is a useful interdisciplinary perspective through which to perceive OWA as encouraging collaborative learning among online communities.

This case study suggests it is generative to approach Hypothesis OWA as mediating forms of CSCL. Furthermore, these collaborative learning activities may be studied among online communities of practice. Two questions, therefore, arise. First, what are the specific collaborative learning practices afforded by Hypothesis OWA? And second, among what online communities do these collaborative learning practices occur?



Collaborative learning practices across texts-as-contexts

In its most basic use, Hypothesis OWA allows a reader of the Web to select, highlight, and comment upon online text, as well as to reply to other readers’ annotations. Through OWA, online texts become publicly accessible and openly networked contexts for collaboration (see Figure 1). Hypothesis OWA activates and amplifies the social life of documents (Brown and Duguid, 1996) through an open invitation for shared activity and also by affording the technical capacity to layer new information atop a Web page; in doing so, Hypothesis OWA creates texts-as-contexts for collaborative learning online (Kalir and Perez, 2019). As to the question, then, of where to locate this collaborative learning among online communities, the OWA activities of specialist, interest-driven, and educational communities occur across a variety of online texts-as-contexts. And as concerns specific practices, a review of scholarly and educational initiatives, research literature, and related resources (e.g., Chen, 2019; Dean and Schulten, 2015; DeRosa and Robison, 2017; Hollett and Kalir, 2017; Jones, 2014; Kalir and Dean, 2018; Kennedy, 2016; McCartney, et al., 2018; McNutt, 2014; Perton, 2016; Schacht, 2015; Udell, 2018) indicates that Hypothesis OWA affords a repertoire of six collaborative learning practices relevant to online communities.


Example online text-as-context via Hypothesis OWA
Figure 1: Example online text-as-context via Hypothesis OWA.


1. OWA supports multimodal expression. The content of Hypothesis OWA primarily features digital text. However, it is also possible for OWA content to include embedded digital images, gifs, audio, video, and even interactive activities like quizzes (Udell, 2018; Wagstaff, 2017; see Figure 2). The inclusion of such media in a text-as-context can support learners’ expansive and expressive register for peer-to-peer interaction and the pursuit of shared goals (e.g., Hollett and Kalir, 2017). Multimodal representations, according to Cope and colleagues (2017), play an important role in the communicative, interpretive, and collaborative affordances of new media. Multimodal expression afforded by OWA, in this respect, reflects a turn toward visual literacy practices that are found across formal and informal learning environments (Serafini, 2014).


Examples of multimodal Hypothesis OWA
Figure 2: Examples of multimodal Hypothesis OWA.


2. OWA establishes connections across texts-as-contexts. Hypothesis OWA establishes and strengthens connections across texts-as-contexts when people take advantage of two technical features — hyperlinks and tags. First, OWA content can be written (or edited) to include hyperlinked text, connecting the individual annotation — and, perhaps most importantly, the annotated document — to other Web resources. Second, an individual Hypothesis annotation can feature a tag, or an element of metadata that is voluntarily added to describe the annotation content. Both hyperlinks and tags establish relevance and connectivity to other texts and conversations, strengthening the “thread count” among linked resources, information, conversations, and people (Udell, 2017a). Moreover, both hyperlinks and tags, as means of connecting texts-as-contexts, represent the “associative trails” described in Bush’s (1945) seminal vision of an information architecture that produces, stores, and connects knowledge across contexts.

3. OWA archives activity across texts-as-contexts. Because of the standardized, interoperable, and extensible qualities of Hypothesis’ data model, Hypothesis OWA may be archived among openly accessible and curatorial platforms. Hypothesis has created a searchable archive whereby real-time OWA activity may be filtered by keyword, username, tag, URL, or group (see Figure 3). Furthermore, Hypothesis’ commitment to open standards and open data has supported researchers in creating stand-alone and open services that also capture, report, and archive real-time activity associated with specific online texts, groups of texts, and conversations (e.g., Perez and Kalir, 2018a; see also By archiving activity across texts-as-contexts, these publicly accessible information infrastructures provide multiple entry points for others to access OWA content and conversation, and to subsequently and more easily participate in collaborative learning.


Hypothesis' searchable archive of real-time OWA activity
Figure 3: Hypothesis’ searchable archive of real-time OWA activity.


4. OWA visualizes expertise and cognition. Adding Hypothesis OWA to a text-as-context can reveal expert thinking, as when a scientist describes research methods or when a scholar provides literary criticism. The use of Hypothesis for exposition, interpretation, and clarification provides useful background information and alternative perspective for a broader readership (e.g., McCartney, et al., 2018). In addition to expert thinking, OWA literally highlights how any group of people read and write the Web together, creating a visual record of external “metacognitive traces” (Winne, 2017). This visualization of both expertise and shared activity may be relevant to the study of group collaboration and cognition (e.g., Stahl, et al., 2006), particularly in instances when OWA open data is leveraged as a form of learning analytics (Perez and Kalir, 2018b).

5. OWA contributes to OER. Hypothesis’ public annotations are attributed with a Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. This legal permission is similar to licensing associated with OER, or freely available resources that can be reused, remixed, and shared. Because public Hypothesis OWA are openly licensed and publicly dedicated, this content can contribute to OER in two important ways. First, both individual annotations and OWA conversations (groups of annotations) can be adopted by educators, designers, and researchers from annotated text-as-contexts into other educational materials suitable for teaching, learning, and scholarship. Second, new layers of OWA content can be added to open access texts to create robust OER, as has been done in both the social sciences and the natural sciences (e.g., DeRosa and Robison, 2017; McNutt, 2014). Public Hypothesis OWA can be authored, reused, remixed, and extended as OER across educational texts-as-contexts.

6. OWA fosters OEP. OEP, according to Havemann (2016), include a repertoire of transparent academic practices that include tweeting, blogging, presenting, and debating. While some OEP are tied to the use of OER, Derosa and Jhangiani (2017) argue that OEP may be synonymous with “open pedagogy,” or “a site of praxis, a place where theories about learning, teaching, technology, and social justice enter into a conversation with each other and inform the development of educational practices and structures” [8]. As an everyday media practice that helps people read and (re)write the Web, Hypothesis OWA may be used to foster OEP and open pedagogy as educators, their students, and likeminded individuals shape more accessible and participatory learning opportunities across texts-as-contexts (Kalir and Dean, 2018). For example, Robbins (2017) integrated Hypothesis into a university literature course as “a Web overlay that is not only easy to use in the classroom, but is tailor-made” [9] to support a number OEP, including the use of an open textbook and collaborative reading among student groups.

Collectively, this repertoire of six practices defines distinctive ways in which Hypothesis OWA can support collaborative learning among online communities.



OWA as collaborative learning among online communities

This section briefly describes how three online communities use the previously detailed repertoire of six collaborative learning practices to guide their shared activity. The three online communities are associated with, respectively: Scientific research and communication; educator professional development; and Web literacy and fact-checking. In addition to representing a range of disciplines, each community is also distinguished by its participants (from students to professionals), formality (from required coursework to voluntary efforts), and the types of texts-as-contexts (from news media, to scholarship, to documents authored by participants) that situate collaborative learning. Highlighting the activities of Climate Feedback, Marginal Syllabus, and the Digital Polarization Initiative reflects a purposeful decision to illustrate how collaborative learning practices afforded by Hypothesis OWA support divergent purposes and organizational arrangements across a wide range of circumstances. In addition to providing basic background information and relevant studies or resources, each of the following descriptions explicitly features instances of multimodality, connectivity, archived activity, the visualization of expertise and cognition, contributions to OER, and the fostering of OEP — all of which is intended to emphasize how Hypothesis OWA instantiates collaborative learning among online communities.

Climate Feedback

Established as a public reference of reliable information about climate change, Climate Feedback ( is a distributed collective of research scientists who use Hypothesis OWA to peer review the news (Revkin, 2016). According to Nethery and Vincent (2016):

Scientists have a moral duty to speak up when they see misinformation masquerading as science. Up to now scientists have however had little choice but to engage in time-consuming op-ed exchanges, which result in one or two high-profile scientists arguing against the views of an individual who may have no commitment to scientific accuracy at all. Climate Feedback takes a different approach. Our collective reviews allow scientists from all over the world to provide feedback in a timely, effective manner. [10]

Climate Feedback, the initial focus of the broader Science Feedback organization, has an expressly “pedagogical” mission committed to verifying scientifically accurate and trustworthy information [11]. When media organizations publish news about climate change, scientists with relevant expertise (i.e., paleoclimatology, oceanography) voluntarily contribute public Hypothesis OWA that serve to evaluate the accuracy of reported information. Following this phase of collaborative and post-publication peer review, Climate Feedback’s final Article Review includes a summative score on a five-point scale that indicates a given article’s overall scientific credibility (see Figure 4).


Scientific credibility score, via Hypothesis OWA, summarizing scientists' review of news article
Figure 4: Scientific credibility score, via Hypothesis OWA, summarizing scientists’ review of news article.


Climate Feedback demonstrates how a distributed online community utilizes Hypothesis OWA to showcase their professional expertise for the purposes of media accountability, information credibility, and a more scientifically literate public (Perrin, 2017). The scientists who participate in Climate Feedback evidence collaborative learning practices that include: a) featuring multimedia illustrations and graphs from referenced scientific literature; b) sharing links to primary sources and the scientific literature to confirm or contradict media reporting; c) archiving review activity through the use of Hypothesis tags (i.e., the tag “accurate”) as well as the organization of original content on the Climate Feedback Web site (Article Reviews, Claim Reviews, and Insights); d) facilitating an open peer review process that requires specialized scientific expertise and distributed group cognitive processes; e) promoting the annotated media articles and summative Article Reviews as educational resources that encourage a more scientifically-literate public; and f) illustrating that scientists’ professional and moral responsibilities include voluntary, public, and coordinated practices meant to influence media accuracy and credibility.

Marginal Syllabus

The Marginal Syllabus ( is a public educator professional learning initiative that convenes and sustains conversations about educational equity via Hypothesis OWA. The initiative is a multi-stakeholder partnership organized among university researchers (including author Kalir), K–12 educators, the authors of equity-oriented scholarship, academic publishers, Hypothesis, the National Writing Project, and the National Council of Teachers of English. The Marginal Syllabus embraces and enacts multiple interpretations of the term marginal: First, the initiative partners with authors whose writing may be considered marginal — or contrary — to dominant education narratives; second, educator conversation occurs in the margins of partner authors’ texts as open, political, and dialogical forums; and third, the Marginal Syllabus supports educators’ use of, and collaboration through, an open source technology (Hypothesis) that is marginal to commercial educational technology. The first three syllabi were facilitated, respectively, during the 2016–17, 2017–18, and 2018–19 academic years; over 200 educators have contributed Hypothesis OWA to conversations associated with nearly 30 texts-as-contexts (see Figure 5). Complementary research suggests Marginal Syllabus’ openly accessible and equity-oriented conversations encourage educator collaboration that is socially, professionally, and civically consequential (Kalir, 2018; Kalir and Perez, 2019; Perez and Kalir, 2018b).


Selection of Marginal Syllabus conversations and resources featured on the National Writing Project's Educator Innovator Web site
Figure 5: Selection of Marginal Syllabus conversations and resources featured on the National Writing Project’s Educator Innovator Web site.


The Marginal Syllabus indicates that Hypothesis OWA can help to architect and mediate an open learning environment for educators to exercise agency through dialogue, question dominant schooling narratives, and critique educational inequality. The educators who participate in Marginal Syllabus OWA conversation evidence collaborative learning practices that include: a) contributing multimedia content intended to expand upon text-based commentary (i.e., embedded YouTube videos) or signal camaraderie (i.e., gifs, comics); b) sharing links from the focal text-as-context to related educational research, popular media articles, and teaching resources; c) archiving conversation across multiple texts through Hypothesis tags (i.e., the tag “MarginalSyllabus”) and as curated syllabi accessible on the Marginal Syllabus Web site; d) visualizing educators’ expertise of pedagogy, curricular and instructional design, and domain-specific knowledge (i.e., culturally relevant literacy); e) authoring and rewriting OWA conversations that function as OER for other educators, teacher education courses, and professional learning communities to access and expand over time; and, f) leveraging the everyday media practices of OWA as a means of opening new interest-driven pathways and practices for educators’ equity-oriented professional learning.

Digital Polarization Initiative

Affiliated with the American Association of State Colleges and Universities’ non-partisan American Democracy Project, the Digital Polarization Initiative (Digipo; is a Web literacy effort that supports students in fact-checking and providing context to published news media. From an organizational and technical perspective, Digipo is, according to Wang (2017), part community and part “claim-checking wiki:”

The wiki houses student submissions of various claims that have made the rounds online, across lots of different fields in addition to politics, from environment to hate speech to race and immigration to psychology and neuroscience. Students from participating institutions work in public, collectively, to fill out the life cycle of the claim and summarize and weight the viewpoints that have been shared online about that claim. [12]

Facilitated primarily through undergraduate courses at Washington State University Vancouver, one way that Digipo builds students’ Web literacy skills as fact checkers is through the use of Hypothesis OWA. Digipo organizers have partnered with Hypothesis to create an OWA toolkit for fact checking (Caufield, 2017a; Udell, 2017b). This toolkit integrates OWA into claim-specific wiki-pages so that participating students can gather together annotations related to the same issue from across multiple primary sources, arrange annotation timelines from those sources according to date and tag, and create linked footnotes whereby cited evidence connects to annotations in original online sources (see Figure 6).


Sample Digipo claim review with hyperlinks to multiple Hypothesis OWA that have identified evidence in multiple primary sources
Figure 6: Sample Digipo claim review with hyperlinks to multiple Hypothesis OWA that have identified evidence in multiple primary sources.


Digipo demonstrate how students’ use of OWA can establish evidence-based connections across texts-as-contexts, contributing to a healthier Web information environment (Caufield, 2017b). The university students who participate in Digipo evidence collaborative learning practices that include: a) featuring multimedia evidence (i.e., screenshots) as complementary to their text-based fact-checking processes; b) marshalling evidence by working across “the online ecosystems from which these claims originate, and also the ecosystems in which they are then more widely discussed” [13]; c) growing the project’s wiki, with multiple wiki directories and curated claim reviews organized by different university courses; d) identifying the origin and prevalence of each claim, and by authoring original analyses, as a means of tracing evidence and showcasing claim-specific expertise; e) licensing reviews with a Creative Commons public domain dedication, thereby sharing each review as an open resource for journalists, fact-checkers, and other students; and, e) positioning students’ formal coursework as an open practice that contributes to the public knowledge commons.




This paper has sought to demonstrate that Hypothesis OWA can mediate forms of voluntary, interest-driven, and more formal approaches to CSCL among online communities of practice as participants read and write texts-as-contexts for shared activity. The previous descriptions of Climate Feedback, Marginal Syllabus, and Digipo suggest these online communities have successfully galvanized collaboration through a repertoire of OWA practices that includes support for multimodal expression, connectivity across knowledge contexts, curation of information and artifacts, visualization of expertise and group cognitive processes, and a robust commitment to both open resources and open practices. Across all three efforts, collaborative learning practices are intended to benefit a more connected and openly networked knowledge commons (Deimann and Peters, 2016) as support for scientifically-accurate reporting, equity-oriented conversation, and fact-checking is afforded by the technical and social features of Hypothesis OWA.

The cases of Climate Feedback, Marginal Syllabus, and Digipo are important reminders that collaborative learning among online communities may exhibit common means for divergent ends. Furthermore, such collaborative learning may be associated with varied degrees of formal and institutional arrangements. For Climate Feedback, scientists’ affiliations and qualifications lend credence to their individual expert assessments and shared peer review activities. For Marginal Syllabus, multiple education organizations and individuals have partnered together to design and address an unmet professional learning need. And for Digipo, university professors align formal coursework to address a timely concern (i.e., prevalent misinformation online), creating an opportunity for students to both draw upon and contribute back to the open Web. Because collaborative learning is frequently studied in the context of formal education purposes and contexts (e.g., Stahl, 2017), and because the examples featured in this article intentionally span a range of public-facing objectives and institutional relationships, this discussion asks three questions — and suggests related research agendas — that attend to the ways in which collaborative learning afforded by OWA may usefully bridge formal and informal learning environments and opportunities.

First, how might the use of annotation in formal education settings benefit from the collaborative learning practices evident in more open and informal online communities?

While studies of students’ collaborative annotation in formal education settings provide valuable insight about the development of academic skills and domain-specific knowledge (e.g., Ahern, 2005; Castek, et al., 2014; Sun and Gao, 2017), these efforts remain largely disconnected from developments that characterize the open Web or open education. For example, Novak and colleagues’ (2012) literature review of social annotation use in higher education identified open architecture as a desirable technical feature, yet the review did not discuss the implications of such openness for educator instruction or student collaboration. As described throughout this article, OWA can mediate collaborative activity among less formal online communities that thrive outside of, though may also be associated in important ways with, traditional education settings (i.e., Digipo courses).

Consequently, there is a need to explore how facets of formal education might adopt or adapt the repertoire of six collaborative learning practices afforded by OWA. New approaches to collaborative coursework might be enacted given how readily OWA can encourage educators and their students to read and write the Web across texts-as-contexts (e.g., Hollett and Kalir, 2017). OWA might also inspire curricular redesign so OWA helps learners to produce and share their OER and OEP with various publics (e.g., DeRosa and Robison, 2017), or prompt revisions to learning arrangements that use OWA to make more openly accessible a curated archive of digital artifacts (e.g., McNutt, 2014). Furthermore, as formal CSCL designs and related research consider with greater nuance learner agency and community dynamics (Wise and Schwarz, 2017), such efforts might take note of the capacity for OWA to amplify expressions of agency (i.e., via open discipline-specific activities) and strengthen online community norms (i.e., via transparent and openly accessible group processes). Educational designers, practitioners, and researchers should take heed of the ways in which OWA mediates collaborative learning among online communities and apply insights to the use of open annotation in more formal education settings.

Second, how can OWA as collaborative learning expand the development of OER and broaden the definition of OEP?

As previously noted, OWA can be created, shared, and reused as OER by either referencing and remixing existing annotation layers into new texts-as-contexts, or by adding new OWA to openly accessible texts. These uses of OWA echo ways in which the development of OER has expanded over time; open data, for example, are more routinely accessed, utilized, and studied as OER (Atenas and Havemann, 2015). In light of a trend to grow both the development and reach of OER, this article indicates it is advantageous to consider how OWA contributes to the creation and dissemination of OER. Given a tendency, in some educational contexts, to narrowly associate OER with singular materials (like an open textbook), OWA prompts a shift to consider more dynamic and discursive online space, like annotation layers, as the reusable and remixable open resource. Another OER shift should consider the benefits of more explicitly pairing licensing permissions (via Creative Common attributions) with educational resources built atop a standardized and interoperable data model (as is the case with Hypothesis OWA); in doing so, not only is the content of a given educational resource open, so too is the underlying digital architecture.

The repertoire of collaborative learning practices encouraged by OWA can also broaden definitions of OEP, including who participates in certain open practices and under what conditions, and how new expressions of OEP can bolster more sustainable and vibrant public knowledge commons (DeRosa and Jhangiani, 2017). The cases featured in this article suggest OWA may usefully complement the everyday practices associated with, respectively, being a scientist, or an educator, or a student. The opportunities presented by OWA suggest methods for collaborating openly, contributing to public discourse, and sharing various forms of knowledge across texts-as-contexts can be routine scholarly, professional, and academic practices that are educational. By widening the activities, technologies, and digital settings associated with practices that are both open and educative, OWA as collaborative learning affirms Havemann’s (2016) suggestion that “openness in education is not a movement for the emancipation of resources, but of people and practice” [14]. Whether among both formal and informal learning contexts, OWA may help to broaden the openness of more participatory, collaborative, and emancipatory educational practices.

Third, how might open data generated through OWA provide insight about collaborative learning?

Standards-compliant OWA technologies like Hypothesis make publicly available both open metadata (i.e., timestamps, tags) and open data (i.e., multimodal content) that can be collected, analyzed, and reported to better understand collaborative learning. If OWA affords collaborative learning, then so too can OWA data be studied as learning analytics. While it is not uncommon for learning analytics researchers to utilize annotation practices or tools as a means of generating data about learners and their interactions with technology (e.g., D’Mello, 2017; Pardo, et al., 2017), many efforts have yet to widely embrace open annotation platforms and data sources (a notable exception is DBpedia Spotlight; see Mendes, et al., 2011). Exploratory CSCL research suggests Hypothesis OWA data is a useful form of learning analytics, providing insight about how people’s social network relationships and sentiment change over time through collaborative discourse (Perez and Kalir, 2018b).

More generally, Hypothesis’ advocacy for open standards, open principles, and open practices may help strengthen researchers’ capacity to collect and analyze OWA data as learning analytics, providing new insights about collaborative learning processes and outcomes. Chen (2019), for example, has demonstrated how OWA helped mediate student collaboration among public, private, and open discourses spaces, or what is termed “an ‘unLMS’ approach;” complementary learning analytics indicated that Hypothesis was “useful for community building [and] collaborative sense-making of challenging readings” [15]. As the use of OWA learning analytics matures, additional efforts will likely be necessary to refine the means by which such data are gathered, studied, visualized, and shared to meet the distinct needs of different online communities (Perez and Kalir, 2018a). Such learning analytics may also provide additional information about the previously detailed repertoire of six collaborative learning practices, including how certain practices emerge and dissipate over time, and the circumstances under which collaboration breaks down or flourishes.




This article has attempted to advance multiple, interrelated objectives regarding OWA as collaborative learning. First and foremost, OWA may be defined in relation to open Web developments, specifically open standards, open principles, and open practices. Conceptually, the collaborative learning afforded by OWA may be understood as a form of CSCL that occurs online among communities of practice. As people read and write the Web together, OWA supports a specific repertoire of six collaborative learning practices. Illustrative cases of online communities associated with scientific research and communication, educator professional development, and Web literacy and fact-checking routinely leverage this repertoire of practice to advance their distinct collaborative learning opportunities. And the cases detailed in this article suggest that researchers, designers, and educators interested in OWA as collaborative learning may attend carefully to linkages among formal and informal learning environments, the growth of both OER and OEP, and the use of OWA data as learning analytics.

In conclusion, it might be reasonable to view the development of the Web over the past few decades as the growth of siloed information environments, with individuals, collectives, and organizations staking out private and proprietary terrain amidst an ever-expanding digital domain. The annotated Web helps invert the logic of a fractured and disjointed digital landscape by privileging the social life of online documents and documentation (Brown and Duguid, 1996). OWA establishes linkages among texts-as-contexts, encourages collaboration among readers and writers of the open Web, and privileges the openness of tools and data. Efforts like Climate Feedback, Marginal Syllabus, and Digipo evidence the importance of openly accessible, connected, and participatory information architectures. And most importantly, these online communities are made possible by informed annotators whose social and technical fluencies sustain promising collaborative learning practices that span disciplines and professions, and that also contribute meaningfully to more robust public knowledge. End of article


About the author

Jeremiah (Remi) Kalir is Assistant Professor of Learning Design and Technology at the University of Colorado Denver School of Education and Human Development. Kalir’s research about open web annotation has been supported by a 2017–18 OER Research Fellowship from the Open Education Group and a 2016 National Science Foundation Data Consortium Fellowship. He was chair of the American Educational Research Association’s Media, Culture, and Learning Special Interest Group, and is Co-PI of ThinqStudio, CU Denver’s digital pedagogy incubator.
E-mail: remi [dot] kalir [at] ucdenver [dot] edu



This paper is based in part upon work supported by the National Science Foundation Data Consortium Fellows mentorship program (Award Number 1549112). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. Thank you to Jeremy Dean and Jon Udell for their helpful feedback during the preparation of this manuscript.



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12. Wang, 2017, paragraph 5.

13. Wang, 2017, paragraph 4.

14. Havemann, 2016, p. 7.

15. Chen, 2019, p. 200.



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Editorial history

Received 1 July 2018; accepted 1 March 2019.

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“Open Web annotation as collaborative learning” by Jeremiah H. Kalir is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Open Web annotation as collaborative learning
by Jeremiah H. Kalir.
First Monday, Volume 24, Number 6 - 3 June 2019

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