August 20, 2018

The Marginal Syllabus: Supporting Educators’ Connected Learning

Categories: Connected Learning, Edtech

Earlier this month, Marginal Syllabus leaders participated in the 2018 Connected Learning Summit (CLS) at MIT’s Media Lab. The Marginal Syllabus started in August of the 2016 and, following two years of iterative fine-tuning and public programming, CLS was a great opportunity for our team to share recent research, discuss design principles – like partnerships and equity-oriented educator learning – and invite participation in our upcoming 2018-19 conversations. The Marginal Syllabus even got a shout-out during Michelle King’s plenary address!

If you didn’t connect with the Marginal Syllabus team at CLS, or if you’re not familiar with the project, here’s some basic info: We convene and sustain online conversations with educators about equity in education through open and collaborative web annotation. The project’s name, design, and learning opportunities are intentional references to multiple interpretations of the word marginal. First, we collaborate with authors whose writing is contrary to dominant education norms (we engage with marginal perspectives). Second, we host and curate publicly accessible conversations among educators that occur in the margins of online texts using open and collaborative web annotation (we create marginal online spaces for discussion). And third, we support educator collaboration using Hypothesis, an open-source web annotation technology developed by the eponymous non-profit organization (in other words, we use a tool that is marginal to commercial edtech).

The Marginal Syllabus understands that open and collaborative web annotation is an everyday media practice. Accordingly, we’ve created a geeky book club for educators eager to discuss educational equity: The texts we read are equity-oriented counternarratives to the educational status quo; the tools we use open up marginal discursive spaces for professionally-relevant conversations that are more substantive and participatory than those found on social media.

As Nicole Mirra, a partner author, wrote for this blog following her Marginal Syllabus participation:

This experience makes me long for a future (one I hope is not too far off) in which annotation becomes more prevalent across the academic community as a catalyst for public conversation. I see this process as teaching and learning made visible. I hope that this practice can help chip away at the barriers that divide universities and communities and turn scholarly monologues into democratic dialogues.

Members of the Marginal Syllabus team at CLS, including (L-R): Christina Cantrill, Joe Dillon, Remi Kalir, and Francisco Perez


At CLS, members of the Marginal Syllabus team were fortunate to present both research updates and also a project spotlight. Our research presentation concerned educators’ “connected conversations,” and used quantitative learning analytics methods to examine network relations that have emerged through educators’ annotation conversation as well as the sentiment (either positive, neutral, or negative) associated with their annotation content. As for our spotlight, we summarized our project’s progress over the past few years and shared four guiding design principles – leveraging the open web, fostering multi-stakeholder partnerships, working with open content, and engaging professional learning as an open practice.

During our spotlight, Christina Cantrill, Associate Director of National Programs at the National Writing Project, discussed some of our strategies working with partner authors, the publishers of academic content, and the programmatic and technical supports that accompany public annotation conversation (such as curated webinars and blog posts). And Joe Dillon, a literacy educator in Aurora Public Schools, detailed a powerful example of educator and partner author participation during our March, 2018 conversation when we discussed “The Stories They Tell: Mainstream Media, Pedagogies of Healing, and Critical Media Literacy.”

In both our research presentation and spotlight, we noted the development of a public data dashboard that is helping our team understand how groups of educators (or “crowds”) collaborate through annotation discussions (or interact via “layers” of annotation). We were pleased to share our efforts Capturing and Reporting Open Web Data for Learning Analytics, Annotation, and Education Researchers ​(or CROWDLAAERS, pronounced “crowd layers”). Developed by Francisco Perez, a data scientist and doctoral student at the University of Colorado Denver, CROWDLAAERS has been applied to the 2016-17 and 2017-18 syllabi, and visualizes who has participated in public annotation conversations, when conversation occurs, and how these discussions change over time. And because CROWDLAAERS is an open service, it can be leveraged by anyone using Hypothesis open web annotation for collaborative learning. In fact, fellow CLS presenters Sue Erickson and Gardner Campbell – who have designed and facilitated the Open Learning initiative – are planning to use CROWDLAAERS in their 2019 iteration (here’s to connecting together connected learning projects!).

You’re invited to participate in the 2018-19 Marginal Syllabus! Whether you’re a K12 classroom teacher, a university educator, a teacher educator, an instructional designer, or someone eager to discuss educational equity, we invite you to participate in our public annotation conversations.

There are multiple ways to participate in Marginal Syllabus conversations this school year. First, read through, and consider contributing to, the 2016-17 syllabus and the 2017-18 syllabus (a big thanks to Joe Dillon for curating these excellent summaries). All Marginal Syllabus texts – such as articles, book chapters, and blog posts – are openly accessible resources. And all Marginal Syllabus annotation conversations are also publicly accessible, too. You can incorporate any of these texts into a course this year, and you and your students are very welcome to join and extend any of our previous Marginal Syllabus conversations.

Second, join either of two syllabi that will likely launch during the 2018-19 school year. In collaboration with Kira Baker-Doyle and the Connected Learning in Teacher Education initiative, we are planning a “Pedagogies of Connected Learning” Marginal Syllabus geared toward teacher education courses and contexts (this collaboration was the focus of a #CLinTE networking session at CLS). And we will also likely organize a literacies syllabus that draws upon texts published by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). Both syllabi will continue to be hosted by NWP’s Educator Innovator. We’ll be announcing details about both syllabi throughout September, with anticipated starting dates during October.

And third, stay connected! Visit Marginal Syllabus online for updates, follow us via Twitter at #MarginalSyllabus, and this fall visit with members of the Marginal Syllabus team at the 15th Annual Open Education Conference (in Niagara Falls early October), the 2018 EDUCAUSE Annual Conference (in Denver October 30 – November 2), and at the 2018 NCTE Annual Convention (in Houston mid-November). We hope that you, your colleagues, and your students join a Marginal Syllabus conversation soon!