Hypothes.is: The Web That Was Meant To Be

Hypothesis logoThis post is way over-due. I have been using the online collaborative annotation tool, Hypothesis, for a while now. I participated in the Annotating Engelbart Project which used Hypothes.is as the central tool/task for the project; I started using it for annotating an article I am writing; and I started annotating the #ianno19 conference program. This is an excellent annotation tool that I highly recommend. I think that this tool can represent a significant shift in how we think of online learning

What is Hypothes.is? It is an online tool that allows users to annotate online text and webpages. Users first register with Hypothes.is, copy the URL of the document or web page they want to annotate, and click on the “Paste a Link” and paste in the URL. Hypothes.is then loads the document or website in its shell. To annotate the website, users select text with their mouse, and then they can choose to highlight the text and/or annotate it. The “Highlight” option acts like a color highlighter over the text marking passages of interest to the user. The “Annotate” option allows users to add notes, comments, images, links, and tags in the right side margin that opens next to the selected text.

So far so good, but the interesting part is that users can decide if they wish to make their notes public or keep them private, and they can send their annotations by clicking the “Share” button and choosing to share them through email, social media, or with a direct link. When other users visit the link to the annotated website that was sent to them, they can click the “Reply” button beneath the annotations to add their thoughts. This is the real power of this tool is the collaboration that is possible.

Hypothesis is not another online tool looking for problems to solve. As many have already pointed out, this is how the web was meant to work. It turns the experience of being online from a place of passive consumption to a place of shared thinking. This was the dream of many who were shaping the early internet, such as Douglas Engelbart.

Hypothesis has a lot of possible uses in the classroom. 

  1. Research
    Hypothesis can be used to build annotated bibliographies for research projects. Sharing research allows students to get insight into how students are going about their research and help them discover sources and methods they may not have considered.
  2. Active reading
    Teachers can ask students a set of questions about a text – questions that can be scaffolded into an essay. Students can share their annotations with the instructor and other students. This also allows the teacher and student to gauge how deeply into a text student has gone.
  3. Group projects
    Studying and annotating a text together as a group helps encourage students to read closely and engage – it is too easy to see who is or is not engaged! Instructors can create private groups in Hypothes.is.

There are many  other examples online and at the Hypothes.is education site. They also have a plug-in for learning management systems and WordPress.

Research shows that student engagement is one of the leading factors in online student success and retention. There are still far too many online classes that are designed as one-way dumps of information. Building annotation into the curriculum, along with online discussion, and faculty presence in the course significantly increase that engagement.

One of the things that I find really exciting about Hypothes.is is that they are a non-profit organization that, in their words, are dedicated to the principles that it be “free, open, non-profit, neutral and lasting.” Why does that matter? It is not that I am against businesses in education but businesses can be bought, sold, absorbed by other companies. Businesses primary concern, in the end, is business, not education or the promotion of knowledge and research. I really hate finding tools that I like and then having them go away in a year!

I have used other annotation tools before but none of them gets the sharing and the interface right like this one. Most web annotation tools treat annotations as purely a personal thing.

Hypothes.is is not just for education. Their site goes into many examples of its use in journalism, research, publishing, and politics. It is a very versatile tool and an extremely useful concept. I detest websites and blogs that have the “Comments are closed for this post” notice. Not anymore!

Anything I don’t like? I love the tool, but not a fan of the WordPress plug-in. I had it on this site for a while and it opens, even when there are no annotations and covers the content of my blog. It should not open by default but open when the user wants to use it with a click. It could be my browser or a WordPress theme quirk. If I find out, I will comment below.

Are you using annotation in your curriculum? What tools do you use? Have you tried Hypothesis before? I will be writing more on this tool later so I would love to hear what you have to say in the comments or email.


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