Interaction with Information II: Annotation and Reflection

The three readings for this week all focus on graphic systems that allow users to interact with and manipulate information in order to generate ideas.

Marshall, C. “Toward an ecology of hypertext annotation”

In her article, Catherine Marshall (former Xerox PARC employee and current adjunct at TAMU , in the Center for the Study of Digital Libraries) examines annotation, the marks or notes that readers make when reading a text. Her goal is to theorize “an ecology of hypertext annotation, in which consensus creates a reading structure from an authorial structure” (40). Like last week’s reading from Landow, Marshall’s article values the “readerly text,” in which the reader does not merely passively take in information presented, but participates in authorship and sense-making, in this case through annotation. Marshall’s article is clearly participating in the same discussion about hypertext; she, too, mentions Bush’s Memex and, like Landow, is interested in “writing-oriented systems rather than reading oriented systems” (40). (Incidentally, she also includes a reference to a philosopher who is often read by humanities students, Michel de Certeau.) In describing annotations. Marshall provides a kind of definition of hypertext: “annotations on paper are hypertextual. They exist in non-linear relationships to the printed linear text: they interrupt linear reading, are orthogonal to it, connect disparate passages” (43).

Marshall creates a classification of different dimensions of annotation. Though these are usually written in pairs, Marshall urges us to think of each dimension as “a continuum, not a dichotomy” (40):

· Formal v. informal

· Explicit v. tacit

· Annotation as writing v. annotation as reading

· Hyperextensive v. extensive v. intensive

· Permanent v. transient

· Published v. private

Global v. institutional

For the purposes of this study, Marshall examined used textbooks at a university, starting in 1996, looking at what passages were annotated, how often annotations occurred, and what kinds of annotations were made. She also observed how students shopping for used textbooks evaluated the annotations. She lists different ways in which readers connect their annotations to the text, the most common being annotations that provide emphasis. (“Emphasis” reminds me of manucules in medieval documents. See below.)

A manuscule points to a section of text that a medieval reader found significant in a 15th-century Koberger Bible. (Photo credit: myself)

She looks at copies of Understanding Computers and Cognition by Winograd and Flores, seeking to “identify n-way consensus, places in the text that all n of the readers (the readers who had marked in a particular chapter) had agreed were important, or at least worthy of pulling out from the text. Was there n-way consensus on what mattered? And if there proved to be consensus, what could a hypertext system developer consider doing with the points of intersection and emphasis?” (46)

Marshall concludes that consensuses can be found and that the results are meaningful, even if the annotations are simply emphatic in nature, because they reveal what passages the community of readers find valuable, and often how they are valued (e.g. for memorization or critical comprehension).

I can’t resist commenting on this piece in particular. As I write this, I find myself wishing that Medium had a feature that allowed me to insert annotations similar to the rich bookmarks discussed in the third article. As a teacher of undergraduate writing courses, teaching students to annotate is part of my job, so it’s something I’ve thought about at length. Furthermore, last semester, in one of my graduate courses, we participated in a crowd-sourced project, led by Andrew Stauffer, called “Book Traces” that records annotations in old books — annotations in a broad sense, including items stuck between pages, such as locks of hair or photographs. The idea behind Book Traces is that once a reader annotates a text, she changes it. All future readers will see the annotation and will be influenced by it, whether they deliberately focus on it or not. Therefore, each annotated copy of a book is unique, a new text. I see this relating to the concept of the reader-focused text that Landow and Marshall discuss.

The Book Traces website.

My personal interest — the reason I am working toward the Digital Humanities certificate and hence the reason why I am taking this class — is in digital editions of texts. Until now, I had thought mainly about what material features of texts are important to represent digitally and how they should be represented. Reading this article made me realize how valuable it could be for digital editions to include a feature that records and shares annotations from readers. Imagine how interesting it would be if a digital edition of a medieval manuscript also allowed one to see annotations of other users in which people pointed out interesting or important quotations, marginal notes (annotations on annotations!), or material features of the text. I do wonder whether users, particularly academic users, would be comfortable sharing their annotations, given that any useful observations they make might be used in a publication. I can imagine scholars might feel like their observations are proprietary, and would want to receive credit for them. (Of course, there’s a big difference between pointing something out and researching, analyzing, and explaining its significance.)

Kumiyo Nakakoji, Yasuhiro Yamamoto, Shingo Takada, and Brent N. Reeves. “Two-dimensional spatial positioning as a means for reflection in design’

Nakakoji et al. discuss the importance of iteration in design and the need for design software to allow designers to make changes without commitment and to reflect on their design process both during and after the action of designing. They write, “In the early phases, what is required as the most important ingredient for a design tool is the ability to interact in ways that require as little commitment as possible. This aspect is most evident in domains where two dimensions play a role” (145).

The writers are concerned with how designers interact with design software. In this case, the designers are the users. This relates to the concept of the “readerly text” we have discussed before because just as the readerly text views the reader as sharing authorship of a text, the authors of the study view designers similar to how Marshall views readers who annotate:

“The externalized representations ‘talks back’ to the designer. The designer has a conversation with the materials” (145). Just as annotations are the reader talking back to the text, design work is portrayed here as a conversation. “Representational talkback” is to visual design as “annotation” is to reading.

Like the other authors we have read “Unfortunately, many of existing computer based design support tools appear to completely ignore the fluidity and tentative exploration a designer does [4]. Instead, they assume that creating an artifact is simply a series of calculated steps, taken in order until they add up to the finished design.” (145) Similar to last week’s readings, which criticized linear, hierarchical presentation of information.

They use writing as their example, and discuss the ways in which moving elements of a text around physically in a two-dimensional space allows writers to conceptualize their texts. (The program they used was the ART system.) I can relate to this idea personally. Sometimes when I’m stuck while writing a paper, I’ll write my main points out on separate note cards. This enables me to shuffle the cards around, to physically manipulate them, organizing and reorganizing my points, identifying what needs to come first and which points are main ideas versus supporting ideas.

This article emphasized the iterative nature of the design process, something we will need to keep in mind as we create our tech shopping support environments.

Webb, A., Kerne, A., “Promoting reflection and interpretation in education: curating rich bookmarks as information composition”

In this article, Kerne et al. present a pedagogical tool called “rich bookmarks” that enables students to reflect on their ideas and generate creative thought. They describe the “rich bookmark” in detail:

We introduce the rich bookmark, a navigable link to a web document. A rich bookmark integrates (1) a visual clipping from a document and (2) automatically extracted detailed metadata that concisely captures essential meaning, such as a book and its authors, a product, its price and related bestsellers, and a scholarly article and its references and citations (see Figure 1). A rich bookmark is a unit of meaning that a human curates to represent what matters in context, the key ideas involved with the task at hand. The visual clipping provides a concise representation that affords organization within a collection and supports flexible and ambiguous interpretations, helpful in promoting divergent thinking with convivial tools. The metadata explicitly provides details, relationships, and context for reflection. (53)

As we have seen in our previous readings, the authors call for tools that allow for user interaction with/manipulation of the information: “Illich described a propensity of society to create ‘industrial’ tools that enforce convergent ideas and methods specified by their designer rather than convivial tools, which promote divergent thinking, enabling the user to ‘enrich the environment with the fruits of his or her vision’” (53).

Like the previous article, this one uses Schon’s concepts of reflection-in-action and reflection-in-curation, as well as an emphasis on the importance of visual representation.

“Beale found that learning improves when students author blogs as a medium for reflecting on what they learned” (53). Hey…..

Kerne et al. argue that the rich bookmarks encourage students to reflect on their ideas by driving them to make connections with other media and texts, with a particular emphasis on connections that are novel or unexpected. The qualitative data provided in quotes from student feedback show that students did find that creating rich bookmarks helped them discover new things (e.g. the example of the tattoos of bar codes) and think about their own ideas in different ways.

Findings yield implications for design of pedagogy and tools: (1) educators should engage students in reflection-incuration; (2) designers should integrate visual and semantic representations to promote reflection and interpretation; (3) designers should create convivial tools for education; and (4) educators and designers should engage in iterative co-design to support learning experiences. (61)

Again, I can’t resist a personal comment: As a teacher, I appreciated that I can steal the ideas from this article to use as a component of a future assignment. I have, in the past, had students create digital projects, and I think using something like this would be a good addition to my pedagogical arsenal.