Mary Isbell The Efficiency of Annotation

Isbell Assignment #2After Mary Isbell, an Assistant Professor of English and Director of First Year Writing at the University of New Haven, heard Wyn Kelley introduce Annotation Studio and the successes she had had with her students working with texts in the application at the annual meeting of the Melville Electronic Library, she was immediately interested.  The following semester, as a Postdoctoral Fellow in Interdisciplinary Performance Studies at Yale University, she incorporated Annotation Studio into several assignments in her English 114 course, Yale’s First Year Writing Course.  “I was hooked after that,” Isbell said.

For their second essay, students were tasked with developing a claim in response to three different scholarly articles and a selection of the sources cited in those texts. To understand how authors were using their sources, Isbell and her students relied on Annotation Studio.

Isbell began by gathering all of the sources used in each essay into a separate GoogleDoc.  She then asked her students to claim a source or a couple of sources, (one if it was scholarly, 2-3 if popular) to find and examine. Students chose sources based on what they found interesting, but had to be prepared to characterize the work of that source for the next class.  For popular sources, that meant reading the entire article.  For scholarly books, students were asked to read the introduction of the book.

For the next class, Isbell loaded the scholarly articles into Annotation Studio.  With her students, they then went through each article, with each student annotating the first mention of their source/s in the article.

The annotation was very structured, as Isbell had given her students a series of questions they had to be prepared to answer about the sources they had chosen.  They were:

1. Is the author of the scholarly article using this source as a primary source or secondary source?  (This provided Isbell with the opportunity to have a discussion with her students about what the differences are between a primary and secondary source long before they reached the research essay portion of the class.  Furthermore, it allowed the students to understand that the differences between a primary and secondary source can change depending on how the author is using that source.  It is up to the students to interpret how it is being used.)

2. Would you classify this as a popular or scholarly source?

3. Identify the primary project of the source.  (This question required the students to understand how the author of the scholarly article used the text in a certain way that may very well be different from how the source author intended.  Out of this grew a discussion of how sources could be used, once again allowing students to see how the use of sources is interpretive.)

4. How would you characterize the audience the creator of the source is addressing?  Juxtapose that intended audience of the source with the audience of the article.  (Through this question, students came to understand how a text intended for a popular audience could be taken out of the popular realm and used in a scholarly setting, and vice versa.)

Every annotated article that was cited was fair game for all the students for their second essay.  Ultimately, Isbell noted, this shared, collaborative work benefitted everyone.  “We all had this shared document that had annotations for lots of the sources,” Isbell explained.  “Students could rely on the work of others to turn to and then investigate themselves for their essay.”