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Why networked social reading?

Cath Ellis (Associate Dean of Education, School of Humanities and Languages, University of New South Wales) summarises her motivations for setting up a social reading activity with students:

"At the moment I'm playing with a couple of social networking apps to see if I can find a way of supporting students in developing social reading strategies to support their engagement with English Literature texts they are studying on their modules. I'm particularly interested in finding ways to make the behaviours and engagements that high-achieving students have with the primary texts they're studying more transparent to students who do less well. This kind of 'folksonomic' approach to learning is usually only visible in seminar interactions and that is only ever going to be a very small sliver of a glimpse. Social reading apps are always going to be partial as well, but I can't help thinking that they may offer new ways of supporting peer, social learning in Higher Education."

What is it?

Networked social reading may have combinations of the following attributes:

  • Personal annotation including highlights, freehand drawing, typed comments and sometimes even recorded spoken word comments (in common with non-networked e-annotation such as iAnnotate and Adobe Reader).
  • Ability to share selected annotations.
  • Ability to respond to others' comments in a discussion thread.
  • Either asynchronous (i.e. the group doesn't have to be online at once) or synchronous (real-time interaction with others).
  • A personal presence so that fellow readers can follow your thinking through your annotations.
  • Notifications so that readers can maintain awareness of fellow readers' activity.
  • Ability to create groups and make these private if needed.
  • Cloud-based or centrally hosted.
  • Availability on mobile, laptop and desktop devices.

What strategies make a successful social reading activity?

Where can I find technologies for social reading?

Your choice of technology may depend on whether the text you want to read together is 'naturally occurring' (already exists publicly on the web) or whether you want to import a text (either open access or with permission from the copyright holders).

If you are collectively happy to annotate an existing online text as-is, then Wikipedia has a helpful comparison of web annotation tools. If you're working on an externally hosted environment, you will need to ask your students to set up accounts with that environment. Do engage them in a conversation about the site's terms and conditions and ensure that they know they can decline to set up an account without placing themselves at a deficit.

If you have a copy-right free text to import (such as something downloaded from Gutenberg, for example) you may want to upload it into one of the following environments.

  • The Institute for the Future of the Book have an open source Wordpress plugin called CommentPress.

Involve E-Learning Environments

Contact your department's E-Learning Facilitator (BEAMS - Jessica Gramp, SLASH - Mira Vogel, SLMS - Natasa Perovic) who will be delighted to support your experiments.