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Collaborative Annotation and Latin Pedagogy

J. Bert Lott

Over the past two years I have used a collaborative annotation tool, Annotation Studio developed at the MIT Hyperstudio with support from the NEH (, to have students in intermediate and advanced Latin classes annotates digital versions of Latin readings before and after class sessions. My approach is inspired by recent interest among humanists in digitally supported “social reading” but remains grounded in the traditional form of the textual commentary, which, I believe, naturally lends itself to collaborative work. In my talk I present my use of the tool through examples from my own classes. I also discuss both why and how I use Annotation Studio for Latin instruction.

Technology is providing Classicists with powerful new tools for study and scholarship, most notably easily accessible online versions of ancient texts linked to powerful research and linguistic tools. While this is opening up new possibilities, it is also altering Latin pedagogy and language acquisition. We have relied on a particular model of student work--involving memorization and difficult-to-navigate reference tools--to direct students into slow, engaged reading. Now, students click straight to answers, without doing the work we saw as a primary mode of pedagogy. I use Annotation Studio to replace that work with other kinds of focused attention to the text while also taking advantage of the interactivity made possible by digital collaborative annotation Annotation Studio, accessed through a web interface, allows students to write comments linked to individual words and phrases of a text and respond to comments others have made. Students write extended posts investigating the use and meaning of individual words. They ask and answer questions about syntax or grammar. They make interpretive comments tied to very short selections of text. Importantly, the interactive nature of the work requires students to stretch out their contact with the text, asking questions, getting answers, and discussing ideas as part of their preparation, activities that are normally confined to a single session of “doing homework.”

My use of Annotation Studio adapts some aspects of the “flipped classroom” approach. It requires students use collaborative annotation to read more actively and to engage more deeply outside of class time; thus, more class time is devoted to discussion and less to problem solving. The goal, however, is not to free up class time by moving noninteractive activities out of class using technology. Collaborative annotation is active and interactive. It teaches close and engaged reading by requiring students to anchor their ideas in specific words and passages rather than just thinking about broad themes and plot; it enhances memory of the texts and helps students make connections across different parts of the text; and it teaches them to take effective notes and then use those notes to develop bigger ideas.

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