Annotating with Technology

Sometimes, it’s not a student’s work alone that shows what they’ve learned. Sometimes, it’s what they say about that work. It’s their application of the concepts and terms they’ve learned in our classes to the work they’ve done for those classes. And one way to accomplish this application is through annotation. Think of it as students adding sticky notes on their projects, papers, and assignments, or writing in the margins.

When they paint an image in art, do they analyze the decisions they made with composition, line and color? When they write an argument, do they analyze their use of evidence and rhetorical appeals? When they complete a challenging math problem, do they explain what it represents and how they came to an answer?

If they do, great. If they don’t, that is, if annotation is not a regular feature of your instruction, you might consider one of these four technology tools that facilitate the creation and presentation of annotated products.

ThingLink is surprisingly simple and surprisingly cool. Upload an image of student work or link to any image online. Add targets to select points on the image. Then type in text to describe the selected point. Users can also hyperlink to related websites or YouTube videos. Biology students might label and describe the function of the parts of a dissected pig, while construction students might describe the materials and methods necessary to construct a particular building.
Device: computer or iPad
Login and learn: 5 minutes

Jing is a video capture program that records your voice on top of whatever is happening on your computer screen. Create five-minute demo videos of computer programs (eg. how to share a Google Doc) or–and I love this idea–add voice over any PowerPoint, Prezi, web page, image or program running on your computer. Students can voice annotate a series of images or articles associated with their research or record an analysis of their own writing as they view it on the computer screen.
Device: computer
Login and learn: (once downloaded) 5 minutes

YouTube Video
Students have been presenting projects, labs, and various other tasks for as long schools have been schooling. One way to do this–and yet another way to think about voice-recorded annotation–is through video. Using an iPad or smart phone, students can record their explanation of a diagram, a complex math problem, a fashion design, or a blueprint. Create a class YouTube account, and have them send their videos directly from their devices to the class account for you and the rest of the class to see.
Device: iPad, iPod, or smartphone
Login and learn: 5 minutes

If you haven’t seen Educreations yet, you’re missing something brilliantly simple. With an iPad, the user can take a photograph or upload an internet image, click record, and proceed to draw over the images while recording his voice. Educreations allows teachers to create classes of students, so that all enrolled can easily access teacher- and student-made videos. Or mirror them from iPad to projector through an Apple TV. In math classes, students can record explanations of homework problems, while in art and design classes, students can record analyses of student-produced or published art.
Device: iPad. You can use the computer, too.
Login and learn: 60 seconds (basic); 15 minutes (create a class)

Why bother?

Annotating texts provides an excellent opportunity for assessment, the kind of assessment that doesn’t leave you guessing. You can read or hear the student’s mastery of terminology and concepts, while assessing their ability to apply and analyze, not just memorize. Perhaps more important than assessment, this sort of application of content, where students create a simple product using academic vocabulary to articulate ideas, facilitates learning. As it shows what students know, it also helps them to know it. Too often, this sort of annotation of images and text is a teacher’s task. For learning to occur–for the concepts and processes to really sink in–the student herself must interact with the images and texts and language of the course.

These tools–YouTube, Educreations, Jing, and ThingLink–are a great way to create that interaction.


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