My colleague Ty Hollett and I have submitted a manuscript to a forthcoming special issue of TechTrends. The special issue will focus on the relationship of social media to professional development and learning. In our article, we consider theory about play and playfulness, the practices of neogeographers (or individuals who use social media tools to create maps that meet ad hoc needs), and cross-setting (or “ecological”) learning to advance the concept of “playgrids.” Playgrids, we propose, are contingent arrangements of distributed resources that afford participation in shared activity across space, time, and scale. We suggest that graduate learners in our respective courses – many of whom approached their education as a complement to formal professional learning – produced and leveraged their own playgrids to meet course objectives and to pursue their own interests.

As a means of mapping learners’ playgrids, we examine how two platforms – Slack (in Ty’s case), and Hypothesis (in my case) – supported learners as they knit together various social media (i.e. blogs, networks like Twitter) and social practices (i.e. peer collaboration, media production, textual analysis) to advance in/formal learning that was improvisational, interest-driven, and tailed to learners’ needs. Ultimately, we conclude that playgrids are important given increasing participation with open tools and pedagogy in higher education, and that designers and educators should enable learners to knit together social media tools and practices in a grid-like fashion so that more playful and project-specific learning can span space, time, and scale.

What follows is a draft of my case about the role of Hypothesis and web annotation in producing learners’ playgrids. Though presented a bit out of context, I share this as an invitation for something akin to open peer review. Comments and/or Hypothesis annotations (it’s always a bit meta, right?!) from readers are very welcome as Ty and I continue to refine our ideas and progress this manuscript towards publication. Any feedback generated by this post will be a very welcome addition to the more traditional peer review process. Our thanks in advance! – Remi

Case 2: Playgrid Production through Hypothesis

Like our previous emphasis on Slack, this case does not examine Hypothesis annotations as discrete and disconnected learning artifacts. Rather, we consider the multimodal and networked qualities of annotation – as a social and collaborative practice among learners – that became consequential to the curation and use of playgrids. Specifically, we describe playgrids associated with Hypothesis and annotation across platforms, annotation as blog commentary, and the improvisational dynamics of an annotation flash mob.

Playgrid 1: Hypothesis and Annotation Across Platforms. One Hypothesis playgrid knit together distributed course readings, related resources, and online media. The practices of web annotation traveled with learners as they engaged with PDFs hosted on the course blog, transformed websites sharing news and opinion into their own conversational forums, and gathered together complementary media and resources as annotation content. One playful example of such activity occurred during the third cycle of readings when two learners facilitated an annotation discussion as a cross-setting and multimedia “Easter egg” hunt (an “Easter egg” is an intentional inside joke or hidden message, often employed in video games). Announced via Twitter, the learners authored a series of annotations – among dozens added to five course readings – that served as “clues” for their hidden message. The content of these annotation clues combined academic content, such as a hyperlinked resource about social constructivism, alongside user-generated media as playful visual metaphors (Figure X).

In this instance, the emergent playgrid consisted of a social network (Twitter), online documents (the reading PDF and linked academic website), and a media sharing platform (Flickr), all of which were connected through the creative use of Hypothesis web annotation. This playgrid set a precedent for subsequent circulations of learner activity among social networking, web annotation, and digital media creation.

Playgrid 2: Hypothesis Annotation as Blog Commentary. A second playgrid mediated by Hypothesis connected web annotation with blogging practices by both complementing and subverting the established conventions of that platform. Learners in this course wrote multiple blog posts during a typical two-week cycle; posts reviewed literature, some analyzed game play experiences, and yet others offered metacognitive reflections about individual learning in the course. As noted, the graduate program required learners to author a public blog; however, the specific blog service and individual blog settings were not specified. Accordingly, learners were authoring across a variety of blogging platforms (i.e. WordPress, Blogger), and with a range of settings for commenting and moderation. Web annotation, however, afforded learners multiple creative opportunities as both blog authors and commenters. When posting media, authors often included text-based introductions to encourage peer commentary via annotation. In other cases, and in response to more conventional blog comments, some authors provided their subsequent replies as web annotations (Figure X).

As these brief examples indicate, learners’ blogging practices – such as a post’s structure and content, as well as the interactions of commentary – were progressively influenced by the technical and social conventions of web annotation. A playgrid emerged which utilized the features of Hypothesis to meet the contingent needs of peer feedback and conversation across varied blogging platforms and permissions.

Playgrid 3: Hypothesis and an Annotation Flash Mob. Finally, Hypothesis served as a means for experimental and improvisational conversation beyond assignment requirements and in collaboration with individuals not formally enrolled in the course. Whereas most web annotation was asynchronous among coursemates, a learner-initiated opportunity arose toward the end of the semester for a synchronous annotation flash mob. A public invitation was announced via Twitter and blog for interested individuals to “gather” at an online location (an article about online education) at a designated time and collectively annotate in real time. The playgrid which emerged during this synchronous web annotation was created by over two dozens individuals as an ad hoc community, only 7 of whom were course participants. Contributing to such social reading and writing in real time allowed participants to simultaneously: Utilize Hypothesis to annotate in the margins of the designated article; promote and respond to tweets about the flash mob via Twitter; read notifications about annotations sent via email; access a live stream of Hypothesis annotations and respond to threaded exchanges; and curate related resources – such as other media and texts – via hyperlink within layered annotation.

This emergent playgrid brought together both K-12 and higher education practitioners, learners from formal course contexts with individuals whose learning was more informal, and participants with a wide range of open annotation experiences. By knitting together these varied contexts and practices, the synchronous annotation of this flash mob created playful opportunities for shared activity. As one learner noted via annotation to a blog post that summarized the event, “I had tweeted that I was in lurker mode prior to the flash mob, but once I stepped into the sandbox, I couldn’t help but participate.” Another learner’s reflection about the use of web annotation resonated with both the flash mob dynamics and, more generally, the critical role of web annotation to support learning with and through playgrids: “Annotation via Hypothesis this semester was one of the greatest challenges and greatest rewards…. the peer interactions and inquiry changed the way I looked at discovering critical concepts in course literature… the experience ultimately changed the way I imagined theory, literature, and peer interaction as it comes together.”

Playgrids: An Introductory Case
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