Discussion Before the Discussion in Virtual Study Groups: Social Reading and Open Annotation

Discussion Before the Discussion in Virtual Study Groups: Social Reading and Open Annotation

Sheri Vasinda (Oklahoma State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-0206-8.ch011
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The virtual study group project was designed to provide a framework for job-embedded, contextual professional development. Using an open annotation tool, Hypothes.is, provided opportunities for literacy specialist candidates to share marginal notes and written dialogue asynchronously during the process of reading online professional articles. Asynchronous engagement in the digital margins of online texts added another layer of social interaction to the synchronous virtual study groups. Findings indicate that this process supported content-knowledge building and also sparked and supported inquiry-based learning. Successes and missteps are included as well as project improvements.
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Although developing leaders in literacy education is emphasized throughout the literacy specialist master's degree at Oklahoma State University, a designated core course focused on leadership is also a required part of the program of study and is the focus of this chapter. Prior to the Literacy Leadership and Coaching course, candidates have informal opportunities to coach each other in their advanced children's literature course, assessment and instruction courses, and school-based disciplinary literacy course. Most projects are designed with authentic audiences in mind so that candidates begin to reimagine themselves as literacy leaders as they shift their focus from being classroom teachers to becoming campus and district leaders. As candidates progress through their course work, they seem to easily imagine themselves as reading specialists, working specifically with children, but the leadership course requires a dramatic shift in thinking as they consider working specifically with adults, exploring adult learning theory, and navigating the tension between being a literacy expert and being a co-learner.

The description for Literacy Leadership and Coaching reads, “Develops skills and knowledge for school literacy program design and leadership, and for coaching other teaching professionals in literacy teaching.” The focus of this chapter is when the course was delivered in a hybrid format, although the course moved fully online the following year. Candidates met face-to-face once per week for the first month of the course and then moved to a hybrid format for the rest of the semester, meeting face-to-face every other week with online engagements on alternating weeks. The three major projects for this course were:

  • A theoretical paper addressing adult learning theory, or andragogy, and comparing it with the pedagogical theoretical perspectives to which they have aligned their practice from previous courses;

  • A school-based coaching practicum in which they facilitate a coaching cycle with a practicing teacher; and

  • Co-facilitation of and participation in virtual study groups, as a process for facilitating teacher inquiry and professional development as well as developing content knowledge and pedagogical (and andragogical) knowledge.

The project described in this chapter is the virtual study groups with a focus on a digital tool, open annotation, that supported dialogic inquiry in professional learning communities.


Goal Statement

The virtual study group was designed to engage the candidates in a practice that modeled the principles of andragogy studied in this course, (Knowles, 1984; Merriman, 2001) and to provide a professional development structure that they could implement in their coaching project or as future literacy coaches. The instructional design of this project was also influenced by the instructor’s social-constructivist beliefs that learning is constructed by individuals in the context of interaction with others (Vygotsky, 1978) and a dialogic perspective in which the blending of multiple voices, previous and present, support both individual and collective knowledge construction (Bakhtin, 1984). Furthermore, the addition of open annotation as a part of virtual study groups also situated this work in a new literacies perspective (Leu, Kinzer, Coiro, Castek, & Henry, 2013).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Open Annotation: Open annotation, also referred to as social annotation, is the process of posting thoughts, questions, or other media to the digital margin space via a layer over the world wide web. Readers may comment on each other's posts.

Dialogic Inquiry: Dialogic inquiry is an approach to learning that uses collaborative action research and dialogic conversation to improve learning and teaching by seeking understanding.

Dialogic Practice: A dialogic teaching practice focuses on fostering dialogues through open-ended questions and facilitation of connections to foster both individual and collective knowledge construction.

Open-Source Software: Open source software is web-based and designed to promote collaboration and sharing. The original programmers permit other users to make modifications to the source code to use in their own projects with the understanding that the new users will, in turn, make their project source code open to public access.

Local Files: Typically, pdf files that have been saved on a computer, or “locally.” To use a local file for open annotation, it must be assigned a unique web identifier. Hypothes.is has tutorials for this process, but Google Docs can also be used to annotate local files.

Virtual Study Group: Virtual study groups are a type of synchronous video conference facilitated study groups, or Professional Learning Community, in which teachers read and discuss texts to improve teaching and learning.

Epitext: Epitextual elements of text are developed outside the text itself, such as reviews, author interviews, and marginal notes. Coupled with peritextual elements, which include elements such as titles, table of contents, prefaces, notes, back and front matter, the two types of elements make up paratext.

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