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I request a $500 OUR grant, for a proposed collaborative hypertext annotation seed project (CHASP), as part of a larger $1200 proposal to hire a student programmer/consultant to help me implement my plans for an Internet-based text annotation program. While there are thousands of online text repositories on the Internet, none offer the level of reader interaction I envision. Such interaction is already found in some online publications devoted to entertainment or high-tech industries - readers are invited to add their comments to the bottom of reviews or other articles, from which spirited debates often ensue. Since I was hired to teach electronic texts, I think the opportunity to experiment with the new medium, while at the same time using it to teach literature and writing, will be extremely beneficial. As a technical writing instructor, I need to do technical writing; the act of writing up specifications, and ensuring that the programmer has followed them, will help me teach my technical writing students and interns to do the same. Meanwhile, preparing the primary texts would be an excellent ongoing project for my English 309 classes. Once the computer programming is taken care of, I hope to involve more English students (including graduate student Gregg Nelson, who is working on the letters of H. P. Lovecraft) in using it to create annotated online editions that are open for public comment. This document briefly describes my previous related work, explains why this is different from (and better than) an ordinary e-mail discussion about electronic texts, and lists the various ways in which I think this project would serve my students and the greater UWEC community. Because of the immediate teaching applications, I had initially submitted this proposal to NET, but was advised instead to try other avenues.
This document briefly describes my previous related work; describes the proposed interface more clearly, explains why this is different from (and better than) an ordinary e-mail discussion about existing electronic texts, and lists the various ways in which I think this project would serve my students and the greater UWEC community. Because of the immediate teaching applications, I had initially submitted this proposal to NET, but NET suggested that I try other avenues.
As an extension of work that I began as a graduate assistant for the University of Toronto English Library <http://www.library.utoronto.ca/utel/>, I am slowly collecting a library of public domain literary and historical texts, as well as sample student-written papers. While there are thousands of online text archives, and while students can already have online discussions via e-mail, there is currently no easy (or free) way that instructors can combine the two modes of electronic instruction. The interactive shell would allow students, instructors, and perhaps even random visitors from elsewhere, to post marginal notes on those online texts. The effect would be that everyone would be annotating the margins of a shared text. Commentators would be able to engage each other in conversations and debates, spinning off of, but always anchored to, the primary text. (I enclose printouts of a mockup.)
In the past, when I have attempted much the same thing via
e-mail, I found the level of intellectual effort students put into their online
comments was unimpressive. Typically,
students were checking their e-mail during a break between classes, or while
they were at home over the weekend. While
I frequently requested that students back up their claims with quotations from
the text, I found that most comments were of the “I liked this play” or “I
didn’t like this play” variety. Students
rarely if ever posted the kind of serious, specific comment that I demand of
in-class discussions: “On page 43, Oedipus and Creon disagree about what it
means to be a leader; yet on page 120, Creon seems to have reversed himself,
since he orders the banishment of his former king.”
When students make vague general comments, “I think Creon is
inconsistent,” the conversation can instead stray too far from the text
To solve this problem, I would like to post online versions of the (common domain) literary texts that I teach in class. Each paragraph or verse of the text would have a button or link that a reader could click, which would then display a new screen with a box that invites the visitor to type a comment. After the user submits the comment, the computer attaches the first few lines of the comment to the margins of the main text. Another visitor could then create a new comment, or post a reply to an existing comment. The program would enable the reader to choose from a number of different views… for instance, a student might choose to look only at comments posted by the instructor… an instructor might want to see how many comments a particular student has made over the course of a whole semester.
See a working copy of a test site, in which students spent about 15 minutes during a timed quiz, annotating an online copy of The Waste Land.
Test web site, programmed by student Ben Podoll, and maintained by Dennis G. Jerz, was hosted at the following URL:
(...But that server was hit with the Code Red virus shortly before classes started in the Fall of 2001, and I haven't had time to repair the system yet.)
Dennis G. Jerz
26 Nov 2001 -- last modified
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