Five Ways to Hack Genius.com
Tools, Affordances, and Activity
All tools have affordances. We can do stuff with tools to change our environment. In fact if you read any elementary science book you learn about simple machines. From the Pyramids to my doorstop tools have shaped us. Thus you cannot separate tools from knowledge; social, cultural and physical contexts; or the activity in which the tool was used.
It used to take quite some time for new affordances to evolve around a tool. Many tools even reach a state of almost perfect design and do not change at all. Social norms, tinkerers, engineers did not invent new uses for old tools that often.
An evolving artisan caste of engineers and developers create new tools at a breakneck pace. Take genius.com. The site started as a place to gather and annotate rap lyrics, and has evolved into a powerful social annotation platform.
Annotation as Tool
Annotation is one of the most important external storage tools in human history. It has developed with writing from the cunieform to the browser. Actually many early technologists believed the true power of the web lie within our ability to finally annotate and tag all the world’s knowledge. Due to this core belief new tools arose and new affordances emerged.
Yet the web also ushered in an era of “participatory affordance surfacing.” On social networks, writing platforms, and gaming communities, the user and not the engineer create social practices that coalesce into new ways to use someone else’s tool.What took decades or centuries now takes days or hours. We have crowd sourced tool development.
Hacking Lit Genius
Last night, October 15th, Paul Allison hosted Dr. Jeremy Dean, education guru for Genius.com on Teachers Teaching Teachers (episode 415). I and some friends I know from the genius forums joined up to discuss how we use Genius in the classroom.
Jeremy discussed some of the hardcore engineering going on behind the scenes. Dr. Dean also revealed that teachers who had figured out to hack the system have driven many of design decisions made by their engineers (Teacher’s Guide to Learn More).
So here are my favorite hacks (here is the suggested use guide for students) that were discussed or I thought up after the show. If you plan to steer far away from the suggested use I would use your own classroom page of a text rather than existing pages.
Adopt a Poem
Elisa Beshero-Bondar created an adopt a poem project for her 19th century British literature class. In the project students take ownership of the poem as a form of quality assurance for the peers. They develop expertise around a text and then guide others through social annotation.
The learning activity that Elisa created, with the focus on an academic voice to establish credibility creates a scoail place for her students to practice learning, writing, reading, and talking like serious critics.
This is an activity I developed as a maker challenge for my class. I asked the class to annotate texts by creating a meme for a particular snippet. The students then have to explain how the meme fits the text selection.
Let’s make annotation multimodal (up next annotate in emoji only…..).
This idea popped in my head during the middle of the show. Almost every teacher in the conversation noted that the annotation features were being used more to talk about texts rather than analyze texts.
I had the idea (probably because in my Children’s Lit class we are currently learning how students get mired in fruitless literature circles) that social annotation maybe the place for literature circles to evolve online. Annotation requires us to read with purpose. Yet live literature circles too often devolve into completing roles without discussion. Students work toward their assigned purpose as if completing a worksheet.
Maybe such an activity would benefit more from an asynchronous and distributed model of participation. If you gave groups of students roles within a classroom text. You could have your traditional questioner, the viral visualizer (making remixing images and memes, vocabulizer (embedded slidedeck with four slides-What it is? What it isn’t. A sentence, a picture), a summarizer (make the outline in the sidebar annotation add gist statement annotations), and any other assigned roles.
Then have the class, either virtually or face to face meet and discuss the text. Make sure they discuss the texts and not their roles. Comprehension strategies should be used as scaffolds and not as topics during text based discussion.
Video Response Journals
The embed features on lit.genius.com are powerful. We can use this to our advantage. What if you engaged in video based annotations. Students could link to or embed Vine or Instagram videos (I will double check) for short focused discussions of annotations. If you wanted to collect longer student reactions to nuggets of knowledge I know they can embed YouTube movies.
The concept of Publish on Your Own Site Syndicate Everywhere spreads from the open and indie web movement. Its the idea that you keep ownership or your own material but then spread it around the web like a rumor in middle school.
Your students then could write a literary analysis blog post. They can link to specific annotations in their blogposts. They then embed the blog posts on to the text in an annotation. The young bloggers could then comment on each others blogs using either their own blogs or as a suggestion on the original annotation.
If you embed the text on your class website and student embed their blog posts on the text using lit.genius you in essence bud a curated collection of literary analysis posts directly connected to your content.
Be A Rebel. Annotate Like it is 1753.
These five hacks represent user developed affordances for using lit.genius. Annotation as a tool has been around almost as long as writing. It is okay to stick to the student guide for annotation. This also allows you to play on the very public versions of texts.
In fact some participants in last night show were hesitant to fool around with established practices (for fun they read centuries old poetry written by dead white guys. Of course scholars of this calibre respect the old fashion while playing with the new). That is okay.
I just feel tools for participatory learning allow us to engage simultaneously in both text based talk and text based analysis. Knowing that these are the tools of good readers I try to exploit any literacy tool for these outcomes.