Arts and Science Talk

My apologies to those who had wanted to view the presentation for the Arts & Science Research Talk using Elluminate. We lost the internet connection in Edmonton and so we had to continue with just a face-to-face meeting.


Social Annotation: Collectives, Social Software & Self-Organizing Systems


In this talk I will discuss a type of social software that might be called social annotation. Such software enables individuals to add annotations (underlines, highlights, other margin marks, comments) while reading a text. Additionally, some aggregation of those individual annotations is then added to the text. Individuals now gain a sense of how the community of readers is responding to the text; what they are noting as most relevant and what they have concerns about, for example.

In the educational context, where instructors typically select the texts students must read, the main activity for the students is understanding the selected texts, or reading comprehension. Social annotation is a possible means of assisting students in this activity. Currently, authors sometimes augment their texts using text signals (e.g., bold typeface) to indicate important information for the reader’s benefit. Research has demonstrated that text signals do improve memory for the signalled information. In other contexts, however, signals are not designed but rather emerge through the unplanned, indirect, and collective efforts of a group of individuals. As an example, walking paths emerge in parks as a by-product of individual decisions; they are not designed by anyone. Social software provides an opportunity to examine how text signals could emerge in a text by aggregating individual annotations, through a self-organizing process.

In the talk a description of self-organizing (complex) systems will be provided. How this idea applies to human groups, sometimes referred to as collective intelligence, will also be explained. A social annotation software application, designed by the presenter using principles from self-organizing systems, and the results from a research study that tested the software will also be presented.