Marginalia on the Open Web

When we think about all things digital, we usually think about tools. Twitter comes to mind. Facebook, Pinterest, Snapchat. We think about Google Docs, and WordPress; and if we’ve been at this awhile, we may think about the languages tools speak, like HTML or markdown or PHP. And if we’re aficionados, our minds might go to indie ed tech solutions, like and Reclaim Hosting.

But the truth is that the digital isn’t about tools at all. The digital is about what happens when human minds meet with an interconnected network of information, resources, and other human minds.

In “5 Things to Do When You Teach Digitally”, I said,

Digital learning is learning in the wild. At its best, it is learning as learning happens in early childhood—spontaneous, reactive, experimental, and full of discovery. Traditional “point-A-to-point-B” pedagogy falls flat in so dynamic an environment. What’s needed is “point-A-to-point-78-to-point-banana” pedagogy. To foster this kind of experimentation takes openness, kindness, and patience. It’s improvisational and responsive pedagogy that succeeds best in digital learning.

What happens in the digital is human. And so the tools that we use should be in service to our human methods—our creativity, our intelligence, our wit, our strange genius—rather than the other way around. This is something I’ve always liked about The tool itself does nothing but support my desire to talk to other people about a text. It gives me a way into every unique web page; and not just a way to leave my mark there, but a way to engage with others who have been there before me, and those who will come upon the text after me. It makes every page of the web into a used book, where I can hear the thoughts of the original owner, alongside the thoughts of a woman from Poughkeepsie, alongside a Shakespeare scholar, alongside a physicist who can’t contain her ideas to mathematics and formulae. allows my mind to roam across the digital landscape encountering other human minds doing similar roaming. And that’s what “the digital” is all about. All I have to do is walk out the front door.

But there’s a key to that front door. It’s called a Chrome extension. Or a WordPress plugin. Or a Canvas LTI. is available across the web using the Chrome extension (which you can install by clicking here). When you install the extension for your Chrome browser, you’ll be able to annotate every page you find for every search you make. If you’re designing in WordPress, you can use the plugin to make annotation native to your site. And in Canvas, the LTI enables annotation that’s synched with your gradebook.

The digital isn’t meant to be a solitary experience; learning happens best in community and in dialogue with others. If we think about the digital as a space where human minds interact, where creativity and conversation are the foundation, then the choices we make about the tools we use will reinforce our humanness and our decidedly not-artificial intelligence.

As we finish up this workshop on digital annotation, please take a few moments to complete a feedback survey. Your responses to this survey will help us create more and better digital learning workshops in the future.

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