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How to engage students with questions: 6 best strategies for social annotation

Nhi Nguyen
Rebecca LeBoeuf
Rebecca LeBoeuf
|
November 1, 2023
Table of Contents

“Students don’t respond or respond poorly to my annotated questions.”

This is one of the biggest concerns instructors share with our team when facilitating social annotation activities—many struggle with creating quality interaction moments that promote active contribution and engagement from students.

With the 6 strategies outlined in this blog, you will find it much easier to curate amazing questions that students want to answer!

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Social annotation and student engagement

What is social annotation?

Reading annotation is an all-time favorite method in physical classrooms to promote deeper reading, interaction with, and comprehension of different documents. In this approach, students enter into a critical, in-depth “dialogue” with the texts by highlighting key pieces of the texts and adding their reflections. Annotation; therefore, can encourage active engagement and promote the development of several higher-order skills in Bloom’s Taxonomy.

As learning moves beyond the classroom and places more importance on skills development and equity, the physical text annotation is transformed to accommodate these needs. Social annotation has emerged and gained popularity as a great method to promote multi-layer interactions (student-content, student-students, and student-instructors) with multimedia study materials.

“As a teaching method, critical social annotation allows for equitable conversations to unfold in line with the knowledge being presented in course texts. In this way, it can potentially subvert or even redress instances of inequity in course content.” – Brown and Croft (2020)

Studies have confirmed the many benefits of social annotation to students’ learning, namely:

  • Improve students’ critical thinking, meta-cognitive skills, and reading comprehension
  • Promote peer learning as students interact with the different perspectives of their peers and defend their own opinions
  • Strengthen a sense of community via asynchronous interactions
  • Create an inclusive learning environment by inviting all students to contribute their thoughts and ideas

For social annotation to manifest all these benefits, it requires the use of appropriate technology and most importantly, instructors’ guidance. While many students are inherently motivated to study the materials in-depth, many remain hesitant and produce under-quality annotations. Adding questions or discussions throughout the materials is then considered an effective way to motivate quality responses from students and direct their attention to important sections. Social annotation platforms such as FeedbackFruits Interactive Study Material tools have been supporting educators to enrich different materials with meaningful interaction moments.

Read more: Annotation tools: Interactive Study Material vs Comprehension

“Students don’t respond or respond poorly to my annotated questions.”

This is one of the biggest concerns instructors share with our team when facilitating social annotation activities—many struggle with creating quality interaction moments that promote active contribution and engagement from students.

With the 6 strategies outlined in the next section, you will find it much easier to curate amazing questions that students want to answer!

1 | Less is more: Fewer questions for better responses

How many interaction moments should I create for my students so that they won’t feel overwhelmed, yet motivated to engage with the activity?

Adams and Wilson (2020) looked into the community-building capacity of technology-assisted collaborative annotation and found that the number of interaction moments (with the text and with peers) students made fluctuated between 13 and 23 depending on the content difficulty and study period.

Instructors at the Vrij University of Amsterdam Centre for Teaching and Learning recommended keeping the interaction moments (either instructors’ questions or students’ responses) from 5 to 7 per content. This is to make sure students can focus on the quality, not the quantity of the responses.

2 | Have a good balance of question types

Varying the question types helps encourage students to develop skills across Bloom’s Taxonomy: from understanding the content to critically analyzing and evaluating the study content.

McComas and Abraham (2004) developed a Taxonomy of questions, which categorizes questions into four quadrants with paired criteria: high and low order; convergent and divergent

  • Low-order questions focus on remembering and recalling facts. Multiple choice, Yes-No questions, and queries starting with What? Who? Where? When? are usually classified as low-order.
  • High-order questions let students demonstrate their understanding and apply their knowledge to explain a problem. This question type involves asking for explanation, comparison, and reasoning (Why?, How?, In what way?)
  • Convergent questions require students to think critically, discover motives, and draw conclusions or inferences. These are usually in the form of open-ended questions, asking about alternative ways of doing things (e.g. “How could…”, “What are some possible consequences…”, “Imagine…”)
  • Divergent questions, on the other hand, encourage students to recall and apply their previous knowledge to analyze, evaluate, and address a situation or problem.

A diversity of questions can stimulate students’ deep understanding of the materials and motivate them to critically analyze and reflect on the given information. Try to introduce a mix of multiple-choice, open-ended, and open questions and see how your students change their approach to content comprehension.

Create both multiple-choice and open questions to let students study the video content from different levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. You can do this within FeedbackFruits Interactive Video tool.
Create both multiple-choice and open questions to let students study the video content from different levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. You can do this within FeedbackFruits Interactive Video tool.

3 | Draw on students’ personal experience

Bringing students’ personal perspectives into the questioning schema can greatly increase student engagement and the quality of their responses. When crafting questions in social annotation, instructors should encourage students to draw on their own knowledge as materials for their answers.

Christenbury and Kelly's (1983) model of the Questioning Circle is an effective framework for creating questions with a personal touch. This framework consists of three intersecting circlesrepresenting domains of cognition: (1) the Matter – the subject of discussion (issue, problem, topic), (2) the Personal Reality – the student’s relationship with the subject, and (3) the External Reality – the broader perspective of the subject. It is recommended that instructors create questions from overlapping areas of the 3 circles.

Christenbury and Kelly's (1983) model of the Questioning Circle is an effective framework for creating questions with a personal touch. This framework consists of three intersecting circlesrepresenting domains of cognition: (1) the Matter – the subject of discussion (issue, problem, topic), (2) the Personal Reality – the student’s relationship with the subject, and (3) the External Reality – the broader perspective of the subject. It is recommended that instructors create questions from overlapping areas of the 3 circles.
Questioning Circle (Christenbury & Kelly, 1983)

Below you can find example questions developed based on the model, provided by Christenbury and Kelly (1983):

  1. The Matter: What does Huck say when he decides not to turn Jim in to the authorities?
  2. Personal Reality: When would you support a friend when everyone else thought he or she was wrong?
  3. External Reality: What was the responsibility of persons finding runaway slaves?
  4. The Matter/Personal Reality: In what situations might someone be less than willing to take the consequences of his or her actions?
  5. Personal Reality/External Reality: Given the social and political circumstances, to what extent would you have done as Huck did?
  6. The Matter/External Reality: What were the issues during the time which caused both Huck’s and Jim’s actions are viewed as wrong?
  7. The Matter/Personal Reality/External Reality: When is it right to go against social and/or political structures of the time as Huck did when he refused to turn Jim into the authorities?”

4 | Spice up the material with resources

Help students better understand the questions or the section that the questions ask about by adding reference resources (articles, videos, podcasts, etc.) or simply a short tip. This allows students to have a deeper understanding of the presented concepts and guides them to curate quality responses.

Attach a resource or add an explanation to the multiple-choice answers to provide students with more context and understanding of the matter being asked. This can be done easily in FeedbackFruits Interactive Study Material tools
Attach a resource or add an explanation to the multiple-choice answers to provide students with more context and understanding of the matter being asked. This can be done easily in FeedbackFruits Interactive Study Material tools

5 | Grades matter: Reward students for their answer

Many instructors avoid assigning grades to social annotation since it creates extrinsic rather than intrinsic motivation for students. Sofia Sa, educational psychologist and certified pedagogical trainer; however, has an opposite opinion:

“Assessment is central to the student’s experience. Grades matter. We may want it or not, we may like it or not, we might even hate it, but grades do matter. And it's not about getting better grades or asking better questions, but it's about creating a paradigm shift in students’ mindset.”

She conducted a case study and found that graded social annotation activities had much higher student engagement as compared to non and partially-graded activities.

As students are assessed for the social annotation, they become more mindful of their own learning and “gradually form the habit of active engagement”, emphasized Sofia.

For her course on Communication in Engineering, Sofia turned the social annotation into an assessment component, with grades being assigned to each step of the activity. The entire process was facilitated within FeedbackFruits Interactive Document and Interactive Video. The tools’ Automatic, adjustable grading feature allowed for specifying the points received for completing each activity step, such as viewing the video (documents), answering the questions, and starting and responding to discussion threads. With this grade weighting per step transparent for students, increased motivation and higher participation were seen as a result.

Read Sofia’s full story here.

Reward your students for their performance by assigning grades to each step of the social annotation activity in FeedbackFruits Interactive Document
Reward your students for their performance by assigning grades to each step of the social annotation activity in FeedbackFruits Interactive Document

6 | Make the questions compulsory to answer

“Many of my students usually miss or even skip answering the questions, even though I have reduced the number of annotated queries and made the questions thought-provoking.”

In this case, you need to remind students of the importance of answering each question, by making them compulsory. That is, students are obliged to respond to one question before continuing with the next one. In FeedbackFruits Interactive Study Material tools, instructors can configure the questions and discussion so that part of the study material (video, document, or audio) following the question is hidden for students until they provide the answer.

Make each question compulsory to answer before students can switch to the next one. You can do this easily within FeedbackFruits Interactive Video tool
Make each question compulsory to answer before students can switch to the next one. You can do this easily within FeedbackFruits Interactive Video tool

References

Adams, B., & Wilson, N. S. (2020). Building community in asynchronous online higher education courses through collaborative annotation. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 49(2), 250-261. https://doi.org/10.1177/0047239520946422

Brown, M and Croft, B. 2020. Social Annotation and an Inclusive Praxis for Open Pedagogy in the College Classroom. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2020(1): 8, pp. 1–8. DOI: https://doi.org/10.5334/jime.561

Christenbury, L., & Kelly, P. P. (1983). Questioning: A Path to Critical Thinking. ERIC - Education Resources Information Center. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED226372.pdf

McComas, W., & Abraham, L. (2004). Asking More Effective Questions (pp. 1-16). Rossier School of Education.

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