Annotation & Personal Epistemology

admin/ January 18, 2017/ Uncategorized/ 0 comments

Annotation, particularly open web-based annotation–as afforded by platforms like hypothes.is–has been discussed by Jeremy Dean and Remi Kalir to serve as a source of conversation, and interruption.

But there is more to annotation than just conversation and interruption. When talking about the politics of open annotation, Jeremy Dean said:

The idea is there are all these official voices on the web and everyday people need a way to join that conversation. Now this isn’t a new idea. It’s kind of the originating idea of the web itself, and certainly the idea of the Web 2.0 movement – that we’re not just accessing knowledge on the internet, but creating it ourselves. But it’s not at all the way the web has evolved in terms of the everyday ability to effectively question authority, both technically and politically.

I was particularly struck by the personal epistemological implications of this statement. And of course made an annotation stating so (that annotation can be read, interacted with, what-have-you, here). Words like “official”, “accessing” and “creating” knowledge, and “question authority” always send the personal epistemology alarm bells ringing for me. And I hope they would for everyone else too…

But I often forget that not only did I never finished my preliminary exams or dissertation on personal epistemology in instructional design,  the concepts of personal epistemology are not basic tenets in education. So let me go back and do some explaining. Please forgive my completely horrible scholarship right now, I’m not citing my sources. If you want further reading check out Personal Epistemology: The Psychology of Beliefs About Knowledge and Knowing (2009) edited by Barbara K. Hofer & Paul R. Pintrich.

Where epistemology is the philosophical approach to the nature of knowledge and knowing, personal epistemology is the approach to knowledge and knowing each individual implicitly holds- the psychology of knowledge and knowing. These may be a collection of beliefs or mental resources (David Hammer and Andrew Elby make this argument in particular) that allow individuals to approach the world around them–and any given situation–through a particular lens.

Personal epistemologies are usually simplified into three major lenses: a simplistic and absolute approach, a subjective approach, and a sophisticated contextual approach. Of course, epistemology is a spectrum, not three bins which we can dunk people into, but for ease of explanation these are the three major landmarks.

The simplistic and absolute approach is an outlook where knowledge is simple: there is a right and wrong. There is a Truth. Knowledge comes from some official authority, and you come to know when that authority transmits the information to you.

In the subjective approach, the individual recognizes that not all knowledge is absolute but takes it to a position that there is no authority, knowledge depends entirely on what works for each individual. In the subjective approach the stance is often “If I believe something, it is true for me. You can believe something different, and that’s true for you.” Knowing comes from personal experience.

Finally, the sophisticated contextual approach circles back around to unite the two previous categories, in a way. From this approach knowledge is seen as created by individuals to serve a purpose. What is true depends on evidence and a given context. There are authorities, but they are not absolute. Knowledge is always changing and you come to know by creating knowledge, collecting the most up-to-date and appropriate evidence.

From the research done, primarily among undergraduates, individuals move from the absolute, to the subjective, and if they’re lucky to the contextual approaches. These approaches may be domain specific, so it is entirely possible that someone approaches one field as absolute (for example, math) and another as subjective (say, history).

Back to annotation and personal epistemology!

My first observation is how someone approaches open annotation is going to depend entirely on their personal epistemological lens. And differences in the personal epistemology of participants is going result in differing levels of success in any interruption and conversation.

But I wonder, too, if that could not be a key component to personal epistemological growth. If conversing with an author, someone who may be perceived as having some authority–if not in the content area, at least in what they wrote–may help scaffold and foster sophistication.

I wonder:

In talking back to something through annotation are we not inherently questioning some authority, immediately pushing ourselves out of an absolute stance?

In conversing with, not talking at an author, are we not shifting (even in the slightest) to a more contextual perspective? Maybe this one is pushing it, but could annotation be used this way rather than the relatively static echo chambers of comment sections?

In being open with our work, are we not modeling how we are creating knowledge, often together?

…I have so many questions, so many thoughts, and I’m working them out here in the open. Please use the comments or hypothes.is to converse with me. To push back, to co-create, to keep my personal epistemology honed and on edge.

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