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When scrawling leads to learning July 24, 2015

Posted by IaninSheffield in Uncategorized.

On opening a book borrowed from the library, I struggled to stifle the resigned exhalation reserved for those irritations caused by someone’s thoughtlessness.

flickr photo by ianguest http://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/19355566994 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

I have no problem at all with adding notes to a text that highlight significant sections, query your own understanding or indicate emerging themes. Quite the contrary in fact. So if you buy a book for your own personal use, then you have every right and very good reasons to annotate away until your pencil is no more than a stub. However, if that book comes from a library collection and will be borrowed by subsequent readers, then surely it is no more than considerate to erase your jottings before returning the book? Or am expecting too much and reverting to type as a ‘Grumpy Old Man?’ (and that’s rhetorical!)

As I inspected the notes to see why on earth the writer couldn’t be bothered to undo their misdeed, I found myself drawn into their comments and highlights, asking why had s/he underlined that sentence, what had that phrase been labelled as ‘important‘ for and why did they ‘disagree‘ with that section? In some sense I had begun to participate in a brief discourse with a fellow student on certain aspects of the text, albeit a uni-directional one. I found that I was interrogating their assertions, sometimes critically, often in agreement and occasionally wondering why they had (apparently) not noted an issue that seemed obvious to me. Perhaps there was value in not erasing sidenotes, but actually in adding to them? Sacrilege!

Unfortunately there’s a technical impediment here; that of space … there isn’t enough. For one student, sure; two perhaps or three at a push, but even with an overly generous typesetter, it’s unlikely to extend further than that. Unless of course we happen to be reading a digital version. Ebooks often have the facility to highlight and annotate text built in and if the ereader has Internet connectivity, then the highlights and annotations of the community of readers can be read by all … without fouling up the legibility of the page! Whilst it may not be the dialogue into which an online book club might enter, surely it constitutes some form of asynchronous discourse between readers which might assist one another’s understanding or challenge (mis?)interpretations.

The few instances I’ve seen in some ebooks have been less than helpful e.g. “9 people have highlighted this.” But perhaps that’s simply because we haven’t yet become sufficiently digitally literate with this new medium to exploit its potential … or the ebooks where I’ve witnessed that behaviour haven’t lent themselves to discussion. As a teacher working in financially limited circumstances and given their expense, I spent a lot of time endeavouring to ensure the longevity or our textbooks. Writing in them was … not an option! Had ebooks been available, I wonder if I’d have been brave enough to encourage my students to share their digital annotations, queries and opinions. Doubtless I’d have ended up with a few digital equivalents of hand-drawn male genitalia, but maybe that’s a price worth paying for the potential benefits, especially given how much easier it would be to identify the culprit … possibly!



1. ianinsheffield - July 24, 2015

Reblogged this on Marginal Notes and commented:

Initial frustration with a borrowed library book quickly turned to spotting opportunities.

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