Collaborative Annotation Technology in Online University Courses


In Fall of 2020, the English Department at Indiana University began using the collaborative annotation software, Hypothesis, in all the online freshman reading and writing courses. This implementation provided an opportunity to study how students and teachers were using this technology towards learning.

I led an end-to-end generative research study exploring how university instructors used the Hypothesis collaborative annotation tool in their classroom. 

Problem and Research Questions

Collaborative annotation software is not new in higher education, but most of the design and research has been focused on the students as the users. University instructors also use the software and often design how the students use collaborative annotation through instructions and assignments requirements.

I sought understand the user perspective of the instructors. I asked:


This project was part of my dissertation research and I had to move at a much slower pace than I would have liked due to educational institution requirements and administrative hurdles. 

To speed up the impact of the research for Hypothesis, I shared out early results at a conference hosted by Hypothesis called iAnnotate. I also met with organization leaders at Hypothesis to share some of the specific issues that instructors faced.


I chose to use a focus group approach for collecting user insights and I structured the focus groups similar to a contextual inquiry. There were four focus group sessions that took place over the course of 4 months. The instructors shared their screen and showed how they were using collaborative annotation and how they were asking their students to use it.

I deliberately chose to use focus groups for a few reasons. 

What I Did

As the lead researcher on this project, my responsibilities included:

Qualitative coding in MaxQDA

Collecting user testing data via Zoom

Key Insights

Product improvement feedback for software designers:

Product implementation insights to understand how university instructors used the software:

My Impact

The results of my research on collaborative annotation have led to better implementation of the technology at the university. For example, there were minor adjustments to the training given to instructors using Hypothesis after understanding what different instructors valued about the technology.

My research contributions also provided Hypothesis with additional insights for product improvements for university instructors, including adding the ability to create smaller groups and providing a more accurate submission date for student annotations.