Sunday, November 11, 2012

Digital Annotations

I am looking for digital annotation tools that I can use in my composition and literature classes.  I value accessibility, and have, to the best of my knowledge, yet to find a tool that honors universal design: accessibility.  I want all my students to have access to one another, which includes the work they create such as annotations, the curriculum (often the work my students create is the curriculum), what they study, and me.  I am looking for a digital annotation tool, for example, that works with screen readers, does not overlay text such as students' comments over the text they are discussing, does not use color to convey information.

As more of my students are using digital texts, something I do, as well, because it is much easier to carry a tablet than one, two, or three bags of books, I want to ensure that I offer them digital annotation strategies.  It is also important to me that these strategies are accessible because I want my students to create small-group and class annotations of the texts we read.  In short, my students need to be able to create their own annotations while also being able to access those of their peers.  Many of my students read their texts form their mobile devices, which means I want a tool that would work equally well on a smart phone, tablet or a computer and that is accessible for those using the tool to create annotations and to those reading the annotations.

I found one of the most useful ways to introduce my students to electronic annotations is because it is easy to use and resembles texting and tweeting.  The image after this text is a screen shot of a collaboration space in TodaysMeet.  Posted text is on the left side of the screen and a textbox for writing text to be posted is on the left side of the screen.  There is a lot of white space in the page layout and the layout is uncluttered.

We have a 140 character limit for each entry in TodaysMeet, something familiar to my students using Twitter.  My classes use the TodaysMeet to start a general chats about a text; we also use the space in class.  As for working with annotations and a text, the two tools that I have used are Google Docs and NB.  The next image is a screenshot of a Google Doc.  The text the class is discussing is fairly centered in the image.  Sections of the text that have comments are highlighted in yellow.  Comments are separate and to the right of the text being discussed. 

What works nicely about the Google Doc is that one can insert comments at a specific point in the text.  Each commentator's contribution is tagged with the contributor's name.  One can upload a pdf or convert a pdf to Google Doc text, which works well when faculty and students need to convert serif font in a PDF to sans serif.  As a learning disabled academic, I use this as a strategies for my own pdf readings in graduate school and my work as a teacher.

The two images below are screen shots of NB, a tool I would love to use.  The first image below shows what a text looks like in NB, with the pdf on the left and comments on the right.  There are overlays on the pdf indicating where a reader has entered an annotation.  As with Google Docs many readers can discucss and annotate the pdf.  The overlays make the text hard to read.  The second screenshoot is of a pdf that has been annotated in NB.  There are arrows and lines on the pdf text and overlays of the annotations on the pdf text, which makes not only reading the pdf text impossible when its covered by the annotations, but also renders the annotation a challenge to read: inaccessible.

I am still looking for an accessible annotation tool that will work with screen readers, allow annotations to be verbal--with transcripts--and written.  Smart folks are creating accessibility tools for Google Docs, such as the Download Google Doc Tool.  The link below this text will take you to a Website where you can learn more about and download the Download Google Doc Tool.

The Download Google Doc Tool, however, is for completed documents in that it makes completed Google Docs accessible as Word documents.  I am looking for an accessible way to create annotations.  Google continues to work on creating accessability for the tools it creates.  The link below this text will take you to a Google blog post about accessibility for their tools, including Google Docs.

I have yet to figure out how a screen reader such as JAWS negotiates reading comments in Google Docs.  In other words, I still want to read more about accessibility  and creating and reading comments in Google Docs.

Do you use accessible digital shared-annotation tools in your classrooms?  I would love to hear what others are using and how others assess whether or not the digital tools they use and that they ask their students to use are accessible--the latter is part of how we teach our students access literacy.

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