Coloring Digital Annotations

Filipa Calado, English
Faculty Advisor: Michael Mandiberg
Project Website: Coloring Digital Annotations

Coloring Digital Annotations

While existing digital annotation tools are useful for teaching close and critical attention to language in the English classroom, I find myself more interested in accessing other kinds of responses to reading. I wonder how teachers (like myself) might expand “active reading” practices associated with digital annotation to also include affects that engage students’ embodied and nonverbal responses to texts, including instinctual and emotional reactions to reading. Such practices would also address issues of accessibility with reading online.

I propose that a digital highlighter tool with color-coding functionality would allow students to express and confront their more immediate feelings and reactions while reading. I expect that the multiple color functionality in the highlighter would prompt students’s access to feelings and nonverbal reactions, as well as provide an opportunity for engaging critically with them. In the English classroom, for example, students may use colors as flexible categories that indicate different areas of understanding—such as figuration, themes, or syntax. And, by customizing the color of their highlights, students may begin to understand how their feelings can be part of a larger, more formalized analytical process.

I am developing this tool from, an open-source digital annotation tool that allows users to highlight and comment directly on web pages or PDFs. I prefer due to its sophistication and popularity, as well as my positive experiences with using it as an instructor in my classroom.

This tool engages with current debates in educational technology, or “edtech”, that question the role of quantification and tracking in student learning. In pushing back against such trends in quantification, my project focuses on affects that cannot be readily quantified. In this vein, and in the influence of N. Katherine Hayles’ work on the posthuman, I am thinking through human interaction with machines, particularly on the tension between embodiment and disembodiment. In thinking about Hayles’ work, I’m specifically interested in how annotation may access embodied reactions to reading, and encourage the creation of extra-verbal meaning. In other words, how can annotation connect more directly to knowledge as feeling and affect, rather than knowledge as information that exists purely in a textual form?