Social reading offers learners the opportunity to work together to annotate a text. Students can post asynchronously before coming to class or synchronously as an in-class reading/writing activity. Reading together facilitates textual interpretation, cultural connections, and allows students to share what they’re thinking as they think it.
Social reading (Blyth, 2013), or digital collaborative reading, unites students around a text in an online format. SocialBook is an online library and digital annotation platform where users privately or publicly post excerpts of text, poetry, or other readings. Instructors can create private groups, which facilitates collaborative reading in small groups or as a whole-class activity. Annotation is simple! Highlight a word, phrase, or entire paragraph, and select “Add Note” or “Underline”. “Add Note” posts a comment for everyone in the group to read. Once a note has been added, users may reply in a chain format. Much like social media platforms students are already accustomed to, SocialBook is easy to use and is visually attractive.
Reading in a digital format changes our conception of what it means to read and interact with a text. Reading and engaging in online interaction facilitates extended in-person conversations among students and turns reading into a collaborative activity. Social reading may be used with any level of L2 proficiency, depending on task design. Users may comment in either the L1 or L2 (or a combination of both), on any number of textual aspects.
SocialBook in action:
Instructor Abby R. Broughton uses SocialBook in a fourth-semester French writing course. Students read Faïza Guène’s novel Kiffe kiffe demain (2004) in print format throughout the semester. Every few weeks (four times total), Broughton uploads a short excerpt of text from the assigned reading onto SocialBook. Students, divided into groups of four, are asked to post one comment before coming to class and respond to three of their peers by the following class. Students comment and respond in French. Broughton’s prompt is simple: Quels aspects trouvez-vous intéressants ? Pourquoi ? Écrivez un commentaire de 75-100 mots. (What aspects do you find interesting? Why? Write a 75-100-word comment.) Broughton does not indicate a word count for replies, though she makes a point to discuss what constitutes a “thoughtful response” in class, noting that replies should seek to extend the conversation, not simply agree or disagree. In class, Broughton uses student comments as a means of starting the conversation before moving on to discuss passages not included in the SocialBook assignment. In this way, students are able to discuss more elements of the text than usual in the 50-minute classroom format and extend the conversation online to collaboratively discuss and interpret text outside the classroom.
1) First, the instructor must set up a personal SocialBook account.
2) Next, upload the document by copying and pasting text into SocialBook’s reader or by uploading an ePUB file. When choosing a text, keep Copyright and Fair Use guidelines in mind – public domain texts are always safe, but properly cited excerpts may also be deemed appropriate, depending on the context. Check with your librarian to discuss which texts (and what amount) can be used. For more information, consult:
3) Once the text has been uploaded, provide the identifying information (title, author, date).
4) Next, create student groups within the text by selecting “New Group”. A pop-up will appear with a private link that may be sent to students. Create as many groups as you like, noting that students will not be able to participate in discussions outside of their own group.
5) Email students the link to join their group or post the links on the classroom learning management system (LMS) page. This link will prompt students to create their own SocialBook account.
6) To ensure student privacy, it is recommended students only use their first names and choose non-personal images as their avatar/profile picture.
Excerpts from the novel Kiffe kiffe demain (Faïza Guène, 2004) – small portions used in private groups for educational purposes, complying with Fair Use guidelines.
Carl Blyth (University of Texas at Austin, eComma)