Techniques for “Warm Calling” Using Collaborative Annotation from Danica Sumpter’s Difficult Dialogues Workshop

Written by Dr. Sarah Ropp

On Friday, April 23, the Difficult Dialogues program welcomed Professor Danica Sumpter to lead our fourth and final faculty-led dialogic pedagogy workshop for the Spring 2021 semester. Sumpter presented an interactive session entitled “‘Warm Calling’ and Collaborative Annotation” to close out this successful and enriching series, which has also included a workshop on self-care led by Prof. Gloria González-López, a workshop on multi-modal approaches to dialogue presented by Prof. Katie Dawson and Beth Link, and a workshop on navigating positionality with students led by Prof. Shetal Vohra-Gupta. In this final workshop, Sumpter presented the notion of “warm calling” as a desirable, effective alternative to “cold calling,” and described how she has used the collaborative annotation tool Hypo.thesis over the past two semesters to prepare students to engage in dialogue. 

Below, find some terms, tools, and techniques explored in Sumpter’s workshop — all of which are broadly adaptable across discipline and content. 

What Is Warm Calling? 

Traditional “cold calling” involves posing a question and then immediately selecting an individual student or group to respond (or, in its more extreme version, calling on the student first and then asking the question!). In contrast, “warm calling” implies that students will have the opportunity to prepare for being called on to some extent. If cold calling “put[s] [students] in the position to think quickly and speak publicly while the rest of the class may or may not be also thinking as hard about the question,” warm calling has the potential to benefit both the individual called on and the rest of the class. 

How Does Collaborative Annotation Support Warm Calling? 

Sumpter explained that collaborative annotation via the Hypo.thesis app has been a crucial strategy for preparing students to engage in dialogue with one another meaningfully and purposefully in two brand-new elective courses she has taught during the past two semesters of online teaching and learning: Race, Power, Privilege and Health (Fall 2020) and The Art and Science of Teaching Nursing (Spring 2021). These courses both involve complex, sensitive content, to which students need to bring an openness to new ideas and a willingness to confront their own positionality, privilege, and assumptions. 

Sumpter’s procedure is quite simple: using the Hypo.thesis plugin for Canvas, she uploads a text to the course site and assigns students to read and annotate the text together by the night before the class is scheduled to meet to discuss the text at hand. Sumpter can prime the students to attend to certain questions by inserting questions into the margins, or help them understand uncommon or debated terms by providing definitions in the margins. Using the various features of Hypo.thesis, students can respond to the questions Sumpter poses for them as well as highlight and comment on sections of text that strike them as particularly interesting or puzzling. They can respond to each other in comment threads, thus initiating a conversation about the text in writing before they are called upon to do so orally during class. 

Ahead of the synchronous course meeting, Sumpter reads through the comments students have made, looking for trends, misunderstandings, particularly poignant comments, and questions. This, she explained, gives her valuable insight into students’ understanding of the text ahead of their class discussion. She uses their collective annotations to guide the questions she formulates for students to respond to in dialogue. In class, Sumpter will highlight trends as well as individual responses, inviting students to reflect and further elaborate on their responses.

The benefits to students, Sumpter has observed, are many:

1) Students who are typically less likely to engage in oral dialogue are often more confident about participating in class, since it is easier to expand upon a comment one has already made than articulate a complete response on the spot. 

2) The class discussion can begin at a higher level of rigor, thus maximizing precious class time. Having already begun a dialogue with one another in writing, students are more prepared and willing to engage in a “brave space” for dialogue in which they grapple with deeper and more complex questions.

3) The often unwieldy, tiresome discussion board is streamlined into a process that students express liking much, much better. Rather than read a text on their own and then register their commentary on a Canvas discussion board, students respond both to the text and to each other in the same, conveniently public space. 

Other Benefits of Collaborative Annotation: Community Building, Trauma-Informed Pedagogy, and UDL

Sumpter also noted that collaborative annotation played an important and very positive role in helping her students build community with one another in the digital space — the aspect of in-person learning that students report missing above any other during the pandemic. She observed that students started augmenting their annotations with unexpected extras to support each other’s learning: links to YouTube videos and funny memes related to the text’s content, helpful definitions of terms, and personal experiences. Sumpter quoted a student who commented that their experience with collaborative annotation via Hypo.thesis made them rethink their assumptions about community-building in an asynchronous learning environment. This student concluded that building community with classmates “was not an impossibility, but easily attainable.” 

Additionally, it was pointed out by faculty attendees of the workshop that warm calling, supported by practices like collaborative annotation, is a meaningful, concrete, simple, and easily implementable practice to support trauma-informed pedagogy and Universal Design for Learning principles

Additional Resources 

Adams, B. & Wilson, N. (2020).Building Community in Asynchronous Online Higher Education Courses Through Collaborative Annotation.”

“10 Ways to Annotate with Students” (blog post from Hypo.thesis)

“Getting Started with Perusall” (another collaborative annotation app that includes certain features that Hypo.thesis doesn’t, such as the ability to group students into smaller sections to annotate a text and the ability to grade annotations and register grades automatically in the Canvas gradebook)

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