Social Reading in Pedagogical Practice @MLA 2021

For this MLA Convention 2021 the MLA Committee on Scholarly Editions invites everyone to a roundtable discussion about social reading in pedagogical practice.

Each panelist will provide a very brief (5 min) overview of their position. Dr. Earhart will then offer a guided discussion that includes audience queries and commentary.

Presider and Organizer: Amy E. Earhart

Lee Skallerup Bessette (Georgetown U): “Public Intimacy: Using Technology to Create Space”:  In a recent View from Venus podcast, scholar and podcaster Hannah McGregor noted how her podcast on re-reading and talking about the Harry Potter books provided an intimate space for talking about the books, while also allowing others to listen in and experience these discussions. In the past, I have used digital annotation tools to collaboratively read a given text, but it doesn’t quite re-create the intimacy of reading a text, nor does the follow-up large class discussion allow for intense, intimate conversations about the text. I want to explore the tension between reading in public and the assumed (but also experienced) intimacy of reading. How can we, as instructors, create these kinds of spaces that McGregor refers to. In particular, as someone teaching online, I am interested in creating these spaces exclusively online for ourselves and our students. The case-study I wish to explore is my own course teaching Québécois language and culture in an condensed, online environment.

Bio: Lee Skallerup Bessette is a Learning Design Specialist at the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship at Georgetown University as well as Affiliated Faculty in the MA in Learning, Design, and Technology. Her research interests include digital pedagogy, inclusive course design, as well as narrative and affect in teaching and learning. She was a contributing writer at ProfHacker, and she has a forthcoming edited volume on Affect and Alt-Ac Careers from University Press of Kansas. 


C. R. Grimmer (U of Washington, Seattle): “Activist Poetics and Active Reading in a Time of Social Media”:  In September 2018, Jesse Lichtenstein published an article in The Atlantic: “How Poetry Came to Matter Again.” Lichtenstein offers a genealogy of contemporary activist poets rewriting the “lyric” and “avant-garde” alike by taking seriously digital media’s active readership base to challenge a genre historically dominated by white poets. As Lichtenstein traces this shift across poet-activists – Chen Chen, Aziza Barnes, Danez Smith, and Morgan Parker to name a few – he cites National Book Award Shortlist author Danez Smith’s astute observation that many stories have been already circulating, but now in “more public ways”: Kaveh Akbar’s 28k followers, Smith’s 300k YouTube views, and poetry readership doubling among 18-to-34-year-olds over the past five years.

On this roundtable, I will outline how my DH and Public Humanities project, The Poetry Vlog (TPV) responds to and builds on this turn in poetry. For context: TPV is an interactive podcast and YouTube teaching channel dedicated to building social justice coalitions through dialogue-based poetry, arts, and cultural studies active reading. Seasons 1 and 2 aired 2018 – 2019 to over 6,000 cumulative views and 24,000 cumulative listens across 55 episodes, responding to active readership and community-driven pedagogy online. Now in its third season (25 episodes), TPV received support from a Mellon Foundation fellowship at The Simpson Center for the Humanities and extends its pedagogical work through seven student Research Assistants.

In this roundtable discussion, I will first outline TPV’s research and teaching methods, which combine arts-based, participatory, and literary active reading strategies. Then, I will pose discussion questions about using YouTube and podcast distributors for both analyzing and participating in poets’ self-positioning on social media – and the active readership communities that gather around them.

Bio:  C. R. Grimmer, who also goes by Chelsea Grimmer and uses she/her and they/them pronouns interchangeably, is a poet, scholar, and lecturer at The University of Washington Seattle and Bothell campuses. Their books include The Lyme Letters, forthcoming 09/30/2020 from Texas Tech University Press as the Walt McDonald First Book Award Recipient, and O–(ezekiel’s wife), a chapbook and audiobook collaboration from GASHER Journal and Press. C. R. is currently the Public Scholarship Project Director in the UW Department of English, where they are also a Lecturer and “Language, Literature, Culture” Series Editor.  C. R. created and hosts The Poetry Vlog, has poems in journals such as Poetry Magazine, FENCE Magazine, and [PANK], and has published articles in journals such as The Comparatist. For more or to be in touch, visit

Amanda Licastro (Stevenson U): “Collaborative Reading Communities: Annotation on Page and Screen”:  Despite the proliferation of popular discourse claiming that reading online effectively ruins our ability to concentrate (see Carr; LaFarge; Jabr), the need to access, comprehend, and evaluate online resources is only increasing. In my courses, I scaffold the reading process through a three-pronged method: exposing students to historical and current research on reading practices, engaging students in social annotation, and facilitating the transfer of digital literacy practices from the use of online annotation tools to original multimodal compositions. A 2018 survey of 511 four-year institutions from the University of Indiana found that 97% of faculty believe it is “important” or “very important” that students come to class having completed their reading, while statistics from the ACT indicate that only 51% of students are prepared for college level reading. To address this inequity, it is important to frame reading as an act of shared learning, from which we – instructors and students – will work together to decipher a text. To do this, I begin by exposing students to the digital collection of readers interventions found in pre-1923 publications gathered by the Book Traces initiative. Marginalia demonstrates that many 19th century readers used these spaces to communicate ideas socially, and through multiple modes. Working from this historical context, we move this concept of annotating for an outside audience into the digital space by collaboratively annotating an evolving set of articles surrounding the transition from print to digital reading from across the disciplines using allows for public scholarship or private inter-class communication through the creation of groups, and offers WYSIWYG functionality for low-barrier to entry multimodal annotation. Working in this space prepares students to apply these techniques in their digital essays on the topic. In this session, I will explain how I use the data gleaned from student-generated online annotations to identify topics that cultivate equity in class discussions and activities. Sample assignments, student work, and evidence from final reflection papers will be provided to demonstrate the effectiveness of this approach.

Bio: Amanda Licastro, PhD is the Assistant Professor of Digital Rhetoric at Stevenson University, and serves on both the Editorial Collective of the Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy and the Executive Council the Committee on Digital Humanities for the MLA. Her research explores the intersection of technology and writing, including book history, dystopian literature, and digital humanities, with a focus on multimodal composition and Extended Reality. Her co-edited collection, Composition As Big Data, is under contract with the University of Pittsburgh Press.

Lindsey Seatter (U Victoria / Kwantlen Polytechnic U): “Social Reading in Pedagogical Practice: Social Reading, Social Writing, and Social Annotation”:  This presentation examines and evaluates tools and projects that encourage social reading and social writing through the facilitation of social annotation. ​With the rise of the Web 2.0 movement, the proliferation of digital resources, and the emergence of collaborative Humanities methods, annotation strategies have shifted from static to dynamic—from a practice often carried out in isolation to one compatible (and, arguably, enhanced) by collaboration. This paper reintroduces annotation as an open, social, scholarly practice and underscores how productive communities of practice can be fostered through this type of digital exchange.

With a particular eye towards pedagogical environments, this presentation will explore how text-based annotation tools can be used to facilitate productive online engagement through virtual reading/writing communities. ​By surveying a wide-range of web-based tools or plugins (such as ​​ and ​CommentPress) ​and text-specific annotation environments (such as Open Utopia​ and ​Infinite Ulysses​​), this paper aims to develop a list of best practices for instructors interested in introducing social annotation to their pedagogy. Resources are critically evaluated for their ​design, usability, and applicability to pedagogical intervention. This presentation aims to inform educators of the open annotation resources readily available, provide a concrete understanding of how to effectively integrate open annotation into the classroom, and to encourage renewed pedagogical practice.

Bio: Lindsey Seatter (@lindseyseatter; ​​) is a PhD candidate studying the British Romantic period and Digital Humanities. Her research exists at the intersections of narrative theory, women writers, the rise of the novel, and communities of practice. She has given presentations at national and international conferences on female literary networks, reading Jane Austen with computers, and teaching digital Romanticism. She works as a Research Assistant in the Electronic Textual Cultures Lab and an Associate Director (Conference & Colloquium) of the Digital Humanities Summer Institute.

Holly Wiegand (Boston U): “Playing Jane(s): Narrative Multiplicity and Community in Videogame Adaptations of Austen”:  As early as SETA’s 1989 The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, videogames have regularly adapted established works of literature, translating traditional texts into dynamic interactive experiences. Such adaptations offer distinct opportunities for narrative engagement both independently and communally as objects of popular culture. This paper calls attention to three recent Jane Austen videogames that distinctively draw upon Austen: Worthing & Moncrieff’s strategy-based visual novel, Austen Translation; No Crusts Interactive’s endless runner, Stride and Prejudice; and 3 Turns Production’s massively multiplayer online role-playing game, Ever, Jane. Each game’s vastly different designs and mechanics engage with and contribute to the player’s experience of Austen’s oeuvre and world. As games scholar Grant Tavinor suggests, a videogame is paradoxically a mass art that is subject to multiple varying interpretive experiences. Therefore, the adaptation of traditional narratives—such as novels—into games offers reader/players opportunities not only to read again, but also to read within and around texts in defamiliarizing modes and alongside others. These games teach us more about the Austen narratives and contexts we know well and how they might be read individually and collectively. I argue that examining Austen texts next to these adaptations creates new pedagogical opportunities for student learning and involvement in the games’ calls for strategic decision-making, collaboration, and creativity in Austen’s worlds. Moreover, considering developers’ choices as readerly choices in translating Austen into single-player and competitive- or cooperative-multiplayer experiences offers useful insight into the construction of narratives, reader agency and praxis, and popular understandings of texts. These games expand modern Jane Austen iconography in staging interactive and immersive experiences which are equally aimed toward communities of new inductees and devoted fans, imagining Austen for the twenty-first century student and scholar alike.

Bio: Holly Wiegand is a doctoral student in English at Boston University, studying Victorian literature and prose. Within this era, she emphasizes the intersection of religion and social reform in the novel, particularly with regard to women’s voices and agency as moral activists in the church, home, and larger culture. She is also interested in modern cultural engagements with traditional literature in interactive media. 

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