Here's an Instant Way to Jump Start Peer-to-Peer Learning (Even Easy in a Huge Lecture Class). Really.

What’s the Easiest Way to Jump-Start Peer-to-Peer Learning--even if you are teaching 600 students?   We have the way.  Really.  If it's good enough for Junot Diaz, Lawrence Lessig, Drake, and Lil Wayne, it will work for you too.   Really.


We decided to make start-up open learning easy by using what is a free (but commercial) annotation and multi-media close marginalia tool to publish our student-written Field Notes to 21st Century Literacies.   Besides publishing it on and Github, it's now on  Rap Genius (originally Rap Exigesis),  a very cool and easy site used for annotating lyrics, from Milton to Lil Wayne, by something like 2 million visitors a month.  I know a lot of people who believe in the basic principles of Deweyite student-led, peer-to-peer learn by doing classrooms.  But everyone’s busy.  And it seems as if it just takes too much energy to learn new methods and principles, let alone an array of online tools. 

Rap Genius makes it easy to assign students peer-reviewing or reading and annotating an assignment.   The tool's profile and point system features actually help you simplify other complicated parts of a profs life--like keeping track of who is doing the reading, who is contributing to class interchange, and so forth while also facilitating peer learning.  Win-win, that's for sure!  [One very important caution, see #4 below:  this is a rap lyrics site so beware of the NSFW language, very loose and free use of N-word, misogyny, adult situations, explicit language and some explicit images added by others, and so forth.]

All your students have to do is register (it’s free) on the Rap Genius site and they can begin writing comments and notes on each line of a text.  Or they can add url’s for YouTube videos, music, photographs to amplify and annotate what they are reading.  They can also annotate one another’s multimedia marginalia, like an online reading group.  For those already involved in interactive digital learning, the Education Genius portal allows you or your students to post any text and invite everyone in the class to the site to annotate away.

Best of all, professors,  including those teaching enormous lecture classes: everything your students add to the site earns them points and becomes part of their “profile.”  That means there is an instant record of all they do and so an instant “grade book” for a prof, even if you have hundreds of students.   NB: it sure beats multiple-choice pop quizzes to keep track of whether your 600 students in a lecture class really did the reading—and it is a far better method for learning.


Here’s the url for Field Notes to Digital Literacies:  A Guide to New Theories, Methods, and Practices for Open Peer Teaching and Learning, available right now for your students’ reading and annotating on Rap Genius:


The six best things about this “instant” experiment in peer learning:

 (1) Your students will be reading about the theory and practice of peer-to-peer learning and some of the canonical texts (the Mozilla Manifesto, “The Cathedral and the Bazaar,” etc) even as they are writing their own annotations of those texts---they will be doing peer-participation and reading about it at the same time.  Here’s the url again: We’d love to hear from you about what you think of our book:

(2) Your students can add url’s and add music, images, other texts, bibliography, and their own ideas on Rap Genius—and comment on one another’s annotations.  It's a brilliant, new and intriguing way to teach close reading.  Even to a very large class.

(3)  Rap Genius is unbelievably easy;


(4)  It’s so fun in that it mixes up all the worlds we live in online. But the mix is also something you have to address directly and correct for in your classrooms.  My PhD Lab  colleague David Bell just put up a Frederic Jameson critical theory article for his graduate class to annotate;   and I see Drake’s new album is “trending.”  At our launch, we trended behind the new screen music to Grand Theft Auto 5 but ahead of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech.”   Really.   

And here is where you have to be careful since this is, in the end, a rap lyrics site with all that entails.  Remember FERPA caution for those teaching minors.  There is a lot of explicit language on the site.   And also remember this is a NSFA ("not safe for work") site for many workplaces:  always remember, you are sending them to a site built for rap lyrics.  Lots of profanity and disrespectful language everywhere.   You will need to remind students that you are using Education Genius where respect, decorum, and proper language--however you definite it--is important and where the kind of language and usage common in rap lyrics, such as the N-word, are inappropriate in a classroom.]

(5) The tool itself keeps track your students’ peer annotations.  In a seminar, it’s an online reading group to extend the class and, in a lecture, it is far superior to pop quizzes on every level. 

(6) Of course you reading what your students write as annotations on what my students wrote about participatory learning is a great way for you to learn too.   And we’ll learn from you.   That’s what peer-to-peer is about.  We all can be learning the future together. 



Mixing Worlds in Rap Genius

Okay, I'm ready to try this. Question: is access to the ability to annotate able  limited to the students in the class? 
What prevents anyone from annotating? If I have 600 in a class (I don't), I wouldn't want any more people signing on. 


Document Types

This looks amazing. So it seems that there aren't any page limits/file size restrictions on Rap Genius either, which is great for using this site as a teaching tool. As a composition instructor, my only concern is citations. How do you have students cite this work? Is there any way to add pagination? Obviously, page numbers are not required for MLA citation where none exist, but sometimes it's the easiest way to talk about a text in class ("Look at the second paragraph on page 24"). Have you found workarounds for this? Really, this is a minor question/concern. Really, I just want to say that this is amazing. I've had my studients using videoANT, which is great, but only for videos.