eNotations: Produce Your Own Critical Edition In Class

Can students produce their own learning content? Cathy Davidson (@cathyndavidson) thinks so, and has been challenging educators to make this happen. Last semester I modestly attempted answer her call by asking my students to create their own annotated critical edition of a literary text. This assignment was part of a “Literary Research” seminar, a gateway course that introduces students to research methodologies for the literature major. One of its pedagogical goals is to train students to recognize how the critical reception of a text changes over time.

Towards this aim, I created an “eNotation” assignment with the help of eNotated Classics, a company that publishes both annotated critical editions by scholars and hypertext editions for class assignments. I worked with John Ashenhurst from eNotated Classics, who constructed an electronic hypertext version of our central primary text. (Full disclosure: eNotated Classics allowed me to pilot their software for free.) My students were assigned twenty annotations over a two week period. Each annotation needed to include an analysis of some lines from the text and a citation of the source they had used. When completed, each student’s primary text looked similar to the sample below:



What I Liked About Using the eNotated Classics Software:

1. eNotated Classics set up an individual copy of the text for each student, making it relatively easy to assess each one’s individual contributions.

2. The annotations were date and time stamped on the cloud-based software, making it easy to see if a student had been late with his or her assignment.

3. Students enjoyed the assignment, and told me that it helped them to better understand the relationship between close reading and literary criticism.


How the Software Could be Improved:

1. Inserting a search function for the annotations would be useful. I would like to be able to search through annotations by keywords, name, and date and time stamps.

2. The interface was not easy to navigate. To switch between students required a number of unnecessary clicks, which slowed my grading.

3. It was not possible to collate all the annotations into one collective text. I was very disappointed with this. That would have been very helpful for the class as a whole, and serve as a lasting souvenir from the class. However, in recent communication, John told me that their software has been updated to make this possible.

4. The annotations were not exportable or sharable. I would have liked my students to be able to easily share their annotations to email, Twitter or Facebook.  John informed me that there may be some attempt at Facebook/Twitter integration in the future, and that they will be adding new functionality to allow instructors to create and administer class blogs and overview/news pages about the class.


In Summary:

Using eNotated Classics to create a class critical edition made for a very successful assignment. My students reported that once they got the hang of annotating the electronic edition, it helped them to understand how criticism changed over time, and how they needed to navigate different sorts of criticism to get a concrete handle on the text. Also, as much as I’d like to claim my assignment as an original idea, it was not new. My Stockton College colleagues Tom Kinsella (@kinsella), Deb Gussman (@debgussman) and Lisa Honaker all created their own electronic hypertext editions for their classes in the early 2000s.

However, I decided to go with eNotated Classics instead, because this made my own workload considerably lighter (I did not need to set up the platform, troubleshoot, or create accounts for my students to login to their editions.)  I also liked how the company has been relatively responsive to user suggestions. I may use this assignment and the eNotated Classics service again, when I return to teaching the following academic year.


Have You Ever Created A Class Critical Edition?

  • You can play with a sample eNotated text here.
  • eNotated Classics is looking for more instructors to pilot the service. If you’re interested, contact John Ashenhurst at  johnashenhurst [at]

[Creative Commons Licensed Image by FreeFoto]


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