Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about the Hypothesis Social Annotation Tool

This article provides instructors with answers to frequently asked questions about the Hypothesis annotation tool.

Covered in this article:

What is Hypothesis?

Hypothesis is a social annotation tool that is fully integrated with Canvas. Using Hypothesis, instructors can make PDFs and websites annotatable. Students can annotate course readings collaboratively, sharing comments and replying to peer’s comments. Instructors can also create annotation assignments. Through Hypothesis-enabled assignments, students submit their annotations for feedback and grading in Canvas. This short video demonstrates how to use Hypothesis in Canvas. 

This article provides additional information on Hypothesis use at UWM.

How can I use Hypothesis in my course?

  • Have students ask each other questions, share ideas, and collaborate around their learning.
  • Invite students to annotate the syllabus.
  • Make readings annotation-enabled to create an optional space for students to connect with each other.
  • Guide students through the reading with instructor annotations.
  • Use Hypothesis for seminar-style discussion online.
  • Recommend that students annotate the lecture notes.

How can I get Hypothesis support and more information?

  • CETL is happy to help you setup and use Hypothesis in your course
  • Please review the CETL schedule for upcoming Hypothesis workshops
  • UWM's Hypothesis support engineer is available at: support@hypothesis
  • Liquid Margins is a podcast-like show on Fridays, which talks about how to use the Hypothesis tools.

How do I assign Hypothesis-enabled materials?

Hypothesis has been enabled for use in all UWM credit-bearing (SIS) courses. There are two ways to use Hypothesis, graded and ungraded. When creating a Hypothesis-enabled Assignment in Canvas, instructors can evaluate and grade student annotations using the SpeedGrader and grades will automatically flow into the Canvas Gradebook.

In contrast to a graded assignment, you can provide an annotatable document or website link directly in the Modules area. This type of Hypothesis-enabled material cannot be graded. Normally, this would be used for readings in which Hypothesis annotation was an optional assignment. This tutorial explains using Hypothesis within Modules in Canvas.

How do I create a Hypothesis-enabled assignments?

  • This tutorial will help an instructor create a Hypothesis-enabled Assignment in Canvas.
  • Once the Hypothesis-enabled Assignment is created, be sure to add the assignment to the appropriate Canvas module on the Home page. This tutorial describes adding an Assignment to Modules.
  • You can’t add multiple PDFs to a Hypothesis-enabled assignment. You can only have one reading per assignment.

What strategies can I use at the beginning of the semester to help orient my students to Hypothesis?

  • At the beginning of semester, have students annotate the syllabus. What do they already now? What questions do they have? What are they excited to learn? 
  • Have students annotate early readings on building community, self-care, or being an online learner.
  • Be sure to communicate the advantages of using to your students (e.g. annotation makes reading visible, and makes reading social).

How do my students learn how to use Hypothesis?

Clearly articulating your expectations for how students should use Hypothesis will go a long way in preparing students for success. Many instructors demonstrate using the tool during a face-to-face class, in a synchronous class meeting (using Collaborate Ultra), or in a screen recorded video (using Kaltura Capture) posted to Canvas. 

Hypothesis provides a guide that serves as an introduction to the Hypothesis LMS App for students. This guide can be linked on Canvas to help orient your students and and support them through out the semester.

Hypothesis also created a video tutorial showing student how to annotate Hypothesis documents in Canvas. You can embed this video in a Page in Canvas and share the tutorial with your students. This tutorial will show you how to embed a video in a Page. This tutorial show how to add a Page to Modules in Canvas.

What are common issues students may experience using Hypothesis?

  • If a student annotates and posts to themselves and not the course, the Teacher cannot see the annotations. You’ll need to let your students know this information.
  • From within, the eye icon turns on and off the highlights. It’s a good idea to tell your students to read the document without the highlights and annotations first. After the first read, students can go back and re-read adding annotations and highlights as assigned.
  • When using in a synchronous way, tells students that new annotations are shown as a red circle and you can select this to see the annotations that have occurred since you last posted.

How can I use groups with Hypothesis?

In general, group size for Hypothesis follows similar recommendations for discussion group size. In-depth, threaded conversations should have smaller groups, ideally between 5-10 students. Groups smaller than 5 may suffer from a lack of new ideas and groups larger than 10-15 may become too overwhelming to follow. In comparison, if you want students to add questions/comments without replying to peers, groups can be larger -- 15-20 students.

Creating Hypothesis-enabled group assignments is not as straight-forward as creating normal group assignments. For Hypothesis-enabled group assignments, you need to create separate “digital fingerprint” PDFs for each group and then create separate Hypothesis-enabled assignments for each group. 

Better groups integration is on the Hypothesis roadmap for future development, but for now, here are the steps required: 

Step #1: Create separate “fingerprint” PDF files and add these to separate assignment for each group

Once you've created separate PDF files using the "re-fingerprinter" utility at DocDrop, you can use this tutorial to upload these PDFs to the Files area in your Canvas course site.

Step #2: Create separate Hypothesis-enabled assignments for each group

You’ll need to create separate Hypothesis-enabled assignments for each group. You can use this tutorial for creating Hypothesis-enabled assignments in Canvas.

Step #3: Assign each Hypothesis-enabled assignment to students

Unfortunately, there’s no way to use the integrated “groups” feature in Canvas assignments. As a work-around, there are two ways to assign students to Hypothesis-enabled assignments. Which method you choose is largely dependent on how many students you have in your class.

  • Fewer than 25 students

If you have fewer than 25 students, you can assign the assignment to individual students. This tutorial explains this process of adding individual students to assignments. In the "Assign to Specific Student” step, you would individually add each student in the “group” to the assignment. 

The advantage of this approach is that only students in that group can see the assignment, which results in less confusion for students. The other advantage is that the grading is slightly more streamlined. Only students added to an assignment are expected to complete that assignment. In other words, if a student is not added to the assignment, the absence of a score will not count against their final grade. The obvious disadvantage is that it takes time to manually add each student, and you cannot copy the assignment in a way that includes previously “assigned” students. Each assignment during the semester must have students added manually.

  • More than 25 students

If you have more than 25 students but fewer than 100 students, you may consider creating separate Hypothesis-enabled assignments, but not manually adding students. This will result in separate assignments that can be seen by all the students in your class. In order to help your students navigate and find which assignment they are assigned to, it is a good idea to include students’ names in the assignment title, for example, “Hypothesis Assignment - Group A (Harry, Ron, Ginny, and Hermione)”. 

The advantage of this approach is that it is very simple to setup. However, there may be more confusion as students navigate to the correct “group” assignment. Students can also see other groups annotations, which may or may not be desired. Finally, you’ll need to setup Assignment Groups to drop the lowest scores in order to ensure that students aren’t penalized for not completing Hypothesis-enabled assignment that have not been assigned to them. For example, if you have 4 group assignments, you will drop the three lowest scores. Using this approach, you are telling Canvas to ignore the 3 assignments that Harry Potter didn’t complete since he was only assigned to one Hypothesis-enabled assignment.

This tutorial will explain how to drop the lowest score in an Assignment GroupFor this approach, it is advised that you create a separate Assignment Group for each set of Hypothesis-enabled assignments. For example, put the following Hypothesis-enabled assignments into the same Assignment Group: “Annotation Assignment #1 - Group A,” “Annotation Assignment #1 - Group B,” “Annotation Assignment #1 - Group C,” and “Annotation Assignment #1 - Group D” then drop the 3 lowest scores in that Assignment Group.

  • More than 100 students

If you have more than 100 students and you plan to have multiple Hypothesis-enabled assignments (e.g. weekly) throughout the semester, the workload associated with either approach above may be prohibitive. If you are in this situation, UWM Canvas Administrators may be able to move your course to a different area in Canvas, which would give you the ability to create “sections” in your course site. Here’s a tutorial on assigning assignments to sections.  

Sections act more like “groups" in Canvas assignments, making this approach very simple to setup and grade. However, moving your course should be performed before the semester begins to minimize student enrollment issues. In addition, this solution places your course at a greater security risk. This type of course gives you, and anyone enrolled in the course with Teacher/TA access, the ability to add students to your course site who are not officially enrolled in the course. If this were to occur, even accidentally, it would be considered a security breach and would need to be reported to Information Security who would conduct an audit.

How can images be included in Hypothesis posts?

  • Images that are included in posts must “live” on a website. The image has to be publicly available on the web to add to the annotation post. Images can’t be uploaded to Hypothesis. 
  • Once you find an image on the web, right click and select “Copy Image Address” and then paste this address into the image icon in the text editor within a post. Here’s a tutorial from Hypothesis on adding images to posts.
  • Google Arts and Culture can be used to annotate images.
  • If there’s an image included in a document, you can add annotations to text around an image, but not on the image itself.

      How do I create an OCRed PDF document? 

      You need to have Adobe Acrobat Professional installed on your computer through Creative Cloud. If you don’t have this software, as an UWM employee, you can procure a free license from UITS Software Asset Management. 

      Open the PDF and determine if it need to be OCRed. To do this, attempt to select the text. If you can select the text, like the image below, the PDF is OCRed. 


      If you can’t select the text, but instead draw a box on the document, like the screenshot below, you will need to perform optical character recognition. 


      If you need to perform OCR, click the Tools tab from inside Adobe Acrobat Professional, then select the Scan & OCR button. 


      Click the Recognize Text menu and select In this File


      Then select the Recognize Text button.


      A progress bar will appear on the bottom right side of the window. Once completed, save the PDF and upload to Canvas Files using this tutorial.

      Here’s a video that produced on this process:

      Why is my OCRed PDF documents not highlightable in Hypothesis?

      In rare cases, Acrobat detects that the beginning of the document has been OCRed, but doesn’t continue recognizing the rest of the document. Fortunately, there is a less sensitive, free software tool that usually doesn’t have this problem. After using the OCR detection in OCR Space, Hypothesis recognizes all the characters in the document.

      How do I grade student annotations?

      Hypothesis has been seamlessly integrated with the SpeedGrader in Canvas, making it easier to assess student annotations. The integration singles out each student’s contributions to a conversation on a document and enables instructors to enter a grade and written feedback for an annotated reading assignment. This tutorial explains how to use the SpeedGrader to assess student annotations.

      Why is the submission date wrong in the SpeedGrader?

      When assessing student annotations in the SpeedGrader, you may notice that the submission is shown with a “Dec 31, 2000 at 6pm” date.


      This date is a deliberate attempt by Hypothesis developers to allow the tool to work within the constraints of the Canvas SpeedGrader. Because students might visit an assignment, annotate on that reading, leave Canvas, and come back to annotate again, Hypothesis-enabled assignments do not have a “Submit” button, which is required for the SpeedGrader to register an accurate date and time for the submission. As a work-around, Hypothesis uses a hard-coded submission time stamp of “Dec 31, 2000 at 6pm” because this date is far enough in the past to not be mistaken for a real submission date. With that said, each student annotation contains a date/time stamp for the annotation and any edits. As a result, you’ll find the date and time listed on the individual annotation within the Hypothesis tool to be accurate.

      How do I add a rubric to a Hypothesis-enabled assignment in Canvas?

      Start by creating an Assignment that is an Online submission type. This tutorial will explain the process. If you have not already done so, create the rubric using this tutorial. Attach the rubric to the assignment using these instructions. After the rubric is attached to the assignment, change the submission type to an "External Tool" submission type and setup your Hypothesis reading. Use this tutorial and be sure to select Hypothesis in the "Configure External Tool" step.

      How do I provide access to the rubric after the assignment is changed to a Hypothesis "External Tool" submission type?

      Create a PDF of the rubric and then add this to a Canvas Page that describes the assignment and includes the rubric. Here’s an article with some addition information on this option. In your browser, you can "Print to PDF" and then change the settings to allow the rubric to fit on a single page. Then upload the PDF and attach it to the Page as a File. Here’s a screenshot of the settings I used to create a PDF of the rubric in Canvas. This is using Chrome on a Mac, but you could likely adapt the settings to your browser and OS.


      With normal Canvas assignments, you can copy your course to future semesters using the Course Import tool. When this type of copy is performed, Canvas will make a copy of the Hypothesis-enabled assignment or module item, and it will create a copy the PDF file. 

      However, there is a known issue in which Hypothesis integration does not update the assignment or module item to refer to the new file. As a result, the new Hypothesis-enabled assignment or module item will continue to look for the old version of the file that resides in the old course. When this happen, Hypothesis shows students and instructors an "Authorize Hypothesis: Hypothesis needs your authorization to launch this assignment" error message. 


      To fix this issue, you need to re-link the Hypothesis-anabled assignment to the newly copied PDF file. Here is a great tutorial from Hypothesis which explains the process of fixing a broken Canvas File link.

      Keywords:Hypothesis Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) Supporting Students Creating assignments Groups Beginning of the semester strategies annotation ideas images in posts support OCR Optical Character Recognized Adobe Acrobat rubric grading   Doc ID:108215
      Owner:Amy M.Group:UW-Milwaukee Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning
      Created:2021-01-08 15:26 CDTUpdated:2021-02-10 18:33 CDT
      Sites:UW-Milwaukee Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning
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