Case Studies from the Public Domain

Teaching Textual Analysis Using

Victorian Anthology, various authorsBook used: Victorian Anthology

Teaching Textual Analysis Using

When Professor Danahay teaches his third-year course on Victorian Gothic literature in face-to-face class meetings, he projects selections from the texts onto a screen for close textual analysis. Close reading and the use of quotations to document the source of an interpretation of a text are fundamental to his and other English courses. The texts that Professor Danahay assigns in the Victorian Gothic course are in the public domain and available from sites like Project Gutenberg. Like Montgomery et al. in Ways of Reading, Danahay guides his students through the process of analysis by asking them questions about the text to have them reflect on the process of reading, understanding and then analyzing the language used by the author.

Danahay expects the students to quote and discuss key terms, symbols and images in their papers following the model of class discussion. In his grading rubric handout, he emphasizes that understanding what is said or happens in a text is the first stage in analysis but expects them to move beyond this initial stage and provide their own analysis to receive a passing grade; he phrases this as the difference between “why” as opposed to “what” in their papers. In class, Danahay asks, “Why does a writer use certain words or symbols, or why does a certain event happen in a text?” Danahay had to modify this approach when courses went completely online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The tool allowed Danahay to incorporate textual analysis into synchronous online meetings. Danahay collaborated with the Public Domain Core Collection project to assemble an anthology of Victorian works in the public domain in Pressbooks ( Danahay used selections from the assigned texts for each synchronous online meeting of the course. The first half of the class meeting featured a general discussion of the themes in the text and images for that week after a short introductory PowerPoint presentation on the historical and cultural context. The texts were Victorian Gothic horror stories that embodied in their “monsters” deep-seated but largely unacknowledged fears of racial and class others (see for instance, Danahay’s “Dr. Jekyll’s Two Bodies”). For the second half of the meeting, students accessed the PressBook site using the tool via the Learning Management System (LMS). The students then started annotating the language of the text, discussing their interpretations with other students and with Danahay as they analyzed the author’s language in detail. These annotation exercises were not graded but were part of their overall participation mark which also included posting in the LMS forum for that week. proved highly successful in teaching the students how to focus on the language in a text and carry out an analysis of the significance. For instance, a student in a class discussion of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) noticed the significance of hands in the text and Danahay encouraged the student to follow this insight in terms of class issues (see below). This is the same method that Danahay would use in a face-to-face discussion of this text. Discussions built up around key parts of the text as students added to each other’s insights, with occasional amplifications or clarifications from Danahay. Annotating the text using became a collaborative exercise in real-time interpretation.

The student annotations in had the advantage over class discussion of being preserved for them to access when writing their papers. Danahay has found that students are very articulate in class discussions, but this does not always carry over into their writing. Annotating a text in meant that they started the process of articulating their thoughts before writing their papers. They were encouraged by Danahay to use their insights from the textual analysis in their final papers for the course. The annotations were therefore a prewriting exercise that meant the students would write more developed papers after initially working through their ideas using the tool. added to Professor Danahay’s tool chest of prewriting exercises, such as brainstorming and freewriting (see the Berkeley Student Writing Center “Before You Start Writing that Paper…”).

The student who made the annotation was later able to build on this insight during the session and make a sophisticated analysis of the episode in Dr. Jekyll’s bedroom when he involuntarily turns into Mr. Hyde:

“The dynamics of this relationship reverses once Dr. Jekyll loses control [of] his transformation: ‘Now the hand of Henry Jekyll … was large, firm, white and comely. But the hand which I now saw … was lean, corded, knuckly, of a dusky pallor and thickly shaded with a swart growth of hair’ (82). Before, Dr. Jekyll set the terms of when he chose to enter the body of the Other: he drank the potion and transformed at will. This encounter marks the end of his ability to control where and when the transformations take place. The hands signify the involuntary transformation from upper class to working class body and conveys that the situation is literally out of Dr. Jekyll’s hands, thereby shifting the power dynamic. With Mr. Hyde being able to appear without the potion at the end, Dr. Jekyll is forced to confront that his upper class identity has been compromised.”

The student quoted well from the text and built on the original insight into the importance of hands and identity in the text first articulated in the annotation. Danahay noticed a significant improvement in students’ use of textual analysis in their papers for the course after their experience with annotation. Given the success of in an online synchronous course, Professor Danahay is now using it in an asynchronous course to encourage student participation and discussion. Rather than schedule a live discussion, students are required to make at least one annotation by a certain date and then respond to their interpretations after the deadline. In an asynchronous course, Danahay does not want to respond to student comments until all of them have had a chance to express their ideas because they often defer to the professor’s interpretation as the “right” one whereas, like Montgomery et. al, Danahay feels that many interpretations of a text are possible.


Overall, in addition to teaching textual analysis skills, enabled Professor Danahay to build a sense of community in the course. Danahay approached online learning from a constructivist viewpoint (see Bronack et al.; Chau et. al.; Cheney and Bronack 60; Vygotsky). Additionally, student engagement and facilitating a sense of trust in Danahay as an instructor was extremely important. Establishing a connection between the instructor and students, or what Chakraborty and Nafukho term a “teaching presence,” is more challenging in an online than a face-to-face course meeting. Along with YouTube videos and LMS forum discussions, the tool helps strengthen social bonds among the students as well as Danahay’s presence as their teacher (see Hongladarom). Paloff and Pratt in Building Online Learning Communities emphasize online spaces as sites of community building (26) and this communal aspect of Danahay’s course is enhanced by by establishing “social presence” for Danahay and among the students as members of the course. “Social presence” can be broadly defined as the perceptions of others as “real people” (Gunawardena, 151), the ability of participants to project themselves “socially and emotionally” (Garrison 94) and the “feeling, perception, and reaction of being connected” (Tu and McIsaac 140) in an online course. The collaborative engagement in annotating a text using is, therefore, a tool that helps Danahay both teach essential analytical skills and establish “social presence” in an online course.

Works Cited

Berkeley Student Writing Center. “Before You Start Writing That Paper,”

Bronack, Stephen, Robert Sanders, Amelia Cheney, Richard Riedl, John Tashner, and Nita Matzen. “Presence Pedagogy: Teaching and Learning in a 3D Virtual Immersive World,” International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, Vol. 20, No. 1, 2008, pp. 59-69.

Chakraborty, Misha and Fredrick Muyia Nafukho. “Strategies for Virtual Learning Environments: Focusing on Teaching Presence and Teaching Immediacy,” Internet learning, 2015.

Chau, Michael, Ada Wong, Minhong Wang, Songnia Lai, Kristal W.Y Chan, Tim M. H. Li,  Debbie Chu, Ian K. W. Chan, and Wai-Ki Sung. “Using 3D Virtual Environments to Facilitate Students in Constructivist Learning,” Decision Support Systems, Vol. 56, December 2013, pp. 115-121.

Cheney, Amelia and Stephen Bronack. “Presence Pedagogy as Framework for Research in Virtual Environments.” International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations, (IJGCMS) Vol. 3, No.1, 2011, pp. 79-85.

Danahay, Martin A. “Dr. Jekyll’s Two Bodies.” Nineteenth Century Contexts, Vol. 35, No. 1, March 2013, pp. 23-40.

Garrison, D. Randy. E-learning in the 21st Century. Third edition. Routledge, 2016.

Gunawardena, C., & Zittle, F. “Social Presence as a Predictor of Satisfaction within a Computer-mediated Conferencing Environment,” American Journal of Distance Education, Vol. 11, no. 3, pp. 8–26.

Hongladarom, Soraj. The Online Self: Externalism, Friendship and Games. Springer, 2016.

Montgomery, Martin, Alan Durant, Nigel Fabb, Tom Furniss and Sara Mills. Ways of Reading: Advance Reading Skills for Students of English Literature. Routledge, 2007.

Paloff, Rena. M and Keith Pratt. Building Online Learning Communities: Effective Strategies for the Virtual Classroom. Jossey-Bass, 2007.

Stevenson, Robert Louis. Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886). Third edition. Edited by Martin A. Danahay. Broadview Press, 2015.

Tu, C. H., and McIsaac, M. S. “An Examination of Social Presence to Increase Interaction in Online Classes.” The American Journal of Distance Education. Vol. 16, no. 3, 2002, pp. 131–150.

Vygotsky, Lev Semyonovich. Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Harvard University Press, 1978.


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