Tyler Wenzel is the organizational brains behind the structure of many of 11trees’ licensable Libraries as well as over half a dozen Libraries custom designed for 11trees’ clients. Here he shares some of his top tips for designing an easy-to-navigate Library.
In 2018, the institution I worked for asked me to be part of a small pilot program to test using Annotate PRO with some content they had loaded into it. I quickly had two thoughts: the first was that it was an awesome tool; the second was that finding content was a pain.
To make a long story short, the feedback I provided about our use of Annotate PRO led to me being asked to redesign and add to the Libraries we were using and to 11trees adding Sub-Groups as a way to organize content. That experience taught me a lot about Library organization and led to 11trees’ founder Andrew bringing me onto the 11trees team.
Over the last few years I’ve helped author and organize Libraries with 30 to 300+ Comments in them that are used by thousands of teachers. I wanted to share my top tips for effectively organizing content in Annotate PRO.
Tip 1: Lay It Out First
I have a Library full of great content, but it would be a pain for anyone else to use. It has over 400 Comments in three languages and a haphazard organizational structure that is the product of creating Groups and Sub-Groups on the fly. As I answered student’s questions I saved them to the Library, without starting with some type of organization. I often struggle to find content in my own Library.
It lives! It lives! (Not a) Dr. Wenzel
That was the first time I’d created a Library from scratch and that experience helped me to learn how to effectively organize Libraries. Now, whether reorganizing an existing Library or starting a new one, I find it helpful to use something like Google Sheets or Air Table to create the Library’s structure. I start designing the Groups and Sub-Groups before moving on to Comment labels. I don’t author any Comments themselves yet. This process helps me see which Groups might need to be divided into Sub-Groups or which Groups I thought would have more content and could actually be consolidated. The result is a Library that is well laid out from the start, saving a lot of headaches down the road.
Tip 2: The Importer is Your Friend
Another perk of laying out your Library in a program like Google Sheets is that Annotate PRO can import .csv files. I can lay out all the Groups, Sub-Groups, and Comment labels and then import them into Annotate PRO. As a result, not only does Tip 1 save time down the road, it doesn’t take more than an extra minute of time in the short term.
Bonus mini-tip: This also works if you’re coming to AP from something like TurnItIn QuickMarks or have another way of storing your notes.
Import a .csv file right into Annotate PRO
Tip 3: Ask “How Will I Find This?”
Probably the biggest oversight when creating a Library is the disconnect between how you author a Comment and how you find it. For example, when I first piloted Annotate PRO, we had Libraries designed for the different levels of students we were teaching. That meant there was overlap in the topics covered, but a difference in how the Comments addressed them.
For example, in a Library designed for Intermediate level language learners in a Group about Conditionals there was a Comment called “0 vs 1st Conditional”. When creating that content inside the “Intermediate > Conditionals” Group that makes sense. However, I usually had Libraries for several levels enabled. And when dealing with 250+ Comments, the search tool was the easiest way to find Comments. That meant that when I searched I would get multiple results for Comments named “0 vs 1st Conditional” that were designed for different levels of learners.
When creating Comment labels, think about how you will search for the Comment. I find it helpful to use some kind of “tag” at the beginning of the Comment label. For example, 11trees’ Libraries use a + before Comments to indicate it is a Comment that gives praise. One of my ESL Libraries includes explanations with cognates in a student’s native language in my explanation. If I made a Comment about the difference between the words “fun” and “funny” I would name them like this: “[EFS] Fun vs. Funny” and “[EFP] Fun vs. Funny”. EFS stands for English for Spanish and EFP is English for Portuguese. And if I wrote the whole explanation in Spanish, I would put “[SP] Fun vs. Funny”. Those little indicators help a lot when searching for content.
Tip 4: You Can Create As Many Libraries As You Want!
You can use more than one Library at a time and you can have as many Libraries as you’d like. For example, in my current (non-11trees) role, sometimes I do curriculum design, other times I handle administrative tasks, and other times I’m directly answering teachers’ questions. I could have three Groups in a “Tyler’s Only Library” called “Curriculum”, “Admin”, and “FAQs”. But having three separate Libraries makes finding content easier. I can easily turn on or off the Library for the tasks I am handling that day. That way, my search results and favorite Comments will only show Comments relevant to the task at hand.
Tip 5: Use Favorites Wisely
Even for a large Library, I try to limit myself to 15-20 favorite Comments (less if I’m using multiple Libraries at the same time). The idea behind favorites is giving rapid access to content, if it takes as much or more time to find the favorite Comment as it would to search for it, then it’s not useful. Any more than around 20 and I have to scroll to see all of my favorites. Also, when I do start approaching the (self-imposed) upper limit of favorites, I make sure to color code them thematically. For example, email templates in purple and urgent quick response messages in red.
Some color-coded Comments from College Edition
Annotate PRO is essential to my productivity both as an educator and in administrative tasks. Like any tool, the better you know how to use it, the more useful it will be. I hope these tips help you to harness the full potential of Annotate PRO whatever your role may be.