Spectrum | Dec. 6 6:58 pm EST
at the core of it

Rap Genius meets the Core Curriculum

Jeremy Dean of Education Genius. Courtesy of Jeremy Dean.

First, there was Rap Genius: the online encyclopedia of rap lyrics that anyone could edit and annotate. If you don’t know the site yet, here’s a classic: R.Kelly’s ‘Ignition (Remix)’ with annotations verified by R.Kelly himself (who is now a user on the site.) Earlier this year, the folks at Rap Genius decided to annotate more than just song lyrics, so they added a couple of new sections- Poetry Genius and News Genius- that let users annotate philosophical and literary texts, news articles, and primary documents like famous speeches. Spectrum spoke to the guy behind Education Genius, Jeremy Dean, CC ’99, about his plans to create one massive annotated collection of Core texts, and Raphael Pope-Sussman, CC ’11 and former Spec editorial page editor, currently an editor at News Genius. In case you didn’t bother reading between the lines, News Genius has annotated texts of Amazon’s announcement of its new drone delivery service and Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation.

Get it now? Photo courtesy of rapgenius.com

Get it now? Photo courtesy of rapgenius.com

 Where did the idea for Education Genius begin?

JD: I was finishing a PhD at UT Austin and teaching English, and I was playing around with Rap Genius in the classroom. I fell in love with the site, decided to find novels and poetry and paste and annotate them on the site. When Rap Genius got a $15 million investment last year, they asked me to come work for them. The first thing they did was fly me out to Columbia for a meeting with Dean Valentini. After we walked out of an awesome meeting, they offered me a full-time job.How can Columbians can use the website to make one big, happy, annotated Iliad?

JD: Imagine you’re reading Augustine’s Confessions for LitHum. You go to the chapters on the site with your classmates, hopefully across the freshman class, and share ideas of your own or from classroom discussion, and respond to each others’ ideas. You essentially create your own tailored anthology or annotated edition of LitHum texts. So it would b the Class of 2018′s version of ‘City of God’ collaborated on by everyone.

Jeremy Dean conducts an EdLab Seminar at Teachers College, Columbia.

Jeremy Dean conducts an EdLab Seminar at Teachers College, Columbia. Courtesy of Jeremy Dean/ vialogues.com

So why do annotations beat SparkNotes and study guides?

JD: If you see something annotated you can understand it better, and different people bring different types of knowledge to a text- an Art History major can bring something visual, and who knows what a Physics major would say about the battles of the Iliad. For CC or LitHum the annotations would become incredibly intertextual, helping people when writing papers. The big difference between Rap Genius and SparkNotes is that this is student-generated knowledge and you’re an active participant, not a passive recipient in your learning.

You first used Rap Genius’ annotation tools to teach your English class. Where do you draw the connection between hip-hop and education?

JD: Hip-hop is the Great American Literature of the second half of the 20th century – I would go toe-to-toe with anyone to explain that The Iliad is the original gangster rap. Think about Jay Gatsby and how analogous he is to Jay-Z. It’s easy to look at Jay-Z’s album and say this is the Great American Story with the same tensions of idealism and materialism that “The Great Gatsby” offers. The best teachers will give students a foothold in a text, then reach out into a student’s world to bring them into another one.

An annotation from Descartes' 'First Meditation'. Courtesy of poetry.rapgenius.com

An annotation from Descartes’ ‘First Meditation’. Courtesy of poetry.rapgenius.com

What is News Genius in a nutshell?

RPS: News Genius is a way to engage with primary texts; it’s an unmediated, but contextualized, way to approach the words that are spoken or written by thinkers or newsmakers.

What is News Genius’ part in the annotating process?

RPS: It’s a powerful tool for anyone who’s grown up with Wikipedia. We have annotated primary documents like Harry Reid’s speech, excerpts from an Eminem interview, and the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address…Anytime we can give people an opportunity to think about actual words that have been written and spoken, we’re giving them access to something helpful.

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