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HyperDocs in the Classroom: Worth the Hype?

Listen and learn

Listen and learn : Research paper
Roundtable presentation

Monday, November 30, 12:30–1:15 pm PST (Pacific Standard Time)
Presentation 1 of 2
Other presentations:
Sketchnoting to Support Memory Recall and Social Sharing of Knowledge

Jeffrey Carpenter  
Dr. Tim Green  
Dr. Torrey Trust  

To date, HyperDocs have not been the subject of peer-reviewed research. This session will offer new insights from survey data of 261 HyperDoc-using educators. We'll discuss participants' perspectives about HyperDocs, how they use them in their practice and their impact on teaching and student learning.

Audience: Curriculum/district specialists, Teachers, Professional developers
Attendee devices: Devices not needed
Topic: Instructional design & delivery
Grade level: PK-12
Subject area: Preservice teacher education, Inservice teacher education
ISTE Standards: For Educators:
  • Use technology to create, adapt and personalize learning experiences that foster independent learning and accommodate learner differences and needs.
  • Foster a culture where students take ownership of their learning goals and outcomes in both independent and group settings.
  • Manage the use of technology and student learning strategies in digital platforms, virtual environments, hands-on makerspaces or in the field.

Proposal summary


HyperDocs are interactive, digital teaching and learning materials created, disseminated, and remixed by educators. Most commonly HyperDocs are understood to be digital lessons that are housed in electronic documents or slides and that include content, media, and hyperlinks—thus, the portmanteau name derived from hyperlink and document. In their book, The HyperDoc Handbook, Highfill and colleagues (2016) describe HyperDocs as “digital lesson design and delivery of instruction” as well as a “teaching pedagogy” (p. 7). They have also associated HyperDocs specifically with Google Suite’s productivity apps, describing HyperDocs as “transformative, interactive Google docs that replace the standard worksheet method of delivering instruction” (p. 7). HyperDocs can be designed to include elements of direct instruction for the whole class, cooperative learning, and self-paced learning for individuals. Highfill and colleagues conceive of HyperDocs as being student centered, and they emphasize the importance of HyperDocs engaging students in the “4 C’s” of creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2007).
HyperDocs share some features in common with WebQuests, which are inquiry-oriented activities in which students interact with resources on the Internet (Dodge, 1995). Similar to a WebQuest, HyperDocs are meant to provide guidance and structure for student exploration of a curated set of content (cf., Chang, Chen, & Hsu, 2011; Zheng, Stucky, McAlack, Menchana, & Stoddart, 2004). However, WebQuests originated in 1995 before the development of Web 2.0, social media, and Google Suite. Unlike WebQuests, HyperDocs presume more social uses of technology—by students and teachers. For example, for teachers, HyperDoc creation often includes some degree of crowdsourcing (Brabham, 2008) and/or remixing (Lessig, 2008) of content.


Using the commercial survey platform Qualtrics, we designed an online survey via to capture information regarding educators’ HyperDoc use. Data were collected via convenience sampling. After securing approval to conduct this research from our Institutional Review Board ([University Blinded for Peer Review] #2018-123), we shared invitations to the survey via various social media during 33 days in the fall of 2018. Highfill, Hilton, and Landis also sent an email invitation to the survey to participants in an online course they had taught on HyperDocs. A total of 261 educators responded to our survey. The overwhelming majority were from the United States (Table 1). The educators in our study held a variety of positions, including classroom teacher (n=150; 57%), instructional technology facilitator (n=37; 14%), instructional coach (n=25; 10%), special education teacher (n=9; 3%), media specialist/librarian (n=8; 3%), administrator (n=8; 3%), and higher education instructor (n=3; 1%). Participants reported teaching a wide range of subjects from Career and Technical Education to world languages. The most commonly taught subjects were English/Language Arts (n=149; 17%), Social Studies/History (n=113; 13%), Technology (n=99; 12%), Science (n=99; 12%), and Math (n=94; 11%). The vast majority of educators in our study reported having more than 5 years of experience in education (n=242; 93%), with almost half of the sample (n=125; 48%) indicating they had between 11 and 20 years of experience. More than half of the participants strongly agreed that they were early adopters of technology (n= 173; 66%) and new instructional practices (n=157; 60%).

We generated descriptive statistics for quantitative items and engaged in an open-coding process to analyze the qualitative data (Braun & Clarke, 2006). For two open-ended items addressed in this proposal, two members of the research team coded the first 50 responses. Initial codes sets ranged for nine to 22 codes for individual items. All three research team members then discussed initial emergent codes, which resulted in a new code structure of ten codes for one item, and four codes for the other. For a third open-ended item related to obstacles to HyperDoc use, we began coding with nine a priori codes drawn from the literature on barriers to technology use in education (Ertmer, 1999; Rogers, 2000; Kopcha, 2012). However, we remained open to the possibility of that additional codes might emerge as we interpreted the data, and eventually ended up adding one code to this set. To increase credibility and trustworthiness, we utilized investigator triangulation by having two or more researchers involved in qualitative data analysis (Elliott, Fischer, & Rennie, 1999).


Participants in our study reported being users (n=255; 98%), remixers (n=239; 92%), and/or designers (n=250; 96%) of HyperDocs for teaching and learning. More than three-quarters of the respondents had experience using multiple HyperDocs in their practice, with 208 respondents (80%) reporting using at least five HyperDocs in their teaching prior to filling out the survey. Some of the participants (n=40; 15%) were super users who incorporated at least 30 different HyperDocs in their practice. The majority of participants also had experience creating at least one HyperDoc from scratch (n=250; 96%), with more than one-third (n=101; 39%) indicating that they had created 10 or more HyperDocs on their own. It was clear from our data that the participants in our study were experienced with HyperDocs. In the following section, we detail these participants’ conceptualizations of HyperDocs and descriptions of how and why they use HyperDocs in their practice.

RQ 1: How do educators conceptualize HyperDocs?  
Prompted to define what a HyperDoc is, participants’ responses indicated that there is no standardized conceptualization of a HyperDoc. While the responses featured some commonly used words, such as “students” (n=215; 82%), “learning” (n=162; 62%), “document” (n=145; 56%), “lesson” (n=92; 35%) “interactive” (n=68; 26%), “links” (n=66; 25%), and “Google” (n=40; 15%), overall the responses were quite diverse in nature, with no two exactly alike. Given the wide range of ways participants described HyperDocs, we collapsed our initial set of codes into four general categories. These were the form of the HyperDoc, elements included on the HyperDoc, purpose/intended outcomes of the HyperDoc, and the roles of students and the teacher associated with HyperDocs.

RQ 2: How do educators use HyperDocs in their practice?
On average, participants reported having used 13.4 (SD=9.59) HyperDocs with students (Table 12). It was slightly more common for them to have created HyperDocs from scratch (n=250; 96%), than to have modified or remixed HyperDocs originally created by others (n=239; 92%), or to have collaboratively created a HyperDocs with another person (n=176; 68%). When using HyperDocs originally created by others, participants reported selecting HyperDocs that included many activities perceived to be engaging for students (91.5%), provided opportunities for student choice (88.8%), or aligned with the curriculum the participant was required to teach (86.2%) (Table 13). The two least common influencing factors for selecting a HyperDoc were that the HyperDoc addressed content the participant had not previously taught (43.9%) and that the participant had used a HyperDoc created by the same person(s) previously (38.5%).
Participants reported that on average their students spent 28.7% (SD=22.7) of class time using HyperDocs. On average, participants indicated they used HyperDocs with students for 4.85 different purposes (Table 14). Participants reported using HyperDocs for student-driven learning (n=232; 89%), collaborative learning (n=197; 75%), to support student creativity (n=187; 72%), to spark interest in a lesson or unit (n=183; 70%), to flip the classroom (e.g., reviewing lectures for homework and engaging in active learning during class time) (n=131; 50%), and for formative (n=117; 45%) or summative assessment (n=59; 23%). Less common uses of HyperDocs included homework, enrichment, teacher professional development, and gamification.

RQ 3: Why do educators use HyperDocs?
Respondents described diverse and varied outcomes of using HyperDocs, such as improved student engagement, increased opportunities for student autonomy, enhanced creativity and collaboration, feeling part of a community of educators who design and share HyperDocs, and positive changes in the lesson design process. Overall, their responses fell within three categories: student change, pedagogy change, and educator change.

Student change was the most frequently cited benefit of using HyperDocs, with 283 total mentions in the data. A number of educators felt that students became more engaged as learners (n=112; 43%) when working with HyperDocs. For instance, one educator shared that by using HyperDocs, “students were excited about learning and actively engaged.” Participants also noted that when students could work at their own pace and had ­“choice and voice” in their learning experience with HyperDocs, they became more “empowered,” “independent,” and “self-reliant” learners. Additionally, some participants reported positive shifts in students’ attitudes about learning (n=28; 9%), positive changes in student learning outcomes, such as improved test scores and enhanced understanding of the topic (n=25; 10%), and improved creative thinking (n=23; 9%) and collaboration (n=18; 7%) skills.

Pedagogy change was the second most frequently reported (n=137) benefit of using HyperDocs. Respondents cited that using HyperDocs as instructional tools inspired changes in the way they designed lessons for students. For example, one educator wrote: “HyperDocs really helped me to shift from simply uploading my content to a digital space to really considering solid lesson design. I measure each HyperDoc with the 4Cs and try to hit as many - if not all - in each,” while another shared that they gave “more careful thought to all of the steps of the lesson, [with an] emphasis on student choice and definitely better care for visual design and trying to simplify directions for improved student understanding.” These two quotes indicate that the development of HyperDocs can shift how educators create learning experiences for students. In addition to changes in lesson design, some participants reported altering how they delivered lessons, such as giving students choice in their learning process, allowing students to work at their own pace, personalizing learning experiences, providing students with external resources to enrich learning, and spending more time checking on students individually or in small groups. For instance, one educator shared that the most positive outcome of using HyperDocs was, “Being able to personalize learning and work with the students that really need help. The students that “get it” can run with the HyperDoc and work in the extend lessons while I can help those that are struggling.” Multiple educators praised HyperDocs as a means of creating better learning experiences for all students.

In summary, educators identified multiple positive outcomes for using HyperDocs, ranging from improved student learning outcomes to shifts in their own teaching and learning. However, while we did identify some patterns in the dataset, there didn’t seem to be a common consensus of what educators gained from using HyperDocs in their practice. While this indicates the wide potential of HyperDocs, it also means there is room for growth in terms of solidifying the purpose and outcomes of using HyperDocs in education.


This exploratory research offers initial insights into how and why educators use HyperDocs, a previously unresearched approach to teaching and learning. Knowledge regarding how and why HyperDocs are used is valuable given the proliferation of digital devices in schools and related interest in approaches to teaching and learning that leverages those devices. This study indicates that educators' perceive HyperDocs to be beneficial tools for student agency, creativity, and collaborative learning. Additionally, simply using HyperDocs can inspire changes in pedagogy.

However, while many of the respondents to our survey demonstrated enthusiasm regarding the transformative potential of HyperDocs, it is also possible that HyperDocs can be used in ways that are quite teacher-directed and traditional. While Highfill and colleagues espouse a student-centered vision for HyperDocs, the way in which HyperDocs are disseminated and remixed mean that they may sometimes be used by educators who do not understand that vision or how to realize it. Across the board, there did not seem to be consensus regarding what a HyperDoc is and how HyperDocs should be used in classroom settings. The diversity in responses suggest that not all educators are on the same page with Highfill and colleagues' student-centered, 4Cs vision for HyperDocs. Therefore, this study indicates a need for a more in-depth review of educators' uses of HyperDocs to determine whether they live up to the hype of transforming learning or just fall to the wayside as another teacher-centered tool.


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Jeffrey Carpenter, Elon University
Dr. Tim Green, California State University, Fullerton
Dr. Torrey Trust, University of Massachusetts Amherst

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