Increasing Student Engagement with Social Annotation

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

One way students personalize physical textbooks and review course content is by annotating and writing in the margins. Learning technologies like Perusall expand on this idea by allowing students to write in the margins of books with others via the internet and have discussions next to specific sections of a reading. Social annotation also allows faculty to track student engagement with the content, and create different types of activities to increase active reading and reflection.

Online discussions play an important role in student learning. Discussions allow students to reflect on the content and improve their understanding. Learning technologies like Perusall add elements that are not available in a traditional Canvas discussion board, facilitating other types of discussions. This includes pre-populating questions in the text for students to answer, asking students to write questions next to passages for their classmates to comment on, highlighting passages that are unclear and would benefit from further discussion, asking students to add historical context next to passages, and other creative ways for students to engage with the content.

Perusall was developed by researchers at Harvard who continuously make research-informed improvements to the platform. While, VoiceThread and other learning technologies also allow for enhancements to online discussions, Perusall is one of the learning technologies currently integrated into UMich-Dearborn’s Canvas installation and available to all of our faculty.

Perusall Comment
Perusall screenshot taken by author of an annotation and a follow up comment

Social Annotation Ideas & Alternate Discussion Board Ideas
Back to School with Annotation: 10 Ways to Annotate with Students
Discussion Boards: Valuable? Overused? Discuss

In addition to social annotations, students are also able to make private annotations. Comments can include hyperlinks, images, bullet points, videos, and allow for long response posts that would not fit in the margins of a physical textbook. Perusall also allows for video annotations, website annotations, integrating books from their catalog, and annotations to common document file types such as pdfs and word documents. Other features include student analytics, machine grading, and syncing between Canvas and Perusall. The Hub’s recent workshop on Perusall highlighted these features and includes a reading and video activity for faculty to practice using the platform, as well as a guide for creating an assignment.

You can self-enroll in the workshop Canvas site at:

For help in incorporating Perusall or improving your discussion boards make an appointment with us at:

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Alfonso Sintjago is an Instructional Designer in the Hub for Teaching and Learning Resources at the University of Michigan – Dearborn. You can read more about Alfonso on his author page.