Collaborative Writing

Did you know that LSA has tools to let students collaboratively annotate any PDF?
by LSA Learning & Teaching Technology Consultants

Deep student engagement with course material is every professor’s goal. Actually achieving that goal can be challenging, due to a number of factors. Students new to a topic may not see the value in the material or may find specialist vocabulary difficult to understand. Collaborative annotation offers instructors a method for taking the classic activity of annotating texts and enhancing it with the interactive features of social media applications.

Perusall, the tool supported in LSA, enables instructors to upload PDF files for free or choose from a curated collection of textbooks students pay for access to. You can assign readings to students who can then place comments in the digital margins. Other students, as well as the instructor, can view, comment on, and upvote their annotations. Perusall can be integrated into the Canvas Gradebook and allows instructors to score each student’s activity, if desired. Those scores are passed seamlessly into the Canvas Gradebook.

Student Annotations using Persuall

Some additional pedagogical benefits of collective annotation are:

  • Perusall has the capability to group students randomly or manually to avoid having the same students always working together on a text and encourage broad interaction.

  • Students can identify annotations they want to include in a “study guide”, an activity that encourages student ownership of the material and their own learning.

  • Instructors can generate a “Confusion Report” of topics and sections that generated the most student questions, which can become another useful study aid and even guide lecture or discussion.

One example of a course that used Perusall is a flipped introductory Physics course at Harvard University. The instructors found that using an annotation activity strongly encouraged students to complete reading before class. Students spent an above average amount of time on the readings (compared to what is typically reported in pedagogical studies) and most completed their reading assignments before class. They also found that the platform promoted active reading strategies and produced high-quality learning interactions between students outside class. When the instructors compared the exam performance of two cohorts of students, where the only difference between them is the use of the platform, they found that the students assigned collaborative annotation did significantly better on exams.1 Here at Michigan, Professor George Hoffmann used Perusall in his 120-person Honors course as a team-building tool to encourage engagement and collaboration with the core readings. He found the tool very effective in eliciting high quality student comments and interactions. To view a video clip of Professor Hoffmann describing his experience with Perusall, click here. The full set of interviews about Professor Hoffman's experience teaching in a Team-based learning classroom are available here. 

To discuss how you might incorporate collaborative annotation activities into one of your courses, contact the Learning and Teaching Technology Consultants at! 



1. Miller, Kelly, Lukoff, Brian, Gary, Mazur, & Eric. (2018, January 19). Use of a Social Annotation Platform for Pre-Class Reading Assignments in a Flipped Introductory Physics Class. Retrieved January 20, 2020, from

Release Date: 02/13/2020
Category: Learning & Teaching Consulting; Teaching Tips
Tags: Technology Services
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