Social Annotations

In Short

Canvas integrates with digital social annotation tools that support individual and group discussions documents, epubs, webpages, videos, audio,  and images. When students mark up and add notes to texts or other materials they make their thinking visible and learn from each other. They might return to the object to aid with recall or to revise their thoughts.

Goals: Why Use Social Annotation?

To foster community and connection amongst students through sharing of ideas. To support critical reading skills by making it a socially engaged practice. To encourage recall as part of training in argumentation, rather than as simple knowledge retention.


Key Considerations

  • Consider your goals. How much time do you plan as a class to spend on close attention to texts and how does annotation support your learning goals for student engagement? We recommend communicating these goals to your students and if you wish to assess annotations, creating a rubric to guide the activity you expect of students and groups, based on your learning goals.
  • Consider your course size. Collaborative annotation works best in smaller courses or amongst groups of students. For larger courses, include explicit instructions to avoid duplicating annotations or ask students to work in groups. You can easily set up independent group sites in Canvas to organize your class.
  • Before, during or after class? Asynchronous assignments, which students work on individually out of class, can provide students time to closely read and prepare thoughts before the class meets, and offer the instructor points of confusion or collective interest as fodder for class. Or, they can be used after class to reinforce concepts or further develop ideas. Synchronous engagement can be useful for quick activities, such as collective close reading of a passage or in-class group work.
  • Scaffolding. To demonstrate what you mean by “annotation” you might model the process for your students, either by marking up a document in class or by adding your annotations early on in course texts. Consider introducing first an ungraded annotation of a simpler text or, with more complex material, having students work in groups or pairs.
  • Show, practice, reflect. Model how to annotate texts, then offer timely feedback on student work which offers clear and achievable targets for the future, and point out progress you see during the semester. Follow up in class with common points of confusion within texts.
  • Provide choices. In addition to written annotations, you might also ask students to annotate video or audio resources. Many of the digital tools that integrate with Canvas allow for multimodal annotation.
  • Provide open-ended prompts. Encourage different perspectives by asking students to negotiate the meaning of a concept, theme, or issue through annotation of material.
  • Include definitions and contexts. Explaining ambiguous concepts or avoiding jargon helps all students, not only those who feel themselves to be novices. Instructors also often annotate texts with helpful contextualizing information to promote student understanding and make connections to other class material.


Digital Tools 

There are currently 4 social annotation tools that integrate with Canvas.

  • Hypothesis allows students to add comments, notes, and highlights to the margins of a shared digital document.
    • Full integration within Canvas interface (no need to go outside of Canvas); readings can be added to modules
    • Easy to learn
    • Works with PDFs or webpages
    • Individual or group annotation
    • Not integrated with Canvas' Gradebook
  • Perusall lets you gather and upload reading materials for social annotation. It works with a range of media, but extensive features may require a little more time to learn.
    • Full integration with Canvas, but best viewed in a separate window in Perusall platform
    • Additional media annotation possible: uses video, images, audio, webpages, and written texts (epubs, pdf, and Word). 
    • Autograding tool counts the number of annotations and replies; it can be integrated with Canvas Gradebook. Faculty have had mixed experiences with this feature. 
    • Perusall can read student submissions for points of confusion and provide you with a report
    • Perusall is more fully an e-reader course site than Hypothesis, and so requires uploading material into their separate platform; it has more analytics information than Hypothesis but also requires more set-up
    • Perusall uses aspects of social media to encourage student engagement with each other and thematic links across texts (hashtags, @name, etc.)
    • Students purchase epubs through their catalog which can be limiting (you can request additional titles)
  • VoiceThread enables students and instructors to create, share and comment on images, videos, and audio files.
    • Fully integrated with Canvas
    • Make use of video, audio, and images (including PowerPoint)
    • Students have their own gallery space and can upload their own media (Voicethreads)
    • Separate universal version designed for enhanced accessibility 
    • This is primarily a tool for audio, images, and video versus written annotations, and in VoiceThreads students might comment orally on what they observe, rather than in written line comments
  • Google docs is a shared document that can operate as a less structured discussion platform.
    • Students can collaborate on sheets, docs and slides
    • Projects can be assigned to groups
    • Many students are already familiar with Google docs




Updated 8/22/21