Collaborative Annotation Tools

Collaborative annotation tools allow you and your students to discuss a text, website, video, or other media through shared marginalia.  It's a form of asynchronous discussion, but instead of taking place within a message board tool (such as D2L Discussions), the conversation happens in comments attached directly on a digital document, web page, or video timeline track.  Better still, each discussion thread - a starting comment and subsequent replies - is keyed to a highlighted word or passage, or a specific time on the video timeline.  

Two collaborative annotation tools are available in all D2L Course Spaces.  


Both tools serve PDF files to students.  But then each handles media that the other does not.  Here's a breakdown of their various features:


Grades must be entered by professor directly into D2L

Simpler; works with Canisius Google Drive for hosting files

Allows collaborative annotation of:

  • PDFs (hosted in Google Drive)
  • Websites outside a paywall

This intro/tutorial for students quickly shows how it works.

Grading tools that integrate with D2L, but may be considered complicated.

Allows collaborative annotation of:

  • PDFs (hosted by Perusall)
  • A static (copied) version of a web page.
  • EPUB book files
  • Word documents
  • Excel documents
  • Source code files (in most popular languages)
  • Videos based at YouTube, Google Drive, Vimeo, or Dropbox
  • Podcasts distributed through RSS.

In most cases collaborative annotation should be an engagement or participation grade: incentivize students to read, watch or listen critically, and participate in conversation surrounding media, rather than assessing their performance along a steep grade range.   Keep the stakes low, and try to help students meet some basic learning objectives for critical reading and collaborative analysis, getting full credit in the process.  Some faculty might award a simple pass-fail or contract grade for a given number of reasonably composed comments.  Or, a simple rubric might offer a small grade scale.  Perusall offers a complex automated grading system built mainly to incentivize better work but nevertheless, Perusall counsels instructors to keep grading low-stakes and generous.  

Both and Perusall offer sample instructions for students, that you can adopt or modify for your own classes.

Example uses, and other resources on pedagogy with Social Annotation