Foster engagement through social annotation

Social annotation (SA) involves commenting on a text, video, or image in an online collaborative environment. It has been described as bringing “the age-old process of marking up texts to the digital learning space while making it a collaborative exercise” (Cornell University Center for Teaching Innovation, 2021).

See what SA looks like:

In this article:


The value of having students engage in SA activities is premised on the theory of social constructivism, whereby social interaction is key to learning. Students learn by sharing experiences, and building knowledge and understanding through discussion with peers, instructors, and other experts. Social annotation can foster deep learning and engagement with course content. It can also build community.

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  • Align SA assignments with course learning outcomes. SA assignments, like any other course assignment, should move students toward achieving the course learning outcomes.

  • Provide students with a rationale for engaging in SA activities.

  • Choose material judiciously, namely, content that lends itself to discussion and invite students to contribute material. This latter practice also promotes inclusivity.

  • Plan your role—Will you provide question prompts? Will you be part of the discussion? Will you provide feedback?

  • Enable and encourage multimodality, such as working with texts, videos, and images. This practice also promotes inclusivity.

  • Allow students time to become familiar with the technology tool and provide them with support, for example, in the form of tutorials.

  • Intentionally support student interaction, for example, by creating small groups.

  • Consider how you will assess students’ engagement in SA assignments—Will you assess contributions for completion (e.g., students contributed/didn’t contribute; responded to peers/didn’t respond to peers)? Will you assess the quality of students’ contributions? 

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Example learning outcomes for SA assignments

Students will be able to:

  • Describe the structure of the [discourse / work]

  • Identify flaws in arguments

  • Evaluate evidence

  • Work collaboratively in a group setting

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Tools to implement SA

McGill-approved SA tools:

Learn more:

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