Annotation Tools

Even in classes that emphasize collaborative work, students often gain foundational knowledge asynchronously and independently, by reading texts or watching videos. Ideally, students will not just read or watch passively, but will interact with and reflect on the material in some way — perhaps through annotations. When students individually annotate physical textbooks and articles, or take notes on videos, they can move from passive consumption to active engagement. Social annotation moves students a step further, from active engagement with the material to engagement with each other around the material. Social annotation tools aim to start conversations about course material before students convene for a class session dedicated to those readings or videos.

As much as you can, please use familiar tools provided and supported by the University or College — chiefly Courses, Google applications, Panopto, and Zoom.

Courses and Google Drive enable limited forms of social annotation. By using the Forums tool in Courses in conjunction with a well-structured set of questions and prompts, you can elicit student responses to preparatory materials in a place where students can read and react to each others' contributions. You can specify in the Forums settings that students must post their own annotations before reading other students' reactions. Of course, you'll want to set a deadline for initial contributions well before the related class period, to give students time to read and react to each others' initial responses. This method has the great advantage of being format-agnostic; it works with any type of preparatory material.

Anyone with access to a PDF stored in Google Drive can attach comments to selectable text within that PDF, or reply to existing comments. Before you upload any copyrighted materials to Google Drive for this purpose, however, carefully assess your compliance with applicable copyright laws as well as the terms of service under which you acquired the materials. Additionally, articles you scan from printed sources are almost certain to contain page images rather than selectable text.

If the affordances of Courses and Google Drive are insufficient for your social annotation goals, you may want to consider more specialized tools. Please avoid tools that would incur fees for students.

Text Annotation

eComma

eComma focuses on very short texts (less than 200 words), and is especially associated with language learning. Instructors must paste text into eComma for subsequent student annotation. Pepperdine has not set up eComma to run within Courses, so you'll need to request that COERLL set up a private installation for your class; be sure to plan in sufficient turnaround time if you opt to use eComma.

Hypothesis

Hypothesis uses a browser plugin to layer users' highlights and comments over an existing webpage. (Contrast Perusall, which draws texts into its own framework.) Hypothesis works on any webpage that has a permanent URL and displays its content directly, including full-text articles behind paywalls or within databases provided by the Pepperdine Libraries. For Hypothesis to work on PDFs, users must configure the plugin and download the PDFs to their own computers; Hypothesis cannot annotate embedded PDFs.

To gain the benefits of Hypothesis with physical textbooks, give students an advance organizer (saved as a PDF) with a relatively granular outline of the reading. Students won't be able to highlight actual passages in the reading this way, but they can annotate the organizer to participate in a structured pre-class discussion of the reading.

Hypothesis is free to faculty and students. Institutions must pay a fee to integrate Hypothesis into their learning management systems. Pepperdine has not taken this step, which means only that your students will need to register for a separate Hypothesis account.

Insert Learning

Insert Learning uses a browser plugin to layer users' highlights and comments over an existing webpage. Insert Learning works on any webpage that has a permanent URL and displays its content directly, including full-text articles behind paywalls or within databases provided by the Pepperdine Libraries. Insert Learning does not work on PDFs.

Instructors can highlight text, add comments, and insert questions. Students can also highlight and add comments and participate in discussions embedded right in the webpage. Insert Learning's comments look deceptively simple; they can actually contain robust HTML content, which means you can embed other tools like Flipgrid topics, Google Slides, or YouTube videos within Insert Learning comments.

The free version of InsertLearning limits you to five lessons (annotated webpages) at a time; for unlimited lessons, choose the annual subscription for $40 annually or $8 per month.

Perusall

Perusall enables collaborative annotations by displaying texts within a dedicated web application. (Contrast Hypothesis, which adds a layer to webpages and other texts in their own locations.) To ensure that webpages you assign do not change, Perusall actually takes a snapshot instead of working with live webpages. Perusall maintains a catalog of textbooks from major publishers, available for purchase and use within Perusall. You can also use Persuall with materials you upload, but before you upload any copyrighted materials to Perusall for this purpose, carefully assess your compliance with applicable copyright laws as well as the terms of service under which you acquired the materials. Additionally, articles you scan from printed sources are almost certain to contain page images rather than selectable text, and therefore won't work with Perusall.

To gain the benefits of Perusall with physical textbooks or materials you can't legally reproduce (by uploading to Perusall), give students an advance organizer (saved as a PDF) with a relatively granular outline of the reading, and assign the organizer to students within Perusall. Students won't be able to highlight actual passages in the reading this way, but they can annotate the organizer to participate in a structured pre-class discussion of the reading.

Persuall itself is free, but students must purchase the special Perusall edition of any textbook you assign through Perusall. Perusall offers Sakai integration, but Pepperdine has not implemented this functionality.

Video Annotation

Panopto

Panopto is a video hosting platform with recording and editing capabilities, introduced to Pepperdine in the summer of 2020. Among other features related to video creation and student engagement, Panopto lets viewers take notes on hosted videos right in the Panopto interface. Users can keep their notes private, make them public (to everyone who has access to the source video itself), or post them in shared "channels." Notes are timestamped, and Panopto keeps them in order by timestamp; however, notes are not automatically tagged with any user identification. Shared channels are not stored in a list; to enter a shared channel, users — even the user who created the channel — must type in the channel's name precisely. Even a single character difference will create a new channel rather than entering an existing channel.

Panopto also has a separate feature called "discussions." In the discussions list — which will automatically include the chat stream from a recorded Zoom session — comments are identified by user and timestamped. Viewers can reply to other users' comments, creating an asynchronous threaded discussion. However, the comments in a discussion list cannot be sorted by timestamp, so navigating the list could become confusing.

These note-taking and discussion features are only available for videos within the Panopto library. Thus you will only be able to use them effectively for materials you have created with Panopto or Zoom, or have uploaded to Panopto in compliance with applicable copyright laws.

Pepperdine currently has two general Panopto accounts: one for the Caruso School of Law, and one for everybody else. Seaver faculty should be careful to log in using pepperdine.hosted.panopto.com, not peplaw.hosted.panopto.com.

Check, x, and panopto icon

VideoAnt

VideoAnt, produced and hosted by the University of Minnesota, allows viewers to post text comments anywhere along a YouTube video's timeline, and to reply to each others' comments. Annotated videos, called Ants, can be made public or restricted to certain groups (such as classes). Although VideoAnt generates embed codes for Ants, Ants embedded in Courses appear only to display the video and existing comments, not to accept new comments.

VideoAnt is free, but limited to YouTube videos and text comments.

VoiceThread

VoiceThread allows users to annotate an uploaded video or slideshow with text, audio, video, or graphics. As such, it could be used as a video annotation tool. However, it's really more of an asynchronous discussion tool.

GoReact is not recommended, because of its student fee pricing structure.