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Spring 2022
Facilitated by Katie Barott, Biology, and William Braham, Architecture

Platforms discussed in the session


Perusall is a social annotation tool that is integrated into Canvas.

Scroll down a bit in this documentation and you can see how to get Perusall to show up in your course.

The grading (as we discussed) can get a bit fussy.  But you can also have it automatically show up in Canvas gradebook.  Automating your grading in that way takes a bit of planning.  Consult with the instructional support team for your school to get that set up.

Ed Discussions

Ed Discussions is a discussion tool that integrates into Canvas.  It can be a great place for students to ask questions and it allows for anonymity.  (It is less good for graded discussions of the sort you might hold on a Canvas discussion board.)

Note that to participate in the pilot for Ed Discussions you should fill out this form.


Bill mentioned using Miro which is a whiteboard tool that the School of Design has access to but not every school does.  You can learn about other whiteboard options (O365 has a whiteboard and you can use Google Jamboard). 


Katie Barott, Biology 

  • UG upper level course for mostly pre-med students, 30 students
  • Uses Perusall with an assignment due before class
    • Grades if they’ve read it and allows them to engage with other students’ posts
    • Results in more fruitful, small group discussions in class supported by a Google (students don’t always understand the paper ahead of time and that’s OK)
    • Doc that Katie can monitor and use to follow up with groups she didn’t get to speak with
    • There is an algorithm, but it’s possible to disregard/override it
    • Possible to adjust the settings 
    • Students do figure out how to “game” the grading
    • Useful to seed the conversations in class
  • Lecture videos watched before class (but finds as a result students don’t read the textbook)
    • Low-stakes assessment/quiz students take before class in Canvas
    • No way to know if students are cheating/sharing answers but group accountability helps (and cheating hurts students in their final projects)
  • Using Ed Discussion to have students pose questions; Open discussion board - “what was the most confusing thing from this week’s material?”
    • Helps prepare for class to know what they didn’t understand and clarify
  • Major assignment is to write a grant proposal, created with benchmark/check-ins throughout (annotated biography, etc.)
    • This is an individual assignment but there are some peer review components

William Braham, Architecture

  • Ecology/Design course; motivated students and draws students with diverse backgrounds
  • Students pushed back against the grading in Perusall until the grading criteria was clear and transparent to students (post at least 5 comments)
    • Had to be incredibly transparent with the grading method
    • It was a 0/1 system: 0 didn’t read, 1 did read
    • X number of comments (5) meant “did read”
    • Very few students missed readings
    • Readings were very heterogeneous
  • Being able to review the students’ comments allowed Bill to better prepare for class and calibrate to the students’ understanding; also was able to highlight student questions that were very interesting to bring into class
  • Gave students 6 questions ahead of time to help them read with intentionality, as a sort of study guide
    • Initially made own questions, but found them dull
    • Later, assigned students to copy-paste own questions into study guide
    • This become a really meaningful class interaction, outside of class time
    • Every question became really meaningful and student-derived
  • Students grouped in class to respond to questions related to the reading
  • Non-native English speakers were able to contribute effectively via the online forum in an environment they felt more comfortable in (more comfortable participating online than in class)
  • Goal was to get students to engage and not so much policing the quality of the post
  • Over time, evolved to have students generate their own questions to bring to class
  • A challenge is how to encourage students to get started early so there is more time to dialog in the online space before class


  • Some anxiety about Perusall
    • Students have to read materials online; don’t have their own copies
    • Seems to be about surveillance which feels a little creepy
    • Grading algorithm hard for students to understand but can be turned off
  • How do instructors process all the comments from Perusall?
    • Analytics can show a good bit 
    • Set aside time before class to incorporate student commentary and questions - but students do reading last minute, and it would be better to have more time to engage with student commentary before class. Is there a way to encourage students to engage with materials earlier?
    • Note: the students who write a lot are not always the students who speak in class, so this gives opportunities for different students to engage meaningfully. 
    • Setting parameters for what constitutes a “good” comment:
      • Can use Perusall to very carefully distinguish between comments
      • Can also go in by hand and override the grade
      • Consider what is important to you
  • What does it mean to read/prepare effectively?  Different expectations for different classes and different things that you do in class.  Set expectations for students: you need to do X ahead of time so that you can do Y in class.
    • Have some kind of activity associated with the reading (doesn’t have to be a quiz)
    • Give students some pre-set questions
  • How do we use a tool like Perusall and still get students to see the big picture of texts or work with really complex material?
    • Use “Perusall day” and not “Perusall days” to minimize the annotation load and pick the kinds of texts that will do better in different formats
    • Intentionally use Perusall comments in class
    • Annotate some difficult texts ahead of time to help students work through them - many in the group seemed to find value in this idea
    • Highlight sections ahead of time to help focus students’ attention
    • Foreground “why are we reading this” for students 
  • How to help students who are overwhelmed by content that is beyond their expertise?
    • Admitting and showing that you don’t understand as well.
    • Help students think about how to read material outside their field or expertise.  Regularly coming back to the idea that it’s not possible to understanding everything, so finding places can we can extract value
    • Setting expectations and prompts in reading through journal articles, ie., what is the hypothesis, what does the data say, etc.
    • Helping students through the “anatomy” of a journal article: keywords, reading through abstracts, looking back through the citations to see the evolution in the thinking in the field/topic:  examples of how
      • What’s the method? What’s the question and hypothesis? Look at data and conclusions, do they all match up?
      • Find ways to figure out what to read, what to read next, what is the web of the research? 
      • Who wrote this? Where are they coming from? Is it all the same group? How might positionality influence their conclusions or questions?
    • How to get students to help each other:
      • Peer review but you have to teach them to help each other
      • Provide students with guidance about how to make the review substantive
        • Help students learn how to work together and help each other, constructive criticism guidelines, need substance (not just “this is good”), 
        • Do peer review with other peoples’ work - one student would present work as though it was theirs.
        • Provide structured strategies for getting students to carefully peer review the work of each other (rubrics and questions)
        • Be thoughtful about making peer review anonymous (like the process in your field) or open (as if you were consulting with a colleague).
        • Work with teams, groups with different mixture of skills and backgrounds 
        • Give students time to interact and form relationships
      • Have students focus on how to help their peer makes things better; also to highlight points of confusion
      • Have tried both anonymous and visible commenting to promote feedback
      • Using Miro for weekly milestones for group projects to let strong groups be models for weaker groups – you and they can see work progress in real time
      • How do we create environments where students can get others unstuck?
    • How do you get students to come into class and engage?
      • Would it be possible for students to watch videos together as a group?  Maybe an assigned study group.  (Problem is the student’s schedules.)
      • Team created google notes – can be an equity issue but if assigned to students could help them engage in class and connect with each other.
      • Find ways to disincentivize the divide and conquer method – work is hard enough that they have to work together or follow up with group and make sure everyone understands.
      • Again the timing of this work keeps becoming a key consideration.
      • Sometimes students want to have an argument from Perusall IRL, some students don’t want to reproduce conversation that happened on Perusall. 
      • Clear deliverable at end of class and transparent link between the preparation before class and the deliverable so that students know why they are doing the preparation and how it is benefiting them.


  • Different classes do different things in class time, so these things are super variable
  • Tools - Perusall, Google docs, EdDiscussions, quizzes, etc
  • How do we help students feel like the work is worth doing, not busywork, not just compliance, but truer engagement?
  • How to we get students to work with each other?
  • How do we make this work sustainable for us? How do we give students feedbacks, etc?
  • What are different kinds of readings and how do we facilitate those?
  • Engagement, motivation, buy-in, and what do students get from our classes?