Fostering Student Engagement and Interaction Through Collaborative Annotation and Note-Taking

Emily Pitts Donahoe, University of Notre Dame

Working in hybrid, online, or asynchronous modalities can make it difficult to foster student engagement and interaction. One partial solution to this problem is to make collaborative digital annotation or note-taking projects part of the course requirements. At the most basic level, these activities ask students to work together to create or comment on a shared course text. This can be done in pairs, with small groups, or with the entire class. And the collaborations might take a number of forms:


Students could collectively annotate a course reading with questions, clarifications, or comments. The shared reading might be a primary or secondary work, the course textbook, or any challenging text that students need to understand for the class.

Students could engage in a peer review of others’ work, providing suggestions or asking questions about the shared document. 


Students could work together on lecture notes, taking notes live in class or compiling a shared study document at the end of a course unit. 


These kinds of collaborative activities are incredibly flexible. You can use them to help students close read an intricate poem or solve a complicated equation. They can be done in or outside of class, synchronously or asynchronously. And they can be loose and informal or highly structured, with templates and individual student responsibilities. 


Moreover, these collaborative activities have several advantages:

  • They deepen engagement with course material, making students active rather than passive listeners, readers, and note-takers. 
  • They encourage students to interact with one another at times when student interaction can be difficult to facilitate (like during a pandemic!).
  • They help students learn from one another, exposing them to the wide range of perspectives, approaches, and strategies that their classmates bring to the table.
  • They can help level the playing field, leading to more equitable and inclusive learning environments (see M. Brielle Harbin’s work below).
  • They allow instructors to easily track student comprehension, often in real-time. 

If you’re eager to get started on collaborative annotation or note-taking, check out the resources below to read more about these activities and the digital tools that can help facilitate them.



The Power of Group Note-Taking, from The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Teaching newsletter

Collaborative Note-Taking: A Tool for Creating a More Inclusive College Classroom, by M. Brielle Harbin

Online Annotation Tools, from the Center for Teaching and Learning at Washington University

Collaborative Note Taking, from Pacific Lutheran University faculty resources


EDITOR'S NOTE: Temple recently added Perusall, a social annotation tool, to its array of supported technologies. Temple faculty can begin using Perusall by visiting our Perusall page and/or downloading our step-by-step guide to getting started with the tool. If you need additional support, we're here to help! Book an appointment for a one-on-one consultation with one of our technology specialists or drop by our virtual ed tech lab (open M-F, 8:30-5pm).


Emily Pitts Donahoe is from Notre Dame Learning in the Kaneb Center for Teaching Excellence at University of Notre Dame,


This article is released under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).


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