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29.09.2020 - 4 min. Read

Educators explore social annotation in eCampusOntario pilot to boost student engagement

In eCampusOntario’s latest educational technology pilot, educators are exploring social annotation, the use of a digital tool to enable students to collaboratively engage in otherwise static course readings.

As part of the pilot – which runs until the end of the Winter 2020 term – seven schools have access to a license for the LMS app. Select educators from each school have the opportunity to pilot the tool in a course of their choosing. is part of a genre of platforms known as “web annotation” or “social annotation” tools, which allow for students to collaboratively leave comments, ask questions or otherwise engage with digital readings. Students can choose when to make these comments visible and when to shut them off, depending on their reading preferences.

Given the collaborative aspect of tools like this, some educators are planning to use it to boost engagement in remote classes.

“Faculty have been looking for ways to engage students in the learning materials,” says Tricia Bonner, a learning technologies facilitator and educator who’s taking part in the pilot from Loyalist College. “When I heard about the pilot, I thought it would be a great way to meet that need. I currently teach an evidence-based practices course that focuses on various types of research and how that impacts the field of early childhood education. Reviewing research can be a challenging task. I see this tool providing a means of active discussion within that research.”

ShiKui Wu, Assistant Professor, Information Systems & Operations Management at Lakehead University, is using social annotation in his project management courses. “Students often find it is challenging to collaborate with each other in searching, reading, noting and writing with online materials,” he says.

“As the instructor, I also find it difficult to track and assess the students’ participation and performance in such collaborative tasks. I plan to use the in facilitating and enhancing collaborative learning with case studies and readings, but also in documenting and evaluating deliverables.”

For Julie Rosenthal, Assistant Professor, School of Outdoor Recreation, Parks and Tourism at Lakehead, the pilot is a way to add an element of “humanness” to her class readings. “I think the benefit of this for students will be to experience reading articles as more than a one-way form of communication,” she says. “I see it breathing life into the articles by actively provoking shareable responses to which others can also respond.”

Julie also plans to incorporate the practice into other assignments, including some of course’s key projects.

“One of my courses is about protected area management.  A major theme of the course is how difficult it is to reconcile the diverse needs and interests of people who may be affected by decisions made by park managers,” says Julie.  “In the course we adopt a fictitious scenario where a new national park is being proposed in Northwestern Ontario.  Students sign up to represent different groups who may be impacted, such as local residents, logging industry, tourism operators and Indigenous community members. Each group writes a paper outlining their concerns or reasons for supporting the proposed national park from the perspective of the group they represent.”

Ordinarily, Julie would mark these papers and each group would present their positions orally to the class. This year, she hopes to use social annotation to engage students’ reactions to each paper, by posting PDFs in her LMS and enabling the annotations.

“Using to enable the students to rebut or support the positions of other affected groups will likely stimulate animated dialogue in the annotations, enriching the depth of students’ understanding of these complex dynamics,” she says.

Interested in learning more about eCampusOntario’s educational technology pilots? Click here to contact Emily Carlisle-Johnston, Digital Program Lead.