Tool Reviews



Watch overview Intro (3.03)


Study the web with this browser extension. Designed to open up web writing to discussion and annotation, supports learners, researchers and educators as they critically analyze and reflect on readings online, allowing them to highlight and annotate passages. Annotate privately, as a group, or out in the open as part of a larger community discourse.

Justification for Using this Tool

Social annotation apps and extensions, like, let learners mark up a digital text much like they would a paper version – adding highlights, comments and margin notes, but in a collaborative and socially connected way (Novak, Razzouk, & Johnson, 2012, citing Huang et al., 2008, Kawase et al., 2009). These annotations and highlights are specific to individuals and the groups they share them with, whether private, in groups or fully public.

In a 2012 literature review, Novak, Razzouk, & Johnson noted little formal or relevant research yet on these types of tools. Of that which is available, there is evidence to suggest that annotation tools support effective learning, enhancing engagement, communication skills, and peer-to-peer learning. Digital annotations tend to be shorter, intended to be searched, shared or commented on in order for digital tools to affect learning in parallel ways to paper, they need to be engaging, easy and shareable, to prompt deeper thinking. The key pedagogical value of these tools are their social sharing features – through the collaborative and social annotation of texts, learners become more able to engage in metacognitive processes, recognizing patterns and synthesizing knowledge (Novak, Razzouk, & Johnson, 2012). Patterns across studies also indicate that social annotation improves learners’ motivation and enjoyment of the reading experience. Learners express enjoyment of these types of tools, and more and better quality annotations is correlated with improved learner performance. facilitates collaboration through active sharing of reading insights and questions in any of the learner-to-facilitator, learner-to-learner, or learner-to-global-community environments.  Learners exert a variety of control within this tool – from the quantity and quality of their annotations, responses to peers, and depth of their reading of the text. Depending on how learners are prompted to read and interact with the selections, can help learners express, and educators measure, critical and creative thinking.  If the researchers dashboard is incorporated into learning activities, metacognitive thinking skills may also be addressed. Educators should be careful that there is typically an initial learning curve with taking on a social annotation tool like Learners take a while to adjust to their use, and may demonstrate reduced performance as they learn the expectations of a tool use.  Learners also report that they often find each others’ annotations interesting to the point where they can become distracted from their learning task. Supporting and directing learners’ attention and purpose in readings is paramount to their success in using these types of tools.

Strategies for Use

Strategy 1 – Guided Reading

Watch overview videoGuiding Reading (2:01)

Pre-populate a text or reading with questions for learners to discuss. Ask questions that prompt for active reading strategies, including visualize, calrify, question, predict, connect and evaluate. These prompts should escalate through the reading, culminating in the more challenging prompts.

Strategy 2 – Researching in the PBL Cycle

Watch overview videoResearching in the Problem Based Learning Cycle (2:41)

Facilitate the research stage of problem based learning or supervise collaborative research projects. Create groups of students and monitor their research and discussions. Facilitate their work by adding questions or additional resources for them to explore. Using the groups tool, and even the LMS integration, associate marks to these monitored interactions as learners acquire research skills.

Helpful Resources

Resource 1 – Teacher Resource Guide

THis comprehensive guide helps prepare educators to facilitate the use of this tool from a technical perspective.  It includes visual and video tutorials, and samples of real student work.

Resource 2 – 10 Ways to Annotate with Students

This blog post offers 10 ideas for incorporating into classroom learning exercises.

Resource 3 – Marginal Syllabus

Educators globally use to collaboratively and socially annotate and discuss relevant research on technology equity. Join in the effort to develop participatory research about this valuable topic.


Novak, E., Razzouk, R. and Johnson, T. (2012). “The Educational Use of Social Annotation Tools in Higher Education: A Literature Review.” The Internet and Higher Education 15(1), 39–49.

Krouska, A., Troussas,  C., and Virvou, M. (2018).  “Social Annotation Tools in Digital Learning: A Literature Review,” 2018 9th International Conference on Information, Intelligence, Systems and Applications (IISA), Zakynthos, Greece, pp. 1-4. doi: 10.1109/IISA.2018.8633609.


Submitted by: Jesslyn Wilkinson
Twitter: @jesslyndw
Bio: Jesslyn is the Educational Technology Officer at Conestoga College. An Ontario Certified Teacher and a M.Ed candidate, Jesslyn researches and promotes new technologies for faculty to enhance pedagogical practices. She brings to the role her experience as a Google and Microsoft certified technology trainer and as a classroom teacher internationally and in Ontario, focusing on special education, tech-enabled learning and assistive technologies.


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E-Learning Essentials 2020 Copyright © 2020 by Power Learning Solutions is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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