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Stimulate deep reading and learning

Last updated on 5 February 2024
Many students find it difficult to read textbooks and academic literature in depth. The online tools Perusall and FeedbackFruits Interactive Document are specifically designed to motivate students through social engagement and interaction, to do deep reading and studying, on time and with enthusiasm.

Both tools allow students to engage with text in groups. By annotating and responding to each other's annotations, they process the text critically and in depth. Harvard University's Kelly Miller, creator of Perusall, put it this way: “We aim to change the nature of reading, from a traditional solitary experience to an engaging and collective one.” But to achieve this, it takes more than just creating assignments in Perusall or FeedbackFruits. Below you’ll find some essential tips for greater success and reading pleasure. 

The preparation

  • Tip 1: Use open (access) learning materials

    As a teacher, you take copyright into account and preferably offer students materials they do not have to pay for separately (this increases inclusion and accessibility). Fortunately, many educational resources (articles, but also parts of textbooks) are now openly available. For example, through the VU library, through agreements with publishers or as open access material. When using this material, it is best to add a link or embed it. There are many options. Please contact the Support Center for Educational Resources and Copyright, for any support or insights.

  • Tip 2: Publish the assignment at least one week before the deadline

    Publish the assignment at least a week before the deadline, so that students can plan when to work on it. In addition, this encourages students to review the article multiple times, as they have the space and time to come back to review and respond to new notes from fellow students. This further improves understanding of the text. When you publish the assignment late, it potentially causes problems with the timing of comments. This means that if a student completes the work significantly later than fellow students, they are likely to get no answers to possible questions and fewer responses to notes. 

  • Tip 3: Create groups of 10 to 20 people for the assignment

    Students will see all the notes of the students in their own group. But when this is a very large group, this can cause some issues. Therefore, divide the students into groups of 10 to 20 people to work together on the same document. This way, the document does not get overblown with annotations and valuable discussions do get started. 

  • Tip 4: Set a minimum number of annotations and responses

    Set a minimum number of annotations to be made. Based on research, the developers recommend 5 to 7 per text - definitely not too many because otherwise students will be busier trying to reach the number and not really concentrate on the text anymore. Some of these annotations should be new and some should be in response to others, and spread across several pages (not just on the first one). This encourages students to start a discussion on the literature and achieve a deeper understanding of the material.

The implementation

  • Tip 5: Explain (repeatedly) why and how the online assignment helps the student

    Students are more motivated to use a tool, if they understand why, especially if you make its use (partly) compulsory. Therefore, explain very well to your students why you are using this tool for the course. Repeat this if necessary. Above all, indicate the benefits for them if they participate with conviction in the joint reading and comprehension process. In addition, give clear instructions about your expectations: think about the number of annotations, the time needed for reading, interaction, assessment, deadline and follow-up. 

  • Tip 6: Give students time to help each other (do not intervene)

    If you notice that students don't know the answer, or give the wrong answer, you may have a tendency to respond to their notes. We recommend that you refrain from doing so as much as possible. Rather, allow students time and space to help each other by responding to each other's questions. If the students are going in the wrong direction, it is better to use these difficulties as inputs for the next live contact moment, instead of responding to students' annotations in the tool itself. 

  • Tip 7: Use the annotations as input for the live sessions

    Both tools are no substitute for discussions during live sessions. They are mainly meant to encourage students to prepare better, help each other and see other perspectives. At the same time, the annotations are great input for the live contact moments to really get to that more profound understanding of the literature. Browse through the annotations to see which topics need additional explanation. Answer the most common questions and most useful annotations during the live session. 

    In Perusall, it is possible to sort annotations by group, student, annotation type (question or comment), unanswered questions or unread comments. In FeedbackFruits, it is possible to sort annotations by group, location in document, most upvotes, most recent, with responses. In addition, the Keyword Insights feature summarises the most frequently used words in students' comments. This gives you a quick overview of the most important annotations in the text. This way, you know exactly what the common problems among students are and what requires more explanation. 

  • Tip 8: During the live session, ask if students have any questions

    Always ask students during a live session if there are any unanswered questions or issues. There is always a chance that you missed something while going through the annotations. This way, students can tell you themselves if something is still unclear. You can then use your lessons to deepen learning, instead of repeating it.