Social Annotation Tools

Note: The University's limited pilot license for FeedbackFruits is ending after the Spring 2022 semester. This page includes other options for social annotation platforms.

Unlike traditional, isolated modes of reading and annotating, social annotation tools enable instructors and students to read and annotate as a community. Students can collectively comment on one master document and build on each other's ideas to deepen their understanding of a text. Social annotation tools enable students to highlight, comment, and respond to their peers, ask questions, and post links, images, and videos. As a result, these tools foster opportunities for students to produce effective critical dialogues, solve problems, and develop connections across multiple texts (Brown & Croft, 2020). This page shares strategies and examples of how to implement social annotation tools within your teaching practice.

Contact if you have any questions related to the approaches discussed.

social annotation tool icon

Social Annotation & Teaching

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  • Activities and Assessments

    Social annotation can be used to support a variety of teaching goals and learning outcomes. Here are some examples of the types of in-class activities or assessments instructors can use with social annotation tools. 

    • Close readings of texts, documents, videos, case studies, etc.
    • Student peer review
    • Research projects
    • Annotated Bibliography
    • Informal or formal group work
    • Guided or Collaborative note-taking
    • Collaborative Writing
    • Independent Study

  • Considerations

    • Provide clear guidelines: Inform students on the proper way to annotate by providing explicit instructions and/or modeling how you would like students to engage with the texts. If the annotations are to be graded, provide rubrics so students understand the criteria. 
    • Practice, practice, practice: Since these tools might be new for your students, we recommend taking time to review them in-class and offer students flexibility for the first few weeks of the semester. For example, students can practice annotating the syllabus or a related reading in class together. 
    • Monitor discussion: Encourage student participation by adding additional comments or replying to students’ annotations. Students should feel free to leave questions that instructors can answer within the tool or later on in class. 
    • Accessibility: Make sure the materials you are having students annotate are accessible

Tools Available for Social Annotation

Here are some tools instructors can use to implement social annotation into their courses. We also have a chart that compares each tool’s main features. 

Social Annotation Tools Comparison Chart

UM Supported Tools

These social annotation tools are already licensed by the University for students and faculty to use. They are free and already available or integrated within Blackboard. Also, instructors can receive support for these tools by contacting the Learning Platforms Team at

Google Drive


Google Drive is a cloud-based data storage and file sharing solution that students and instructors can access via a web browser or mobile application with their UM account. Students can comment and peer review a variety of texts through Google Drive including Google Docs, Google Slides, Microsoft Word Documents, Powerpoints,  and PDFs. Students can annotate a single document simultaneously and reply to one another’s comments. 

To use Google Drive for social annotations: 

Pre-record your process (highly recommended) or use it during a live session.

  • Within Google Drive, create a folder for your course. Make sure to share the folder with your students and grant them commentator access.  For easy access, instructors can post a link to that folder on their Blackboard course site.  
  • Upload relevant documents or files into that folder.
  • Through commentator access, students should be able to highlight, add, edit, and delete comments throughout the document, and reply to one another. 

Recommended Teaching Strategies

  • For large enrollment courses, instructors can assign groups and manually create separate folders and/or have students create folders if working on group projects.
  •  Use Google Drive for formative, non-graded assessments such as close readings or online peer reviews.
  • To supplement annotation, students can generate a Google Doc and collaborate on note-taking to discuss important concepts or create a glossary of terms.



VoiceThread is a platform where instructors and students can share and annotate multimedia (images, videos, audio, documents) in a slideshow format. Once created, a VoiceThread becomes a space to collect responses from students in the form of comments that can be text, audio, or video. VoiceThread is already integrated within Blackboard and is available for instructors to enable within their courses.

To use VoiceThread for social annotations: 

  • Create a VoiceThread in your chosen course content area within Blackboard. The VoiceThread can be non-graded or graded using the assignment feature
  • Add media files to your VoiceThread (documents, slides, images, etc.) and leave comments to either narrate your slides or provide open-ended questions for your students to respond to. 
  • Students should be able to log into your Blackboard course site and view your VoiceThread. Students can also add original comments or reply to their peers.  

Recommended Teaching Strategies

  • VoiceThread can be used for students to peer review uploaded work (e.g. drawings, PDFs), explore readings, or leave comments on recorded lectures.  
  • Instructors and students can use the doodling tool to mark up slides when recording their comments to further highlight concepts. 
  • Allowing students the flexibility to leave text, audio, or video comments aligns with the multiple means of representation principle of Universal Design for Learning.

Blackboard Self & Peer Assessment Tool

This information only applies to Blackboard in “Original Course View," not Ultra Course View. For Ultra Course View there is the Peer Review tool which has similar features. 


The Self and Peer Assessment Tool is a resource available through Blackboard that allows students to review their peers' work through criteria-based evaluations. Although social annotation is limited, it is an excellent tool for peer review that also allows students to self-assess their own work and review the comments/scores from their evaluators. 

To use Blackboard Self & Peer Assessment for peer review: 

This tool involves a two-step process:

  • Students answer questions created by instructors (e.g. can directly type answers or upload a file as one of the questions)
  • Students are assigned to evaluate their peer responses to questions based on “Criteria” created by instructors. This involves writing comments and assigning points.

Recommended Teaching Strategies

  • Have a rubric or guidelines in place on how students should provide feedback to their peers. 
  • Students may find it helpful to reflect on the feedback process either through in-class or online discussions.
  • For more honest, open feedback, instructors may want to let students anonymize their comments. 


Non-UM Supported Tools

These are third-party social annotation tools without enterprise licensing, usually funded by a department, and support is provided by the vendor (not the Learning Platforms Team). Instructors and students can freely use these tools, but they will not be integrated within Blackboard. If your department wishes to integrate any of these tools in Blackboard and you are interested in incorporating them in your teaching, be sure to submit a demand request to IT Portfolio Management.

Learn more: UM Standard Operating Procedure for LMS Integration Requests

Overview is primarily used for open, social annotations and is free for instructors and students via Chrome extension. Students can annotate PDFs and websites by selecting and highlighting texts, adding notes, and tags. Additionally, students enable multiple defined layers to separate their own private annotations. Through , students can be placed into open and restricted groups.

Learn more: Educator Resource Guide

Recommended Teaching Strategies

  • is best used in smaller enrollment courses and in courses that do not rely heavily on textbooks as it is limited to web pages and PDFs.
  • Since it allows students to enable a private layer, students can easily access it for independent study.
  • Students can use for collaborative research projects or threaded online discussions. 
  • support single- and double-blind, open review, and post-publication peer review. It also organizes inline comments by reviewer, editor, and author



Perusall is also a platform used for social annotations and is free for instructors and students. Notably, It can support a variety of texts including PDFs, open-source textbooks, web pages, and digital textbooks that can be purchased through Persusall or via code acquired through the bookstore. Students can also socially annotate videos and podcasts. Additionally, Perusall enables peer review and students to include comments, tags, chats, and upvoting in their annotations. Annotations can be non-graded or instructors can create assignments with grading that can be customized within Perusall. 

Learn More: Perusall for Instructors 


Recommended Teaching Strategies

  • Perusall can be used for larger enrollment courses because it offers both streamlined group management and automated grading. The automated grading system factors in active reading time, annotation quality, and more. 
  • Students can annotate their textbook for key points,  analyze critical concepts, and/or post reflective summaries.
  • Perusall offers a variety of analytics including a  confusion report that summarizes overlapping questions and any areas of confusion. Instructors can ask students to flag any area of the text they find confusing as a formative, non-graded assessment.

References & Sources

Brown, M. & Croft, B., (2020). Social Annotation and an Inclusive Praxis for Open Pedagogy in the College Classroom.  Journal of Interactive Media in Education. Retrieved January 25, 2022, from

Integrating Social Annotation into Your Course: What Tool is Right for You? (2020, December 15). Duke Learning Innovation.

Social Annotation. (n.d.). Center for Teaching Innovation. Retrieved January 21, 2022, from 

Additional Sources

Social Annotations and UDL 

Social Annotation Marking Rubric

Annotation Tools: Resource for College Instructors

Technology Summaries – Annotation Tools