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

Working in hybrid remote, 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 do a close reading of 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.


Emily Pitts Donahoe
Notre Dame Learning | Kaneb Center for Teaching Excellence
University of Notre Dame