Technology for Teaching & Learning

44 Perusall – Annotated Reading

Jennifer Smith

Effective reading skills are critically important for student success and are vital when students enter their chosen profession. Reading may also be the most difficult thing to motivate students to do. The Perusall platform pairs social commenting and annotations with reading. The University of Florida Privacy and Security offices have approved Perusall for classroom use. This free tool is integrated with UF’s Canvas instance and can be added to the left-hand course navigation.

What is Perusall? | How Do I Use Perusall? | What Else Can Perusall Do? | Is Perusall Effective? | Where Can I Get Help with Perusall? | References

What is Perusall?

Perusall LogoPerusall is an online tool that takes advantage of social learning strategies to promote asynchronous engagement with text and images. The instructor can upload reading materials, highlight important concepts and assign tasks to the class. Students can ask questions, make comments and respond to the comments of others. Instructors can view a “confusion report” to identify concepts that are unclear to students. Perusall will automatically assess student participation. Grades can be edited by the instructor (or not) and pushed to the Canvas gradebook.

This tool is centrally supported, and is available to you within Canvas. You can request a consultation about using this tool from the Center for Instructional Technology & Training (Click the Request Assistance button in the upper right corner).

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How Do I Use Perusall?

Perusall Setup

Upload a Reading

  1. Click on “Documents” on the Perusall home page
  2. To add a book from Perusall’s catalog, click “Add > Textbook”
  3. To upload a reading (PDF or EPUB format) from your computer:
    1. Click “Add > Documents from my computer” or
    2. “Add > Documents from Dropbox”
  4. To add a web page as a reading, click “Add > Web page”

Create an Assignment

  1. Click on Assignments on your course home page
  2. Click Add assignment and select the document you want to assign
  3. Choose how much of the reading you wish to assign,
    1. Set a deadline
    2. Click Save changes
  4. Learn more about managing assignments

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What Else Can Perusall Do?

Harvard University faculty member Kelly Miller and her colleagues used Perusall in an introductory Physics course, comparing two cohorts of students (one using Perusall and one using an annotation tool without social and machine learning features). They found that the Perusall group scored significantly better on exams. (Miller, 2018). The study authors provide the following recommendations:

  • SectionsDivide students into groups of no more than 20
    • Perusall will do this automatically
    • Smaller group sizes help to keep the number of comments from being overwhelming for students
  • Avatars – Students can see who else is viewing the reading at the same time, the study authors felt that this encourages students to engage more with the reading.
  • Upvoting – Students can identify posts they found helpful or questions they would like to see answered.
  • Email Notifications – This feature keeps students involved in the conversation by letting them know that someone has responded to their comment or question.
  • Automatic Assessment – Perusall will evaluate student participation based upon:
    • Timeliness
    • Quantity
    • Quality
    • Distribution
  • Students will not see their scores until you “release” them.
    • Click the button at the bottom of that column, or enable automatic grade release within Settings > General.
    • Grades can be set to push to the Canvas gradebook.
    • Instructors can override the automatic Perusall grades.
  • Confusion report –  Perusall mines questions and groups them to help identify the top areas of confusion.

Question: What about copyright?

Just as with any material that you put into your Canvas course site, you’ll want to be sure the material falls under Fair Use, the Teach Act, Creative Commons license, or is licensed through the UF library or textbook purchase. Perry Collins, UF’s Scholarly Communications Librarian can help you to determine whether the material you wish to use meets copyright requirements. Your Subject Specialist Librarian can help you to identify content specific to your topic.

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Is Perusall Effective?

Miller, Lukoff, King, and Mazur explored the use of Perusall in promoting active reading and learning improvement. They found that use of the Perusall platform improved exam performance. “With Perusall, 90-95% of students complete all but a few of the reading assignments before class.” (Miller, 2018) Other findings from this study include:

    • Reading broken into multiple sittings yielded better performance than fewer sittings
    • Students using Perusall spent more time reading than what is described in the literature
    • Students using Perusall did better on the in-class exams than those using a text annotation tool without the social learning features (the authors recognize that this does not indicate causality and more research is needed)

This study was done in an undergraduate introductory physics course over two semesters with 74 and 79 students. Students using Perusall performed 5 – 10% better than those not using the platform. (Miller, 2018)

Emily Friedman, Associate Professor of English at Auburn University, describes her use of the tool for 18th-century works of fiction as well as scholarly works written in the 20th and 21st centuries.

  • Perusall in Practice – A description of how Friedman uses Perusall
    • It should be noted that the automated feedback does not count toward the students’ final grade
    • Friedman does manual checks and peer evaluation (gathered through Qualtrics) for grading
    • Students may also provide a metacognitive reflection
  • A Guide to Social Reading with Perusall – Friedman’s instructions to her students

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Where Can I Get Help with Perusall?

Perusall is one of the centrally supported tools at the University of Florida. If you have questions or need help with the setup, visit the Center for Instructional Technology & Training website and click the “Request Assistance” button in the upper left corner.

Faculty at Vanderbilt University share ideas and practical advice for using Perusall in this article: Teaching with Perusall and Social Annotation – Highlights from a Conversation. Ideas include:

  • Invite students to annotate the course syllabus not only provides an introduction to the tool but can foster student understanding of course goals and activities.
  • Provide the transcript for your lecture (you can download this from > Recordings > Audio Transcript) for students to ask and answer questions about the presentation.
  • With permission, share sample work from past students for students to review collaboratively.

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Bruff, D. (2020). Teaching with Perusall and Social Annotation – Highlights from a Conversation. Retrieved November 17, 2020.

Miller, K., Lukoff, B., King, G., & Mazur, E. (2018). Use of a social annotation platform for pre-class reading assignments in a flipped introductory physics class. Frontiers in Education3. doi: 10.3389/feduc.2018.00008

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UF Instructor Guide Copyright © 2017 by Jennifer Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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