Online Discussions Using the Marginalia Annotation Tool

Grant program: Teaching and Learning Development Grant (TLDG)

Grant recipient: Lannie Kanevsky, Faculty of Education

Project team: Cindy Xin, TLC Educational Consultant, and Ilana Ram, research assistant

Timeframe: May 2014 to April 2015

Funding: $5,000

Course addressed: EDUC 428 – Nature and Nurture of Gifted Students

Final report: View Lannie Kanevsky's final report (PDF)

Description: I began working with a paper and pencil format for “triple entry journals” in the mid 1990s when I was introduced to them as a way to ensure students read assigned readings before coming to class. This process requires students to prepare a journal entry (summary, selected highlights with reflections, and a lingering question) that they exchange with at least two classmates in weekly face-to-face class meetings.  Now, one of my courses, EDUC 428, is delivered in a blended format so students’ exchanges and discussions of assigned readings are taking place in a discussion forum using an annotation tool: Marginalia.  This is an alternative to having them use the “Reply” feature that enables a respondent to identify a specific passage in the post to which their comment applies.  I have always been impressed with the positive impact the journaling process has had on in class discussions.  Now we would like to investigate if and what students learn from using the Marginalia annotation tool ( to discuss their classmates’ responses to assigned readings in an online forum, and how they feel about it. 

Data will be collected through multiple methods:

  • Participants’ background information (age, academic background, teaching experience, etc) and students’ use of and attitudes toward different forms of technology will be collected through an online survey.
  • Students’ conversations in the online forum will be coded and analysed to provide answers to the questions related to their content, as well as the nature of student interactions and learning as it appeared in the online discussions of the assigned readings.
  • A survey will be developed to measure students’ perspectives on the nature and value of their use of Marginalia and the online discussions.

Questions addressed:

  • How do students interact in discussion forums based on assigned readings when using an annotation tool (“Marginalia”) in their conversations?  What is the nature of the content in their interactions and comments?  Does the nature of their interactions and the content of their comments change during the semester?  Does their understanding of the course content appear to change?  If so, in what ways?
  • What are student’s perceptions of their learning with “Marginalia”?  What do students think they learned from this process? What role do students feel the process of responding to and discussing assigned readings played in their learning in the course?  Do students enjoy the online discussions of assigned readings?

Knowledge sharing: We look forward to participating in the “TechTalk” Series of lunch hour discussions of the use of different forms of technology in our work at SFU.  The Marginalia tool could be demonstrated, along with the process of discussing assigned readings online. The results of our research will enable us to provide others with a better understanding of student interactions and learning, as well as students’ reflections on the process when using Marginalia to annotate and discuss classmates’ responses to course readings. The results of this study will also be disseminated at scholarly conferences.

Kanevsky, L. (2015, June). Using the Marginalia annotation tool to critically engage students in online discussions of assigned readings. Presentation at the Educational Technology Users Group (ETUG), Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC.

Kanevsky, L., Xin, C., & Ram, I. (2016). Going blended with a Triple-Entry Activity: Students’ online discussions of assigned readings using Marginalia. Collected Essays on Learning and Teaching, 9, 69-82.

Kanevsky, L., Xin, C., & Ram, I. (2015, June). An investigation of students’ engagement with peers and assigned readings in annotation-enhanced discussion forums. Presentation at the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE) Conference, Vancouver, BC.

View Lannie Kanevsky's ISTLD-funded projects:

Online Discussions Using the Marginalia Annotation Tool (G0089)