Collaborative Annotations - Facilitating group work for histopathology students

November 26, 2015

Upon the release of the Slice annotation tool, a team of academics at UNSW Australia trialled the functionality in eight class activities. In this series, we’ll be sharing what worked, what didn’t and how you can try this in your own classes.

Overview of activity

For two histopathology classes, Dr Betty Kan had previously created annotation layers with questions for students to answer using the annotation tool. With the development of the new annotation tool, these activities were repurposed as collaborative exercises. For two different student cohorts with class sizes of 40 and 110 students respectively, the activities encouraged:

  • Students to work in smaller groups, in order to
  • Create a ‘consensus layer’ that
  • Annotated the features set out in the layer instructions

The class exercise focused on the histopathology of colonic adenocarcinoma. In the smaller classes, students formed groups of approximately 8, based on the tables they were seated at and discussed the features before annotating answers. All members of the group had access to the same layer, annotating on their own screen, while able to simultaneously view their colleague’s annotations.

Students working together to complete the group activity

In the larger classes students self-organised into groups of 2-6 with one member of the group duplicating the annotation layer by clicking the drop down arrow and clicking DUPLICATE. They were instructed as to how to invite people to join the annotation layer and links were shared via a Google document.

Example group layer

The exercise has been extended as part of an honours project to compare the benefit of collaborative annotation to individual annotation. After completing both activities students worked individually through a quiz designed to test the grasp of concepts explored in the class. This will help to determine the differences in learning gains between the two teaching methods.

What worked

  • This exercise required students to label features on a low power view and a high power view. Setting up the exercise on one layer worked by asking students to complete the low power annotations first before following a link to the high power view.
  • Dividing students into smaller groups resulted in more discussion and collaboration.
  • For the cohort of 40 students, it worked to create group layers that were numbered 1-8 and invite students to join them based on which table they were seated at.
  • For the larger cohort, managing the large number of annotation layers would have been difficult. Therefore asking students to take control of the layer and share via a Google doc made the exercise easier to set up.
  • Students could see each other’s annotations as they were made and all annotations were not anonymous. For this type of activity, seeing other people’s annotations promoted collaboration and reduced the creation of duplicated annotations.

Tips for conducting a similar exercise:

  • Consider how teacher feedback will be given at the end of the student activity – through circulation of a correct answer layer, or by accessing a group annotation layer and providing verbal feedback.

General Advice: Register all of your students on Slice first and then teach them to annotate. This makes trialling a different style of class much easier. To register your students or to use collaborative annotations in your own classes, watch our short video or contact