Collaborative Annotations - Facilitating student group work

November 20, 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 the activity

While Slice can be used to give students feedback, not all activities require academics to have visibility of student work. Often Patrick de Permentier conducts his histology classes by providing students with the freedom to work at their own pace as he guides them through histological features. Students are allowed and encouraged to work together but previously had no way of all annotating on the one layer.

In a class of 110 students, they were:

  • Shown the invite feature of the collaborative tool
  • Encouraged to create their own shared layers
  • Asked to invite each other via social media, email or by a learning management system

For this exercise no teacher-student feedback was given. Instead, students were encouraged to work together.

An example of a student layer

Students were polled afterwards to ascertain whether they found the exercise/tool helpful. Most felt that their understanding of the topic increased after the activity and free text responses revealed what worked and what didn’t.

What worked:

Students liked:

  • Working on slides with their peers (31 responses);“Annotation is undoubtedly useful. Collaboration with friends is a nice bonus.”
  • Being able to keep up in class and catch up on things that were missed (22 responses);“Allowed people to work with each other to help each other out to achieve a better outcome”“Didn't have to ask tutors but could get friends to point things out to me”
  • Consolidating and comparing answers amongst peers (8 responses);
  • The interactive interface (8 response); and
  • How easy it was to use (9 responses)

What didn’t work:

Student feedback points to:

  • The need for a “teacher layer”, an annotation layer with everything labelled correctly given at the end of the exercise or a list of features to identify (18 responses). The downside of this is that once students know this will be available, the motivation to pay attention and keep up with the activity decreases.
  • Needing an easier way to share (12 responses). Moving between social media or email was thought to be inconvenient. This has been taken on board by the design team for future development of Slice.

Tips for conducting a similar exercise:

  • Consider the use of a Google doc or equivalent that allows students to easily share links without needing email or social media. This would also give academics and other students visibility of the annotation layers.

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