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Collaborative Annotation Tools

Collaborative annotation tools offer instructors the ability to make reading and textual analysis a communal activity. Most options are free of charge and easy to learn/use.

The following sections describe some online tools that help foster active and collaborative annotation of various documents, articles, eBooks, and PDF files.

Google Docs

Google Docs is a word processing platform from Google that allows you to create a blank document or upload a document from your personal computer and allows multiple users to annotate the document.


Widely used

It easily saves and converts documents from one file type to another

Allows users to collaborate even if they do not have a Google account


Users not using a Google account will remain anonymous

Only allows for textual commenting

There is no student analytics option for tracking participation

Possible Uses

Great entryway technology for any classroom requiring collaborative work on a single document


Perusall is a free collaborative annotation service that claims to transform reading from a “solitary experience to an “engaging and collective one.” Teachers are able to create online courses independently of or integrated with an LMS Canvas. From there, teachers can upload texts as files from their computers, or they can have students purchase e-copies directly from the publisher. Teachers can make assignments from specific chapters or sections and have students read, comment, and ask questions collaboratively.


Completely free to use (no upgraded version)

Allows students to work collaboratively or individually

Students can communicate with each other by responding to or emphasizing their classmates' questions

Students can annotate images and text

Program comes equipped with student analytics function that tracks what participants contribute to the assignment


App is not currently integrated in Emory’s Canvas account

There are extra steps to gain “Instructor Access”

Layout is pretty simplistic

Possible Uses

Great for courses that stick close to a single text book

Great for courses where collaborative reading/editing is a part of the learning objective

Great for courses where there is no central textbook but is done exclusively through PDFs


Hypothesis is a free online tool and web browser extension that allows you to annotate and save web pages both individually and collaboratively. The creators describe the technology as creating a “conversation layer over the entire web” between you and whatever community of learners you are a part of. The company also prides itself on offering “free, open, and neutral” tools for online learning.


Sleek/almost invisible toolbar

Allows you to tag and categorize annotations online

Allows users to comment with text, images, or short videos (by embed link only)

Gives users the ability to keep annotations private or make them public as to engage with the greater scholarly community


Compared to Insert Learning, the layout is a little less intuitive

No student analytics option for tracking participation

Possible Uses

Great for classes where students primarily read online content


Kami allows teachers to share files with others to collaboratively annotate documents with text, images, voice memos, and short videos. This technology also comes with a web browser extension that makes opening the Kami editor seamless.


Fully integrated with Google Classroom

Basic version has most of the same elements of Perusall

There is an attached OCR converter to make PDFs readable


App is not currently integrated in Emory’s Canvas account

Most advanced settings cost $99/year/teacher

Marketed for k-12 students

Possible Uses

Great for teachers who use Google Drive/Google Classroom

Great for group writing assignments

Great for peer review or workshop circles

Insert Learning

Insert Learning allows teachers to collect individual websites online and turn them into trackable online assignments for students in their courses. Using a free account with Insert Learning (also by downloading their Chrome web browser extension), teachers can highlight, annotate, or insert questions into any website.


Completely free (no upgraded version)

You can add textual information as well as short video recordings

Toolbar is easy to understand/navigate

Fully integrated into Google Classroom


Simplistic layout

Caters to K-12 students

No student analytics option for tracking participation

Possible Uses

Great for teachers who often assign long form journalism or texts which are primarily accessible online