Using Social Annotation to Improve Student Comprehension and Engagement in Condensed Summer Courses

By Christie DeCarolis | 3 May, 2024

We’re fast approaching summer classes, which often present new challenges to instructors. Many summer courses feature condensed schedules, which put extra demands on both students and instructors. It can be overwhelming to manage the increased workload. Paired with the distractions of summer fun or responsibilities, it can be difficult to maintain student engagement and motivation during these accelerated courses.

Using Hypothesis social annotation in your summer courses can easily add a layer of both accountability and engagement for students. You’ll be able to ensure students have completed essential course readings and show up to class prepared to engage in discussions. But how can we create annotation assignments in summer courses that don’t add to the condensed course overwhelm for both you and your students? 

  1. Identify topics or course materials that are “sticking points” in your course.

Faced with long course texts to read in a short amount of time, students often choose to skip the readings altogether.  Avoid the temptation of adding social annotation to every single reading in your summer course, or expect students to annotate thoroughly through long readings quickly. This will not overwhelm your students, but may create an unmanageable grading workload for you! 

Recognizing your course’s “sticking points” – the areas where students commonly struggle or where discussions tend to stall – can help you select the materials that students should thoroughly annotate. 

Annotation Advice: You can use this opportunity to teach your students how you’d approach the text as an expert reader. Which areas would you skim? What areas would you analyze more deeply? You can add your own model annotations to the document before students have access to help them develop these skills.


  1. Replace other activities in your course with social annotation instead of adding additional activities.

Think about similar course assignments that aren’t meeting your instructional goals. Are you assigning discussion boards or writing reflections/summaries that result in stale submissions? Consider replacing some, or all, of these assignments with social annotation instead. This can help increase student engagement without increasing the workload for you or your students.

Replacing summaries or discussions with social annotation assignments encourage student metacognition and collaboration, which can help students better comprehend and retain the course material.  Use the annotations to make teaching decisions about your class time: the annotations can point to material students may be misinterpreting, or areas that may lead to more active discussion.

  1. Set clear annotation expectations from the beginning to ensure success.

Simply adding Hypothesis social annotations to your readings won’t automatically mean greater student engagement and comprehension (if only!). Providing guidance and examples for students on what you expect from their annotations will help ensure they have meaningful conversations from the very first day of class. Hypothesis has created examples of prompts you can use in your own course on our annotation starter assignments page.

Other tips to encourage meaningful annotations include:

  • Communicate explicitly with students why you are having them annotate and how their annotations can help them on their larger assessments, such as essays or exams.
  • Provide specific examples of what annotations should (and should not) look like that students can use as a model from the first assignment.
  • Highlight well-written student annotations to build upon examples of additive annotations.

Adding Hypothesis social annotation to your summer course doesn’t need to be just another assignment for your students to complete and for you to grade. With careful decisions about your course design, social annotation can increase student engagement, comprehension, and success in your summer courses despite their fast-paced nature.

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