Getting students to "do the reading" can be challenging. Many instructors find creative and engaging ways to help students put their heads together - literally and figuratively - to read and reflect on course materials. Since this kind of physical, shoulder-to-shoulder work is impossible this fall, several faculty experimented with a digital solution: a social e-reading app called Perusall. Perusall uses social motivation to encourage students to complete assigned reading outside of class, read more deeply for understanding, and help each other with comprehension. Today’s Spotlight shares three faculty experiments with Perusall to preserve cooperative learning while inspiring engagement with course content.
In her first-year Writing Seminar, Carey Suneja used Persuall to recreate a space for synchronous small group work even with some students attending remotely. Suneja set up groups combining in-class and online students who worked together to read and annotate using Perusall. For Suneja, Perusall “equalized the difference between in person and online students” and led to richer, more inclusive conversations. “Students even started some back and forth debate,” Suneja said, “because they were responding to each other and not just to their own annotations on the text.”
Abby Markwyn saw similar engagement among her History students. Both within Perusall and in class, Markwyn saw her students “delving into the document in more detail” and engaging with one another without her prompting. During class, Markwyn also used students’ digital comments to enhance their discussions, asking them to elaborate or respond to what they or others had said in the app.
Perusall also supports flipped learning by helping students better prepare ahead of time. Sue Lewis’s Ecology students used Perusall to read and annotate a primary research article before discussing the article in class with one of its authors, which prepared them for more insightful conversations with the experts. “Students were highlighting terms, sharing definitions with classmates, and even citing sources,” Lewis said. “Even just sharing ‘I never thought of this’ and ‘I didn’t know this was possible’ was more than they might offer up in a typical class discussion.”
While these faculty used Perusall in slightly different ways, all three say the tool helped them make student learning more visible, and their students were reading more carefully and thinking more deeply about the readings than before. Also, as Markwyn noted, Perusall’s analytics offer instructors “a visible way of telling who’s engaged, and how they’re engaging.” Given this tangible way of gauging student learning, Markwyn, Lewis, and Suneja all plan to use Perusall in some capacity long-term to promote cooperative learning and inspire deeper engagement in their courses.