Online Feedback and Social Annotation

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How does online feedback support learning?

In a paper published in the International Journal of TESOL Studies (2021), Marissa K.L.E evaluates online social annotation tools in a content-based instruction classroom (CBI).

Given that  the majority of teachers across the world have been working online, adapting teaching strategies for a virtual environment, online feedback tools has been the dominant assessment method used in the classroom.

It’s reassuring to find some new academic research published in this area.

In the 17-page journal, the introduction and methodology offers interesting analysis of annotation on digital text, collaborative learning and feedback. The challenges of teaching this way are also recognised. As in the physical classroom, teachers must “ensure that the content provided is not only challenging enough to reach adequate difficultly levels of learning, but allow for student engagement as well.”

This research explored:

  1. What type of annotations do students make online?
  2. What evidence is there from student work that they understand and can apply concepts?
  3. What are the students’ experiences?

In this case study, the research looks carefully at a platform called –  I’ve never heard of it, but on appearance it looks very similar to Mote (paid) and Kaizena (free –  which I use in my classroom) and Mendeley, which I use my academic studies. I managed to plug it in to my browsers, tried it twice and it crashed.


In this study, 44 first year undergraduate students were involved from a Singaporean university. they took part in a 13 week writing programme, using “to respond to questions in their tutorial handouts for a period of two weeks.” Working in groups, students responded after “group discussions of 10 to 20 minutes on average” with annotations analysed and coded.

In the literature review, research suggests that online social annotation tools are helpful for evidence-based tracking; teachers can gain an insight into how students process information; can reinforce learning; enhance student motivation (with an Internet connection) and in a collaborative context, provide other points of view and co-construction. The literature offers two types:

  1. The technological aspect
  2. The implementation of the platform on learning.

Threshold concepts

First proposed by Meyer and Land (2003), a “threshold concept can be considered as a way of opening up a new and previously inaccessible way of thinking about something.” There are 8 characteristics of threshold concepts. Note, not all eight are required. They are:

  1. Transformative =  changes the way the student views discipline
  2. Troublesome =  causes difficulty for the student
  3. Irreversible =  once learnt, it becomes difficult to unlearn
  4. Integrated =  once learnt, can help bring together different aspects
  5. Bounded =  describes a specific conceptual space
  6. Discursive =  incorporates and enhances extended use of language
  7. Re-constitutive =  entails a change in subjectivity
  8. Liminality =  crossing a transitional or initial stage.

Put simply, this is a “way of thinking, practising and being”.

With caution, the research paper recommends that “there needs to be a shared understanding” and that “the identification of threshold concepts is only one stage of the process” (Marissa K.L.E, 2021).

ICAP Framework

The paper also highlights that ICAP Framework behaviour modes (Chi and Wylie, 2014):

  1. Interactive =  learners’ behaviours in dialogic interaction
  2. Constructive =  learners praying outputs of products not included with the learning materials
  3. Active =  learners engage with instructional material
  4. Passive =  learners are directed towards and taking in information from instructional materials without overtly doing anything else.


Student experiences were very positive with “impact on learners’ self regulatory behaviour and motivation.”

With the explosion of online learning throughout the pandemic, it is”increasingly ubiquitous” that schools and colleges must offer a wide range of digital tools that students can use. Not only will this be helpful for teachers, but it will help keep students engaged.

The challenge is providing the technology, maintaining the equipment and access from home. The research concludes from an evidence based perspective on student metacognition and learning across different subjects:

It will be interesting to see if there are long-term effects on learning resulting from the use of social annotation tools.

Download the paper.

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