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Introducing Multimodal Assignments and Student Uploads

May 27, 2021

Multimodal assignments

Instructors can use a variety of materials in their Perusall course: a book from the Perusall catalog, PDFs, EPUBs, Microsoft Word and Excel documents, source code files, web pages, videos, and podcasts. Previously, instructors could assign multiple sections from the same text as one assignment, but could not assign multiple PDFs, Word/Excel documents, videos, podcasts, etc. (or a combination of these) together as one assignment. Assigning a document and a video entailed creating two assignments, one for each material. In this case, the result was two columns in the Perusall gradebook, two grade items in the LMS, the instructor spending time and energy figuring out how much weight to give each assignment, creating potential student confusion.

Instructors can now create multimodal assignments to address these issues. Multimodal assignments use more than one Perusall library item but only generate a single column in the gradebook. Multimodal assignments do not limit the number of items that can be included in one assignment, nor the kinds of materials that can be included in one assignment. To create a multimodal assignment, simply follow the same steps as creating a regular assignment, but click + Add another part in the create/edit assignment menu.

Student uploads

Peer review used to be a complicated maneuver in Perusall. Now, with the introduction of student uploads, instructors can enable students to upload materials to their course and then assign them to the class for a peer review exercise. (Instructors can use a differentiated assignment to assign each student a different document but generate only one column in the gradebook.)

Enabling student uploads entails creating a “Student upload folder” (Course home > Library) that students see in their library tab and upload to by clicking the button Upload to this folder. If it is an LMS-integrated course, students can see the folder by launching Perusall through a generic Perusall link (rather than an assignment-specific link).

Other features recently released

Podcast search

Instructors can now search for a podcast by title or description, rather than having to search and paste into the RSS feed URL.

Hide old assignments

Students and instructors can now hide old assignments on the course home page so the most current is always at the top.

Folder descriptions

Instructors can now add descriptions to folders that will appear for students.

5 Tips for Creating Meaningful Reading Assignments with Perusall

March 15, 2021
Guest post by Lauren Barbeau, Perusall Faculty Advisory Panel Member & Assistant Director for Faculty Development & SoTL, University of Georgia

How do we get students to engage meaningfully with our course texts? If you’ve been using Perusall for a while, you already know that this technology solves one of the most fundamental challenges we face as teachers—getting students to do the reading—but you may still be struggling to meaningfully incorporate Perusall assignments into your course. Here are some of the strategies I’ve learned after four years of developing Perusall assignments both as a faculty member and as a faculty developer helping other instructors use Perusall.

1. Make time to explain what Perusall is, how it works, and why you’ll be using it throughout the course.

If you’re familiar with the Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TiLT) framework, you might recognize the similarities here to defining the purpose, task, and criteria (or, as I prefer to say, the “why, what, and how”) for any given assignment.

On the first day of the semester, or in the welcome module of my online/hybrid courses, I make time to explain what I like about Perusall and why we’ll be using it: the metacognitive benefits of seeing what peers have to say about the reading, the community-building benefits, the intertextuality offered by Perusall’s integrative video and hyperlink comment features, the reading skills Perusall encourages students to develop for long-term success, etc. I also provide brief written and video tutorials on how to use Perusall, making sure to highlight any particular features that I want students to use. In my case, I tend to emphasize the @name and #hashtag options because they support my pedagogies, but that’s a story for another day. Finally, I review the grading criteria I’ve established for my course and discuss examples of annotations at various quality levels so students know how they will be evaluated.

2. Set up a practice assignment in Perusall to allow students to explore the tool on their own.

Over the past four years, I’ve given over thirty Perusall workshops, presented on Perusall at more than seven conferences, and conducted more one-on-one Perusall trainings that I can count. I consider this to be my greatest tip of all time: put your syllabus in Perusall. Not only will this give students an opportunity to acclimate to the Perusall environment, it will also ensure that they’ve read (and engaged with!) your syllabus.

I do this in my own courses and am always pleasantly surprised by the depth of student questions and comments; I certainly never had that experience with a traditional “syllabus day.” One faculty member I worked with commented that she has never gotten such insightful questions about her syllabus in all her decades of teaching. The types of questions she received helped her identify and revise areas of the syllabus for greater clarity. As she stated, she would never have known these aspects of the syllabus were unclear had she not posted it for students review in Perusall. Posting the syllabus in Perusall turned out to be mutually beneficial to both the instructor and her students.

3. Embed Perusall readings in Learning Management System (LMS) modules and frame readings in context of other course content.

While Perusall can be integrated into most mainstream LMS platforms, not all of us have access to this integration. Not to worry! You can still create a linked page that ports students directly to their Perusall assignment by pulling the assignment URL. Doing so makes it easier for students to access the right reading at the right moment, but it also appropriately frames Perusall readings as a part of your course modules rather than an additional thing that they need to do outside of the LMS. Just be sure to set the link to open in an external window.

Linking the Perusall assignment in your module allows you to frame the reading. I always end the previous page by stating that “The next page will link you out to this week’s Perusall reading” so students expect to jump to a new tab when they click the forward button. I usually provide a few framing thoughts and questions or highlight important ideas from the reading to which students should pay special attention.

4. Engage with students through Perusall.

The beauty of Perusall is that it’s not a traditional discussion board, which means you’re no longer constrained to traditional discussion board pedagogies. My advice: ditch discussion prompts and let students lead.

If you’ve followed the first three steps, students should be well primed to engage with Perusall sans prompts. Instead of posting prompts, let students know you’re present and reading their comments by posting follow up probing questions, synthesizing multiple comments and tagging students who should join the conversation, upvoting model responses, hashtagging emerging thread themes, or posting relevant links and videos to comment threads. These are only a few of the ways you can meaningfully engage with students through Perusall beyond discussion prompts. This is a new technology, and we need a new pedagogy to go with it. Get creative!

5. Follow up with students.

I expect you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the level of organic student engagement you see through Perusall. However, this does mean that you’ll likely be unable to read every comment on every reading, and that’s ok! Perusall’s analytics make it possible for you to engage with students in aggregate rather than having to read every single comment. The confusion report is particularly helpful here, but only if you’ve taught students to use the question flagging feature. If you’re teaching synchronously, you can use the confusion report to identify top areas to address in your next course meeting. One instructor I knew who was teaching online posted a video each week to address questions that arose from the confusion report.

I also find the “star comment” feature useful for identifying comments I’d like to address further. This feature creates a curated list of comments you can easily return to in a synchronous meeting or in a follow-up video. While I may not be able to respond to every thread (nor should I—I want to encourage students to become co-creators of knowledge rather than cultivating reliance on me as the giver of knowledge), I can acknowledge and expand on useful conversations by quickly skimming through comments and adding them to my curated list.

Now that you’ve discovered the secret to getting your students to do the reading, I hope you can use these tips to more fully incorporate Perusall into your pedagogy to create meaningful reading assignments for your students.

Social Annotation and Community Building

January 22, 2021
Guest post by Nicholas Miller, Perusall Faculty Advisory Panel Member & Assistant Professor of English, Valdosta State University

Although I began using social annotation practices before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I have found myself increasingly relying on Perusall to guide and structure my classes now that I am primarily teaching online. A number of folks have written about the value of social annotation in the past year, so I do not want to rehash the many great arguments in favor of using platforms like Perusall . The benefits in terms of reading comprehension, close textual analysis, and critical thinking are pretty clear. What I do want to think about for a moment, however, are the more intangible benefits of such platforms when it comes to building community.

One of my biggest concerns when teaching online has always been the inability to replicate my charismatic personality in a learning management system. I rely heavily on tone, visual cues, and enthusiasm to steer and direct conversations in my face-to-face classes—something that can be hard to make visible online. This is especially true when teaching asynchronously. Yet the move to using social annotation tools, and using them heavily, has allowed me new modes of creating community. They are not mirrors of the work I do in-person, but they cover a lot of ground. More specifically, by encouraging formal and informal responses to the readings, I have started using all of the multimodal writing tools available in Perusall to communicate personality online. For example, the use of emojis, GIFs, hyperlinks, memes, and hashtags in my own comments creates a number of the side conversations (about cultural references, popular media, and rhetorical strategies) that can go missing when in-person classes move online.

Using such features allow me—and my students—to present a bit more of ourselves in virtual spaces than one typically sees on a discussion board or in a quiz. These micro-relationships that form, then, become foundational to our class community and eventually enable students to more freely and eagerly respond not only to me online—but to their peers as well. And one striking revelation in doing this has been how social annotation platforms, in some ways, become more egalitarian spaces for my students. The introverts are not left behind when a frenetic conversation does not leave them time to think through their ideas. Students who might struggle to speak up when seeing themselves occupying a minority identity or ideology next to their classmates is often able to speak up better in these virtual spaces (and can use anonymity tools for some posts)—which enriches and complicates our discussions of the texts. And for me, as somebody who often teaches visual texts, the ability for students to come together to make sense of small details in a comic or piece of art can forge bonds that remind me of the discoveries that get made when we tackle passages closely together in a face-to-face class. If I have taken anything away from this year spent teaching entirely online, it is that social annotation and collaborative reading practices will be a hallmark of my teaching for years to come—regardless of the classroom modality. If you have not taken the opportunity to try out platforms like Perusall yet, I highly recommend it. And if you have practices and/or assignments tied to social annotation that you want to share, please do!

Course affected by COVID-19? Publishers now offering free textbooks through Perusall this spring

March 23, 2020

[Note: This post refers to a publisher offer from Spring 2020 and is no longer active.]

We designed Perusall to support learning no matter the mode of delivery: if you’re moving your class online due to the Coronavirus epidemic, Perusall will create an engaging virtual learning experience for your students.

If your students previously purchased books outside of Perusall, and you’d like to move to Perusall now, we may be able to help. We have arranged with an increasing number of our publishers to offer free textbook rentals in Perusall for students in ongoing courses affected by COVID-19, when your students previously purchased access elsewhere. Those currently participating include:

(Some restrictions may apply, depending on the publisher.)

If you’d like to take advantage of this offer for your course, email us at support@perusall.com and let us know what book(s) you are using in your course and how many students you have. If permitted to by the publisher, we’ll provide you with an access code your students can use to bypass the paywall for your book(s) until at least May 25. (Let us know if your semester extends beyond that date.)

If you don’t see your publisher on the list above, contact your local publisher sales representative for alternatives that may be available.

Please feel free to share this information with colleagues who are moving their classes online, or with your administration.

How Perusall helps classes moved online due to Coronavirus

March 8, 2020

Perusall is a free platform that guarantees students are prepared by managing the entire out-of-classroom experience for you, automatically. We designed Perusall to support learning no matter the mode of delivery: if you’re moving your class online due to the Coronavirus epidemic, you can count on Perusall to create an engaging virtual learning experience for your students. In this time of crisis, when faculty are being required to move in-person courses online, will you share this information with your colleagues or administration?

As the only truly social e-reader, Perusall keeps students motivated and learning even without an instructor standing in front of a classroom. Because setup is so fast, with or without integration into your school’s learning management system, Perusall can be quickly deployed mid-semester into an existing course. Research shows that Perusall increases student reading preparation from an average of 20-30% to >90%. By combining collaborative discussion and content annotation with automated grading that keeps students on track, Perusall creates a community among your students -- and improves their learning outcomes -- even when no one meets them face-to-face. No matter how you innovate teaching during this crisis, Perusall can help you maintain academic rigor and guarantee students learn.

Perusall is always free when used with your own content or open educational resources; there is no limit to the number of courses you can create or the number of students you can use Perusall with. Create a new course now, or email us at support@perusall.com. We’ll get you set up, answer your questions, or discuss any pedagogical issues that arise.