Active Learning on Zoom: Annotate

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Opportunities to share reactions, expressions, and ideas are vital to the creation of a rich learning environment and classroom community. Even when classes are conducted virtually, the online classroom environment should be one where students feel safe to share their ideas and opinions and otherwise contribute to discussions. The annotate feature on Zoom can help students develop social skills, collaborate, and express their personalities.   

Using Zoom Annotate with a class of students.

What did the faculty (Sara) do effectively here? She: 

  • Provided students with a clear list of options to choose from. As it was the first time she had used the annotate feature on Zoom with this group of students, it would likely be easier for them to annotate with a “stamp” than to think up and write out their own words.  
  • Offered very clear instructions. The question and all options were available to students on the slide and Sara walked them through, step-by-step, how to access the annotate feature.  
  • Demonstrated for the full group how she would use the “checkmark” feature to note her own choices before asking students to try the same.  
  • Left sufficient time for the exercise in case some students needed help troubleshooting technical issues. 
  • Was ready with a back-up option for participation for students whose version of Zoom didn’t have the annotate feature.  
  • Debriefed the most popular items on the list with students—validating their contributions while also providing additional information about how these types of learning will appear in the weeks to come in the course. 

What could go wrong? How could faculty manage such occurrences? 

  • Learners sometimes get overwhelmed by this feature, and may accidentally click on the “drawing” icon instead of the “stamp” one—resulting in unintended scribbles across the page. If this happens faculty can simply erase that error on the student’s behalf and remind everyone how to access the stamps once more.  
  • If faculty don’t “erase all drawings” before moving on to the next slide, the stamps will stay. Those new to using this feature may want to practice in Zoom on their own several times before facilitating this activity with students.  
  • Students who join the class using Zoom on their cellphones may not have all of the annotate features that exist on desktop versions. Faculty may want to acknowledge this by saying something like: “if you’re Zooming in on your phone, you may not have the ‘text’ or other annotate features, instead you can feel free to use what you do have and/or post any text responses in the chat.”

Other Variations to Consider

  • Once faculty and students are comfortable using the annotate feature on Zoom, it can be used for higher-order thinking active learning activities as well. (In the video below, see how Sara invites students to respond to the prompt using the “text” feature instead of the stamps.)
  • While annotations are more or less anonymous, faculty can call upon students for clarification or to add to the discussion more fully (e.g. “oh, I see someone wrote a comment here about decorum, I’d love to learn more about what you mean by this–if the person who wrote this would be open to sharing, I’d appreciate it!”).
  • Faculty may want to refer back to what students have offered during annotating activities and can easily take and save a screenshot of the contributions.
  • The default setting on Zoom is that student names will be shown as they annotate. If the faculty member would like students to be able to contribute anonymously, they will need to change the Zoom setting to “hide names of annotators”.
Using the text feature of Zoom Annotate.

Lauren Spring

Lauren Spring, PhD, has been a post-secondary educator since 2012. Before joining Conestoga as a Teaching and Learning Consultant, Lauren taught at Wilfrid Laurier, Brock, Ryerson, York, and the University of Toronto where she also completed her PhD in Adult Education and Community Development. She has also led workshops for students and faculty at colleges and universities across the country. Lauren holds an MA in International Development and has expertise in critical disability and mad studies, trauma work, research-based theatre, role-play simulations, and feminist and arts-based approaches to adult education and community engagement. Lauren has also worked as an educator at the Art Gallery of Ontario since 2008 where she designs and delivers art tours and workshops for elementary and high school students and diverse groups of adult learners.

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