Engaging Course Materials with Perusall

Woman on soft couch laying upside down, reading a book

If students are not engaging with your course materials, you might want to consider incorporating Perusall in your course. Perusall is a learning tool that makes reading collaborative and interactive, motivating students to not only complete readings but also understand and retain information more effectively. It does this by embedding opportunities for discussion within the text of class readings.  Curious to learn more? Read on! 

Why You Need Perusall

Designing a course involves a lot of time and effort, perhaps none more so than curating the best content to fulfill learning objectives. So it can be all the more frustrating when it’s evident that students aren’t engaging with the learning materials. What’s going on?

There can be many factors that contribute to students not reading course materials.  These can include:

  • Not purchasing materials because of expense, and the belief that they are relevant for only part of the course
  • The act of reading is isolating and not engaging
  • Course materials are not clearly connected to class objectives and assessments
  • Learners can skip course materials and achieve good scores in the course.

In addition, the problem can occur that students who complete the readings are just not retaining the information, or having other issues in connecting to the material. But while some students might decide to skip the readings, they remain a vital component of a course. Any student will be at a disadvantage in meeting course objectives if they do not complete course readings. In order to address these issues, FIU Online has incorporated the Perusall learning tool to make course materials more engaging and help ensure the success of a course for instructors and learners alike.  

How Perusall Engages

Perusall makes course materials interactive. It allows students and their instructors to collaboratively comment, highlight, upvote, and present questions on items uploaded to the tool, including .pdf documents, webpages, and online textbooks. Instructors can start things off by preloading comments and questions for students to answer while they are completing their reading. Meanwhile, students can add their own questions, annotations, and comments as they read. The real engagement occurs when the students answer and comment upon other’s annotations, creating another avenue for interactivity in an online course.   

Perusall Screenshot.

Reading can be an isolating activity in learning, but Perusall’s annotation and discussion opportunities turns it into a collaborative active learning experience- everyone’s reading and commenting together.  Perusall can also help in understanding. For example, students are able to ask for assistance or clarification with parts of the text that are not connecting for them.  This helps with retention, and also allows instructors to assess what content leads to the most confusion and adapt accordingly.  Additionally, a robust set of analytic tools and reports support all of these features.

Perusall is free to use with instructor uploaded documents or web pages.  E-textbooks can also be purchased through the platform. In addition, Perusall’s integration with the Canvas gradebook allows for the creation of assignments that automatically report grades.  

Try the demo from the Perusall website.

Faculty Feedback

Instructors already using Perusall have reported dramatic successes in how their students respond to course materials.  Here is some of their feedback: 

I’ve been using Perusall for nearly three years now. It has been a gamechanger for my fully online asynchronous history courses. I’ve found that students are more engaged with the primary sources on the Perusall platform as it forces them to hone their critical reading and analysis skills. I consistently receive positive student feedback about the platform. Students frequently mention that they understood the sources better when reading collaboratively because they gained new insights from their peers along the way. 

 Lindsey Maxwell, PhD, Assistant Teaching Professor, Department of History

I am a huge Perusall fan.  It has transformed the way my students read articles.  They are able to learn from each other in a truly interactive way.  Students have told me that it’s actually fun to read in this social kind of way.  Even my students who don’t put in the time to fully read each article will find the “hot spots” of an article and interact with their peers for the required points.  They inevitably read the sections that are generating a buzz and once they do that, the end up reading a little more that they normally would.  We do this with podcasts and now video lectures.  The students have the kind of debate and interactions that were just not common in other type of formats (like discussion boards).  And they ask each other more questions about the material in more meaningful ways. 

Mitzi Uehara Carter, PhD, Assistant Teaching Professor of Anthropology, Interim Director Global Indigenous Forum Department of Global Sociocultural Studies/Asian Studies Program

Excellent tool to get students engaged in the book material. 

Alyn Fernandez, MS, LMHC Adjunct Professor Department of Psychology 

Get Started!

Perusall is already enabled in all Canvas courses. Here are some other resources and articles to get you started, or reach out to get more support.  

Charles Roig is an instructional designer with the Learning Design team at FIU Online. His work includes researching new tools and collaborating with faculty to foster engagement in online learning.

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