Flipgrid is a website that allows teachers to create “grids” to facilitate video discussions. Each grid is like a message board where teachers can pose questions, called “topics,” and their students can post video responses that appear in a tiled grid display.

Pros:  Free, simple to use. Web-based. 

Cons:  Limited editing capabilities. 

Expert: Alex Savoth, Charles Woodard

Zoom Breakout Rooms

Breakout rooms allow you to split your Zoom meeting in up to 50 separate sessions. The meeting host can choose to split the participants of the meeting into these separate sessions automatically or manually, and can switch between sessions at any time.

Some additional tips:

  • Breakout groups have their own private chat and whiteboard; they can save the whiteboard to PDF or JPG 
    • Pro: it is a private workspace
    • Con: it is not easy for the professor to see/save/share group work with others unless they pop into the group
    • Alternative: have students post into a shared google doc that prof can also see even if they’re not “in the room”
  • Use cases vary, but group size of 5 or under often works best – small enough so everyone can contribute and be heard
  • Allowing Zoom to do random group assignment is easiest way to quickly group students for discussion/reflection
  • Pre-assigning groups takes some setup but once done, the groups can be standing for repeated use in subsequent class sessions
  • The instructor/facilitator can send broadcast messages to all groups
  • Group members can use “ask for help” button to call the professor
  • If a big number of groups are used, it is helpful to have a student or other co-host facilitate group management – to the “con” noted above, it can take some manual shuffling to move students from one to another

Pros: Allows for discrete, smaller discussion groups within Zoom sessions for meeting participants to discuss individual topics.

Cons: Completely silos users into their assigned room and requires the host to actively manage which room they are in without any easy way for students to move around easily. Breakout rooms are not included in the primary recording for the meeting. 

Expert: Alex Savoth, Charles Woodard

Written Discussions in Moodle

Moodle Forums provide a blog-like space where students can hold threaded asynchronous (or even synchronous) discussions, either as the entire class, or based on groups of your choosing.  

Pros: Integration with Moodle.

Cons: If you plan to have different sets of student groups for different activities, and to use the gradebook, you’ll need to also set up groupings of groups. UMass Amherst has instructions for creating Groupings. Also:  navigating back to individual posts (and replies) can be tricky if you expect to use these during some live discussion. Finally:  your feedback to individual students via the Forum will be visible to all students.

Expert:  Sharon Strauss

Oral Discussions in Moodle

VoiceThread allows students to record their own voice and share their ideas with others. Subsequent students (or even the instructor) can in turn react to these ideas with subsequent VoiceThread recordings.  

Pros:  Built-in to Moodle.  It is easy for students (and faculty) to create their speech and presentation videos, and watch others’ videos in class or beyond.

Cons:  Checking and/or commenting on all the VoiceTheads created by students can be extremely time-consuming, especially when the class size is more than ten or so. Keeping track of who commented on which VoiceThread can be difficult, once there are many posts.

Expert: Sharon Strauss

Groups in Slack

Slack is a platform for collaboration.  Better than trading messages and attachments via email, it allows groups to create teams and communicate through “channels” that users can create as they go. Participants join (or leave) a particular channel as needed; threaded conversations can be linked to Google documents or other shared resources. Slack channels thus reflect the developing sense of a conversation (something like Users can set to be notified of updates to conversations. 

Slack could be used as a synchronous discussion complement to a simultaneous Zoom meeting (better than the un-threaded Zoom chat), or as an synchronous or asynchronous space of it’s own where a class or small group could sustain a conversation over several hours or days.  It’s even possible to launch Zoom calls from within Slack, thus allowing students to move from written to oral conversations as needed.

Learn more about Slack via Linked In.

Pros:  Free (sign-up required).  Better than Zoom chat, because conversations are threaded and can be linked to other documents and resources. 

Cons:  Not integrated with Moodle; Faculty would need to invite (or accept requests) from each student to join the Slack Group at the outset.  

Expert:   Richard Freedman, Ben Le, Andy Janco, Mike Zarafonetis

Close Reading Using Annotation Tools


Collaborative annotation tools can engage a group of students in discussion around a common resource. Annotations and threaded conversations can shape class discussion agendas, or serve as discussions in their own right. By using browser-based tools, group annotation can engage students around a single resource or collection. Students can also produce public-facing critical editions of texts, visual sources, or other media.

Pedagogical Possibilities

  • Engaging group discussion around a common text through threaded conversations
  • Connecting a common text to other web-based resources via hypertext and linking
  • Annotating visual resources in synchronous or asynchronous settings
  • Incorporating other voices into classroom discussion (community partners, other scholars, remote students, students in other classes, etc.)



Hypothes.is is an excellent browser-based tool for group annotation. A Chrome browser extension makes annotating any web page quick and easy. You can also add a bookmarklet for any web browser. Students can annotate any web page, or any PDF or EPUB file that is available on the web. If you have a PDF scan of an article, you can share that via a Box or Google Drive link (or anywhere that the file can be viewed in a web browser) so your students can read and add annotations. Hypothes.is is ideal for textual sources available on the web.

Google Jamboard

Jamboard is an app within Haverford’s institutional suite of Google applications (“G Suite”) that serves as a digital whiteboard. Because multiple participants can open and work in the same “Jam,” it is possible to load an image or group of images to the board and mark it up with a variety of colors and drawing tools, or even import other related images via Google Image search. It is possible to create a new Jam independent of the physical Jamboard, and thus can be used in both hybrid and online-only classroom formats. This is a particularly useful tool for marking up visual sources.


Omeka is a content management system primarily used for building digital collections and exhibits. Neatline, a plugin for Omeka that is primarily used for mapping, also creates opportunities for annotating images, since a static image can also be used as a map background. These annotated sources can be published to the web for a public audience. Within a Neatline exhibit, students can embed images and media within annotations, use hypertext to link annotations to each other or to other sources, and control the visibility of annotations based on user input. This tool is ideal for sharing individually and collaboratively-produced annotated images with the public.


The Hypothes.is website has several illustrative examples of the tool being used in a classroom setting.

This Jam was produced during a text markup exercise to introduce text encoding in TEI.

This Neatline exhibit is a digital critical edition of Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica,” collaboratively annotated by students in a writing seminar. This annotated version of a 1968 Ebony magazine article titled “What To Do If Arrested” is another excellent example of Neatline’s capabilities.

Potential Assignments/Classroom Activities

Some potential activities involving these tools are listed with recommended duration or lead time:

  • Weekly reading assignments with asynchronous annotations and comment threads can establish topic discussions for class meetings. Students can also link out to additional resources and embed external media in their annotations to create a digital critical edition of an existing text online. (daily or weekly, one library instruction session recommended)
  • Group annotation of a photograph or other visual media in the Jamboard app with live discussion during or after (daily or weekly, one library instruction session recommended)
  • Individually or collaboratively annotated images in Neatline published to the web for public view (at least 4 weeks with at least one library instruction session introducing the tool)