Canvas @ Yale

Perusall: Overview

Updated on

Perusall is an annotation tool that helps your students engage collectively with texts. With its capability to integrate into Canvas, students can annotate and discuss course readings easily with their peers. The mission of Perusall is to aim to change the nature of reading from the traditional solitary experience to an engaging and collective one. Perusall aims to change education so all students do the reading, come to class prepared, and are motivated to do so because they care about the content. Perusall aims to advance behavioral science and AI research in the service of improving education using their work at Harvard University and Perusall Labs to improve the Perusall platform and to help students, educators, researchers, and society at large. []. 

While we are pleased to offer Perusall to our community, we ask you to be aware of the following considerations when using this application:

  • Copyright: The following Copyright Statement holds true for documents uploaded into Perusall as well as into Canvas.

The University expects all users of this site to respect copyright and to determine if their posted content complies with copyright law and the Terms of Use for Canvas. By uploading content into Perusall, you affirm the content was lawfully acquired and:

you are the copyright holder; or

You have obtained express permission from the copyright holder or determined such content is in the public domain under copyright law; or

You have completed a fair use evaluation and determined in good faith after reasonable inquiry that the use of the copyrighted work is a “fair use” under copyright law.

  • Accessibility: Students with disabilities who leverage assistive technology may experience difficulty reading documents loaded into Perusall using their preferred screen reader, and an alternative assignment may be required. To help minimize this, please ensure accessible PDFs are uploaded into Perusall. For assistance in creating accessible PDFs, please see the following page.

Why use Perusall?

Using discussions in your class can be critical to increasing students' enjoyment of the class and strengthens students' understanding of concepts. As an annotation tool that allows students to annotate PDFs and share comments to each other within the document or other shared content, Perusall can be used to replace or continue the use of a discussion based on the course material.

“I found it to be a kind of light in the darkness of trying to get my online students to interact with one another. I started with two articles the first semester, replacing two weekly Discussions, then went to four and six articles after that. In feedback surveys, students consistently rated it as their favorite element of the course...”

-Glen Davenport, STEM Education Evaluator, Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning, Yale University

Use Cases for Perusall

A non-exhaustive list outlining what instructors can use Perusall to facilitate include:

  • Guided exposure to peer-reviewed research articles
  • Building a community of inquiry in the course
  • Priming students for class discussion by students annotating the reading / course material prior to class
  • Facilitate asynchronous discussion outside of class that delves deeper into the course material as the discussion is situated in and around the content  being discussed
  • Annotate content like websites, images, and videos
Case Study: First Exposure to Journal Articles

One of the most important learning outcomes for an undergraduate course on research methods is exposure to peer-reviewed research articles. For many undergraduates, a second-year methods course will be their first exposure to this format. With no experience or context for academic writing, these articles can be very intimidating. With Perusall, we can ease some of that anxiety by allowing students to explore the format together.  

In an unfamiliar context, some students don’t even know where to start asking questions, so one strategy that has been successful is to seed the article with a few discussion questions. We aim for four, each targeting a different part of the article. 

Here are some example questions that were applied to a nutrition science paper:

  • “Why did the authors choose to use pre-existing groups here? Why not randomly assign participants to treatment and control groups?”
  • “There is a statistical test being reported here. How does this test relate back to the authors’ research questions?”
  • “Why did the authors include this table? What point is being made with this data?” 
  • “Are there other possible explanations for the data that the authors observed? Looking back at the study design, are there any threats to validity that might lead you to an alternate conclusion?”

The aim with these prompts is to ask open-ended questions that do have some specific answers, but could lead to wider discussion.

Another strategy used was to ask students to make connections between different sections of a paper, subtly emphasizing that research articles have many pieces, but that those pieces should be telling a consistent story. 

Case Study: Perusall for Advanced Hebrew, by Orit Yeret

I started using the Perusall platform with an advanced language course I taught at Yale University, HEBR 167 - Creative Writing in Hebrew. Since the course involved reading various texts, in addition to writing, before the semester began I searched for a technological tool that will enable a preliminary 'shared-reading' of each text.

As I began using Perusall in the course, I found it to be very helpful in preparing students for class discussions. Students were asked to review the materials beforehand, to raise and answer questions, to comment on the pieces they read and to mark new words they had learned from reading each text.

This activity produced a lively in-class, as well as outside-of-class conversation, where students became much more informed about the materials and about each other’s initial thoughts and speculations. As a result, the students arrived better prepared for each session after having considered different perspectives on every text; they reacted to the online discussion and expanded their vocabulary in the process.

When asked about the use of this tool in our course, students responded positively. They enjoyed having access to all the materials they needed in one place, through our course site on Canvas, and they liked reading their classmates ideas as well as sharing their own ideas before having our in-class discussion. Overall, I find Perusall to be a good platform for a collaborative class activity. 

What will my students see?

A student can find Perusall in their course by clicking on Perusall in the Course Navigation on the left-hand side of the page, or by clicking on an Assignment in Canvas that utilizes Perusall. From here they will be taken to Perusall where the student has the option to click the “work on assignment” button.

Once clicked, they will be taken to the document that is assigned through the assignment tool. The student can scroll through the document, and make comments using various Perusall tools throughout the document.

In this case, the student sees four comments left by the instructor under the “All Conversations” tab:

When the student clicks on one of the comments, they will be taken to the part in the document that the comment was made, and have the ability to reply to the comment: 

Additional Resources


How does the student roster sync?

Perusall syncs with your student roster in Canvas. Your student roster in Perusall will automatically populate as students each launch into Perusall from the LMS for the first time.

How does the gradebook sync?

Grades sync to the gradebook by linking a Canvas assignment into Perusall. 

Once you release the grades for a particular assignment, Perusall will send the grades for that assignment back to the Canvas gradebook. 

Any subsequent changes you make to your course in Perusall that would affect the scores on that assignment will sync back to your course so the Canvas gradebook and Perusall gradebook are always in sync.

Most grades sync immediately, although it may take up to an hour for a grade update to be reflected in Canvas.

How does scoring work in Perusall?

Perusall's engagement score allows you to combine multiple metrics of student engagement into a single score. Up to six different components can be combined into a single score to encourage students to engage in behaviors that research shows predict positive learning outcomes. More information can be found here.

Can students purchase textbooks and/or other course materials through Perusall?

Perusall works with a number of publishers to make textbooks available for students to purchase and use through Perusall. Visit Perusall to find more information on adopting a textbook for use within the tool.

For more help, please contact [email protected].

Previous Article Panorama: Points of Contact by School
Next Article Perusall: Enabling Perusall in Your Canvas Course
Email: [email protected] Email Us