Tech Tuesdays: Collaborative Annotation with Prism Scholar Lab

by Kathryn Nieves

Annotation tends to be an individual task. Unless students discuss their ideas and notes, students usually reserve this as a solo assignment. In order to pair educational technology with the idea of collaboration, teachers can use Prism Scholars Lab.

Prism Scholars Lab is an older website but still has a lot to offer for teachers and students today. Created as a small project, the website has expanded to include many more users, specifically students, who use it as a way to collaboratively analyze a text with their peers. Since it is a website, all devices with an internet browser, including mobile devices, can utilize the tool.

Both teachers and students need to have an account in order to use the website, though the site does allow for an automated Google sign-in in lieu of creating a username and password. On the website, there are three pages on the top: About, Browse, and MyPrisms. The About section offers information about the development of the website. Browse allows you to view public Prisms to collaborate with others or to get ideas for your own Prism. MyPrisms are the collaborative experiences that you have already built.

Prism Scholars Lab allows you to upload a text and provide opportunities for students to highlight and collaborate to analyze the text. For example, a user might post a poem and have students identify specific types of figurative language. Each Prism is equipped with three different color highlighters, each connected to a specific category of criteria of the user’s choice. The category of analysis depends on the individual class and the lessons being taught. Other examples could include identification of rhetorical devices or different schools of thought.

When you click on “MyPrisms,” you can create a new Prism, view your previously created ones, or view any public ones where you have made highlighted contributions. Selecting “New Prism” will allow you to create a brand new one for students. You will be brought to a new page where you must fill in the necessary information in order to create your collaborative Prism. You must fill in the content, such as the poem, song, article, or short text. Then you must fill in the requirements of each of the highlighter colors. A title must be given to the Prism, which should likely include some variation of the title of the original piece. The original author of the text must be provided, along with the date of publication.

The final requirements are selecting a language for the text, providing an optional description, such as giving directions for the participants in the Prism and indicating the license option for the text. The license relates to whether or not the text chosen is available for reuse. The website fully breaks down the levels of licenses for different types of use for easy identification.



One important feature of the creation of the Prism is the “Unlisted” button. By checking off that box, it signals that the Prism may only be accessed by people with the link. This indication means that outside members may not find it in the “Browse” section of the website. Choosing Unlisted will allow a teacher to just provide the link to the students so that collaborative annotation is just between peers.

Sharing the URL with your students will allow them access to contribute their highlighted annotations to the Prism. Students should select the highlighter color they want and then click on the words they would like to highlight. The eraser tool allows the student to get rid of any highlights that they want to revise.

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Students should hit “Save Highlights” once they are finished annotating the text.

Once they have highlighted their parts based on the directions provided, everyone will be able to visualize the selections of all of their classmates. Along the sidebar, there is an option that says “Font Size Visualizations.” When that is selected, students can see a change in the font size based on how many students selected the same answer they did. The larger the word, the more times it was selected. Students can choose the different highlighter colors to see each category.


The final product serves as a great point of discussion among a class. Students can discuss whether or not they agree with the final outcome of the Prism and it can serve as a jumping off point for larger class conversations about a particular text.

Tech Tuesdays: Collaborative Annotation with Prism Scholar Lab

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