Most PWR instructors ask their students to read or write in digital spaces at some point during their class. Indeed, even if a course's required reading load is light, students will inevitably encounter digital sources that they will need to incorporate into their research. While some students may already know what tools are at their disposal to annotate their digital texts - whether those are PDF reading assignments or Word documents - not all students will come into their PWR classes equipped with the knowledge to add notes, questions, or comments to the texts that they're reading or writing about. Alternatively, some students may not see the purposes and benefits of annotation at all. Though annotation is not the only way to process proper source material, it is a common and best research practice for finding and identifying information in sources.
Reading, writing, and discussion are the most common—and, most would agree, the most valuable—components of a university-level humanities seminar. In humanities courses, all three activities can be conducted with a variety of digital and analog tools. Digital texts can create novel opportunities for teaching and learning, particularly when students’ reading activity is made visible to other members of the course. In this paper, we  introduce Lacuna, a web-based software platform which hosts digital course materials to be read and annotated socially. At Stanford, Lacuna has been collaboratively and iteratively designed to support the practices of critical reading and dialogue in humanities courses. After introducing the features of the platform in terms of these practices, we present a case study of an undergraduate comparative literature seminar, which, to date, represents the most intentional and highly integrated use of Lacuna. Drawing on ethnographic methods, we describe how the course instructors relied on the platform’s affordances to integrate students’ online activity into course planning and seminar discussions and activities. We also explore students’ experience of social annotation and social reading.read more