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Digital Social Reading

Digital Social Reading platforms aim to replicate the experience of note taking in a text’s margins, and to do so in a collaborative way.These tools allow students to convey observations through annotation directly within the text of their course readings. In this guide, we will explore three different options for student discussion of required texts: Brightspace Discussions, eComma, and Perusall.


Brightspace Discussions

The Brightspace discussion platform is our tried and true method for collaborative learning. Instructors can post a reading as a discussion topic, and students can share their thoughts in threads below. The process for creating a discussion for Brightspace is extensively recorded in our Brightspace On-Demand Resources and is free to use for all faculty, staff, and students at Vanderbilt. Read more about Brightspace discussions for social reading on our blog!



eComma is a free, open source tool for digital social reading. This tool integrates directly with Brightspace and, when used through our course management system, is FERPA compliant. The user interface for this tool can be seen below.

Initial Setup

To set up eComma in your course, within one of your content modules, select Existing Activities > External Learning Tools > eComma.

Creating Annotation Texts

Instructions for creating annotation texts can be found in eComma’s teacher guide.


eComma is an open source tool available for use by anyone at no cost.



Perusall is another digital social reading tool which can be integrated directly into Brightspace. This tool contains many similar functions to eComma, but also grants users the ability to use their catalog of over 200,000 books within the platform as a paid service. The user interface can be seen below.

Initial Setup

  1. Create a link in your course that points to Perusall: within one of your content modules, select Existing Activities > External Learning Tools > Create New LTI Link.
  2. Enter ‘Perusall’ for the name and for the launch point.
  3. Select Edit properties in place in the dropdown next to the newly-created link, and check Open as external resource.
  4. Reload the page.
  5. Click on the new Perusall link. Perusall will launch and a course will be created that is connected to your D2L course.

Creating Annotation Texts

Instructions for the creation of Annotation Texts can be found in Perusall’s guides.


You can use Perusall for free with Open Educational Resources that you add from the web, or that you find using the integrated search engine. For titles housed within Perusall’s paid catalog, students pay the normal price for a digital copy of the text.


Digital social reading tools can cater to a more interesting and interactive way to engage students in required texts for a course. While we’ve only discussed a few here, there are many of these tools available for use including the popular Hypothesis. For more information about these tools, the Institute for the Advancement of Higher Education (AdvancED) would recommend Exploring digital literacy practices via L2 social reading which can be read here or We Teach Languages Episode 109: Multilitercies and Digital Social Reading, a podcast which can be found here. For assistance with setting up or utilizing these tools within your Brightspace course, feel free to reach out to the Brightspace team at