Collaborative Co-Annotation for Asynchronous Reading

I’ve very recently started some of that endless list of Greek reading discussed in the last few posts, joined by one brave soul determined to get along with some Greek with me while the sun yet shines. However, what happens when the sun shines at radically different times? What does it mean to “read” as a pair, or a group, when you are not together “reading”, and what would make that beneficial?

The typical classics class runs like this:

Teacher assigns a text, say our old friend Tacitus. Sections are assigned for each class. Each student diligently prepares (!) the set portion for the upcoming class. They met, and students take turns to read aloud the text in Latin, and then their translation. Queries about grammar are made, corrections offered, insights and learning dispensed from the instructor, and on to the next student.

I doubt this pattern differs that much from institution to institution, except for online contexts which necessarily must vary. I have all sorts of reservations about this as a useful pedagogical practice, but I’m yet to unearth a genuinely useful alternative for text-focused discussions.

Anyway, such a set-up is not really possible for asynchronous groups who can’t meet, even virtually. Nor is it really desirable if you’re trying to avoid a teacher-led set-up (I imagine it would the live version might work for groups with comparable high-level abilities and good group dynamics).


Enter collab co-annotation.


Here’s the basic set-up we’re using at present. The text is imported into a google doc. It’s already sectioned nicely, but for other texts you might need to section them up. Each of us takes alternating sections (1, 3, 5, etc.) as ‘ours’. We write notes, just like one would either on one’s own or for a class – noting anything that either we needed to figure out, or that we think someone else would need to figure out. So, that’s meanings, parsing, syntax, discourse-features, relevant historical or literary information. And some translations. We also write in questions in our notes, if there’s things we’re not sure about.

Then along comes your partner, who uses the helpful comment feature in google-docs, and highlights and comments on anything in your section  –  suggestions, critiques, questions of their own, alternatives. You can then come back, interact with those comments, carry on a discussion, and add/edit notes as necessary.


You still need to ‘do the work’ on other sections, but you aren’t the “lead voice” for those sections, so that alleviates some of the burden.

My thoughts

It’s very early days in how this is working for us, and we’re only two. But we’re also working with some other tools, and it’s part of a broader experiment in how to enable reading better/faster/deeper. I imagine that a similar process might work in quite a few situations, including small reading groups up to 4-5 people (I think past 5 the alternation might be too large).

I think this, or a similar process, has a lot of potential though. I’d be keen to hear feedback, thoughts, input.

I even wonder if this might not be a way to do collab on texts in preparation to make reader’s editions of them, a la Patristic Readers. I need to think more on this though.


If you think you might be interested in a collab-read-through of Cicero’s 1st Catiline, that text is currently top of my to-read list, so get in touch.

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