Collaborative Digital Reading Response

A post by Jill Castek

I’ve gotten excited about the possibility of engaging students (both K-12 and university) in collaborative digital reading responses.  I have found that encouraging students to use embedded discussion tools (where they can dialogue about WHAT they’re reading WHILE they’re reading) prompts engagement in the reading process and supports deep and meaningful discussion.  I’ve been exploring a range of digital tools that facilitate this process (Diigo, DocAS, and iAnnotate).  I’ve recently learned about a new option called Ponder.  This post focuses on the affordances of these tools.

Ponder is a collaborative reading tool that links your students together in a community where each individual member can create reading responses in the form of annotations and reflect on the annotations of other students.  In the process of engaging in an online dialogue, students deepen their understanding of material become more active and engaged readers.


Ponder has a few notable benefits:  1) it’s free, 2) it’s already set up to support teachers (clustering students in to classes), 3) it enables content sharing amongst all the individuals who are invited into the class, and 4) it makes a suite of powerful analytics available to better understand what students are getting out of the reading they’re doing.

Ponder is different from other social sharing sites like Diigo because it requires readers to extract a key excerpt from a reading assignment, reflect upon it by assigning a pre-populated “sentiment” to it (e.g. I’m confused, I’m skeptical, I disagree, among many others), and then tie it to the concepts they are studying by tagging it.  Instantly, the reading responses are viewable by other students and available for additional comment.  Assigning a pre-scripted annotation  to an except through Ponder, as opposed to a free response using a sticky note as in Diigo has both plusses and minuses.  First, it support students in thinking through, and in essence, synthesizing a response as opposed to simply posting an initial reaction.  And secondly, the statements provided can act as a scaffold for learning how to construct a reading response.  On the flip side, students may very well want to say something original to their peers about the content or pose a question for further reflection.   Unfortunately, these are not viable options through Ponder.

Ponder provides analytic tools to help teachers and instructors monitor reading engagement and identify students who are falling behind before it becomes a barrier to success.   Teachers can then use the reading responses students have entered in Ponder to help them identify portions of the readings that were confusing. Analytics can also determine which segments contain particularly controversial ideas that can be used to target focused and purposeful in class discussions.

While I’ve primarily used Diigo for collaborative response, I’m intrigued by the idea of playing with the pre-populated response options in Ponder as a means of reflection.  It may free up the burden of saying something original and encouraging students to think critically about the text and the ideas it contains in a more supported way.  I’m interested to collect students’ preferences to learn more.

One additional affordance is of interest.  Ponder tracks and archives the web articles that readers follow up to read after the assigned reading.  These topics show up as related themes and are displayed on the class Ponder home page.  These web texts offer additional reading allowing reader to dig deeper into the topic of the reading.  The fact that these suggested readings stem from students’ actual web explorations has crowd sourcing potential.

If you’re interested in trying out Ponder, leave a comment and let us know how it goes.  I’ll do the same and we can compare notes.   Happy reading!


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