Expanding collaborative discussion capability in Talis Elevate

It's safe to say that this year, the volume of annotation activity we see take place in Talis Elevate has surpassed many peoples expectations. At the time of writing, we have surpassed over 130,000 annotations this academic year, covering class comments, replies, and personal notes.

Because of everything going on right now, we've been doing some customer research, investigating how we can better facilitate discussion, collaboration, and finally, academic support. A number of key points have come to the forefront from our findings.

Student to-student dialogue. We see loads of annotations but typically single responses: not much back and forth between peers. Academics we've spoken to describe this as "annotating for the academic, rather than each other". We know that creating this dialogue can be really valuable for shaping students' knowledge and understanding and creating relationships in online spaces, so we want to see more of this happening. 

Many students lack the confidence to post comments: Anonymity has helped a lot here, but we still observe many students who are more comfortable just 'agreeing'. There's a problem here though, this doesn't encourage intellectual engagement, or building on the knowledge presented by peers. 

Affirmation can be a game-changer: The power of simply agreeing with your peers, or an academic encouraging students by recognising their contributions, can be absolutely huge on confidence building. We've heard from both staff and students that this can be the morale boost needed to encourage further contributions. 


So.... we've made some enhancements to commenting in Talis Elevate to lower barriers to entry for student engagement.


Introducing Mentions

Now, users of Talis Elevate will be able to call out individuals from within the module in discussions. This means you can bring specific students into conversations throughout your activity in Talis Elevate. 



This also impacts notifications, we've made changes here so these are much more targeted around this new targeted communication mechanism. You can change your settings from within the Talis Elevate player by hitting the 🔔  icon.




Anyone who's on your specific Talis Elevate module will be able to be mentioned. You can call out anonymous users (this will notify the specific anonymous user), academics, and students. Users will be notified via email of their callout as you'd expect.


Replies and Agrees

You can now reply to any specific comment within a thread of discussion. Once you hit the reply button, this will pre-fill your comment box with the associated @mention. Once you save the comment, this will appear at the end of the thread to maintain chronology. The person you've replied to will be alerted via email as well.


We're also changing the way the 'agree' feature works. This will now act as a cont, but critically, this will prompt students to say WHY they agree. This isn't a mandate, but we will try and encourage further intellectual contribution 🙂 



Academic Affirmation 

The role of affirmation in teaching is a key one. We know that responses from peers supporting student contributions can be a powerful motivator, leading to further contribution. Likewise, we know that responses from academics can be really important to encouraging student involvement in the learning process. We’ve put this at the forefront of the annotation capabilities and notifications now to enhance this element of the product, through the academic affirmation feature but also the agree capability.

If you have teacher permissions in Talis Elevate and hit the 'agree' button, you'll badge a students' contribution with your avatar icon. The example below shows two academics (David Potterton and another) have agreed with Jeremy's comment. 



Examples of use in practice 

Whilst this set of features is designed to increase the support and back<>forth discussion activity between students, there are a number of other practical use cases and applications

  • Tag student groups We've discussed different ways to facilitate group work previously in this support article. With the introduction of mentions, we now have additional capabilities for supporting group work facilitation 
  • Nominate a spokesperson: in a student group to annotate on behalf of their group. This allows you to maintain a single document for the whole cohort, streamlining your workload, but also ensures that students voices are heard. Using the @mentions feature, ask the spokesperson to tag each student in the group, so you can easily see who's part of which discussion 
  • Callout individuals: As you start to ascertain how your students are interacting through your module, you may wish to @mention individuals to encourage their contributions to specific resources throughout your modules 
  • Questions from the class: Ask students to pose questions throughout resources, then vote on the top question/s for you to answer. This works well for lecture notes and assignment briefs, for example, when you want to gather the opinion of the class ahead of a lecture/seminar. You can also encourage the use of anonymity specifically for this activity to remove any perceived bias
  • Build pre-mid-post activity into your cadence: many of our users utilise Talis Elevate for pre-seminar reading/watching, then build on the discussion in seminars. Using the new replies feature, ask your students, post seminar, to go through and agree to the contribution they feel is most pertinent or relevant, and say why, following the seminar. This can be used as a basic continuum of the discussion beyond the seminar, or as a reflective activity, building further opportunities to synthesise their learning 
  • Leaderboards: We have discussed before the role of affirmation on student contributions. If encouraging the use of the 'agree' feature, be explicit on how you want this used. For example, you may ask students to agree to a single comment each week that they want to discuss in seminars. This can badge to you the most "crowdsourced opinion", or simply highlight the most interesting discussion point according to your cohort. For some discipline groups, and for some students, 'gamifying' this into a leaderboard type activity may be advantageous. Record before each lecture who's contribution has the most agrees over the duration of the module, and reward as a 'top contributor as voted by your peers" initiative. Note: It's also important to include clear expectations around what you'd be looking for as the academic, for example, criticality. 
  • "Top Contributions": You'll definitely want to find a better name here, but using the academic affirmation capability, tag the contributions you feel are most impactful, critical, etc. The important thing here is to tell your students what your contribution means in this context!
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