Weiping Wu

Professor of Architecture, Planning and Preservation; Provost’s Senior Faculty Teaching Scholar

Engaging Students Beyond the Classroom by Using Perusall 

For a seminar course, students need to be engaged with the readings beforehand. Even with well curated materials, reading hundreds of pages alone each week can be daunting for busy graduate students, especially those whose first language is not English. This is the case in ordinary times, let alone in the isolating circumstances of the pandemic.

In summer 2020, I happened upon Perusall, a collaborative reading and learning platform, and used it in my graduate seminar Chinese Urbanism in Global Context during the Fall semester. Teaching online with many of the 20 students in China, I was hoping to use Persuall for a few things:

  1. Allow students to annotate readings collaboratively and answer each other’s questions, making the reading experience less alone

  2. Help those students unable to read thoroughly to grasp the main points and to be somewhat prepared for class discussions (better some than nothing)

  3. Allow me to gauge students’ understanding of the reading materials beforehand

  4. Help me identify questions and issues of concern to students so as to address them in class (by using the summary statistics for each reading in Perusall)

On reflection, my online seminar actually offered features not commonly used in the physical classroom, integrating instructor presentation, Google Slides to share student comments during Zoom breakout discussions, spontaneous responses from students through Zoom polling, and conversations outside the classroom in Perusall.

More importantly, students learned from each other and made reading a more collaborative experience. A helpful feature for international students especially, as they encountered a different language, a different learning culture, and a different knowledge context. I am quite certain that I will continue to use Perusall even after we return to campus.

Tell your story. Learn from others.

What is it like to teach and learn at Columbia in 2020-2021? Share your hybrid/HyFlex or online teaching and learning experience.