What It Is

Perusall ( is a “social e-reader” that allows students to annotate course material together. It works with PDFs, Word and Excel documents, videos, images, ePub ebooks, and some websites.

Perusall was developed by instructors at Harvard who were trying to solve the problem of student engagement with reading. They recognized that only around 20-30 percent of their students were doing the readings, and they did not want to resort to reading quizzes that neither learners nor instructors enjoy. With Perusall, they set about to reimagine classroom reading with three aims: 

  1. Make reading a collective, social experience instead of a solitary endeavor. 
  2. Change education so that all students do the reading and come to class prepared and motivated. 
  3. Advance behavioral science and AI research in the service of advancing education. 

So how does it work? Instructors can set up a class space in Perusall into which they can upload any course materials that they have copyright access to (generally anything apart from books). Students are then able to annotate the documents together, adding comments or questions to the text and in threads to each other as they read. This creates a live text experience for students, opening up possibilities for rich conversation of the text both in and out of class time itself. 

The developers have found that with Perusall around 90 percent of their students do the readings each week. With Perusall, students can be intrinsically, socially motivated as well as extrinsically motivated by graded participation based on the quality of their engagement. The developers have found that classroom interactions are moved to a higher level because of student engagement in Perusall. 

Perusall FAQs

What are my rights over content I post to Perusall? 
You retain complete control over your content. If instructors request that their courses be completely deleted, we do not retain any information, including posts, from them. Instructors have complete control over the content displayed and can remove the content of any post at any time. 

Are my class’ annotations accessible via a search engine? 
No, your class’ annotations are not available or accessible via search engines. 

Is content I copy to Perusall accessible by anyone outside of my class? 
No. The only people who can see content posted by instructors, or posts written by students, are those given access by the instructor. If you have permission to distribute content to your students, you may distribute this information through Perusall. No one else will see it.

For more information see Perusall Instructor Support.

How to Access It

You can create an instructor account and set up class readings spaces at Perusall also integrates with Brightspace (the Office of Digital Learning can assist with setting this up). When added to your course in Brightspace, student enrollment for each class can be sent directly from Brightspace to Perusall, giving your students direct access to the course readings in Perusall. Students would not need to create an account with Perusall, and can access the reading space directly from Brightspace. Additionally, if desired, grades for Perusall assignments can be sent to Brightspace.

Perusall claims that it takes about 15 minutes for an instructor to set up a session for their semester. Once the basic session is set up, instructors can add (drag and drop) course readings that they have the rights to (e.g. syllabus, e-reserves, biblical texts, web pages, word documents, etc.). Instructors can also set up separate groups so that, for example, precepts read the texts together instead of alongside the entire class. In the text, yellow highlights represent comments by students and blue highlights represent comments by the instructor. Instructors can also star comments for later review, and both instructors and students can add private notes to the document as well. Here’s more detailed information about how to get set up in Perusall: Instructor help for Perusall.

When students enter the course session in Perusall, they will be able to read their assigned readings and annotate the texts with their peers. They can comment on the text itself or can reply to another student’s comment or question as part of a longer thread (discussion). Here’s more detailed information about the student experience in Perusall: Student help for Perusall.

Teaching Ideas

Idea 1: Annotate the syllabus


Upload your syllabus to Perusall and have students annotate it with questions and comments. This can encourage students to carefully read the syllabus and can offer a space for class-wide questions that doesn’t take up time on the first day of class.



Idea 2: Asynchronous material-based discussion


Use Perusall to have students engage course readings or other material together. You can provide specific questions that they answer as they read/watch, or you can have them make 2-3 thoughtful comments or questions throughout the reading or video.


Idea 3: Peer review


You can create a folder for peer review papers in Perusall. This would allow students to collaboratively annotate each other’s work. This can improve students writing, critical thinking, and can deepen their engagement with the course content.

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