By Taylah Felice. This article originally appeared on UTS Newsroom.

Kais Al-Momani and Janette Chen
Kais Al-Momani and Janette Chen. Photo by: Shane Lo

‘Prepping for class’ may not sound like fun, but for staff and students in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, it has become a hilarious success.

The Prepping for Class project was started in 2012 by Senior Lecturer Jenna Price and Lecturer Kais Al-Momani when they began using A.nnotate, an online application that allows students to comment on the readings as they go. Its aim: to prompt students who weren’t completing their pre-class readings to do so.

“Jenna and I came up with this idea for A.nnotate because we found it really difficult to get students to do the readings,” explains Al-Momani. “It’s been an unexpected way of making students talk about the readings in class, which is always tricky!

“To prepare for a class, we read the same reading given to the students and prepare questions on that reading to discuss in class,” he adds. “A.nnotate helps students to have more engagement and discussion in class.

“If I see a student completely misunderstands the point, that helps me as a teacher to see how the student thinks inside the class and explain the reading in the right way.”

For students who don’t complete the pre-class work, Al-Momani says, the impact can be huge. “Doing the reading helps students understand the material properly and ensures they are well-prepared to complete their assignments.”

Another benefit of A.nnotate, he says, is that it integrates with other UTS systems including the online library and UTSOnline – the virtual online learning environment and course management system. “The best thing about this integration is students can find everything in one central location. It means students don’t have to log in to multiple platforms to complete study-related tasks.”

Students agree it’s working. “It’s helpful to be able to see what my classmates have written in their comments,” says writing and cultural studies student Janette Chen. “It helps to know that other people are having similar problems, or finding out what my classmates have made of certain points.”

And as UTS moves to coimbine more of the best of face-to-face and online learning, the Prepping for Class project could help more academics re-engineer their subjects.

“One thing the Prepping for Class project helps us do is know how each student is finding the readings, something we couldn’t do in quite the same way before. This means lecturers and tutors then have a better idea of what gaps in knowledge need to be covered in lectures and tutorials,” says Al-Momani.

Already Al-Momani has trained over 20 UTS academics across 10 subjects to use A.nnotate. The next step, he says, is to develop a version of the program that can be used on smartphones and tablets. “Hopefully, within a couple of years, the whole university will use A.nnotate.”

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