Bridging the Distance: Shared Screen Annotations

SOO Yuen Jien
Department of Computer Science, School of Computing (SOC)

This blog post is contributed by Yuen Jien, one of the panelists of the session on “Innovations” at the e-learning Symposium 2020, held on 8 June 2020. In this post, he shares an “everyone-can-use” annotation tool that is simple yet effective in encouraging meaningful conversations.

Image courtesy of SOO Yuen Jien
Vector art courtesy of Minn Ko Aung from Pixabay

Promoting teacher-student and student-student interaction during lectures, even when the class size exceeds a hundred or more, has always been one of my main aims as a teacher. The “e-learning exodus” forced upon us in the last few months is a reminder that teaching is not only about content and material. Otherwise, teachers can simply be replaced by asynchronous video-recorded lectures and automated online assessments.

I would argue that real-time interaction (both teacher-student and peer-to-peer) plays a key role in promoting higher-order thinking as well as peer learning.

How do we do this on an e-platform?

One way is through the screen annotation tool on Zoom. Besides enabling the teacher to annotate the lecture slide, this tool actually allows any participant to do real-time annotation and sharing. This helps the teacher promote interaction in two different settings:

  • One-teacher-to-many-students (Lecture Mode)

In this setting, the teacher shares a slide with the problem to be solved and invites the class to annotate on it. While waiting for students to complete their attempts, the teacher vocalises the thinking process behind solving the problem.

Take a very simple example of teaching students observation skills using “Where is Waldo/ Wally?”, where the purpose is to locate Waldo/Wally in a crowd. A picture could be shared on screen (see Figure 1).

Photo courtesy of Clipart Library

Invite students to start looking and circling out the “suspects”, while the teacher vocalises an approach to solve this problem. For instance, “we know Waldo/Wally wears a shirt with red stripes, so we can focus on only the colour red to eliminate large portions of the picture, then….”.

To ensure the effectiveness of this approach, the teacher will probably have to ascertain and communicate the amount of annotations required from students. Asking them to write long sentences or long equations would not work very well. However, showing them a long essay and asking them to locate the grammatical mistakes, or asking them to identify incorrect simplifications in math equations could be very effective.

Here is feedback from a student:

…… When we ended up on Zoom for online recitations, there were some people who would scribble on the screen. However, he never scolded them and disrupted the lesson, but merely went along with it and created an environment where people felt comfortable to ask questions or circle areas they didn’t understand on the screen.” — Student feedback, Semester 2, AY 2019/20

  • One-teacher-to-one/few-students (Consultation Mode)

One-to-one or small group consultation can be very effective in guiding students out of mental “knots” and common pitfalls in a topic. In a physical face-to-face consultation, I usually ask student(s) to walk through their solutions in order to spot such issues. Surprisingly, I found this process is actually enhanced by online “restrictions”. With a shared screen, we are no longer constrained by the physical orientation of the student’s work and the sitting arrangement. We can annotate the piece of work simultaneously as we walk through the problem, which is helpful, both in putting focus on the problem and providing visual feedback.

In a twisted fashion, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to re-examine various aspects of our lives. In teaching and learning, the “e-learning exodus” has forced us to address a critical question:


SOO Yuen Jien is a member from the Educator Track in School of Computing. He enjoys teaching varied classes in term of size (from tens of students to hundreds of students) and pedagogy approach (traditional lecture / tutorial, experiential, group based, etc).

Yuen Jien can be reached at


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