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For Students

What is Lacuna?

Lacuna is an exploratory, interactive web of materials for you to read and annotate socially. Lacuna lets you make notes on all texts, images, videos and audio, which encourages active reading and reflection. You can share your notes with the class to turn your solo reading experience into a reading community. A typical class meets once or twice a week, but Lacuna doesn’t stop there — you can continue the discussion online, developing your thoughts as you encounter new texts and building on the ideas of your classmates.

Developed by an interdisciplinary team of faculty, staff, and students at Stanford, Lacuna Stories is specifically designed for humanities courses, or courses that want to encourage skills like close reading, active engagement with materials, or to improve seminar-style discussions. We aim to make learning more efficient, interactive, and exploratory using research-informed practices and the best digital tools available. On this page you will find a discussion of the thinking behind Lacuna’s features; if you’re looking for an explanation of how to use the site, please see our how-to page.

Why should we annotate?

Annotation – taking notes as you read – is an age-old practice for making sense of texts. Annotation lets you reflect on what you’re reading as you read, which will help you understand the text more deeply. Your annotations will also make it easier for you to come back to the text later on and see what was important or what you were thinking the first time around.

Skilled readers use annotation to engage in dialogue with the author and to play with ideas. They underline key concepts and passages. They make notes to trace themes throughout the text, to ask questions of the text, or to make connections with other texts and concepts.

Annotations can be whatever length and style are useful for you. Not all passages will be annotated equally; as you read, certain passages will stand out as being particularly important, and it’s natural to want to annotate those passages more heavily.











In Lacuna, annotation takes two forms: highlighting and annotations.

  • Highlighting can draw your attention to certain passages that you thought were particularly interesting, beautiful, funny, troubling, etc.
  • Annotations (or notes) let you record your own questions, thoughts, ideas, and reactions to the text. All notes refer to a particular highlighted passage.

Previous experience tells us that there are four main actions that students find useful when they make annotations on a text. Lacuna lets you choose between these actions to categorize your annotations. The lines between these categories are subjective, and there are no hard and fast rules. But using them will help you think about how you read and help other students when they look at your annotations.

  • Comment: Your opinions about or immediate reactions to the text. (e.g. “Interesting!” or “I don’t buy this.”)
  • Question: Challenging or interrogating the text. Asking about facts discussed in the text. Sparking a discussion with questions to your fellow students or the instructor.
  • Analyze: Claims or ideas about the text that go deeper than a comment or a connection. It might be helpful to think of analysis as annotations that could help you write a paper later on.
  • Connect: Making connections between the text and something else you’ve read, watched, or experienced (inside or outside the class). Connections to another part of the same text.

You can also assign tags and to your annotations in order to structure your reflections on the texts, then limit the annotations view to only show selected tags by using the Annotation Filter.

What Does it Mean to Read, Comment, and Learn Socially and Collaboratively?

Your annotations on Lacuna can be public or private.

  • A public comment is viewable to you, the instructor, and your fellow students.
  • A private comment is viewable only to you and to the instructor.

You can change these settings at any time. For instance, you may make a provisional annotation comment, keep it private, then rewrite it after a class and make it public when you’re ready for it to be shared.

Annotations are, first and foremost, to help you reach a deeper understanding of the texts and media you’re enjoying in this course. But when you make your annotations public you are also:

  • Creating opportunities for conversation between you and your fellow students before class starts.
  • Giving your instructor(s) a better idea about what to address in class, because they can see what the class found confusing/interesting/worth discussing.

Students who have used Lacuna report that being able to read and respond to other people’s annotations helped them clarify their own thoughts on their reading and made them feel closer to their peers.

It might feel very strange at first to feel like other people can “see” you reading. You might be worried about how your annotations compare to other students’, and you might feel pressure to come up with something interesting or smart to say in every annotation. The important thing to remember is that if you’re feeling that way, then so is everyone else. Plus, most students who’ve used Lacuna report that public annotation gets more comfortable as the quarter progresses, partially because they get to know their fellow students better.

Also, discomfort is actually a sign that you’re learning. People often have to try new things many times before they become comfortable with them. Not feeling sure about your work is productive: the moment of not knowing is the moment where you can actually learn something new. One of the things we hear often at Stanford’s is “fail early and fail often,” because then you have a chance to reflect and improve based on feedback. The instructor is here to guide you on a learning journey and give you productive feedback, not to judge you. Same with your classmates – you’re all exploring new ideas together. We’ve tried to structure Lacuna so that your reading and analysis benefit from this iterative model of co-creation.

Lacuna is part of an ongoing research project at Stanford, where we are studying how students read, share knowledge, collaborate, and shape their learning based on the platform we have built. To this end, we anonymously track engagement on the site to make claims such as “30% of students commented on another student’s blog post at least once a week.” The IRB form you will be asked to sign grants us permission to include your anonymous site behavior with all the other users of the site. As the consent form indicates, if at any point you would like to use Lacuna but not have your anonymous site use aggregated into our research data, please email to request your data be removed from our study.

Lacuna also changes classroom dynamics: students who have taken courses using Lacuna have reported a greater sense of community and shared knowledge creation. To this end, a member of the Lacuna team may stop by your course to see how the platform is being used in class. We may also ask you to participate in an interview or a short survey. All of these activities will be optional and participation will not affect your grade. Just like your site data, any notes we take during observations are not linked to individuals and are completely anonymized – we work hard to protect your privacy so that you can focus on enjoying Lacuna and the interactive learning it supports!

Give Us Feedback on a Work-in-Progress!

Students and instructors have found Lacuna helpful for shared conversation and collaborative learning with course materials. But it’s still a work in progress, and with every new class we learn a little more about how our designers, developers, research team, and staff can make it even better.

There are two ways you can contact us with problems, questions, or feedback:

  1. Found a glitch or immediate problem? Email and cc- your instructor so we can quickly get your account running smoothly again.
  2. Have feedback for changes, bugs, or suggestions for improvement? Post them in the Forum topic “Suggestions for Lacuna Improvement.”

Thanks for your participation and feedback! Remember that Lacuna is cutting-edge stuff – and that you’re helping us get it ready for wider use in the future.