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Overview

Lacuna Stories provides a browser based tool where you can digitize your syllabus so students can annotate all texts and media, link materials together, and read, learn, and write collaboratively. 

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.

Lacuna Stories is an online platform designed to create new possibilities for reading and learning collaboratively.  Lacuna seeks to make available to teachers and students new digital affordances which offer innovative ways to engage to engage with texts (thought of broadly) in and out of the classroom.  Lacuna allows teachers new ways to guide their students through the reading, lets students read actively – and collaboratively – outside the classroom, and provides teachers with digital tools to engage with their students in new and productive ways.

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Lacuna’s reading interface, with annotation highlights showing


Lacuna does this in a variety of ways.  The core of the tool is set around
annotation.  Course texts and multimedia are organized by week and made immediately accessible to students.  No downloading is necessary!  Students read course materials online (in a browser or on a tablet).  But they are not just reading e-texts.  Rather, they read actively, highlighting key concepts and passages, while taking digital notes to record their questions, comments, and reactions to the texts.  Moreover, teachers don’t need to leave students to read difficult or challenging texts unguided, as instructors can embed annotation prompts and questions for students to engage with.  Lacuna can also be used lightly.  You can use it for only a couple readings, or all of them.  It is, at core, just another tool in your pedagogical kit.

As you may gather, Lacuna is not just a tool for students to annotate for their own uses.  Its great strength is that it allows students, and teachers, to engage with each other as they read and interpret course materials.  Students and teachers can tag documents, annotations, and responses, thereby drawing meaningful connections across all the original and user-generated content on Lacuna.

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Customized annotation features

Not all annotations or writing on Lacuna has to be shared – privacy and visibility are fully customizable at every level, for both students and teachers. Students and teachers can make each annotation private, only shared with the instructor, shared with a small group of other students, or visible to the entire class.  With this flexibility, students can use the annotation tool to work out their own ideas, as well as share their thoughts, questions, and critiques with the rest of the class at their own pace and comfort level.  We have found that sharing ideas publically, however, allows the class as a whole to learn from each other, generate new kinds of dialogue, and make for class discussions that are more focused on areas of the texts that are the most engaging, or most confusing.

Lacuna also allows for students to generate longer form written Responses that are also shareable.  Teachers can create categories to organize responses, such as “class notes,” “reflections,” “paper proposals,” or “final essays.” Using the automatic bibliography generator for texts hosted on Lacuna, responses can be linked to specific texts, or more free floating.  And just as the course materials are annotatable, student responses can be annotated and replied to, which helps facilitate peer-editing and quick, real-time teacher feedback on the text itself.

Lacuna also provides students with a powerful tool to identify patterns across and within texts.  The Sewing Kit allows students to “stitch” together excerpts and annotations into collections called “threads.”  We have found that these threads have made it possible for students to start to draw connections between passages and different texts as the course is progressing, rather than only at the points where they have to generate written work.  This has the potential to generate a higher quality of written work, and can make the writing process for students something they have started on, even before they begin thinking about their prompts.

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The Sewing Kit, to search and organize all annotations across texts and courses

Finally, Lacuna provides teachers with an Instructor Dashboard.  The Dashboard lets instructors prepare for class by examining a summary of students’ reading patterns.  Did students do the reading?  What parts did they focus on, or ignore?  What did they find confusing or interesting?  This tool allows teachers to more effectively plan classroom discussions and exercises, whether to pick up on discussions already in play, or to generate new discussions on material that instructors feel isn’t getting the attention it deserves.

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Instructor Dashboard and Visualizations

Lacuna is a free, open-source tool that can be downloaded (via Github) and hosted on a website or your school’s server. Lacuna is not a service that we provide, but rather is a product that we have designed and want to make free and widely available.  We will provide a guide for the installation and use of it, but do not offer significant technical support.

We hope that you find Lacuna interesting, and that it is a productive and fun tool for classroom learning, and beyond.  If you are interested in adopting Lacuna, please don’t hesitate to contact us with questions you may have.  

For more information, contact us here.