Review by Jenny Bristol, Common Sense Education | Updated February 2017

NowComment

Rich collaboration and discussion site engages students and teachers

Subjects & skills
Skills
  • Communication & Collaboration

Subjects
  • English Language Arts
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
K-12
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Pros: Tons of comment options including restricted dates, sorting, and multiple threads.

Cons: Though multiple file types are supported, the site claims that there are sometimes difficulties with PDFs.

Bottom Line: It's a versatile discussion platform for teaching, peer reviewing, and fostering active reading, and offers much more than traditional word processors.

For some general suggestions, consult the developer's website, which hosts advice from teachers and other users as well as a white paper called "The Top Ten Educational Advantages of Online Discussion." For larger groups, teachers can make use of the notifications, assignments, subgroups, and moderation all built into the site.

Create an online discussion area for documents relevant to your class's lessons. This can provide a supportive environment for students who may be reluctant to speak up in class or for those who communicate better in writing than out loud. Teachers can then discuss in class the parts of the document that were not sufficiently covered online, and they can also learn how well students understand the assigned reading. It's perfect for flipped classrooms where students consume material outside of class: Students and teachers can generate discussion online, and then teachers can bring it all together in the classroom. Teachers can sort comments by date, students' names, and tags, which makes it easier to evaluate participation. Since everything's in writing, records of students' comments are kept for easy evaluation later. Teachers can control when comments can be made on a document and when students can see each others' comments, thus creating a period of time when students can share opinions without seeing what others say. Teachers can also have students upload their own documents for group projects or peer-reviewed activities.

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NowComment is a versatile document annotation and discussion platform that helps groups of people mark up and discuss texts. To use it, teachers (or students) upload a document in a number of formats (including HTML, Microsoft Word, PDF, photo, audio, or video), copy and paste text and embed codes from websites, or type in text directly. These documents can be organized in a series of folders. Then, they can tune the privacy settings (documents are private by default, but they can be made public), choose a title, and invite participants. Paragraphs for text are numbered, with the document shown on the left and the comment panel on the right. Users can also view the document with the comments inline with the text. Newer features include editing a document after uploading, Track Changes functionality, and standard LTI integration for LMS.

There's a great deal of depth to the comment feature that makes this tool more useful than some other document collaboration environments. Comments can be linked to the document as a whole, a specific paragraph, a specific sentence, or down to a specific word. Portions of images can be commented upon, as can specific locations in an audio or video file. A balloon shows how many comments there are per highlighted section, and clicking on it scrolls automatically to that section's comments. Adding comments is pretty simple: Double-click on text, highlight portions of an image, or click on the progress bar for audio or video. Users can write comments that include a summary and an optional, more detailed comment area. Users can edit or delete comments as well as sort comments, skim only the comment summaries, reply privately, and more. Customizable tags can be added to comments, which are sortable. Teachers can create assignments and time specifically when and how commenting appears and disappears from a document for students. This allows for capturing initial impressions without students being influenced by each other. The commented-on document can also be printed, exported, or embedded in another web page. There's ample help available, including FAQs, videos, feature overviews, and specific instructions.

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NowComment is a flexible way to foster in-depth conversations about texts, images, videos, and audio. It can be used to discuss readings, have peers evaluate each other's writing, teach lessons at a distance, annotate documents, and generate discussion among students and between teachers and students. It can be used in any subject, from historical primary source documents to chemistry demonstration videos to literary analysis. ​Students can learn as they interact with each other, the teacher, and the document, bringing up discussion topics about the document or commenting on other students' comments. Students don't have to wait their turn to comment, and they can also take discussions in another direction without interrupting the first line of comments. Discussions can be about the document in a broad sense, or individual words or small portions of images can be discussed. Students can upload their own documents and invite discussion, creating a peer review or workshopping situation.

When teachers set up documents pertinent to the classroom lessons, the students are encouraged to discuss in a way different from oral discussion in the classroom. This helps more students participate and in more ways. Discussion can center on the fine detail of the textual evidence of the document, which can be harder to do in a classroom. Comments can include links to other sites, so the discussion is much richer. This form of discussion is also good for ELL students and reluctant speakers. Overall, this is a terrific way to engage students in reading, writing, and analyzing texts, and it's flexible enough to appeal to a wide range of skills and abilities. It's definitely worth taking it out for a spin. 

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Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Focused discussion right on top of documents breathes life into source material. The page design is focused on fostering conversation and has extensive commenting and threading options.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

The open-ended design supports easy-to-follow discussions that can boost learning, under the guidance of both teachers and students. Almost any kind of document can be used for the reference file.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

Text help and video instructions are available, and pop-up tips help new users get started. All functionality is thoroughly explained on the site.


Common Sense Reviewer
Jenny Bristol Homeschooling parent

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