NowComment.com offers improved text analysis tools
New computer software allows students to comment on specific passages, aims to improve close reading discussions in University classrooms
With the goal of facilitating enhanced communication in their classrooms, several University professors have begun to use a new Web site, NowComment.com. The unique site allows students and faculty members to attach comments to specific sentences or paragraphs of a text that has been uploaded, instead of leaving a comment at the end of the document, founder Dan Doernberg said.
Doernberg contrasted the software with a blog or traditional online comment system, in which a user may have to sift through thousands of comments to find a specific one about a certain sentence or passage. By pulling all the comments of a particular section of the text together into individual threads, students can more easily find comments relevant to certain passages of a document and avoid information overload.
Based on initial responses to NowComment, the University decided to sign a contract to include it as one of the University's core technological tools, Doernberg said. The software, still in its testing mode, has been implemented so far by a few University professors, including History Prof. Brian Balogh.
"I think it was great because it allowed students to really hone in on specific paragraphs and specific sentences in a text," he said. "Unlike your average blog, it really allowed the students to talk to each other back and forth and to target their comments to specific parts of the text."
Students have four different options when viewing an uploaded document. Students can choose a two-pane view in which they view the document in one pane and comments in another, a "comments in context" view in which all comments appear throughout the text in one window, a comments-only view, or a document-only view.
Balogh said NowComment has improved his classroom experience by reinforcing the "sense that looking carefully at text remains a very important part of the classroom discussion experience."
Doernberg acknowledged, however, that NowComment cannot replace actual group conversation.
"There are a lot of situations where it may actually be better suited to a task than having everyone face to face," he said.
Although Balogh plans to continue using NowComment in the next graduate class he teaches, he said he believes the software's chance of spreading throughout the University depends on his colleagues' willingness to embrace new technological innovations.