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Use Hypothesis for Collaborative Annotations on Documents in Canvas

Last updated on June 3, 2024

Create documents that you and your students can annotate together

Reading is often an essential pedagogical tool to engage, inform, and empower learning for students. The problem is often, how can you get your students to read more? The time has come to consider using social annotation to promote critical thinking, community, and create a window into the understanding of what your students are learning by engaging with their assigned readings.

This can be done collaboratively in Canvas through Hypothesis. This tool enables students to review a PDF or web page, leave annotations and comments on it, and view and respond to those annotations and comments left by their classmates. Join us for an introduction to the user interface in Hypothesis and how to leave annotations and view those from other users. For a step-by-step guide on creating Hypothesis documents, please see our Set Up Hypothesis Documents and Assignments in Canvas tutorial.

Best Practices

  • Make sure that any PDF you are using is accessible (including selectable, searchable text). Annotations made in Hypothesis need to highlight text and passages, so a simple scan or image of a book or pamphlet won’t work. 
  • When using external tools in Canvas, it’s generally a good idea to select the “Load in a new window” option. This will help the content display better on a variety of devices.
  • When creating a graded assignment with Hypothesis, give clear instructions to your students on what they’ll be graded on. Communicate your expectations in how many annotations they should make, what content to focus on, and whether or not they need to respond to annotations from other students.
  • Use only materials for which you have the rights (written permission from the author(s), Creative Commons, etc.) to ensure that you are not engaged in illegal activity and/or circumventing copyright or post copyrighted works in annotations.

Let’s walk through it together


  1. Go to MSU Denver’s Faculty and Staff Hub.
  2. Click Canvas in the Teaching & Learning section.
  3. Log in to your Canvas Account.
  4. Select the Course you’d like to work in.
  5. Locate any Hypothesis Document or Assignment you have added in the course.
  6. Click the Hypothesis Document or Assignment to open it.

Navigate the Hypothesis Document

  1. Click the Book icon in the top left-hand corner of the page to open a side panel that will display the pages in the document. This can allow you to find specific places in larger documents more quickly.
  2. Click the Magnifying Glass icon to the right of the book icon to search the document by keyword or phrase.
  3. Click the + and – icons in the center of the toolbar to zoom in and out of the document respectively.
  4. Click the >> icon on the right side of the toolbar to open more options.

Create Annotations

  1. Click and drag your cursor over a passage of Text to highlight it.
  2. Click Annotate in the pop-up that appears.
  3. Enter your Annotation in the text field in the right-hand side bar of the page.
    • This text field has basic word-editor functions, like bold, italics, lists, and support for the mathematical function rendering software, LaTeX.

Create Page Notes

  1. Click the Sticky Note icon in the top left-hand corner of the right-hand annotations side bar.
  2. Enter the Text of your Page Note in the text field in the right-hand side bar.