MIT's NB Tool Facilitates Student Collaboration

One of the finest higher ed institutions in the U.S., MIT is known for producing some of the most talented thinkers in computer science. It is not surprising, then, that academics at the school have developed some very innovative technologies designed to enhance learning. Among them is NB, a tool that students can use to collaboratively annotate PDF files online.

Meeting a Need

Have you ever been going through course materials online and had a question about some of what you read? Perhaps you emailed an instructor or visited a class forum to get additional insight on a topic. Maybe you even had to wait until the next class for clarification. While these solutions might have yielded information that enhanced your understanding, they're often not the most efficient methods of help - especially if you need information on foundational concepts before moving ahead.

Enter NB, an online instructional tool that allows students to write notes and questions on class notes and readings. The MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) program allows individuals to add annotations to shared online docs that can be viewed in real time by faculty and fellow students. With the system, course documents serve as a kind of platform for online forums, without users having to navigate away from course material.

MIT NB note taking PDF

Streamlined Collaboration

NB was developed by the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Created in 2009, the system has been used in various classes by teachers looking to facilitate greater learning through collaboration. Students in classes using NB receive an email invitation with a link to a personal home page. At this page, students can view a listing of their classes that incorporate the program as well as a list of course materials that can be annotated and shared.

When reviewing class materials, individuals can write notes and questions in the margins of PDFs. Users can make comments viewable only to faculty, exclusively to students or to the whole class. They have the option to remain anonymous or to attach their name to comments and queries. Individuals receive notifications when others have provided responses to what they have written. Comments on PDFs can also be kept private, an ideal function for personal note-taking.

A Tool for Review

By compiling comments and questions in a layer on top of PDFs, NB provides for a review process that is quite efficient. The annotations of individuals, instructors and fellow students all appear on one comprehensive document, making it a logical study tool. What's better, more features are on the way for NB. Its developers rely on the comments of users to make enhancements. They also analyze annotation statistics to gauge the popularity of features and to guide future developments.

NB is the brainchild of a group of researchers who have a goal to 'make it easier for people to collect, organize, find, visualize and share their information.' The academicians blend 'approaches from human-computer interaction, social computing, databases, Web infrastructure, information retrieval, artificial intelligence and the semantic Web.' For those who aren't fluent in computer science speak, the most important takeaway is that the goal is to create intuitive applications that enhance learning - a combination that has been struck in NB.

Interested in other online study tools that anyone can use? Check out this useful note-taking application. The article includes links to six other notes programs that many college students find helpful.

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