Tools for Collaborative Image, Text, and Audio Annotation

The web and the proliferation of multi-modal and collaborative projects have increased the possibilities for annotation, an age-old practice for taking notes, making observation, and making the practice of interacting with materials more personal. But there are are new kinds of annotation (collaborative, public, audio, video) as well as new materials to annotate.

The purpose of this post is to provide a starting list of potential annotation tools — tools that let students and faculty annotate documents and media of various formats, both collaboratively and individually, and for a variety of purposes. The list is far from exhaustive, and we invite other suggestions in the comments.

This list was compiled using a number of criteria: ease of use, cost, integration with other tools. The needs for tools like this, as expressed to us at DTLT by our faculty, are idiosyncratic. There is no perfect out-of-the-box solution for the many varieties of this kind of work. The descriptions attempt to briefly describe the tool as well as highlight the features that would be of most interest, as well as the drawbacks. They are organized according to their cost structure, as well as the financial status of the group that developed them.

No Cost, not-for-profit


VideoAnt is a project developed out of the University of Minnesota, which allows for students to annotate videos. Think of it as a kind of overlay for YouTube. Students can collaboratively annotate a video using the Groups function on the app. You can save your “Ants” and share them with groups of students. For more information on how to use it as an instructor, visit their documentation page.

StoryMap Gigapixel

This is a free platform that allows you to tell “stories” with and about images. One of their features is the ability to use large-sized images and tell a story around those images. For an example, see here. While it seems complicated, it is possible through the Domain of One’s Own project, and UMW’s Digital Knowledge Center offers peer-tutoring in StoryMap. The one drawback is limited collaboration functionality, although students can share their work. is a web tool and browser plugin that allows anyone to collaboratively annotate text on the web and in web-based PDFs. Students only need to sign up for a free account and install the plugin on either Firefox or Chrome browsers. You can also create private groups so that only people in that group can see the annotations. Read more about all the ways that has been being used in the classroom.

No Cost, For-Profit

Google Drive

Using apps within the Google Drive environment, such as Docs and Draw, students can annotate text, PDFs, and images collaboratively, either directly on the image itself, or as marginal comments. The comments can be multimedia, although there is an extra step involved in embedding the video in the comments. The platform is free, with students needing a google account. You can also control the sharing and privacy functions, as well as track changes and document history. Find out more about using Google Drive to collaborate and annotate.


There are a number of screencasting platforms available to the UMW community, including Screenflow (located in the Vocal Booth at the HCC), Screencast-o-Matic (free for limited use), Jing (free for limited use), and Quicktime (available on any Mac computer). Screencasts are useful for professors and students to annotate and use voice to describe what is happening on a computer screen. See our documentation guide for more information.  


SoundCloud is a way to upload and share audio clips, including music, podcasts, and other forms of audio files. There are a number of potential uses in the classroom, including collaboratively commenting on a track at timestamped points, as well as creating groups to limit who audio files are shared with. Soundcloud files could also be used as embedded annotations.

Integrated into Canvas


CrocoDoc is a tool integrated into Canvas through SpeedGrader. Students upload assignments to Canvas, and CrocoDoc allows the instructor to annotate their work. Students can then see the feedback directly on the document. Annotations are limited to text, although you can draw on the document uploaded and also limited to the instructor annotating students’ work. SpeedGrader also allows for audio annotations.

Big Blue Button

Big Blue Button is a synchronous video conferencing platform integrated into Canvas. Within the platform, students and professors can interact using video, audio, text, and images. The platform also allows for live image annotation in the workspace area. Only one person, however, can annotate an image at once. The interactions in the platform are also recorded for later viewing.

Freemium/Lower Cost


Prezi is well known as a presentation platform, but with recent new features, the platform can be a powerful collaboration tool for image annotation using video. You can upload an image as the background or map for students to then “zoom in” on and annotate by linking a video to that spot in the image or with text. The cost for all the features is $4.92 a month; there is a free option, but students won’t be able to collaborate on the same image/Prezi.


Annotable is an iPhone/iPad app that allows for students to annotate images. The app itself is free with a number of paid add-ons. The app would allow for students to annotate images and texts, but cannot collaborate with one another, unless they sent the image, once annotated, to another student, who would then continue the annotation in their own version of the app. It only does images or text, not video.


Designed for collaboration between people working on the same project which includes visuals, this platform, with a login using Google, allows for multiple people to comment and annotate on an image by creating a group. The free options are limited, but it would offer a solution to collaborative annotation and analysis of an image. It even includes a way to include images pulled from the web. Here is an example of a class using the tool to annotate and critically analyze print ads.


FlipGrid is a cross-platform way for students to react to a prompt using video. There is a $65/year cost, but this allows for unlimited use of FlipGrid, allowing for as many classes, prompts, and students. It allows for a more visual and social way to interact and learn. While not strictly an annotation tool, it can be used for various visual exercises and responses. There is a guide to integrating FlipGrid into the classroom (PDF).


VoiceThread is $99/year per instructor, and allows for students and instructors to interact and collaborate using video, audio, and text annotation and interactions. A number of studies have shown the pedagogical effectiveness of this tool.

Image See Emily Play by Philip Chapman-Bell licensed CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

8 Responses
  1. The key feature for annotation tools for me is to connect the note to the location in the source (in time for sequential media or contextual location for text, images)– so while voicethread is a great tool for discussion, I am not so sure it is an annotation tool. Although it is rather close to marginal notations, it is not annotatin

    Maybe the most simple is the comment feature in Google Docs (nothing revolutionary). Or the inline commenting of (along with the various WordPress plugins that try to do this .e.g Also CommentPress for inline commenting on WP sites, which has come a long way, easier now to add comments and with a responsive theme

    Anyhow, I’d add:

    Vialogues – attaching comments to time location in YouTube videos – attach comments to time location in videos via Google Drive

    And every disses flickr, it’s been doomed for years, but still works for allowing images to be annotated . You can add links in an annotation, to make a kind of choose an adventure game Also while not offered by flickr, mbedr works to embed a flickr image with the notes in tact

  2. I’d add Lacuna ( to the free, non-profit list for text annotation. It’s been designed specifically for close reading and social reading by a research team at Stanford (which I’m part of). In the next week or so, we’ll also be announcing integration with Canvas. It provides a visualization of all student annotation work in a course, a way to organize and group annotations across documents, and allows students to write their own posts, which can also be annotated , to name a few of its many features.

  3. Another tool to add is Cosneta Freestyle – The service creates a virtual interactive whiteboard across any device and application. People can then write, draw, highlight and take snapshots or video as the collaboration is created. All the collaborative work can then be saved to the device. The company is currently aiming for the Events market and although the App is free to download there is a subscription for the host, which is the intelligent part of the service that links all the devices together. It is compatible with big screen, flat panel displays that link to a PC. More importantly it has the advantage in the education market of enabling teachers to work with smaller groups without disrupting entire classes.

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