Active Online Reading

A project on online reading practices and pedagogies supported by the QAA and Talis.

Reading online

At university, reading is ubiquitous – it is relevant for all disciplines and all students, and therefore for the whole QAA membership. Students’ reading practices have transformed over the past 20 years, with the increasing digitisation of resources, the emergence and then ubiquity of virtual learning environments, and the widespread use of mobile devices. The pandemic has accelerated such developments, with the rapid roll-out of online and blended learning. Yet we know strikingly little about how students read online, how this relates to their overall learning, and which pedagogic strategies are effective. There is a need for enhancement in this area because online reading is fundamental to the transition to higher-level study (learning new ways of reading, ‘unlearning’ old habits), to citizenship (handling misinformation online), to disciplinarity (reading in a particular subject), and to decolonisation (beyond curriculum content, considering how students are taught to read).

Originating in the ‘reading-rich’ discipline of History, this project leverages an innovative ongoing partnership between three core institutions (Lincoln, Nottingham, UCL) to generate a suite of resources to support academics and students across all subjects. Informed by data, and conducted in partnership with students and Talis, Active Online reading (working definition of the term here) is a unique opportunity to cultivate pedagogic practices that assist students in developing a key – but neglected – academic skill – reading.

Three key elements underpin our approach:

  • Existing expertise. We build on successful pedagogic experiments in collaborative annotation of digital resources to develop students’ reading skills in History. We draw on insights from disciplines including Design and Business Studies, whose students are sometimes described as ‘reluctant readers’, and Classics, a cognate subject. Schoolteachers and teacher-educators will provide insights from pedagogic contexts with a stronger focus on reading development.
  • Data-informed. New online annotation tools make visible reading habits that were previously hidden from instructors. The leaders of the current project have made extensive use of the Talis Elevate online resource annotation tool since 2018. Our approach is informed by learner analytics gathered by Elevate and other tools. It will also involve the collection of perspectives on online reading from student and staff users at participating institutions.
  • Student engagement. Students will act as changemakers at all stages of the project. Student researchers will be employed at each core and partner institution.

You can find out more about the start of the project at this blog post, an interview with the three project leads, Jamie Wood (Lincoln), Jon Chandler (UCL) and Anna Rich-Abad (Nottingham) and Jamie’s July 2021 article for Times Higher further explains some of the key points underpinning the project.


  • Digital Transformation in History Teaching, Talis, 20 May 2021 (links to slides and recordings – see also ‘for more’ link below)
  • Reading now (and then), University of Lincoln Summer Festival of Learning, 17 June 2021. (slides)
  • Official Launch of the Active Online Reading Project, Teach Learn Collaborate Repeat: A Teaching and Learning Event by Talis, 13 July 2021 (recording of presentation)


Other writing


Active Online Reading – a reading list (courtesy of Dr Hope Williard, University of Lincoln)

Find out more

  • For more on our earlier – and ongoing – work on reading, especially with Talis Elevate, follow this link.
  • You can sign up to the project mailing list here.