Tag Archives: comments

Commenting on Papers with iAnnotate

Steve Volk, September 16, 2013

I’m going to step onto some techie turf in today’s “Article of the Week”  – but don’t turn away just yet.

Here’s the question: How would you like to be able to comment on your students’ (or colleagues’) papers right on your iPad? Over the summer, I started experimenting with an app called “iAnnotate,” and am quite happy with it. The key thing for me is that it allows me to do something that I think will improve how I communicate with students on their papers. (By the way, I’m not being paid by Branchfire, the company that came out with the app and there are other applications, like PDF Expert, that do similar things. I’m also not a technology expert and haven’t reviewed many applications – I’m just saying what works for me.)

I’ll hold some of the technical blahblah for later, but consider this:

You open a student’s paper on your iPad (yes, this is for mobile devices only, either Apple or Android). You want to circle a word, highlight some text, underline a passage, add a comment in your handwriting or in type? You can do that. (Click on the photos to enlarge them.)

(You — or your students, can also use it to take notes on slides)

It gets better. Perhaps you want to insert an image into the paper, say a paper on Chile and you want to call the student’s attention to an iconic image that resonates with, corrects, or adds to what they have. Pictures are worth a 1,000 words they say! Just tap the camera icon and then touch the text where you want to insert the photo (which, of course, needs to be in your library), and boom! there it is.

OK, you can do all of that, and easily. It took me about 30 minutes to try out all the buttons and see which ones worked best for me. But the best is yet to come.

What if you get to a place in the paper and you really just want to say something to the student, where tone conveys more than text? You can do that…easily.  Just tap the little microphone icon at the point on the page where you want the recording to go, and you can record up to a minute. To play back, just hit the “go” arrow and you’ve done it. Is that cool, or what?

And here’s a 4-minute video that shows you how to do it: Using Voice Comments on iAnnotate

There’s lots more you can do with the app (read, manage, search, and share documents, take notes on lecture slides, signing documents, etc.). I have not seen any research to suggest whether students who get comments back via this kind of application pay more attention to them (i.e., learn better), but it does seem to have a lot of potential.

So, here’s the fine print – how you get it to work.

(1) You need an iPad or Android tablet – the point is that you’re “tapping” and “writing” on your device with a stylus or your finger, which you can’t do with a regular computer. (If you don’t have an iPad but would like to try this out, see me and I’ll help you arrange a loaner.)

(2) The app only works on a pdf file, which means you have to convert Word documents into a pdf (pretty simple to do – if you don’t convert on your own computer or ask your students to send you their papers in pdf format, when you tap a .doc file to open on your iPad and begin to work with it (e.g., make a comment), it will ask to save it in a pdf format and you’re good to go.

(3) You need to “transport” documents from your computer (or the student) to your tablet and back again. I use Dropbox, but you can use other cloud storage programs.

(4) It costs $9.99 – which is more than free, but less than $10!!

The very simple “how-to” for grading papers:

(1) A student sends you her paper either as a Word document or a pdf (you can ask them to convert), either directly to you via email attachment or by using Blackboard;

(2) You upload the document into your “cloud” device (e.g. Dropbox) and then open it in iAnnotate.

(3) Read the paper, make your comments, etc, save and return either directly to the student or to your own computer and then to the student with some instructions on how to use it: they don’t have to have an iPad but just double-click on, for example, the “loudspeaker” icon to hear your message or on the “paperclip” icon to see the photo.

I’m quite sure that I’ve got some of the technical details wrong, but, hey, I’m not paid for this and that’s why we have the wonderful folks at OCTET.

Here are links to some reviews of iAnnotate that appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education and Faculty Focus.

Mark Sample, “Making the Most of iAnnotate on the iPad,” ProfHacker, Chronicle of Higher Education,” November 8, 2011;

Doug Ward, “Grading with Voice on an iPad,” June 19, 2012;

Dave Yearwood, “App of the Week Review: iAnnotate PDF,” Faculty Focus, June 8, 2012.

Commenting on Assignments – by Voice!

Providing timely, directed, and cogent feedback to student assignments is a difficult and time consuming task. Previous CTIE “Article of the Week” posts have addressed some of the issues involved in giving feedback on writing assignments (e.g., “Responding to Student Writing,” April 11, 2011; “Providing Effective Feedback on Tests and Assignments,” February 28, 2011; “Grading,” Nov. 29, 2010; “Designing and Grading Exams,” May 3, 2010, etc.). As I’m working my way through a pile of papers, I often think: the best thing would be if I had the student here, I could tell her quite concisely what I thought the strengths and the weaknesses of her paper were. Well, there are now ways that you can do something similar, using programs that incorporate your oral comments to a student’s paper or assignment.

OK, first things first: this is probably not for the technologically faint of heart. But neither is it so complex that only our colleagues in OCTET would understand it. Finally, for students, the only real skills involved are being able to open and click on a link.

There are different ways to do this, but the main recommendations come from a recent article by ProfHacker, a regular feature in the Chronicle of Higher Education. If you don’t have a subscription to the CHE, you can access it via the library’s website, making sure to sign in if you are off campus (if you are on campus and access it through the library’s web site, there should be no problem).

The article in question is by Heather M. Whitney, “Grading Computer Programming with Voice,” CHE (October 30, 2012). She uses three accounts (JotForm, Jing, and screencast.com) to allow her to pull up an assignment uploaded by students  (in her case, some programming problem), use screencapture technology and a microphone to point out those places on the assignment which need improvement or were excellent, give students verbal feedback on what was and wasn’t working (up to 5 minutes of comments on Jing), and then return the assignments to an individual folder which only the individual student can see.

Whitney’s article links to others, including how to “Grade with Voice on an iPad,” (CHE, June 19, 2012), how to use iAnnotate on the iPad to comment on PDF’s, and an interesting article by Billie Hara on “Responding to Student Writing (audio style),” CHE, Oct. 16, 2009.

I have not used any of these techniques in my own classes, but they sound so attractive that I will probably start next semester, if not this since I often feel that I could convey my suggestions with greater precision if I were talking to a student,  particularly if I’m working my way through a large stack of papers and I get tired writing. My sense is that there is a modest learning curve involved in using this technology, but that, once accomplished, the commenting would move smoothly.

I’d be very interested to know if others are using this technique, and, if so, what software you use, how long it took you to learn it, and, most importantly, what you found the results to be for your students in terms of feedback you have received and any evidence of increases in their learning.

Once again, if you need to connect to the Chronicle of Higher Education through the library, use the following link: http://tinyurl.com/CTIE-CHE .

Steve Volk, Nov. 5, 2012