Grading with Voice on an iPad


[This is a guest post by Doug Ward, an associate professor of journalism and the Budig Professor of Writing at the University of Kansas. You can find him online at and, and follow him on Twitter @kuediting. Doug's previous posts have looked at finding iOS apps, what to do if your Twitter account is hacked, using iPads in the classroom (one, two) and engaging students with music.--@jbj]

One of the frustrating things I found in teaching online last semester was the lack of direct contact with students. The class felt impersonal, despite my efforts to give it life.

I found that especially frustrating when I graded assignments. The feedback seemed cold and distant, even as I as I tried to point out strong areas of writing and multimedia projects.

I overcame this in part by using my iPad to add audio comments to grading. This was a revelation to me. Using an app called iAnnotate, I could write comments on PDFs but also add voice comments, allowing me to make grading more personal but also add details that I otherwise wouldn’t have included.

Most students liked the voice feedback. Some, unprompted, even wrote and thanked me for taking the time to speak to them with the recorded segments.

Academics have talked about paperless grading for years. Here on ProfHacker, Jason wrote a couple of years ago about marking up PDFs with iAnnotate and more recently about going paperless with a Mac. Ryan has also written about annotating PDFs,
Natalie about paperless grading with GradeMark and Turnitin, and Billie about using voice recordings to provide better feedback on student writing. Elsewhere on the Chronicle site, Robert Talbert has written about experimenting with digital grading, including the use of Jing for video and audio feedback. Beyond the Chronicle, Lauren Panton has created a terrific Diigo list of articles about faculty experiences with paperless grading.

I’d never heard about adding short voice comments to PDFs, though, and I initially overlooked the option of voice recording on iAnnotate. I considered it only after I saw an excellent video about using the free ScreenChomp app to give students audio and video feedback on assignments.

I have used ScreenChomp a few times for grading, and I like the way it allowed me to mark on a document and speak at the same time. One problem is that it doesn’t allow stopping and restarting, or editing. I found that frustrating when I got a few minutes into a video and had to start over. ScreenChomp also limits the length of a document to about three pages, so it doesn’t work for larger projects.

I had better luck using iAnnotate. It syncs with DropBox (as does ScreenChomp), Box or a WebDav account. Using my iPad, I could easily mark on PDFs with a stylus, add one-minute voice comments, and then easily sync the document back to DropBox. Or, I could email the graded assignments directly to students. All they needed to see and hear the comments was a PDF reader.

Here’s a video showing how the process works:

Of course, iAnnotate is one of many PDF tools for the iPad that allow document markup and the addition of voice. What ways have you found to use the iPad for paperless grading, or to add voice comments to grading?

Photo “Bossy Keeper” by Aimee L. Pozorski. Used by permission.

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