Over the years, ProfHacker has featured several posts about grading. Back in 2010, Nels asked, “Are you locked in grading jail?” and followed up his question with another post that explained “Breaking Out of Grading Jail.” Billie Hara added “On the Comforts of Grading Jail” while Jason wrote about “Grading Triage.” There’s even a helpful Archive post by Natalie on grading. But grading is one part of professorial life that will never go away, and it’s the time of year when we’re all probably up to our ears in assignments to assess.
Last year, I was inspired by Mark Sample’s efforts at a paperless classroom, so I decided to try paperless grading. After considering various possibilities, I decided to use iAnnotate. We’ve written about iAnnotate before on ProfHacker. Jason wrote about it in “Mark Up Your PDFs on Your iPad with iAnnotate” and Mark followed that introduction with a more in depth post. I have to confess that I almost never use iAnnotate for marking journal articles or other research documents, but over the course of a semester, it completely revolutionized my grading process.
When I first started to use iAnnotate it would only work on PDFs but in recent upgrades, the app has expanded to also be able to mark Word documents. This is helpful because no matter how many times I ask students to turn in their work as PDFs, someone always sends me a .doc or docx file.
The app has made grading faster and less painful for me. It has allowed me to stop lugging around stacks and stacks of paper. It allows me to both return assignments to students electronically and also keep a copy of the marked document in my files. It syncs easily with DropBox, another longtime ProfHacker favorite, so that you can transfer your files from the iPad to the cloud or another computer. Transferring the files will allow you to delete them from your iPad but not lose them forever (my main complaint about PDF grading is the amount of space PDFs hog on my tablet). iAnnotate also syncs with Google Drive, Box, Skydrive, and WebDAV if you use one of those cloud services instead of DropBox. Marking PDFs has also eliminated the problem of indecipherable handwriting. My penmanship isn’t terrible, but over the course a long grading session, its quality noticeably deteriorates. Digital marking takes handwriting out of the equation, or rather, it can take handwriting out of the equation though you can also choose to keep practicing your script on the PDFs if you want.
With iAnnotate, you can underline or highlight parts of the paper. I will often highlight typos, sentences that are unclear, or phrases that I find especially interesting. I can add comments to the highlight to explain why I’ve highlighted that particular word or phrase. You can also add comment boxes to make more general observations or ask questions, or if you would prefer, you can type directly on the document and adjust the font, size, and color to fit the available space.
I frequently use the stamp feature, which offers letters and numbers (I use these to indicate scores or letter grades), check marks, question marks, stars of various colors, smiley faces--even a skull and crossbones (I have not yet had occasion to use the skull and crossbones). And if you’d rather, you can transform a word or phrase that you find yourself repeatedly tying onto the document into a stamp--I have added things like “yes and?” and “example?” to my collection. Finally, there is a pencil tool for those who want to write with either a stylus or a finger on the document. I have used this tool (with stylus) when a document has required a signature, but since my manual dexterity leaves much to be desired on a tablet more generally, it’s not something I do very often.
Once you have finished annotating the paper, you can email it directly back to the student (or collaborator or whomever). The app offers a variety of options here as well. You can opt to mail only the pages with annotations or the entire document. You also have your choice of an editable annotated document, a “flattened” version (non-editable), or the original unmarked document. You can also send a summary of annotations with or without the document.
It’s also worth mentioning that while I was happy enough with iAnnotate when I first started to use it, I truly fell in love ice I paired it with an iPad keyboard. Initially, I used the Logitech Ultratin Bluetooth Keyboard. More recently, I have been using the Belkin Ultimate Keyboard Case. Both made the grading process even faster since I found that my typing was far more accurate on a bluetooth keyboard than it ever was on the iPad’s touchscreen.
We’ll revisit grading workflow in the Open Thread Wednesday, but if you have tried grading PDFs either with iAnnotate or another interface, please let us know in the comments section.