Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Grading papers with the iPad

Read the updated post with some technical advice here:

Around the web, there've been some posts lately about grading with the iPad, including a couple of good ones by Caleb McDaniel and Michael J. Faris. I was curious about this, so I thought I'd try grading on the iPad and see how it went.

[Update: There's a new post up about this by Janet Johnson at MediaRhetoric.com; she talks about iAnnotate, which she finds easier to use than Word. She also uses some other grading apps, including GradebookPro and EssayGrader, which is sort of like Markin for the iPad.]

My initial thought was to do a whole set the usual way (comments in Word) and a whole set using iAnnotate on the iPad, but I ended up doing just a few on the iPad. It was pretty clear what the strengths and weaknesses were after that. Here's the process:

1. To use iAnnotate for grading, you first need to download the papers (if your students use Word), convert them to .pdf files, and save them to Dropbox. That took about a minute apiece. You don't have to save them to Dropbox if you don't have it; you can transfer them through iTunes, which is the official way to transfer files on the iPad, or through a transfer feature of iAnnotate.

2. Open iAnnotate on the iPad and read the paper. iAnnotate lets you insert comments in little pop-up boxes, use a pencil tool to circle items, underline phrases, and so on.
  • You can use your fingers to indicate the text you want highlighted by swiping the text or pressing and holding until the program asks you whether you want to make a note or not.
  • If you have a stylus, you can also write on the paper, although even my best efforts at writing letters looked like those of a 4-year-old.
  • For each comment, you need to click on the appropriate icon on the sidebar (underline, make a note), click in the right spot in the text, type the note, close the note, and close the annotation menu.
3. Typing on the iPad isn't as straightforward or as fast as typing on a physical keyboard, although it does work. For one thing, if you want to use an apostrophe, you have to go to a different keyboard, although some of the usual contractions (it's, I'll, etc.) will insert themselves automatically.

4. At the end, you can upload the file back to Dropbox or mail it directly to the student. There's no "save" or "save as" feature (or at least I haven't been able to find one), but iAnnotate saves the annotated file automatically. If you like to save the graded papers with a different filename, as I do, you'll have to change the filename on your regular computer.

Note: If your students email you their papers in .pdf format and you mark them up in iAnnotate, you won't be able to save that version to Dropbox. Dropbox only accepts the annotated version if it originated in Dropbox, apparently a known issue with the two programs.

5. I used the Typewriter comment feature to write the final comment. [Note: See the updated post (above) about using Note instead.]

6. If you email the file, there are two options: one "flattens" the annotations, which means that the student sees a little yellow comment box with a number and the comments are down below, and one that the student should be able to see using the pop-ups.

Advantages and Disadvantages:

1. Draw. Most of the information I've seen lists "not carrying around a stack of papers," "no messy writing in the margins," etc. as an advantage, but since I'm collecting and returning papers electronically, that's not an issue.

2. Advantage: It's kind of cool to grade on the iPad. If I have the iPad with me anyway, I might as well carry some grading to do.

3. Disadvantage: No Word autotext on the iPad. No magic keystrokes that insert text (Alt-I-A-X). That makes a huge difference, since I use it to explain common problems and can then spend a lot more time on substantive issues.

4. Advantage: No computer to lug around. On the other hand, I have an old-ish netbook that, like the iPad, fits in my pocketbook, so it's really kind of a draw if portability is the issue.

5. Disadvantage: Grading takes longer. Total average time: if N = the amount of time that it takes to grade a paper in Word or on paper, the iPad version took me N + 9 minutes, on average. I did the math: 9 extra minutes apiece x 30 papers = time I could spend doing something else.

6. Disadvantage: Typing is less intuitive, and I noticed that my shoulders were getting all hunched up with the effort to type and not make mistakes.

7. Draw: The CMS my university uses does not play well at all with the iPad; there's no way to scroll down or upload the papers to the dropbox space in the CMS. On the other hand, if you're emailing papers back anyway, this may not be a problem.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting!!! I still grade by hand most of the time and I am impressed that you're this far ahead on techno-grading.

[OT (or on earlier topic): I have figured out Boice and other anti procrastination people. My latest post is on this. I don't know if it applies to others but I've finally figured out where I have actual procrastination problems and it's on freshman level teaching prep and grades, and *there* the Boicean advice works 100%. So my thesis: you have to know what you're really procrastinating on and also why.]

Ink said...

This is really interesting! Appreciate the review. I feel my shoulders start hunching whenever I grade on a computer. Am worried that soon they'll point forward, actually.

word ver: "consch" (the sound I make when I realize that I still can't afford an iPad).

undine said...

Good addendum to Boice, profacero! What I procrastinate on is making my brain do work of any kind.

Thanks, Ink! I thought someone might be interested (or hoped so), since all the posts I've seen have raved about how great the iPad is for grading. It's great for a lot of things, but not necessarily for that.

Anonymous said...

I just found this site, so I am posting the comment late. I'm looking into grading on the iPad because I am trying to switch over to the Apple ecology entirely.
currently, i grade on a convertible PC Tablet with an active digitizer. The inking is very smooth, quite like writing on paper, and the workflow quite simple. (I comment in MS Word, then 'print' to a .pdf to return to students.) I don't loose any time by grading electronically, though sending the work back electronically does add additional time. I would deeply appreciate finding this same experience away from Windows. It sounds like the iPad is almost there.

undine said...

Anon, I've never worked with a tablet pc. Do you type some of the comments and handwrite others? You mentioned keeping this in word until it is saved to .PDF.

the Frugal Ecologist said...

Holding down the comma key gives you an apostrophe, the period gives you double quotes. No need to switch. I am interested in using iannotate to review articles, even if it is too time consuming for grading. Found you through the teaching carnival on ProfHacker.

undine said...

Thanks, Frugal Ecologist! I hadn't tried the "hold down the key" trick for apostrophes and quotation marks. iAnnotate is good for marking up journal articles.

Funny about Money said...

Very, very interesting!

It was when you said "took one minute" that I got scared.

One minute x 60 papers = 1 hour, and that's before we've even started to read the stuff! Ugh.

Right-click, download to disk, open in Word = about three seconds if your connection runs at a reasonable speed. 3 seconds x 60 papers = 180 seconds = about 3 minutes; 60 minutes - 3 minutes = 57 minutes of actual living time not wasted.

Still...it's intriguing. More interesting for editing MSS, I suspect, than for wrestling with stoont papers. It bears watching.

undine said...

Funny--opening in Word is much faster than opening in Word, saving to .pdf (or printing to .pdf), etc. Seriously, it probably didn't take a full minute for each one, but it was pretty close.