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.
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.