Posts Tagged ‘GoodNotes 4’

Six months after obtaining an iPad Air 2 with the hopes of digitizing the majority of my workload, I have completed my first semester of nearly all-digital grading. Students still took their exams the old-fashioned way, but I graded every essay, assignment, and final project digitally. Although there were times that I wanted to go back to grading with pen on paper, I think that the benefits generally outweighed the costs.

The Process

I’ve dabbled in electronic assignment submission in the past, but this semester I required students to submit all of their assignments electronically to my institution’s course management program (similar to Blackboard, Moodle, etc.). They were instructed to submit their work in PDF format and most did, but after downloading the assignments I had to spend a few minutes converting the assignments that were submitted in other formats. These few minutes were just the first of the extra time that working electronically added to the grading process.

After ensuring that everything was in the correct format, I uploaded the files to Dropbox, then imported them into Goodnotes 4 on my iPad for grading. Grading itself also took longer because of the need to zoom in for writing legible comments with a stylus. At the end of each assignment I typically used the iPad’s on-screen keyboard to type some longer comments, the speed of which would have been greatly increased with the purchase of a Bluetooth keyboard. After grading, I exported the files back to Dropbox, transferred them to my computer, opened each file to record the grade, and uploaded them back to the course management program so that students could receive my feedback. I know that some course management programs allow electronic grading on PDFs from within their interface, so the ability to do that would help streamline the process.

The Negatives

The biggest drawback was the added time necessary both before, during, and after grading. It was during grading for my largest classes that I often considered just printing the students’ papers and grading them by hand. Aside from the added time commitment, though, I also found that electronic grading interrupted my normal process of handing work back. In the past I have always given assignments back at the end of class, prefaced with an overview of what generally went well and what needed work. Electronic grading prevented me from returning things at the end of class (the course management system provided no option to hold feedback for release at a particular time) and divorced the receipt of my feedback from my contextualizing overview. It also led to at least one class period where students were noticeably disengaged after receiving relatively low grades on an assignment shortly before class started. In the future I’ll probably switch to providing context at the end of class and uploading student assignments immediately afterward.

The Positives

Saving paper was an obvious motivation for changing to digital grading, but it was not the only benefit that I noticed. During grading, the ability to copy and paste some of my end-of-assignment comments allowed me to write a bit more than I might have otherwise (a Bluetooth keyboard will hopefully make this even better). The larger benefit for me, though, and what ultimately made this process worthwhile, was the ability to have a copy of each student’s work with my feedback even after I had given assignments back. If one assignment built on another, for example, I could look back at the student’s previous work to see if they had followed my suggestions. The ability to pull up a student’s previous assignments during office hours was also helpful. Finally, I could also see whether a student’s ability to cite things properly progressed over the course of the semester (unfortunately, the answer was usually “no”).

Another major positive was that students liked it. My comments were not really any less legible than they would have been otherwise and students did not have to worry about misplacing their assignments for future reference since they were always available on the course management page. Whether students saved the files with my feedback for future reference is still undetermined. One worry that I had is that students would not read my feedback if I did not physically hand them an assignment, since they could see their grade online without opening the file with my comments. There is obviously a question of whether students read my feedback when I do physically hand them an assignment, but at least the likelihood seems higher.

Despite the added time and other drawbacks, I consider this semester’s trial run a success. Over the summer I hope to get a Bluetooth keyboard to make typing a little more efficient, and I should probably look into ways to streamline my overall process, but I plan to continue my electronic grading in the future. Maybe with penalties for assignments that are submitted in the wrong format…

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In my previous post about GoodNotes 4 for the iPad, I discussed several changes that would improve the program (sorry, I mean “app”) for academics. One of these was to set the level of zoom used by the zoom box (this is probably not its official name). The rest of my proposed changes stand, but on this point I was an idiot.

It turns out that the zoom box can be easily resized, either by dragging the bottom-right corner of the box that appears over the regular-sized text or by using the same pinch-to-zoom gestures that are used for documents and all over iOS and other mobile operating systems within the zoom box. For a comparison, note the size of the zoom box in this image from last week’s post and then look at the image below:


In this image you can see the size of my writing at various levels of zoom. More importantly, you can see the effects of different levels of zoom on the clarity of my handwriting. Last week I said that I was concerned about my ability to use the iPad for grading because it was difficult to write legibly. For some reason, using the higher zoom settings best approximates my pen-on-paper handwriting, even though the zoom box requires me to write much larger than I would on paper. (The resulting size of the text is probably pretty close to the size of my normal handwriting.) After recognizing this, the legibility of my journal article annotations increased dramatically.

I don’t completely understand the technology used in the screens of iPads and other devices, but from my experience with trying to apply my pen-on-paper writing style to stylus-on-glass, it is clear that there are major differences. Some of this is likely the result of software, since these devices are optimized for inputs from fingers. Nevertheless, using the higher levels of zoom solves nearly all of the problems I initially had and makes me confident in my ability to grade student work electronically, as you can see in the areas highlighted with green that I added to my image from last week:

IMG_0019This doesn’t mean that my other suggestions wouldn’t improve my experience, but after some additional time I can confidently say that GoodNotes 4 does allow me to do the basic things I want to do in order to digitize my workload.

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The other day I wrote about my initial thoughts on the iPad Air 2, which I recently purchased with my start-up funds in the hopes of digitizing my workload, including grading assignments, reading journal articles, and taking (and storing) notes on meetings and presentations. The list of apps that can be used to do these things is a bit overwhelming and includes GoodReader, Notability, and the app I ended up trying, GoodNotes 4. It is hard to say how GoodNotes compares to the other options, but I liked that it seemed designed to allow me to do all of the things I wanted and, if nothing else, it is only $5.99 so there wasn’t a big financial risk involved. This post by Polina at Helpful Scribbles was also, um, helpful (see her list of brief reviews here).

In my limited time so far, it has worked fairly well for what I want. It is easy, for example, to set up folders for different types of notes and import files, including Word documents and PDFs, from various cloud storage options. (Unfortunately, Word documents are reformatted to better fit the iPad screen, so it is likely that you will need to convert them to PDF before uploading in order to ensure that they retain the characteristics of the original documents when commenting.) GoodNotes also automatically backs up your changes to the cloud storage platform of your choice. For sharing with others, you can export your files to PDF so that others (such as students) can read them. You can also print files, but that is less relevant for me since my goal is to avoid printing. In the images below, I demonstrate some of features that are most relevant for annotating journal articles and commenting on student papers:


Above is the default view with a paper from the most recent issue of the American Sociological Review. You can see that the options are fairly simple, which could be good or bad depending on your perspective. Included, from left, are the Category menu, a zoomed-out view of the article’s pages, the zoom window, an option to clean up the shapes that you draw, the text box, pen options, highlighter options, the eraser, a selection tool for your writing (but, unfortunately, not writing from the document), a “no writing” tool to prevent inadvertent marking, undo, redo, and the file options. By default, GoodNotes shows the entire page, but you can use your fingers to zoom the image. An option to fit the image to the screen horizontally or vertically, like those in Adobe Acrobat, would make this a lot easier.

IMG_0005Here you can see the two options for writing. You can write on the document as it appears, or you can open a zoom window (either by selecting the option from the toolbar or “long-tapping,” which brings up a menu of options that includes zoom). As you write, the edge of the zoom box turns blue. If you start writing in the blue area, the zoom box moves automatically across the document or, in this case, down to the next “line” so that you can continue writing without manually repositioning the box. You can also move the zoom box by dragging it around or using the options in the upper right of its window. One addition I would like is the ability to write horizontally in the zoom box for a selection that is perpendicular to the document. This would make annotating journal articles easier since there is little room in the margin to write horizontally. I would also like the option for the zoom box to appear automatically when long-tapping instead of having to select “zoom” from the resulting menu. Finally, options to set the level of zoom used by the zoom box would be nice. As noted in the addendum, it is possible to resize the zoom box, which greatly increases the legibility of my handwriting.

IMG_0006The image above shows the default zoom level when viewing an article in landscape orientation. IMG_0007

Manually zooming the document to the width of the screen (again, automatic zooming would be nice) in landscape orientation makes the margins slightly bigger than writing in portrait orientation, though you will need to spend more time scrolling since less of the document fits on the screen at once.  IMG_0008Although I always underline things when reading journal articles on paper, in GoodNotes the highlighter (shown above) is a better option. This is true because the use of a stylus makes it more difficult to underline without accidentally crossing out the text and because GoodNotes places the highlight behind the text rather than over the top of it (as Polina reports Notability does). You can also choose different colors and sizes for the highlighter.IMG_0009Similarly, GoodNotes also includes various pen sizes and colors (shown above), including custom colors if you need a particular shade of red for grading. Not shown is the ability to choose between “fountain” and “ball point” pen styles. These images use the default “fountain” style but I’ve found that the ball point style is a bit thinner, which makes my sloppy handwriting a bit more legible.IMG_0010As mentioned above, the second option from the left on the menu bar provides an overview of the document pages. Thanks to the sharpness of screens these days, this view allows you to quickly scan the pages looking for a particular section, table, note, etc., just like you would when flipping through the pages of a printed article. Again, though, the ability to control the zoom level of these thumbnails would be nice, especially when using PDFs made from books with two pages next to each other.

Because it would be a huge waste of time, I haven’t timed myself reading the same journal article on paper and on the iPad in order to compare, but my sense is that reading and annotating takes a bit longer on the iPad due to the need to change between pens and highlighters, zoom, and scroll. Saving paper and having these notes available anywhere I go, though, makes this a worthwhile tradeoff. I’ll follow up with a stylus comparison later, but for now I can say that writing with a stylus on glass magnifies the sloppiness of my handwriting. This is particularly an issue because my normal writing is both small and messy, neither of which work well for clarity on the iPad. This isn’t much of an issue when reading journal articles because I can typically decipher my own writing but I’m concerned about the implications of this for my ability to comment legibly on student papers. Changing the level of zoom, however, makes it much easier to write legibly.

Overall, GoodNotes allows me to do most of the things I want to do on my iPad (I’ll comment on the actual note-taking features in my upcoming stylus comparison), though, as you can see in my comments above, there are a number of features I would add if I were designing a program specifically for academics. Unfortunately, I have no programming skills, but if anybody out there does and wants help designing an app specifically for this purpose, let me know! In the meantime, I’ll just continue thinking “it would be great if…” while I’m working. For now, the tendency to compare what I’m able to do with what I’d like to do might be the biggest difference between reading an article on paper and reading an article on an iPad!

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