Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Annotate documents on the iPad

This post is the second of a series written about different types of iPad apps that can be used in educational settings. It summarising elements of the workshop Using iPads in Educational Settings which is running throughout 2013 at the Institute of Education, London, UK. You are welcome to explore the web resource -

Set 1: Annotation/note-taking

Annotate documents on the iPad
The ability to annotate onto on existing document is an important enough process to demand apps specifically for this.  There are many to choose from.  By annotation I mean the ability to draw, highlighting, add text or even add audio onto an an existing document.  All of the apps listed in the relevant mindmap section below do drawing and highlighting.  Most do text additions although some of the free ones don't do this very well.  Only iAnnotate and PDF Connoisseur (of the apps I've found) deal with audio.  Regarding document type, most of them deal exclusively with PDF.  However, some cater for word/powerpoint (iAnnotate and AnnotDoc).  I've included DiigoBrowser in this list which is about web-based annotation.

It's difficult to give a firm recommendation as I haven't played with all of the pay apps.  However, my preference in the free category is Adobe Reader as this has good usability for text/draw/highlight annotation and a clear interface.  For the paid ones I favour iAnnotate as this caters for multiple formats and allows audio comments as well as the usual stuff.  The drawback is its relative complexity when compared to the other apps.  It's still pretty easy to pick up but if you are looking for your colleagues to use it this would be a barrier.  Perhaps, better to start with Adobe Reader and work up to iAnnotate.  I would imagine PDFPen is pretty good at the reviews are good and the price is high.

Within education there are a couple of common processes which could be enhanced by annotating on an iPad instead of pen/paper or indeed a computer/laptop.

Individual document markup
Firstly, there is individual use.  Annotating documents for your own work and the sharing with yourself and others.  I already do this on occasion when I'm on a train or in meetings.  The integration with cloud computing is easy with all these apps and its easy to sync with dropbox (and other cloud storage service).  You simply "Open In" and select the relevant app.  I've only worked with PDFs thus far.  I can see this being useful for any student as papers and documents get emailed or shared for homework/coursework and you want to mark up on first/second reading.  There a limitations as continuing to work on something after annotation is difficult and not possible on most apps.  However, as I know this I don't even attempt and just annotate for future reference.

The enhancement value is in the paper saving.  You get a PDF over email and you no longer have to print it.  Simply "Open In" an annotation app on your iPad and start reading/marking up.  I've only done this for myself as I connect this process with rough and ready annotations that will only make sense to me.  Currently, not many schools have an iPad for each pupil and this can only work when this is the case.  However, if teachers have ownership of an iPad then they could do this for themselves.  As suggested above start them off with one of the free ones with good usability like Adobe Reader.  This way, it can become a gateway process into using iPads for education like writing notes.  By gateway process I mean opening someone mind up to the potential of this new device for professional and educational use. 

Annotating students' work
There is potential here to make a real difference on a large-scale across formal education.  At the moment I know of only one example where a teacher is using an annotation app (happens to be iAnnotate) for this process.  I'm sure there is more but I'm also sure that it's being done by isolated individuals keen on educational technology.  To scale-up beyond will take a big effort but one that's worth doing.  The method with which any teacher marks is a very personal one.  Everyone has their own system and time/place.  Doing this on an electronic device will feel quite alien, quite strange.  Indeed any suggested change can feel quite threatening.  Do it for yourself first and then model the behaviour with your colleagues.  The usability needs to be spot on for this process to scale across education.  One of the main arguments against marking essay on computers/laptops is the eye-strain.  I think with tablets this issue is greatly reduced.  eBook readers like the kindle have e-ink technology which negates any eye strain.  It's not quite so good with tablets, but ther are not far behind now.  The process of making an annotation especially a text comment is slightly (very slightly) slower than marking with a pen.  However, the time-saving is at the other end of the process when it comes to sharing as there is no copying process to turn the physical into the electronic.  Emails can be used but sharing via cloud computing is preferable. 

Introducing others to this process can be done by getting a group together and doing a demonstration/practice on a example document using in a chosen app.  Walk through the process from beginning to end and let them explore it for themselves.  You might get a few converts.  Just think of the paper-saving and time saving potential.  

The more I write about annotation apps the more I know I should be doing more of this.  Anyway, check out some of the apps listed below.  Feel free to share your experiences in the comments.


The structure of the iPad blog posts is listed below with links where possible:

Set 1: Annotation/note-taking
  1. Write-record notes
  2. Annotation
  3. Drawing
  4. File Management
Set 2: Creativity

  1. Digital Storytelling - Cartoon/Comic creation
  2. Digital Storytelling - Flipbook animation
  3. Digital Storytelling - Story from research
  4. Drawing
  5. iBook creation and reading
  6. Image Creation
  7. Poster/Collage Creation
Set 3: Mobile Learning

  1. Location-based
Set 4: Creativity - Multimedia

  1. Audio - Record/edit/share
  2. Digital Storytelling - Narrated slideshow
  3. Digital Storytelling - Narrated Cartoon
  4. Screencasting
  5. Narrate over drawing/image/text
  6. Video - Stop-motion
  7. Video - Analysis
  8. Video - Create/edit
Set 5: Classroom Management

  1. Fun classroom management
  2. Computer Connection
  3. Projecting an iPad
  4. Teacher Organisation
  5. File Management
  6. MS Office/Windows Connection
Set 6: Reflective or critical thinking development

  1. Audio - Record/edit/share
  2. Blogging
  3. Mindmapping
  4. Noticeboards
  5. Narrate over drawing/image/text
  6. Quick brainstorming
  7. Revision - Flashcards
  8. Screencasting
  9. Social Networking
Set 7: Research/Aggregation

  1. Bookmarking
  2. Research - Browsing
  3. RSS - Aggregation
  4. Research - Tailored Browsing
Set 8: Teacher presentation/Resource creation

  1. Audio - Record/edit/share
  2. iBook creation and reading
  3. Mindmapping
  4. Narrate over drawing/image/text
  5. Poster Creation
  6. Presentation
  7. Printing
  8. Screencasting
  9. Video - Create/edit
  10. Revision - Flashcards
  11. Video - Analysis
Set 9: Real-time class collaboration

  1. Class collaboration - viewing lesson on each device
  2. Computer connection
  3. Q&A - Real-time
  4. Webinars

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