Tablet devices for commenting on papers
April 23, 2012 8:33 PM   Subscribe

What is currently the best tablet device for writing comments on students' electronically submitted papers?

I am a teacher and I have my (graduate) students submit all of their work electronically, mainly so I don't have to worry about losing physical copies. I've been adding my comments to papers using Word's commenting feature or Adobe's sticky notes for years, and it works fine. But the problem is that I have to be sitting at a physical computer to do my grading, and there are many times when it would be helpful to be able to get some grading done when I'm out and about.

Ideally I'd like a tablet that would let me legibly "hand-write" comments on PDFs or Word documents (or any format into which the above formats could be converted) with a stylus or some other pen-like instrument. But highlighting sentences and typing comments on a virtual keyboard would be OK too, as long is it's a really excellent virtual keyboard; preferably one that lets you actually type rather than fumble with your thumbs.

I've chatted with some ipad owners about this, but none of them were aware of an app that would make doing this task a painless experience. So I'm wondering if an Android tablet or a dedicated e-reader would be preferable. Thanks for any advice you might have!
posted by plantbot to Education (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I have done this with an iPad successfully. It partly depends on the format you are receiving the documents in. If you get PDFs, there are lots of good iPad PDF annotation programs. (I'll look later on my iPad for specific recommendations. )
posted by leahwrenn at 9:01 PM on April 23, 2012

Best answer: Yep, I can do this with papers on my iPad with no problem-- I open them from Dropbox then save to Dropbox. I could also open from email or the web, and send them via email. I use iAnnotate and neu.Annotate.
posted by supercres at 9:15 PM on April 23, 2012

Best answer: Yep, I belong to a writing group and do all my critiquing using iAnnotate on my iPad. It's easy as hell to use. I don't use a stylus though, but that's just because my native (heh) handwriting is awful.
posted by two lights above the sea at 9:20 PM on April 23, 2012

Best answer: I use my iPad with PDFexpert synced to my Dropbox account.

I annotate either with the stylus tool, or I can use the keyboard.

The notes appear just fine when I look at the edited PDFs later on AdobeReader.

It has changed my whole academic literature management world.
posted by pantarei70 at 9:21 PM on April 23, 2012

I do this with a Tablet PC, a Lenovo X201. I open the Word doc, paste my rubric right at the beginning, then mark it up with the stylus and red ink. I can also check the rubric boxes. Sweet.
posted by LarryC at 11:00 PM on April 23, 2012

I use Bluebeam on a Lenovo X200, but I'm hoping Samsung's Galaxy Note 10.1 will be reasonable; I'm hooked on the wacom tech and haven't been impressed with any iPad styluses.
posted by nat at 11:25 PM on April 23, 2012

Best answer: I am studying at the moment and and using an iPad for everything. I generally use PDFexpert, which handles PDF and Word documents. GoodReader is also excellent.

I find that I can touch type on the iPad's landscape keyboard.
posted by robcorr at 12:06 AM on April 24, 2012

Best answer: I should add that I have a 1.5 hr commute so I spend a lot of time reading, highlighting and annotating documents using my iPad on the tram. So I think it's certainly viable as an "on the go" option.

You mentioned that you know some iPad owners - maybe you could borrow one and test a couple of these apps (they're only a few bucks each) to see if it's a viable option for you before shelling out?
posted by robcorr at 12:10 AM on April 24, 2012

You can do exactly what you describe on a tablet pc. We're using HP 2760p's where I am, but there are others out there. It is easy, but I can't compare to how easy it is on an iPad because I haven't done it that way. I am thinking that if you're already accustomed to using a pc and pc-based apps that the tablet pc might be the easiest route to take though. You can comment using handwriting, type on the actual keyboard if you wish, or the handwriting recognition to convert to text works quite well. They also work really well for annotating Powerpoints on a projector, if that's of any interest to you. They're about 2.5 pounds (without the detachable base) and the dimensions of a sheet of paper.
posted by LowellLarson at 8:22 AM on April 24, 2012

Best answer: The three apps I have installed on my iPad for this task are PDFExpert, Remarks, and iAnnotate.

I used iAnnotate all last spring when I was grading student paper submissions, in conjunction with Dropbox, and it worked pretty well, but they upgraded things and I find it very counterintuitive now, so I probably will switch, probably to PDFExpert.

Even though these are reasonably expensive as apps go, it's worth spending the money to find one that doesn't frustrate you when you try to use it.

Some general features that are helpful are

-- custom stamps. I used the "?" and "4/4", "3/4", "2/4", "1/4", etc. all the time, because I was grading proofs and scoring them out of 4. For graduate work, that's maybe less helpful.

-- adding typed annotations, in your choice of color, actually on the page. I like this better than little comment boxes, perhaps because it mimics actually writing on the printout. I don't have a problem typing the commentary required for annotations; the iPad's keyboard is totally straightforward to use. I don't actually touch-type per se, but I'm pretty fast anyway, and it's just not a problem. (HAve you actually used the keyboard on an iPad when you mention "fumble with your thumbs"? Because it's not that kind of experience at all.)

--highlighting is nice; being able to scrawl on things is helpful.

--dropbox synchronization is critical.

But I think all these apps have all these features.

--You absolutely, totally want a decent stylus. My husband really likes his Cosmonaut stylus, which is shaped rather like a large whiteboard marker; this is intentional, because you really don't have all that much super-fine precision on the touch-capacitive screen of any of these tablet devices, so the metaphor of writing large on a whiteboard rather than tiny on a page is supposed to be helpful.

I just have an ordinary stylus (something like this, although I'm not sure that's the actual brand I've got---but they're at least cheap!)), and it's super-helpful for doing this sort of editing.
posted by leahwrenn at 8:02 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As an update, I am currently using PDFExpert to edit a students' capstone thesis, and it's far superior (for me) to iAnnotate. I find it extremely intuitive. I was able to open it, figure out how to synchronize to DropBox, open the document, and start annotating the document with no problems. If you're willing to consider using an iPad, I recommend this particular program to annotate PDFs. Very enthusiastic! It's my new go-to app for this.

I do the commenting almost exclusively via typed comments in the margins and between the lines, because it's hard to actually handwrite small enough, and the tip of the stylus is kind of large.
posted by leahwrenn at 12:10 PM on April 26, 2012

Does anyone use any of these with Mendeley?
posted by grouse at 9:49 AM on April 27, 2012

I use Bluebeam with Mendeley. I've got it set up as my default PDF application on my Lenovo, so I just right click on the cite in mendeley and open the PDF externally.

Then I have my notes on a paper available on other computers, but I do sort of wish I had an easier way to add marginalia when I don't have my laptop with me.
posted by nat at 11:20 PM on May 1, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for all the helpful replies, everyone. The tablet PCs were really tempting, and I suspect they'd be a little better for the task, but I ended up going with the iPad because they're so much cheaper than the tablets. I'm a little worried about not being able to write small with the stylus, but it sounds like the keyboard is adequate so that'll be a fall-back option.

If this question is still open after I've had a chance to test it out for a while, I'll post an update to let you know how it goes!
posted by plantbot at 6:55 PM on May 2, 2012

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