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iPad Workflow: PDF Expert and Explain Everything

I spent a lot of time this weekend trying to wrap my head around the best way of grading student work and pushing it back to them. While the original format of student work will vary (Pages, PDFs, etc.), I expect most of their final work will be shared back with me as a PDF through their Google Drive portfolio. The question then becomes, “How do I get their final assignment, grade it, and share it back with them?” We’ve been tackling this workflow issue for a few years now. I haven’t found any one perfect answer yet, and I welcome teachers to share their strategies. In the meantime, here are two workable ideas.

PDF Expert

I’ve written about this app before because it’s my favorite PDF annotating solution. You can read more about it here. You can add text, handwriting, shapes, underline, and even audio notes. It is expensive ($9.99), but it goes on sale a few times each year for 50% off. It’s similar to Notability but offers many more features. One of its best features is two-way syncing with Google Drive. What does that mean? It means you can use the app to mark up and grade student work found in a shared Google Drive folder. As soon as you’re done, it automatically updates that file in Google Drive…no need to “push it back” to students. Their original PDF now has your corrections.

There is a problem though! When students look at the corrected PDF with the Google drive app, your annotations do not appear! There is some problem with how the app renders PDFs.

A few workarounds to make your annotations visible…

  1. Students can open the PDF in a different app, such as Adobe Reader (they are not visible in Notability though).
  2. Students can access Google Drive through Safari instead of using the app. Whether they are in “mobile” or “desktop” mode, they will be able to see your comments.
  3. You could bypass the two-way syncing feature altogether. This addsphoto (3) an additional step unfortunately, but if you push the work back to their folder in Google Drive, you can choose to send it as a “flattened copy”. This protects your annotations and lets students view them from within the Google Drive app.

I contacted Readdle and asked if it was possible to send out “flattened copies” through two-way syncing. Unfortunately, it is not.

I’m not sure at this point, but I think I’m most likely going to use the two-way syncing. I’d rather every student do one extra step once to see my comments, rather than me do an extra step 90+ times.

Explain Everything

I read a book over the summer on the flipped classroom model. One of the suggestions that stood out to me was a teacher who used Explain Everything to grade work for her students. She made a recording of herself marking up her English papers. When she was finished, she rendered it as a video file and shared it with the student. This idea intrigued me for a few reasons:

  • It’s a creative way of using the iPad to give feedback.
  • Since you can record your voice while you correct, you could talk more and write less – possibly making the process quicker.
  • Students might have more incentive to listen to your comments. (We all know many of them glance over our written comments and just look for the grade.)

I’ve embedded a YouTube video below that I created to show how Explain Everything (EE) could be used to provide student feedback. EE is a fantastic app with a lot of possibilities. One big drawback is that it’s very time consuming to export a video file, whether it’s to YouTube, Google Drive, or even just camera roll. However, we are lucky because students also have EE. Therefore, it’s not necessary to export your presentation as a video. You can export it as a project file instead and save that file in the student’s Google Drive shared folder. This process takes only about ten seconds! Students would then need to open up the file in Explain Everything to watch what you created.

If you have used the iPad for giving student feedback, or if you have used Explain Everything as a teacher in your classroom, please leave a comment and share your ideas!

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