Automating the Process of Grading Essays on a Tablet
When the first iPad came out, I remember saying, “that would be cool if I could grade my essays on it.” But I was thinking of the whole tablet PC method where you could use a stylus and mark up a word document with your own scribbles as well as highlights and what not. It took a few months before there was an app that could do something similar, but it never felt intuitive and never worked on Word docs, only pdf files. This process is clearly still evolving. Since then the major book publishers have improved their online offerings to provide some pretty good grading tools for grading papers online. McGraw-Hill has Connect Composition 2.0, Cengage has Enhanced InSite with the TurnItIn.com suite of tools built in, and Pearson has MyCompLab. I’ve used all three of these tools, and quite frankly they are all pretty good for grading papers online. I couldn’t always say that, but I’ve watch them all evolve into tools I couldn’t live with out. But I digress. You can’t use these tools on a tablet (yet).
So back to this grading on a tablet idea. Some people still want to be able to do this on their tablets. I don’t, not with Connect, InSite and MyCompLab available. I’d much rather grab my Macbook Air and grade on that in a browser than on my Samsung Galaxy Tab. Nevertheless, I’ve come up with a pretty good solution for those of you who would like to do just that – grade on your tablet with a stylus or your finger for that matter. So here goes.
First you need to choose the right annotation app for your preferred device. When I had an iPad, I played with and liked iAnnotate. On my Android devices, I’ve been using ezPDF Reader. There is an iOS app too. Both of these apps work well, although the stylus interaction could be improved, and it might already have been. My finger works well too for what it’s worth. The key is that both integrate with DropBox, so you can access files from your dropBox and/or save annotated pdf’s to your dropbox. More on that later. But here’s the problem. Both apps are pdf annotation tools. I don’t know about you, but my students have a hard enough time submitting .doc files to me. PDF files just might send them over the edge, so in order to grade on my tablet, I would need to convert all the essays to pdf files. I can do that in several ways. Here are a few options.
Option 1: Open every essay and re-save as pdf using Word. Not! Too time consuming.
Option 2: Use Wappwolf Automator for Dropbox. If you have a Dropbox account, set up Wappwolf to automate this process for you. Choose the folder in Dropbox that you plan to put the essays in, and then choose convert to pdf when you set up your automation in Wappwolf. That’s it. It will convert pretty much everything but Apple’s iWorks pages files. Does anyone even use Pages? Anyway, Wappwolf will convert and put the original doc files into a new “processed” folder. It will also auto-convert all the files already in the folder if you’re not starting from scratch.
Here’s the process for grading those essays now. Download the essays in bulk from your LMS. This works in both Canvas and Blackboard. Open the essay folder, select all files, and drag them to the Dropbox folder you chose in the first steps. Now all your essays are in that folder in your dropbox, and they are automatically converted to pdf files. Go to your tablet, open your Dropbox app, choose the folder with the essays, open a file using your pdf annotation app and start annotating. Usually when you choose a pdf file to open your device will give you a few options if you have several apps installed. Be sure to choose the annotation app to be the default. Annotate the essay and save it back to the dropbox. When you’re finished, upload the essays back to your LMS for students to view. Now what’s really cool is if you don’t change the names of the original files, Canvas will let you upload them back to Canvas in bulk. This is the only step I’m not sure about, as I’m not sure if Canvas counts changing the file type from doc to pdf counts as changing the file name. If it does, then the bulk upload back to Canvas won’t work. You’ll have to do it individually as you add the grade, like you probably do now.
*BONUS: Here’s a way to automate this even further. Skip the whole download the class essays from the LMS part and automatically add to Dropbox by using a JotForm.
Instead of having students upload their essays to the LMS, create a form for them to use to submit their essays. Embed the form on the assignment page in your LMS. Students fill out the form, attach their essay file and done. A whole bunch of cool stuff happens next. Students can get an email verification that you indeed received their essay. You too can get an email if you want. The file that was submitted gets added to a folder in, yep you got it, your Dropbox account. Then you just follow the steps above. Pretty sweet, no?
Here’s what I haven’t tested. JotForm creates a folder automatically for you in your dropbox, so when you set up Wappwolf Automator you need to be sure to choose the JotForm folder. Now what I don’t know is if Wappwolf will convert files in a subfolder inside the folder you set up, as JotForm creates a new folder for each form you create. So I have a folder named Final Paper Submission (from the form above) inside my JotForm folder in Dropbox. If it doesn’t work that way, you would need to create a separate automation for each essay/form you create. Still not bad.
So there you go. Now you have no excuse not to grade those essays. You can grade them on your tablet or your phone for that matter. Ugh, no thank you. 😉 Let me know if you give this a try.