[pulledquote]Quite a few teachers I know would rather mark work on paper rather than electronically, regardless whether it was done on the computer in the first place. “I cannot write useful comments on an electronic document” is their argument. Useful commenting on uploaded assignments is now possible thanks to the UploadPDF Moodle assignment type, all this right inside of Moodle. Read on, this might save you hours of marking time.[/pulledquote]
What it is
The UploadPDF is an assignment type for Moodle, it allows you to collect files and comment directly on them using the custom marking interface. You can make some comments ‘Quick comments’ so that you can insert those comments anywhere on a document with a simple right-click of the mouse. I am confident that using this plugin will save you hours of marking every month.
Mark straight inside Moodle
No extra software is required for a teacher to use this plugin. You might need to ask your server administrator to install extras to your server, nothing you should have to worry about as a teacher though. All you have to worry about as a teacher is to get your students to upload their work, mark it and return it – all inside Moodle. I know you can use the ‘review’ feature of MS Word but a lot of teachers I know shy away from it, plus it doesn’t have the feature mentioned below (unless you use macros I guess).
Save comments for later use
This is what will save you time in the long term. Whenever you type a comment, you have the option to make it a ‘Quick Comment’. Quick comments are available in your document whenever you right-click on your mouse. When I mark tasks find that I end up writing the same comments over & over again. With this tool, I build up my bank of comments as I mark my paper.
Only downside is that you don’t have the ability to build up a bank of comments for all of your assignments – quick comments are document based. see comment 1
Response file in one click
Those familiar with the ‘Advanced uploading of files’ will know that you are able to mark a student’s paper and then return it using the form available at the bottom of the marking page. With the out-of-the-box Moodle this is a rather annoying process: download the student’s paper, open it in your word processor, write comments, save it on your hard drive, upload it to Moodle, save your grade.
With the UploadPDF, when you are marking the work, you only need to click on ‘Generate response’ and the file becomes available to the student – that’s it.
Useful marking tools
You are presented with several options to mark your work: typed comments different colours available), ticks, crosses, smiley and sad faces, lines, doodling, and highlighter. There is a rubber should you make a mistake. I haven’t tinkered with it yet but I’m sure I should be able to add my own stamps on there.
This assignment type is fully compatible with the excellent ‘Checklist‘ module created by the same developer. You have the ability to force a student to view and complete a checklist before they are able to upload their work. Check my (old) review of the checklist module.
Comments are not only useful for the students, they are also invaluable to you as a teacher. Having access to all of the comments you have ever written about a student’s work will help you when writing progress reports, when discussing a child’s progress at a parent’s evening, when writing Individual Education Plans, references for university, etc.
Cannot be lost
This one sounds silly but how many of us actually know for sure that assignments don’t end up in the bin or eaten by a dog once we have marked them and returned to our students? Students need to be able to review their assignments, not only as soon as they get it back but also when they are to revise for a test or an exam. With this system, you know for sure that your students have access to their assignments for the entire duration of a course.
An increasing number of students are encouraged to keep track of their own learning/progress/achievements in the form of an e-portfolio. The response documents are perfect for this being PDF, they are very… portable!
If your assignment requires students to upload other files than PDF (on top of the PDF files of course), students can upload those if you choose to set your assignment as such – it’s up to you. Obviously you cannot mark those using the uploadPDF tool.
Could be improved
Marking tools not always accessible
The marking toolbar is not available if you scroll-down a page, as it scrolls down with the rest of the page. This is especially a problem if you are marking documents in portrait mode and your monitor is ‘widescreen’.
No ‘hot-keys’ I understand that this is a browser based solution and that it will be tricky to make it as user-friendly as a standalone app, but wouldn’t it be great if a combination of keyboard keys could be used to change marking tools for example? This could help solve the problem mentioned above. see comment 1
No zoom-in, zoom-out
This could be a solution to the problem mentioned above but is a problem in itself. There is no way to zoom-in or out of a document. Sure you could do a Ctr + or – but that also affects the size of the marking tools and the rest of your Web browser windows.
PDF conversion in-app
At the moment, students need to save their files as PDF before they upload it to Moodle. This can be a problem with low ability students, it has certainly been a problem for me. It would be great if some documents e.g. Word, PowerPoint, Excel were converted within Moodle, this way students could just upload their document without the need for conversion first.
‘Send for marking'; an option please
This is on my wishlist. It is convoluted enough to upload files on to Moodle 2 (for students that is) that they must click ‘send for marking’. I’d like for this to be an option when creating the assignment. If it’s already there, someone please point me to it. I wonder if the developer would in some way be able to allow students to drag’n’drop assignments using his fantastic block – just a thought.
Tips on usage
Make your monitor ‘portrait’
If you are lucky enough to have two monitors, make one of them available as ‘portrait’ rather than landscape. This way will allow you to view entire papers that have been submitted as portrait (most of your essays will be).
Use your iPad
Although not all features seem to work on the iPad (or iPhone) I still find it better than using a computer screen. First of all I can see most of the page when marking, I can easily zoom in and out and it is closer to the ‘regular’ pen on paper marking experience. I mainly use the stamps & the written comments and those work fine on iOS devices. Maybe your mileage varies and you can use all of the features. I cannot say whether it works on Android as I don’t have a device at hand but I don’t see why it wouldn’t.
Have a comments bank ready As I mentioned before, quick comments are only saved per UploadPDF assignment. If there are comments you use all of the time (i.e. for every assignment), then have them ready in a document and turn them into quick comments as soon as you open a document. see comment 1
Have a run through with your students the first time you use this; It is a bit of a pain to have to revert documents to draft if students have made a mistake.