UploadPDF – Mark work directly within Moodle

UploadPDF - mark work in Moodle

[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.

The good

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.

Progress monitoring

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!

File types

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.


  1. Thanks for the positive review.

    I wanted to add a couple of corrections. The quicklist is persistent per user, not per document. Once teacher has added an item to their quicklist, it is available for use on any assignment they mark from then on (the only thing it doesn’t do is update the list in any windows that are already open. Secondly, there are shortcut keys for all tools, just hover your mouse over a button for the shortcut key (I think they’re in the readme add well, but I may not have remembered to add them).

    Conversion to pdf on a server is a very tricky thing to do right. Aside from the risk of slowing the server down, it is difficult to find any free software that can reliably convert all common file types into pdfs, without messing up formatting. A server install of Libre Office may be a possible solution, but I’ve not had an opportunity to try setting one up.

    Drag and drop to upload files to any Moodle form is there in Moodle 2.3. Submit for marking is essential, as that is what generates the combined pdf (+ optional coversheet) for marking.

    1. Hey Davo,
      thanks for your message. I had never noticed that tooltips were available for each tool – I’d always assumed that the parentheses and curly braces weren’t really supposed to be there. Oh well, that’ll teach me for not reading the README.txt files 🙂
      As for the comments not being saved per user but per assignment, this still seems to be happening for me but there’s some really weird behaviour there, it’s not consistent. I’ll take a look at the database and see what’s happening there.
      In any case, thanks for dropping by and taking the time to comment, I have updated the post to reflect your comment. As you may have noticed, you have snatched up the top 3 places in my all-time favourite Moodle plugins so thanks for sharing your awesome plugins

  2. Just a follow up comment. I now know why some comments didn’t seem to ‘stick’ between assignments. Without realising I was using different accounts to mar the work (admin & teaching account). All is well now. Sorry for not getting this 100% right. Please keep up the great work

  3. Hi Frederic

    Thanks for an excellent post on my all-time favourite Moodle plugin. And I mean it. I love the idea and practice of marking online. My only two gripes are these: (1) I really, really need a stylus because moving the annotation (pen) tool using a mouse is a real tough thing to do! (2) I’ve tried more than ten android and Apple as well mobile devices (tablets, iPad2, smartphones), and I can never get the pen to work! Even with the pen icon selected, touching the screen and moving my finger results in the entire screen moving. Not what I wanted really. I needed the pen object to start drawing squiggles, but alas, I think the UploadPDF plugin does not work on Android or iOS devices. The pen object/feature simple does not work on Android or Apple tablets (iPad2, Samsung Galaxy et. al.)! I’d be happy to be proven wrong as I’ve been delaying my decision to splash my hard-earned cash on a tablet. Simple because I am unable to active the pen on any mobile device so far.

    1. When I say ‘closer to pen & paper experience’ I do not mean that I use a stylus, as I cannot get that to work either. Although I type my ‘written comments’ it still feels closer to what I used to do before marking work only using computers. I think it’s the format of the iPad and the fact that it’s lying horizontally rather than vertically that makes it feel more like ‘the old days’. I would LOVE for the pen to work on tablets so that a stylus could be used!

  4. Hi,
    Im just wondering if the UploadPDF activitiy could be available to students for peer-review and peer-feedback purposes? If they could upload their assignments in pdf – make them accessible to others in their class, I think students would enjoy this feature for commenting on each other’s work. Any suggestions?
    I have used Forums before where they share their assignments in Word format and use Word’s comment feature for annotation but this UploadPDF would be more interactive and easier. Any suggestions would be great.
    ONe more question, is this feature bulit into to Moodle 2.3 or does it still needed to be added as an additional plug in?
    Any and all advice on this welcome. Thank you

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