Audio feedback with my tablet, we can do that

Notability Logo

When I came to my current position at BC Law School one of my first projects was to improve the way in which faculty could provide audio feedback on memos to students in the first year program. At the time the best options were to use a digital voice recorder, convert the files to a non-proprietary format, zip them in groups, and upload them to our LMS. A few assumptions are being made in this process, one that we had a server to easily transfer files back and forth between staff and faculty, and two that we needed to make the process a little more complicated than non-law scenarios because of the need to preserve anonymity.

As the years have progressed we did get to cut out a few steps, namely the conversion process as newer models provided more friendly formatting options by default. Even the zipping process was made a little easier when the newer hardware would place comments in folders that could be quickly transferred to a desktop.

And then the tablets began to surface. One of the faculty in the first year group asked me how having a tablet, an iPad in her case, could improve this process – because it should be able to right? It seemed to make a lot of sense, so we got to work…

Our goals were make the process easier, use no paper, and make use of this shiny new hardware. Hey, at least we were honest about it.

What we found out is that the options were scant, even with the 100’s of thousands of apps in the App Store (does it need a TM?!). We almost resolved to use a laptop and utilize Adobe Acrobat Pro’s recording options, which were actually superior than our solution because they embedded the audio right in the document at certain places, so the user experience was better. However, the Adobe Acrobat Pro solution also created gigantic files for the length of time we needed to record, upwards of 45 minutes per memo.

We resolved to find a solution for the iPad, and Notability seemed to be it. Notability is an app created with the intention of taking notes, marking up PDF’s, recording lectures or voice comments to yourself, and making it easy to sync these notes up easily to the cloud. Since we began it has become more robust, which we’re grateful for, making it even more useful (though STILL not on Android, my mobile OS of choice).

What we did was this;

  1. require all students to submit memos in PDF form
  2. create a shared Dropbox folder (compatibility built into Notability) with the faculty support person assigned to her, that the faculty member could access to load up memos on her iPad
  3. mark up, and make audio recordings with navigation references based on numbers throughout each memo. For example, “See #2, my comment here is…”
  4. export each annotated memo with audio comments to Dropbox (automatically creating a zip file)
  5. return the feedback to the students via faculty support who would see the finished memos in the Dropbox folder

Voila! So we ticked all of our boxes, no dead trees (well no paper anyway), easier to record and work with while grading, and we found a use for that tablet. While Notability may not have been intended to be a grading machine capable of delivering audio comments, it sure makes the process possible and painless.