5 of the Best Annotation Tools!

Do your students turn electronic assignments as a PDF? If so – great! Annotating on a PDF is easy and a great way to offer formative and summative assessment. Why a PDF?  PDFs are ideal for sharing documents across platforms. Not everyone may have Microsoft Word, but most Word documents can be saved as a PDF and opened by anyone with a free PDF reader. By using a PDF annotator, you can highlight, add notes,  and write directly on documents. This is a great way for instructors to give feedback on work to students.

Example:  I know many instructors offer feedback on Word documents by using the “tracking changes” feature or comment feature. This is helpful if the student uses Word. Some students don’t. Perhaps they use Google Docs? Feedback can be given using the comment feature or Kaienza, an app addition to Google Docs.  What if students use Pages? You start to see the picture. Why not allow students to use the tool they are most familiar with then save and turn in as a PDF? All documents can then be given feedback using the same tool… a PDF annotator.

Here are a few of my favorite apps for PDF annotation:

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PDF Expert by Readdle ($9.99) 

This apps does cost $9.99 but it does just about everything. Users can add text, draw, highlight, change colors, add stamps, signatures, and type directly on the document. As a principal, I use to pull up an observation template in PDF Expert and fill it out while observing. I could then easily send it at the end of the observation by email. I often receive PDF forms that companies want me to fill out and return. Again, PDF Expert to the rescue! Here is a screenshot of a rubric that I have used. I am able to pull it up in PDF Expert, annotate, and save or send.

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Watch this video about PDF Expert!

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Skitch by Evernote (Free)

I’ve always been a fan of Evernote and Skitch. It’s a great way to mark up almost anything – photos or PDFs! Easily annotate and mark up…or use the cool stamps, circle, squares, or arrows. You don’t have as much capability for typing a lot of feedback but if you want something simple this could work for you. No iPad? No fear! Skitch is also available as a Chrome web extension. Yes!

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PDF Pen by SmileOnMyMac, LCC ($14.99)

This is another great annotation tool but is limited to the iPad or Mac. Just like PDF Expert, it does just about everything. Add text, images, signature, draw, or highlight.

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Notability by Ginger Labs ($2.99)

Again, limited to an app or Mac, yet a wonderful tool! I have written about Notability many times. What doesn’t it do? This does the same as the apps mentioned above, and adds one more element – audio. I do not believe the audio can be shared outside of the app, which is a drawback. I enjoy Notability because it is multi-use. I can use it to offer feedback through annotation. I can use it to record a seminar and write notes. I can use it to sign documents. It’s many tools all in one package!

5. Notable PDF Chrome Extension (Free)

I haven’t personally tried this one out, but it states that it also highlights, underlines, and allows for comments and text. It also states that you can use it offline and with any browser.

Let’s Up the Blogging

I think I’ve always liked to write. As a little girl, I had dreams of being an author.


I remember submitting a story I had written when I was around ten called “The Adventures of Becky Keele”. I’m pretty sure, looking back, that it was very similar to Tom Sawyer but my own girly version. I sent it to a few publishers and they all wrote back very sweet “no” letters and an encouragement to keep writing. I was heart-broken and decided I couldn’t be an author.

I have a friend who blogs and she is a very successful, professional blogger. She has tens of thousands of followers and she will commonly get 200-300 comments on each blog post. Why? She is controversial. She is honest. She speaks exactly how she feels. Exactly.

I’m not that brave. I take the safe route, usually, and try not to be controversial. I know that I represent a university and wouldn’t want a blog post to be taken the wrong way. But I do envy her, a bit, for the ability to be totally and completely naked open with her readers.

I do enjoy blogging. And – I feel that it is a great educational tool. I really wish more university instructors would think about  consider assigning blogs for classroom assignments instead of just essays. Blogs provide excellent opportunities for students to be able to reflect on content and share their thoughts and content knowledge reflections with the world.

“According to educational specialists Drs. Fernette and Brock Eide, the use of blogs in an educational setting produces several benefits. These benefits include the promotion of critical and analytical thinking, increased access and exposure to quality content and a combination of solitary and social interactions with peers. The educational benefits of blogging can also extend to the administrative and teaching aspects of how a class operates.” Read more here! Lou Martin, Demand Media

My Tech for Teachers course recently discussed assessment and the importance of student reflection. How often to you reflect, or think about, what you’ve learned? I do…all the time. Why not have students reflect on their reading or class content sessions? Students will benefit from the ability to reflect, and instructors will benefit from reading their reflections.

Student voice is important and not all students speak up in a classroom. Blogging allows students to share their opinion and gives those with differing learning styles a chance to “speak” up.  I believe it also improves writing skills. When students know their information will be shared in a public venue, they will be more apt to edit and rewrite for voice and accuracy.

At William Jessup University, we are a Google Apps school and have easy access to Google sites. Simply go to mail, click the Google App icon Screen Shot 2014-10-01 at 1.49.06 PM and choose Google Sites. A site can be created in a matter of seconds. I enjoy Google sites because it is easy to set up, free, and has privacy settings. However, if I am being totally honest, it is not the most visually appealing.  I use WordPress to type this blog. Decide your own purpose, review the tools yourself, and decide what will work the best for you!

Google Sites (privacy controls)

WordPress (basic blogging)

Edublogs (for education)

Tumblr (pictures)

Postach.io (I used this while traveling.)

Squarespace (visually appealing)

Postagon (for the minimalist)

Ghost (split screen editor – sweet!)

Svbtle (designed to help you think)

Medium (collaborative)


I have always been a doodler. Whenever I am at a meeting, I can listen for so-long, then feel the need to start drawing. If I am taking notes, I will often draw what I am thinking. About a year ago, I found out there was an actual name for what I was doing – taking a sketchnote!

Sketchnoting is taking visual notes while listening to a presentation, video, or even reading! I have started taking sketchnotes for my morning devotions and have found that I am remember more what I have read because a visual representation is sketched in my mind.

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Sketchnoting is a mixture of texts, fonts, and images. The images can be very simple and you do not need to be an artist to create a sketchnote. If you look at my picture above, I drew a stick figure with a circle head and triangle body because I can’t draw people! If you can draw a square, line, and circle, you can certainly create a sketchnote. Graphic organizers have been used for a long time in note-taking and a sketchnote considers how thoughts and facts connect. Watch this quick video about sketchnoting:

Braindoodles has some great lessons on visual note-taking. Mike Rhode’s book on Sketchnoting is the one that started me on visual note-taking. This article also gives many ideas for sketchnoting and offers some technology solutions. My absolute favorite source is Kathy Schrock’s page on Visual Note-taking. There you will find links on research, article, books, and videos.

I gave a sketchnote assignment to my teacher candidate students. They had to find out their multiple intelligences and create a sketchnote  about MI in the classroom. I received many outstanding sketchnotes. Here is an amazing example:

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Meet the candidate HERE. (He is also a talented musician.)

I encourage you to give sketchnoting a try. It can help you formulate ideas, and remember them better.

SlideIdea…Not Just Your Ordinary Slide!

My last post was on do’s and don’ts for creating presentations. As I wrote the post, I came across a new tool that I love!  It is SlideIdea. It is currently an iPad app and enables users to easily create beautiful slides or import from existing slides.

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“SlideIdea offers an in-app widget store where users can seamlessly browse and download the widgets they’re looking for. Additionally, SlideIdea offers free and professionally designed templates to help you cut design-time in half.” (SlideIdea)

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The transition templates are unique and engaging. “Say goodbye to complicated audio-slide recording software. SlideIdea makes it easy to record, publish, and share your very own SlideCasts. Simply record your speech while you present, then with the touch of a button, publish your SlideCast directly to your SlideCast webpage. To top it all off – SlideIdea provides every user a free personal SlideCast webpage for easy sharing and hosting.”

I admit – I enjoyed the new templates and transitions…but that’s not what caught my eye. It wasn’t until I used 3 fingers to swipe to bring up the whiteboard integration tool. This is what made SlideIdea stand out from some of the other presentation tools!

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Simply click the word “whiteboard” and the screen transforms to an interactive whiteboard:

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It is simple! Just project your presentation through the projection system/Apple TV, use 3 fingers to swipe to the interactive whiteboard, and when you are done writing, drawing, or whatever else you want to do, simply click the back arrow and it will bring you back to the last page of your presentation! Now that is sweet!

Although SlideIdea is currently only available for an iPad or Windows 8, they will be coming out with Android and smartphone apps in the near future:

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Do I or Don’t I? Powerful Presentations.


Here is a simple list of Do’s and Don’ts for creating presentations…


  • Create a .pdf version of your file as a backup.
  • Be prepared for formatting changes. Your presentation may appear different on a different computer .
  • Print out your slide outline in case you have technical difficulties.
  • Use a 36 or larger point font.
  • Use easy to read fonts…remember…many may need to be seen from the back of the room!
  • Use bullet points. Break up the information – do not write out entire paragraphs unless it is a quote. Keep the number of bullets to 5.
  • Keep the number of words in a bullet to 10.
  • Use consistent transitions.
  • Use quick transitions (don’t choose the “slow” transition).
  • Keep your colors consistent, fonts consistent, background consistent!
  • Limit the amount of material.
  • Display images.
  • Use it to facilitate note-taking and bring structure to the lecture.
  • Graphically represent concepts.
  • Convey passion and emotion with your voice! Walk around the room.
  • Get a wireless presenter so that you may step away from the podium.
  • Make contact with your audience.
  • Try telling stories.


  • Do not use light colored fonts.
  • Do not use patterned backgrounds.
  • Use a font size smaller than 36.
  • Write too much information.
  • Use the publisher powerpoint slides without viewing first. Are they really what you want to use? Do they contain the necessary information?
  • Do not use out-dated material.
  • Do not use only slides. Non-stop slides can be boring. Interrupt the material with discussion questions and activities.
  • Do not overuse animations.
  • Do not read word for word without paraphrasing or elaborating.
  • Do not put too much information on a slide. Sometimes less is more.
  • Do not be tied to the front of the room.
  • Do not clash colors. Do they work together?
  • Do not use slide transition sounds unless there is a specific reason you need it.

Finally, try something new!

Visit:  Haiku Deck, PowToon, Prezi, Slides, SlideRocket, Slides, Doceri, SlideShark, SlideIdea

*photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ijames/

Reaching Introverted Students

Last week I attended the Global Leadership Summit and it was, as usual, amazing. One speaker I thoroughly enjoyed was Susan Cain, author of Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.   Yes, I am an introvert. I prefer to be alone and although I love collaborating, I do my best work when I am by myself. I get terrified talking in front of groups. Two days ago I spoke at our faculty retreat on the subject Inspiring Learning by Empowering Students and I spent the weekend dreading how I would get through it. Through the grace and power of God, I did~! I find that if I visualize what I want to do beforehand, that helps. Our faculty knows that I walk around each day, at some point, to connect with others around campus. Believe me, this is not in my nature. I have to force myself to go out and talk to new people. It is not my comfort level!

Many of our students are introverts. In fact, it may be as many as 50%.

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(Sorry, Susan…I am not an artist! You are much prettier than this note!)

How can technology help introverts? I can think of many ways but I want to share just two:

Moodle Discussion Board! (or use of LMS discussion board posts)

I am specifying Moodle simply because our university uses Moodle. However, there are many other platforms that may be used such as Edmodo, Canvas, Blackboard, etc.  Why use discussion board posts when students can have a discussion in class? (Did you read the title? smile) — to help reach our introverted students. Students may not be as apt to speak up in class and more apt to have a deeper discussion using a forum post. Allow for different discussion formats in your class and try out using a discussion/forum post at least a few times in the semester if you have the tools available to you!


As a Google apps school, we have EASY access to Google sites. A site can be created with just a few clicks and students may use it to blog about any question or topic. Try having them research a topic of interest in your content area and teach the class about it through a blog post! Google sites allows for privacy control so the site may be shared with just the instructor, the school, or the world. We were discussing at our retreat the fact that many students do not read their text books. How about having them blog about each of their reading assignments? They can write about what stood out to them the most, state their opinion, or even ask questions of their peers.

Student Engagement Winner!

Two weeks ago I offered a giveaway for a $10 Starbucks or Peet’s card to one random person.  Congratulations goes out to Carol P. in Florida! I wanted to find out how others keep students engaged in their classrooms because it consistently is a hot topic among educators.  Here are some of the ideas shared:

One thing I found successful for engaging students was using an app on the iPads where students would record their reports. I would give the assignment and have students research and write the necessary information. Then I would have them respond to a prompt regarding their research and record it on the iPad. (There are numerous apps for student recording, I like Face talk where you take a picture and the mouth moves while students talk, or Photospeak … Students would practice then record their responses. The iPads would be rotated to a new student that would listen to the report and have to write 2-3 questions about the topic reported. The recording their voice was exciting as well as coming up with questions about someone else s report. The students were excited that they did not have to stand in front of the entire class, yet they could record their report and quietly share with another student. This was an activity they asked to do over and over again! (Libby Jacobs)

Libby mentioned a tool called “Photospeak” which I decided to download and try. It is a free download on iTunes. It was easy to use…and I admit a little freaky! It turns any picture into 3D and then allows you to put a voice with it. The image will blink, speak, and move. I used an older photo of my son and tested it out. I showed it to him and his response was, “Ew! That’s freaky and I don’t like it!”  Now, by “I don’t like it” he wasn’t talking about the program – he was talking about his own picture coming to life and talking. He didn’t like the picture! I think it would definitely be an interesting app to use in the classroom.

One of my favorite activities was with my 10-12 grade Introduction to Business students during the Marketing Unit. They needed to learn the 7 functions of marketing so I took them on a QR code scavenger hunt. At each stop (there were 7 of them) they used their phones or iPad to scan a QR code that took them to an article, short video, or slideshow providing them with information on the 7 functions. The stops were in 7 different locations around the school. I could have done the same thing in the classroom as whole group instruction but this method of getting them to get up and move around kept them engaged in the content. I must admit it was a lot more work to create but it was so worth it and will be easy to update with new & current information as the years move on. (Sara Bird)

I love Sara’s idea because getting students up and moving helps with engagement. I know students would enjoy bringing out their cell phones and scanning a code to watch a video clip around campus.

I have encouraged students to create videos when doing a final project for our human body unit. I have encouraged them to create a commercial on either the effects of drugs and alcohol or a nutritional video. Last year I had a student use his lego people to accomplish this. So fun! I also had a couple of students create a radio ad instead of videos. Another project was having students video tape their Rube Goldberg project – this was fun as well! (Jennifer T)

Our faculty just finished another digital storytelling course. We used WeVideo to create our final videos. It is free and user friendly. If students have a tablet there are several apps that create videos such as Explain Everything. How about just using the video capabilities on a smartphone? They upload easily to YouTube. Podcasts (radio ads) can be created using Audacity, Podbean, and Podcast (available on the iPhone).

My very simple tech idea is useful for language teaching or any sort of vocabulary learning. The students actually told me about Study Blue, a phone app where they can enter information and review it. At the beginning of each chapter, I ask the most advanced students in the class, typically quickly done with class work, to open a page accessible to the whole class and type in the vocabulary list for that unit. That way everyone can memorize the words at their own pace using the app, and the kids who would be very challenged to even type in the words correctly do not have to deal with the data entry part, just the word recognition part. It is a great way to differentiate learning the same material. (Margaret H.)

I have written many times about StudyBlue because it is an amazing app. Read more about it HERE and HERE.

My favorite is to use videogames in Higher Ed English comp courses to engage students with ideas of learning, learning assessment and disciplinary knowledge. My favorite is Vampire Physics on addictinggames.com. With most students familiar with at least 2 different vampire mythologies, this helps open the discussion about disciplinary knowledge. I have a smart classroom, so I project the game and ask volunteers to play for us, while everyone adds help, questions, ideas about learning, etc. while we play. (ngrahampfannen)

I know that gaming is becoming more and more popular in education. The Awesome Power of Gaming in Higher Education is a good read if you are more interested in the topic!

In an upper division course, I taught with only two students. I had them take turns lecturing/giving presentations on the material instead of me lecturing the whole time. It allowed them to practice presenting mathematical content and also allowed them to exercise their board use technique. Finally, I could conduct informal tests of their understanding of the material they were presenting by asking them to clarify or expand statements or examples. (BWagner)

Giving students control of the content can be a great motivator. As stated in my original post, I know my son would love doing this! (I think he secretly wants to be a teacher and just won’t admit it yet!)


As an ELA middle school teacher, I used many techniques for both the content and context of our learning. One of the favorites of the students was Morphology Jeopardy, which was done first with teams using their notes they had written throughout the year in their Interactive Student Notebooks (fantastic tool!) The Powerpoint had images within each of the categories, and the students had to correctly identify them. They were especially challenged by the Greek vs. Latin section, but loved the format for review. With a few tweaks, the Powerpoint became the final quiz. (thouchard)

When I taught 4th grade, I often used PowerPoint Jeopardy. Students loved it! Yes, I believe it could be used in almost any grade level. Adults enjoy Jeopardy too, right? This site has some Jeopardy templates. Give it a try!

Finally, Jenice sent this in:

My kids enjoy teachers that use a mix of technology in class. Watch a video to hook them into a topic or have them do presentations in different formats. As a parent I appreciate when teachers use technology to reach out the parents, help us find the information to assist our kids with homework. We use quizlet a lot and thanks to wjuedtech PowToon has become a fun way for my kids to do presentations! Thank You (Jenice Sabra)

I’m happy to hear that your kids benefitted from PowToons! I hope they “wow-ed” their teachers.

Response Systems without the Clicker

Clicker systems are a great way to gather student responses. However, it requires either the school or the student to purchase a clicker. There are many free tools (or low cost tools) available today without having to purchase a clicker.

Poll Everywhere

Ask your audience a question and allow them to respond using a web browser, Twitter, or mobile phone. This flexibility of choice is nice! Poll Everywhere is free and easy to use. There are advanced features, that have an additional fee, such as grading, attendance, and response moderation.


Socrative is another web-based student response system. Run quick questions, quizzes, and even games. Socrative Videos is a great source for learning more about all the features. Students may respond using laptops, smartphones, or tablets. Get instant feedback AND reports.


GoSoapBox is another free web-based clicker tool. One nice feature that GoSoapBox offers is the confusion barometer:

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Students simply indicate whether they “get it” or not. Create real-time polls and quizzes and like the other tools, download the reports.

There are many more tools out there. I haven’t tried them all – but feel free to explore them until you find one that works for you! I’d love to hear your thoughts on student response systems and web-based clickers!



Learning Catalytics (free for instructors, costs for students)


**NEW addition (Thanks to Derek’s comment!)  Kahoot!


It’s About TIME

Have you ever wanted an intelligent time assistant? Someone that could schedule events for you and suggest how to use your time wisely? Enter TIMEFUL!

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I downloaded Timeful last week to give it a try and found that I am thoroughly enjoying the app! Timeful is much more than a calendar system. It is an intelligent time assistant. All of your calendars, to-do lists, and habits appear in one app. Create habits that you want repeated daily, weekly, or monthly and Timeful will schedule them into your day for you. For example, if you want to exercise 3 times a week, it will schedule it in according to your preferences. The more you use the app, the more “intelligently” it will respond to your preferences. Of course, if you don’t like the time it suggests, you may move it.

Timeful categorizes items 3 ways – “events”, “to-do’s”, and “habits”. Events are fixed such as a meeting at 3:00. To-do’s are things you want to get done and check off your list. Habits are good practices you want to form over time. Begin by setting up your preferences such as work hours, work days, sleep hours, and when you feel you are most productive. These preferences will be used for your scheduling. “The system also makes personalized suggestions based on your behavior. If you schedule tasks and habits at specific hours, Timeful will learn those preferences. For example, if you like to practice Spanish at 7:15 pm on weekdays, it’ll start suggesting “Practice Spanish” at or around that time. Muy bien, ¿no?”

Oh – and did I mention that it is free? A personal assistant – and free. Great! Hope you enjoy Timeful!



I recently won a couple of giveaways…fun!  I enjoy winning. Do you? Well, I decided to have a giveaway of my own to not only drive traffic to WJU EdTech Blog but to also gather information on how others engage students in their classroom. I will be speaking on the topic in the future, and would love to hear what others do to engage and motivate students.

I will be giving away a $10 Starbucks card OR $10 Peet’s card (your choice).

You will need to CLICK HERE to access the giveaway page, then come back to this site to comment. Thanks and good luck!