Case study: Marking using an iPad


School of Physics
Faculty of Science
University of Bristol


Dr Ben Maughan,

Tools used

Screenshot of Notability app on ipad

This case study was written before access to institutional Google Drive was removed for staff.


As student work is increasingly submitted electronically, there is growing interest from markers in approaches to marking online. Assignments can be downloaded from Blackboard, annotated and then feedback is uploaded for students, so they can access this from anywhere.  Google Drive provides a means for staff to move assignments from Blackboard so they are accessible on a tablet such as an iPad. A range of low cost or free apps exist which can be used to annotate documents. This small-scale pilot involved three academics from the School of Physics who wanted to explore various aspects of e-marking using iPads. At the outset they identified potential benefits might include:

  • saving time and paper by removing the need to print, distribute and collect assignments and feedback
  • allowing staff and students an electronic record of the full feedback given on a piece of work, including handwritten annotations which are not currently archived, which can be referred to in future assignments or for staff if for example writing references
  • providing rich and effective feedback to students


  • To evaluate marker experience of e-marking workflows combining Blackboard, Google Drive and tablets
  • To evaluate student experience of submitting and receiving feedback online
  • To document effective workflows so these can be transferred to other disciplines

What was done

iPads together with cases and styluses were loaned to the 3 academics by the TEL team. They explored various potential apps to use and in the end chose  Notability . They used the ipads to mark a range of different types of work, from lab and project reports (between 6 and 20 pages)  to final year projects (approx 50 pages) to theses (approx 100 pages). Two of the three markers tended to use the handwriting tools in Notability, whilst the third used the onscreen keyboard. Work was downloaded from Blackboard, or in some cases had been emailed to the markers. Once they had configured Notability to be able to access their Google Drive (which was very simple), they were then able to store copies of the work in Google Drive, and open them using Notability on the ipad.  


What worked well

2 of the 3 participants had positive experiences. The workflows used to transfer work from Blackboard via Google Drive were straightforward. Further details are provided in Ben Maughan's more detailed account. Particular positive points they highlighted in their feedback were:

  • Portability - being able to carry around many reports on a single light device, and being able to mark them anywhere
  • The ability to make high quality annotations, including highlighting, handwriting, equations, and images. Being able to erase and/or undo annotations meant the feedback was very clear and did not contain errors or crossings out
  • Having an electronic record of the feedback
  • Students did not have to physically come in to collect their feedback, and you could easily make it available to them so they could access it before face-to-face meetings
  • Being able to search within text in documents

Problems and/or issues

  • You need to allow time to get used to writing using a stylus on an ipad (or other tablet)
  • One participant found that he preferred using an actual (rather than virtual) keyboard. He actually had his own tablet with a good keyboard (an Asus Transformer), but the Notability app (which he liked) is not currently available for Android devices
  • Annotated pdfs when exported from Notability to Google Drive were found to have a slight quality reduction for images, which should be taken into account if this may be significant
  • One participant commented that, although he thought e-marking could be useful for him, he would prefer to "have all my documents in one place" (referring to being able to use a single device)

Further information