Teaching paperless – preparing for the fall

In this post I provide some tips for teaching paperless, or at least what is working for me. It seems that every summer I re-evaluate my teaching workflows in an attempt to make them a bit better. I stick with things that are working, but I’m always on the lookout for something better.



  • Goodreader is still my go-to app for reading PDFs. My Goodreader research workflow remains largely unchanged from the last time I wrote about it.
  • If at all possible, I am doing reading for both classes and research on Kindle paperwhite. It’s portable, easy on the eyes, and works well with my bibliographic database


  • Marking really has three stages: receiving the assignment, marking the assignment, and returning the assignment. I would love to find a solution to nicely automate the receiving and returning. The iPad app ReMarkable aims to make all three steps of the process integrated and easy, but the app really doesn’t have the polish that it needs to for me to spend so much time with it. I am also using auditory feedback, and the interface for voice recording in ReMarkable is horrific.
  • Receiving assignments: Last spring I started using dbinbox for assignment submission. In a nutshell, dbinbox is a web based interface where students upload files to a folder in your Dropbox. I have students submit all assignments in PDF format, so it takes some reminders for students to submit in the format requested. You can take a look at the submitting assignments section of this syllabus to see how I do it.
  • Marking assignments: Goodreader works quite well if all you are doing is making marks on the document. Last spring I began using primarily audio feedback (something worth a try, both to benefit students and to make marking quicker), a feature that Goodreader does not support. I have been using iAnnotate PDF for iPad and it works great. The only limitation is that audio clips must be under one minute, which means that comments either need to be brief or requires multiple recordings (which is easy). I will keep this process through the fall. Note that for students to be able to hear the audio comments, they need to download the free Adobe Reader.
  • Returning assignments: I currently return assignments from my computer, using textexpander snippets to populate the body of the email and a dropbox link to download the file (since my university email system seems to handle attached files quite poorly).


  • I’ve previously written about my search for websites that are easy to edit and easy for students to navigate. I still am using markdown formatted pages served by Dropbox, but now I am using sitebox.io for my website. I was using Pancake.io (and still am for one-off pages), but after trying out sitebox.io for several months, I decided I liked it so much that I have subscribed to the premium plan and moved all but my blog from wordpress to sitebox.

Course notes and writing

  • I do all of my writing (research, course notes, etc) in plaintext or markdown format (if I’m writing an article that needs to get into Word, I do that at the end). I write using the following apps:
  • Editorial: on iOS (iPad and iPod for me), Editorial is by far the best thing out there. If you take the time to add ‘workflows’, it gets even better. It has made me want to do as much writing as possible on the iPad.
  • Scrivener: I often start large projects (course design or research) in Scrivener, due to the ease of moving sections around. You can sync Scrivener to a folder of plain text files, but the sync isn’t as seamless as it should be. There also isn’t markdown syntax highlighting. Aside from setting up projects, I’ve been moving most of my daily work outside of Scrivener.
  • Notebooks: I’m currently trying out using Notebooks as my app to work seamlessly with Editorial on iOS. So far, so good! Syncing is great and fast, and it beats my previous approach of opening individual text flies in Byword.

In class activities

  • There are a number of different tools I have been using for in class activities. Some of them are below:
  • Google docs for collaborative writing
  • Shared google doc for signing up for presentations or for meeting with me
  • This tool for great looking timelines created by adding data to a shared google doc
  • Stand alone web pages filled with markdown or plain text and served by Pancake.io
  • A page where I keep a list of interesting news items relevant to the course. This provides optional reading and shows links between current events and the course material. From wherever I’ve read the piece (usually on an iOS device), I get the link into the Drafts app and use an ‘append to dropbox file’ action to add it the file without having to open it. The file is then turned into a webpage with pancake.io
  • Embedded playlists of music or videos from Rdio or Youtube.

If you have a better or different solution than I do, let me know!


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