I have nearly completed this term’s paper and report marking using Adobe Acrobat to add voice comments and annotations. In a word, the results are terrific!!

First, it saved me time. I am not a fast typer and using voice, meant I didn’t even have to spell check!! My comments were much longer than text annotations and I was able to give examples, suggestions etc. that I could have done in text, but likely would not have due to time constraints.

Second, I was able to express more affect by chuckling, expressing uncertainty and in other ways adding a personal touch to the marking.

Three, I was still able to add text comments and a marking rubric at the end using a text annotation tool that floated over the text and allowed me to annotate without disturbing the text, as it would if I made tracked changes using Word (I could of course, have used Word’s comment feature with similar results).

Four, initial feedback from students seem very positive.

So I think voice annotation of essays and term projects will win a place in my teachers “personal learning environment”

How did I do it? Following the inspiration and great work of Phil Ice et al. (see an excellent paper on the subject here) I purchased a copy of the full version of Acrobat (not just the reader). Educational price was $160 Canadian with tax and it installed easily on my Mac. I tried using the internal mic, but I could not reduce the quality of the recording enough to create ‘efficient recordings” – ones that are small enough to be emailed.  Unfortunately, the MacBook doesn’t accept  a regular PC microphone, so I had to buy the iMic accessory that hooks into the USB port and provides a normal microphone in and out. I could then use  Audio Midi Setup tools to reduce the recording quality to 8000 Hz. This quality is fine for a single voice and gives 15 second annotations at about 200 KB. Phil tells me that this initial setup is much less problematic on a Windows machine.

On my first try I hadn’t reduced the audio quality and the result was a paper of 25 MBytes, which choked my email system. Later, with reduction in HZ, final projects were in the 2-10 MByte range, with my voice annotations. I realized later that by using the Moodle drop box for returning assignments, I didn’t have to worry so much about the email restrictions, however large file size is a concern on any voice or video annotation application. I did have to reload two files which seemed to have gotten damaged in delivery to Moodle, but it could have been my impatience at fault.

A few years ago, I had used the voice annotation tools built into Microsoft Word, but had to abandon the project when the files got absolutely HUGE. I haven’t played with Office 2007/8 versions, so maybe the quality reduction for voice annotation can be done with Word as well, but I do recommend the Acrobat tool for ease of use- though I did have to convert every Word file submitted to a PDF (quite easily done using the save as PDF feature in Word 2008).

So thanks Phil for excellent advice and demonstartion of this tool at last years Canadian Network for Innovation in Education conference.

I’m a believer!! There are many ways to improve education, but few that also save teacher time!