UPDATE: Annotate for Word is now a commercial product (as of September 2008). You can learn more about the free and PRO versions of Annotate for Word by visiting www.11trees.com.
We’ve been waiting for the paperless office for 20 years. From an individual worker/teacher’s perspective, the only result is a TV show about an office that sells paper (The Office).
Some use Tablet PCs. That technology seems DOA, although it has its adherents.
Most use Microsoft Word to annotate and read documents – or paper. But paper is finally going away in education, not for efficiency reasons, or cost savings. Educators are moving away from paper to save trees and reduce their carbon footprint. Teachers are increasingly using the assignment drop-box features of Moodle/Blackboard/Desire2Learn and similar tools (even email) to collect student work.
But then they have to read the work on a computer monitor and (usually) do some sort of annotating. If you are fast with a computer and have a decent computer setup (see our post on using dual monitors), this can be an efficient approach. And many teachers have devised some sort of clipboard solution to repetitive comments.
Other teachers, however, use Microsoft Track Changes (edits which students can just ‘accept’ without reading) to return comments, or complex systems of color-coding that require a key to decipher.
Once annotated, teachers have the additional challenge of efficiently returning documents to students. Email them, manually, one by one? Return them, again one by one, to Moodle/Blackboard etc?
But the annotating piece itself has always been a source of opportunity. Rather than build a whole other program, like Turnitin’s GradeMark software, that is horribly slow (if sexy looking), we’ve always felt that Microsoft Word was the killer app. It is fast, most people know how to use it, and its file formats can be read on millions of computers.
We have long experimented with Microsoft Word macros to automate the sorts of comments we want to insert into the margins of a student document. With the appearance of Microsoft Word 2007, we are able to share our refined process of easily annotating student documents.
This summer we will be releasing a simple add-on for Microsoft Word 2007 (and 2003, depending on demand) that formalizes our approach and makes it easy for others to take advantage of our work. We’ll be charging a modest price for this add-on (something individual teachers can afford and that will pay for itself after the first set of papers are graded), although there will be a free trial version with a shorter set of capabilities. We’ll also offer Site Licenses to schools interested in making our work available to many, and will build customized versions for specialized applications (ESL, graduate programs, the sciences, State standards etc.).
Please be in touch with suggestions or to share the ways you already use Word. We’ll share early versions with you and keep you posted on developments. Here’s a sneak peak of what is to come…notice the customized tab in Microsoft Word 2007…