Interview: Live Annotation of Student Work with GoodNotes

I was recently interviewed on ABLConnect, a Harvard-based “online database of active learning efforts in post-secondary classrooms.” I talk about my use of GoodNotes to take pictures of student work in class, embed them into a GoodNotes document, and annotate them without skipping a beat. It’s a great tool to get students to engage with the material in a collaborative way.

Enjoy, and please get in touch if you have any feedback.

Annotating Screenshots in iOS with Mail

Gabe Weatherhead has an awesome post about how he uses the awesome Pixelmator to annotate screenshots. It’s awesome.

Gabe’s discussion of the limitations of all the many different existing iOS apps to annotate screenshots got me thinking about another option: the Markup extension in iOS Mail.

In addition to being built in, the Markup extension has some nice properties:

  • it has excellent shape recognition, including arrows;
  • it’s pressure sensitive using 3D Touch on the iPhone 6s and the Pencil on the iPad Pro;
  • it has a very simple and easy to use interface.

There’s just one big downside to markup: for reasons I cannot fathom, it’s only available in Mail[1]. This is in spite of the fact that it exists in the action extension share sheet in Mail:

Despite this major limitation, the usability of the markup extension makes it worth using by sharing a photo via Mail, then saving the sent image back to your photo library.

First, share an image via Mail and tap on the image to get the Markup option (I sometimes have to tap it more than once):

You can then edit the image to your heart’s content including shapes (notice the nice shape recognition option at the bottom), text, and even a magnifier callout:

Once that’s done, you can either send it to yourself and save/share the image from iOS mail, or you can use this handy dandy IFTTT recipe to email it to IFTTT which saves it back into your photo library, annotated and all. A bit roundabout, but it works.

  1. That’s right, not even Notes or Messages. Maybe in iOS 10?  ↩

Save files on iOS with Workflow

I like getting work done on my iPhone and iPad. At times it gets impractical (I’m looking at you Stata), but there are lots of simple actions that I can do from my iOS devices, oftentimes faster than I can do on my Mac. One task that I always thought I should be able to quickly do from my iOS device is save a file from Safari, Mail, or any other app to a folder on Dropbox. This has been a pretty clunky process involving using the “Open In…” menu, opening a file in the Dropbox app, choosing a folder, tapping Save, and returning to the original app.

With the release of Workflow, I can finally say that it’s just as easy to save a file on iOS as it is on my Mac.

If you haven’t heard about Workflow, it’s a $2.99 app that lets you build custom actions that you can run from your device. Unlike previous workflow apps like Pythonista and Editorial, Workflow is extremely easy for non-programmers to use. Lots has been written about it since its release in December, ranging from the simple to the extensive to the extremely nerdy. This app can do a million things, but in this post I will focus on an extremely useful, and extremely simple to set up, action to save a file.

The final product

I often come across a PDF in Safari that I’d like to save. With Workflow, I tap “Open In…,” select “Run Workflow,” and choose one of three actions that I’ve set up:

These actions, in increasing order of both complexity and flexibility are:

  1. Save the file to a folder in my Dropbox called “1Read,” where I save PDFs for later reading;
  2. Save the file to an arbitrary folder in Dropbox;
  3. Save the file to a folder in iCloud Drive, Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, or any other third party service that supports document provider extensions in iOS 8.

Here’s a collection of screenshots that show the 1Read workflow (1), the Dropbox workflow (2), and the iCloud Drive (3a) or third party document provider (3b) workflow:

Workflow (1) has zero additional steps; it saves it to the 1Read folder and that’s it. Workflow (2) has the additional step of selecting a Dropbox folder in which to save the file. Workflow (3) involves first choosing a document provider, then choosing a folder[1].

The crazy part

“That’s fine for a PhD student, but setting this up must take a lot of time, energy, and frustration.”

I hear you, dear reader, but fear not.

I give you, in its entirety, the setup for each of these three workflows:

Some notes:

  • As you can see, Workflows (1) and (2) are identical, except for the toggle “Ask Where to Save.”
  • If you have a frequently used “inbox” folder, it’s worth setting up a separate workflow just for that folder.
  • Make sure you specify these workflows as “Action Extensions” so that they show up in the Share Sheet.
  • Workflow (3) is one that I’ve come to rely on quite a bit. Besides the third party providers, iCloud Drive is actually a nice save location, since if you don’t have an internet connection at the time of saving, it’ll save it locally and upload it once you get a connection.

If you check out the @WorkflowHQ twitter page or the Workflow Gallery, you’ll find lots and lots of other Workflows. But this is one that’s easy to set up, easy to use, and fills a real need in my work habits.

  1. You may notice that Dropbox is a document provider that shows up in Workflow (3). Since I use it so much, and since the native document picker will sometimes crash, I made a separate Dropbox-only action.  ↩

Wireless Presenting Just Got a Lot Easier

Much has been said about Apple’s updates to Keynote, Pages, and Numbers last year, and much of that has been pretty negative. However, Apple has been rolling out updates to these apps over the past few months and, as of the latest update, has made a wonderful thing possible: it is now easy to wirelessly present and annotate a Keynote presentation with nothing more than an iPad, iPhone, and adapter.

Doing a wireless presentation on the go has been possible, but even the most well-done setups have required purchasing, bringing, and configuring additional devices (MacSparky’s setup, which I have used until now, requires a $99 Apple TV and a $99 Airport Express). Now, I only need three things which I carry around anyway: my iPad mini, my iPhone, and an adapter to hook an iOS device to a projector.

The Setup

The basic setup is to use your iPad as a remote that you carry around, which controls your iPhone that’s connected to the room projector[1]. Here are my steps for setting up a wireless Keynote presentation:

  1. Connect my iPhone to the projector using the adapter
  2. Pair the Keynote apps so that my iPad serves as a remote for my iPhone
  3. Press Play on my iPad
  4. Don’t be nervous and do a really good presentation

I’ll walk you through steps 1–3; you’re on your own for step 4.

Hardware: Connect your iPhone

This is easy. Both the VGA and HDMI adapters also have a power plug, so you can keep your iPhone charged while you project. As for which adapter to purchase, in my experience overhead projectors use VGA, while flatscreens use HDMI. That said, I work in academia, so you private sector folks with the fancy pants might only need HDMI to function.

Software: Pair the Keynote apps

The pairing process can feel a bit tedious, but only needs to be done the first time (your device is remembered for subsequent presentations). Better still, if you’re pairing iOS-to-iOS you don’t even need to be on the same network. Here are the steps:

  1. Make sure Bluetooth is on for both devices
  2. Open Keynote on both devices
  3. On the iPad, tap the remote button on the main screen and tap Continue
  4. On the iPhone, open a presentation
  5. On the iPhone, tap on the wrench icon on the upper right of the screen and navigate to Presentation Tools > Allow Remote Control and turn Enable Remotes on
  6. After taking a few seconds to pair via Bluetooth, your iPad should appear underneath Enable Remotes; tap Link
  7. A passcode should show up on both devices; confirm that they’re the same number by tapping Confirm on your iPhone
  8. Tap Done on your iPhone

Combined, here’s what it looks like on the iPhone:

and on the iPad:


I said I couldn’t help you make an awesome presentation, but here’s a neat tip: as of this week’s Keynote updates, you can use your iPad to draw on your existing slides, and draw attention to parts of your slide using a laser pointer function. Here’s what it looks like in practice:

This means that you can walk around the room with iPad in hand, drawing and pointing to your heart’s content, all while projecting onto the room’s projector through your iPhone.

The best part? This is all I need for my new mobile presentation setup:

Enjoy, and please get in touch if you have ideas or suggestions.

  1. In this post, I’m using the iPad as the remote and connecting the iPhone to the projector; this is because I prefer to use the iPad for annotations and reading notes. Feel free to switch the two if you prefer to have the iPhone in hand.  ↩