Tools for In-Class Annotation

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[Originally published on August 13, 2015]

Most chemistry classes, including mine, rely heavily on in-class annotations. To do this, instructors need an annotation tool that integrates smoothly with the flow of class. Here is a brief review of several tools I've tried:

1. Drawboard PDF

This is my new favorite tool, and the one I'm planning to use this fall. It features a small pallet that minimizes when not in use (the pallet is the small hexagon in the image below). When you first open this app, it will ask you if you are using your finger or a stylus. It differentiates touch and stylus better than anything else I've seen. I can rest my palm on the screen without any stray marks, but still easily swipe to scroll to the next slide. The drawing is crisp - great for organic. Cost: $10

2. Journal Note Writer

I have several colleagues who build their slide decks in JNW, and use it exclusively. The color

pallet is easy to access, and the writing is smooth - with the occasional stray mark from the hand on the screen. A couple drawbacks I've encountered: I like doing my slides in PowerPoint, which means I'm transferring my files to .jnt format before class, then to .pdf if I want to make them available to my students afterward. Also, sometimes pictures/shading don't transfer well when printing to a .jnt file. ChemDraw used to be very problematic, although it seems less so now. If Drawboard doesn't work out, I'll go back to JNW.

3. PDF Annotator 

This program works pretty well, and I used it for several years. It prints from Powerpoint more cleanly than Journal Note Writer, and has an unobtrusive pallet that can be hidden to one side. The drawback is the price: In an era of free or inexpensive apps, this one costs $59.95.

4. PowerPoint 

Especially with the addition of Office Mix, PowerPoint has become much more versatile in the last couple of years. It's annotation used to be really clunky - it's smoother now, but I still inadvertently advance slides while trying to annotate about 20 times every class. I used PowerPoint last semester with my Intro Chem class, because the animation capabilities outweighted the hassle of the annotation features.

5. Bamboo Paper

I've taken a liking to this paper notebook app - It doesn't use PDF, but you can import images one at a time. The interface is pretty simple, it writes smoothly, and I believe it was free (or under $5).

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About the Author
Kevin Revell received his bachelor's degree from the University of New Orleans in 1995, then his Master's Degree in Organic Chemistry from Iowa State in 2000. After several very formative years working in the pharmaceutical industry, he decided to go into education, and from 2002-2006 he taught chemistry at Southeastern University in Lakeland, FL. Following completion of his Ph.D. from the University of South Florida in 2006, Kevin joined the faculty at Murray State University in Murray, KY. Kevin's research interests include organic synthesis and functional organic materials. He loves to teach, and is increasingly interested in science education in flipped and online class settings. He and his wife Jennifer have 3 kids, and they stay busy between family, church, school, and playing basketball in the driveway.