paperless assignments

Paperless Assignments for Maths: Results of A Pilot Study

Last year we worked together with Audrey Markowskei, an academic from the Department of Mathematics to trial a paperless work-flow for Maths232. I wrote an earlier post about the background to this pilot study and the difficulties of paperless assignments in mathematics; in this post I’ll share our results.

We used the ‘Assignments‘ functionality inside iLearn, iPads + stylus, GoodNotes and Dropbox applications. The unit size (n=30) and Audrey’s familiarity with tablet computers and applications made this an ideal unit to test this initiative.

The scenario

In this unit, the students needed to submit 5 assignments (weight = 20% of the total mark) due on Weeks 4, 6, 9, 11 and 13 of the session. Each assignment was 10-15 pages long. We tested a comprehensive set of applications across 3 platforms: Apple iOS, Android and Windows 8.1 . We also created documentation on how to use mobile applications for scanning, handwriting and marking of documents based on the trial, and we made these available to students inside iLearn, so they could choose the most suitable application for them.

Applications tested

To recap my earlier post, we had identified three sets of applications that were required to allow paperless work-flow in maths: (1) Document scanning; (2) Handwriting notes, and; (3) Marking/annotating applications. Applications tested included free and paid versions. A comprehensive Excel spreadsheet that contained information for 51 applications tested in different platforms was developed. Data included cost, features, downloadable links and comments. This document is available to download below:

Suitable Apps for Paperless Assignments in Science.

Applications were tested on the latest operational systems (iOS8, Android 4.4.4  and Windows 8.1), older platforms may behave differently.

We concluded that there is a wide range of applications that work reliably for Apple iOS and Android platforms, but not for Windows tablets. It seems still to be early days of development for this relatively new platform. We also noticed that the file size and quality of scanned documents varies according to application used.

The results

From the academic perspective:

  • In many cases, scanners generated large documents of poor quality (>25MB) that download slowly on iPads.
  • Some students scanned pages upside down, which was a real issue to read on the iPad.
  • Assignments were lengthy – up to 20 pages in some cases – which is difficult to deal with on a relatively small iPad screen.
  • Download and upload from Dropbox to GoodNotes and vice versa took time due to internet connectivity and possibly connectivity between applications.
  • The paperless assignment work-flow requires technical know-how to set-up ‘Assignments‘ inside iLearn and to link GoodNotes with Dropbox applications.
  • Training for less technically-savvy academics will be required.
  • Marking assignments on iPads with a stylus took longer than paper-based assignments. Lot of zooming in and out was required, and this caused eye fatigue.

From the students’ perspective,

  • Students did not experience issues using the paperless work-flow and they found the approach to be very flexible.
  • They mentioned there was no need to come to University to submit the assignment and they saved time and fuel.

In summary, the academics found this to be a fair solution in comparison to managing paper based assignments. The main challenge will be in the future to find a way to homogenise the quality and size of the scanned assignments and screen size.

The future

  • There is a need to put in place a strategy to reduce variability in file size and quality of scanned documents via conventional scanning or mobile applications.
  • Develop guidelines for paperless assignments for students to avoid upside down issues, reduce the amount of pages and make the process faster.
  • Redesign the assignments to be more screen friendly, if possible.
  • Test large devices such as Samsung Galaxy Pro 12.2 + S Pen for marking  assignments.

If you would like to implement a paperless work-flow assignment for your unit, contact your Educational Designer (email:


To Audrey for being patient, optimistic and passionate about this initiative. To Jamie Gabriel from the Faculty of Science for providing the applications for iOS and Android Devices and the LTC for supporting the initiative.