PDF Expert: Can't read annotations

My workflow for grading essays is as follows:

  • students upload their essays in PDF format to a course-management program (Moodle)
  • I download the PDFs and grade them in PDF Expert on my 9.7" iPad Pro running iPadOS13, marking them up with a first generation Pencil
  • I then upload them back to Moodle, with comments

Sometimes this works; but sometimes students complain they cannot see any of my annotations. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason here. I can view them with annotations perfectly presented on my office Windows machine.

What should I be looking for/asking my students?

Any help would be appreciated.

Have you tried using Share (from the …, menu) then selecting Flattened copy?

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Readdle has a well-written post about this:

The thing is that a PDF can be a monster with a lot of modification and customization options that enable a lot of features which are supported by some PDF readers or PDF viewer cloud solutions but not by every tool. It can be a hit or miss game, if PDFs are being edited and shared afterwards.

If you share flattened copies like @JohnAtl suggested, it should work everywhere. If a flattened copy does not work everywhere, it might be a bug in PDF Expert.

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Another possibility that might help: have the students download the file and try to view it in their preferred PDF app, instead of in Moodle.

I’ve often had students submit work via a Google form. Since PDF Expert can sync with Google Drive, I’d mark to their work, then put the marked files in folders shared with each student.

Usually there was no problem, but every once in a while students couldn’t see the annotations if they opened the file in Drive. If they downloaded the file and opened it on a desktop application, the annotations were visible.

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I have. No luck. I have noticed that many students get the notice from Moodle in their email, then tap on the link on their phone, then find out they can’t read the annotations (presumably also on their phone). So the problem may well be there.

The reason I stopped using PDF Expert was because I would get students complaining constantly that they couldn’t read my annotations. We use Blackboard to grade and I always upload annotated papers, so it’s not just on Moodle. A lot of them use iPads for everything so telling them to open on a desktop is not an option.

The final straw was when I sent an annotated version of a document to a colleague who I’m doing research with, and they couldn’t see the annotations. I’d spent around 2 hours doing this and it was a complete waste of time. She opened the file in Windows.

I tried PDF Pen before but the interface on iOS was quite frankly awful. I never managed to stand it long enough to test it with grading.

I’ve switched to Adobe Acrobat, which isn’t quite as nice usability wise as PDF Expert, and since then I’ve not had a single complaint (and I’ve just graded over 200 papers).