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Wednesday, December 3, 2014


As a classroom English teacher, I always fretted about feedback.  I worried I didn't give enough of it, I worried that it was not effective enough, and I worried that it just took too long.  If there was a digital way to enhance my methods, I was ready to try.  The trick with tech is always the pragmatic issues.  An excellent piece of edtech will ace Adam's ACE test.  Is it device Agnostic?  (Yes.) How much does it Cost? (Free!) How Easy is it to use?  (Very.)

As a notation tool that allows audio as well as text feedback, I played around with Notability my last few years of classroom teaching. There is much I can positively say about the product, but there are a few barriers worth noting: it takes a bit of a learning curve to figure out, it was only an iOS app until very recently, and it usually costs $9.99.  (In fairness, I should mention that it recently became available as a Mac app [MacBook users, take note!], handwritten notations are allowable, and it's currently on a holiday sale of $4.99.)

Which brings us to Kaizena.  It's free to use, the learning curve is not steep, and it can be accessed anywhere you have Internet access, so long as you integrate it with your Google Drive.

How does it work?  You have to first install Kaizena as an Add-On.  Open up your Google Drive, click the "New" button, find the "More" at the bottom, and choose "Connect More Apps."  You can search for Kaizena and okay any permissions.  From the teacher "dashboard" side, you can also do some management by going to Kaizena's website and logging in with your Google credentials.

Once installations are done, you can now annotate many documents inside of, or shared with, your Google Drive.  This includes Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides, but not Forms.  There are some workarounds for other types; for example, if you are willing to open a Word .doc as a Google Doc, you can annotate them as well.

Annotations are tied to highlighted text; the highlighter color can be changed if you and the students have a color-coded system.  Once highlighted, you are first asked if you want to tag it as a rubric criteria, as well as assess how well they did it; for example, a good opener could be annotated as a "hook" and given a 3 out of 4.  (You can also skip this step, and these criteria are saved as "Tags" under your management page/profile.)  After text has been highlighted, you have three types of annotations:

1)  You can leave an audio comment by recording directly in Kaizena.
2)  You can add a resource. A resource is a link to a website or video that further clarifies a concept the student may be missing.  These resources are stored under your account so you can reuse them, and can be managed and edited when you log directly into Kaizena.
3)  You can type a comment.

Keep in mind that you could do just one of the above items, or conceivably all four.  Your feedback is shared automatically and in real time;  students can get your commentary when they open their document and click on "Comments" in the upper right. Students can even give feedback to your feedback, creating an ongoing loop of communication.  (Kaizena will notify you of any feedback left from students to you.)

Here are three videos that will be helpful.  The first is a montage edited by Kaizena that gives a great overview demo of the tool (3:01):

This second video, also from Kaizena, has a narrator that could speak a bit quicker, but it's a good step by step for setting it up (5:02):

This last video is the longest and demos a slightly older version of Kaizena, but Stacy Behmer is thorough in excellently walking through installing and using Kaizena (11:20):

How could you use it?  You can see the advantage of communicating feedback through Kaizena; it's paperless, it's quick, and can be done in a mobile manner.  No stacks of papers at a desk -- you could assess work with a laptop anywhere there is an Internet connection.   Kaizena makes differentiating feedback very easy. Think of how using audio commentary combined with a few resource links could really change the paradigm of how students process feedback, reflect on teacher commentary, and effectively revise their work.  Remember, it's not only essays, but presentations and spreadsheets as well.  Students that install the app could also do peer evaluations of each other, and not only share their feedback with the writer, but with the teacher to keep you in the loop.

Downsides?  The only major hangup I can see is the issue of Google Drive; both the teacher and the student need it for this to work.  However, by having Google Drive (and a Google account in general), there are many other collaborative and creative work tools available, so it may be worth the time to set up.

Do you already use Kaizena, Notability or another annotation/feedback tool?   Please share in the Comments below.

Correction 12/3/14: I edited under "Downsides" about Kaizena not editing PDFs; as the comment below points out, it will work if you publish the PDF to Google Drive first.


  1. Hi Adam - I'm one of the founders of Kaizena. Thanks so much for the great article! Just wanted to share we do support PDFs, though you have to upload them to Google Drive first.

  2. Max, apologize for the error, and I updated the entry. That said, I tried giving feedback on a PDF. On the teacher side, it worked, but I couldn't get it to work on the student side; unlike a Google doc, there was no "Comments" button to click and get the Kaizena feedback link. Can you share a link that explains how to make this work? (I also emailed a question about annotating PDFs to your help desk yesterday but haven't heard back yet.)

  3. If students ask you for feedback on a PDF via your Kaizena profile, they will get an email notification with a link to your kaizena feedback. Here's a video:

  4. Thanks so much for the answers and resources!