Tuesday, September 18, 2012

To PDF or not to PDF? It's not really a question, more of a threat.

We don't want no stinkin' PDFs Most of my online notes for students consists of text plus images and occasionally other information such as PDFs, etc. I've been in the habit of adding these to Blackboard as compressed Zip archives, but I've just discovered that it's no longer possible to upload a Zip archive to a course area in Blackboard. Instead, folders must be created in the Blackboard Content Collection (filestore), content uploaded, unzipped, and then added to course sites. This cumbersome workflow is a non-starter for me. I almost always wind up updating my notes on Blackboard frequently during courses and can't be doing with something as awkward as this and all the problems with versioning it is likely to cause, so I need an alternative to the time honoured Zip. Which poses some interesting possibilities:

  1. I could simple remove all the extra content from my online notes and start teaching in a minimalist stylee. Bad idea, that my pedagogic approach should be driven by broken technologies.
  2. I could carry on using the approach I've always used, but upload a single html file with external links to all the extras which would be hosted elsewhere. That's fragile and liable to break, and I'm pretty sure it contravenes Space Corps Directive 196156.
  3. I could bundle everything up as a PDF file. While I'm sure this would be popular with students who would be able to file all my notes away without ever having to read them, I'd spend the rest of my life hating myself for using a print format online.
  4. Or, going back to the first point, I could simply chuck up a list of links online and rely on face to face lectures and help sessions for information transfer, i.e. back off on the whole online notes thing.

What's your advice?


  1. Hi Alan

    I probably wouldn't upload a zip folder because it doesn't really contextualise the contents. I'd rather have some text on the page (HTML?) which sets the scene, then links to individual PDFs (although for print they are also portable and accessible for users who might not have word, etc). At least this would provide some structure for students to follow through rather than having to find their way through.

    This would also allow you to integrate quizzes or other interactions alongside content - in essence creating an environment for online learning rather than a simple repository.


  2. To clarify, the Zip archive is only a vehicle to get a structured set of html files, images, etc, into the system. On screen they appear as html documents.

  3. ah, sorry, my mistake.

    Can't you drag and drop bulk files in Bb into files area?

    (ps. tha captcha for commenting is an absolute pain :-) )

  4. Nope, no drag and drop in Blackboard.

    Apologies for the captcha, the spammers get worse every day.

  5. Can't help but comment that PDF is no longer just a print format.

    With advances in reliable and cost effective tools on all platforms, PDF has evolved into a collaboration format.

    Your students can now take notes onto the content, perhaps on netbooks or even tablets in class while you lecture, for instance.

    Whether on a thumb drive or a cloud drive, they can store their own copies for access on various devices, working together in study groups, or referring to the materials and their notes while creating projects and assignments for your review.

    AND, you can edit your PDFs, keeping track of changes when you choose to do so, through comments and bookmarks.

  6. I'd move the content from PDF into nice, clean, accessible HTML documents. These can then be viewed better by mobile devices, screen readers, et cetera.

    PDF is a legacy of a paper culture and should be avoided unless there is a good reason.

    What I do for PDFs (when I use them) in my courses is to upload all of the PDFs to and then link to the files or embed them.

    Just some helpful hints.

  7. There is drag and drop into Blackboard content collection. Unless you have a local issue such as out of date Java widgets. Not sure if it's a solution to your problem though...

  8. It's the horror of the Content Collection rather than drag and drop which is the barrier for me, although I can't get dnd to work (OS X, Firefox).