Using PDF Files in the Classroom  

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Electronic documents allow faculty to distribute and display course materials, provide sample documents and reference materials, let students submit documents electronically, and archive student work.

For example, sample documents are useful in writing classes for the following:

Textbooks are usually limited in the types of documents they provide. Documents are often not up-to-date. In addition, lengthy documents, such as manuals, are not incorporated.

In addition, there are copyright and cost issues involved in printing, duplicating, and distributing handouts to use in class. Using custom printed workbooks requires extensive lead-time: getting permissions and submitting materials to a printing service.

The Internet has made available of a limitless supply of documents from all types of organizations, thus transforming the types of resources available to faculty and students. Adobe Acrobat PDF (Portable Document Format) documents from the Web can be used as an effective teaching tool in the classroom, residence hall, home, or wherever students access the Internet. PDF files are also ideal ways to distribute materials in distance learning courses. A wide variety of types of documents from numerous organizations are available. They can provide resource material and examples. Best of all, they are free to obtain and to distribute and require only Acrobat Reader.


Acrobat Primer

Adobe Acrobat is a suite of software programs used for electronic publishing. With Adobe Acrobat PDF files can be published and distributed anywhere, such as e-mail attachments, Web sites, CD-ROM, and intranets. When you buy Acrobat, you get Acrobat Reader, Acrobat, Distiller, and Catalog.

Acrobat Reader software lets you view, navigate through, and print PDF files regardless of the computer, monitor, or software version. You may make and distribute unlimited copies of the Acrobat Reader software. Reader is available to anyone to as a free download. This is really the only “negative” of PDF files. Students must have Reader and a computer to view PDF files.

Acrobat has all the capabilities of Reader and more. It allows you to view, create, and modify PDF files by adding hyperlinks, bookmarks, thumbnails, multimedia (such as movies and sounds), and annotations. It also allows you to create PDF files from Web sites for viewing offline.

Distiller is a driver that converts PostScript files to PDF. It has many options for output, such as the amount of compression, color quality, embedding fonts, and image resolution.

Catalog lets you create a full-text index of your PDF documents or document collections. This full-text index is a searchable database of all the text in a document or set of documents

Faculty and students can also create their own materials and even download Web sites using the suite of programs that comes when you purchase Acrobat. Academic pricing for Acrobat 4.05, the current version, is $99 for an individual copy. A site license price will vary, depending upon campus agreements. For more information, see Adobe’s Education Site.


Adobe Acrobat documents have many benefits over HTML documents and are excellent tools to use in classes for the following reasons:

Finding Sample Documents

There are several quick ways to find PDF files to use in class:

·         Use the advanced (Boolean) search feature found in search engines such as Type the name of the type of document you want, such as “procedures” or “newsletters.” Also search for the keywords “PDF” or “Acrobat.”

·         Go to the Adobe Acrobat home page to find PDF files about Acrobat, tutorials in PDF format, and case studies.

·         Visit  Electronic Publishing Research Group: PDF Corner. It includes links to numerous PDF pages featuring everything from PDF games to PDF guides. 

·         Visit (figure 1) to view a showcase and archive of good uses and users of PDF documents. This site contains samples from Arts and Humanities, Business and Economy, Computers and Internet,  Education, Entertainment, Government, Health, News and Media, Recreation and Sports, Reference, Science, and Society and Culture.


Saving PDF Files From the Web

Once you find a PDF document on a Web site, here are a few tips:

·         To view the document, left-click the link to the PDF file.  If you are using a newer version of Netscape or Internet Explorer, the file will open Reader within your browser window. You can click the disk icon to save it.

·         To download the file without viewing it, right-click the link to the file. A popup menu will appear in Netscape and Internet Explorer. You can then save the file to view later and continue to browse the Web as the file downloads.

Using Text and Graphics From PDF Files

You can use text and graphics from PDF files in other applications.

·         Use the Text Select Tool  to highlight the text.

Click the triangle on the Text Select Tool  to access the other selection tools.

·         Use the Column Select Tool   to select single columns of text.

·         Use the Table/Formatted Text Select Tool  to select tables.

·         Use the Graphics Select Tool   to draw a box around the graphic (or portion) you want to use.  

After you have copied text or a graphic, paste it into another application, such as PowerPoint.

Creating Your Own Acrobat Documents

Besides using existing PDF documents, faculty and students can create and distribute their own materials. One of the most useful features of Acrobat 4 is the ability to download Web sites.

Creating Simple PDF Files

Faculty can create PDF documents to distribute syllabi, presentations, and course notes. If you use Microsoft Office, Acrobat installs a PDF Writer icon  in the application. Clicking the icon launches PDFWriter, which creates a PDF file. PDFWriter is less powerful than Acrobat Distiller but adequate for simple documents.  You do have several output options. For example, headings you have used in Word can be converted automatically to bookmarks in the PDF document.

If you do not want to enhance the document in any way, it’s that simple to create a PDF file.

Enhancing PDF Documents

If you want to enhance your documents, Acrobat has several tools that are simple to use. You can do some basic text editing, insert and delete pages, and create bookmarks and thumbnails that can be used for navigation.

As the dialog box in figure 2 shows, you can also set defaults on how the way the document and toolbars will appear when opened.

You can also enhance the document by adding links. You simply use the Link Tool  to draw a box around an area. The resulting dialog box, shown in figure 3, allows you to select the action that results when the link is clicked. The link may jump to another location, Web address, or play a multimedia file.

Creating PDF Files From Image Collections and Scanned Documents

You can also convert an entire image collection to PDF and display one image at a time like a slideshow. Scanned documents can also be converted directly to PDF format.

Creating Presentations

You can convert PowerPoint slideshows to PDF format and display them full screen like any presentation. You can set a background color, hide the toolbars, and set other options.  Because Acrobat Reader lets you change the magnification level, you can enlarge the document so students can easily view it.

Submitting Assignments

Students can submit their assignments in PDF format, thus saving printing costs. Faculty can then keep an electronic archive of sample student work. Because PDF files are relatively small, they are ideal to send as e-mail attachments. Students can also convert their class work to an electronic portfolio and distribute their resumes on CD-ROM or a Web site.

Downloading Web Sites

Even more important, you can download Web sites for off line viewing during class. Using this technique, you can convert useful Web resources to PDF files. For example, you can also save useful reference materials, such as grammar and writing guidelines or tutorials. This feature is also useful in courses that use Web sites as examples. Students can view the sites without having Internet access and becoming distracted by surfing other sites. For example, figure 4 shows a browser tutorial saved in Adobe Acrobat. It is a 33-page document, and all the original links work if the destination page has been downloaded.

As the dialog box in figure 5 shows, saving a Web site in PDF is simple. You have to be careful, however, not to download an entire site, which can potentially be quite large and take hours.

After you specify the Web address, you specify how many “levels” of the site you want to download. Each time you click a link on the page you’ve downloaded, the destination of the link downloads. You continue this process until you’ve downloaded and saved all the pages you want.

Using PDF Documents

There are a variety of ways you can use the PDF files you create outside or during class. You can distribute PDF files in the following ways:

·         CD-ROM

·         network drives

·         your Web site

·         online class reserves through the campus library

·         e-mail

You can use the files during class by having students view documents at their own computers. If you are in a regular classroom, you can also project samples and enlarge them on a screen.


Adobe Acrobat PDF documents are an easy, effective, and inexpensive way to distribute examples, reference materials, and assignments. A collection of such materials provides students with an electronic “library” of real examples. In addition, students can use the tutorials, career information, and reference materials as inexpensive learning resources.

Acrobat Resources

The following sites provide more information about PDF and samples.

Acrobat Talk

Adobe Acrobat Site

PDF Research Companion

PDF Zone


Critical Reviews

Critic AF

As an article, it sort of reads like the back of the box, and it's also old news to boot Adobe has some great tools, but they have been used for several years now, and I can remember first using .pdf for distance classes in '97. This isn't meant to minimize the importance of the discovery for the author, but I kind of think most TS readers would be used to .pdf.

So my vote is for no.

Critic QQ

Publish with major revisions 

This reads like the instructions and promotional blurb on the side of the box, plus an instruction sheet inside. The information on Acrobat itself and how to use it is readily available with the software and doesn't need to be laid out in the article. The title is "Using PDF in the Classroom," but the article doesn't follow the title. It's more of a handout for a computer lab. It should be rewritten to tell more about possible problems, first person experiences, and actual classroom uses. The Resource Material section doesn't add anything and should be eliminated or rewritten in prose rather than a list.

Critic L

The biggest problem I have with this article is that I feel I am reading an ad rather than an article. Perhaps the writing style has something to do with this. The other problem is that Acrobat software has been around for quite a while now and PDF files are widely used online. I am not sure how much new information is being put forth here to justify the extensive discussion of a piece of commonly known software. I found the article laid out its points clearly, made helpful suggestions, and was a very useful guide, but this still seems more like a handout than a discussion on the importance or utilization of the technology in a given setting.

Perhaps part of the discussion could focus on alternatives to PDF files and why they are or are not viable. Perhaps there could be more discussion of how the author has used or seen the software used in a particular class. What about drawbacks to using Acrobat, are there any? Feedback from faculty or students using Acrobat? A discussion of problems encountered is at least as helpful to readers as the benefits of any technique or technology, as users can be better prepared when trying the suggestions for themselves.

Aside from the need for a little stylistic and typo editing, I feel this piece is well done and has merit but I would feel uncomfortable recommending its publication as it stands.

Critic II

The article, "Using PDF Files in the Classroom" offers useful advice for instructors unaware of the benefits of a method of displaying online documents that preserves the layout and design. The introduction should include a preview of the organization of the manuscript, that is, pointers to resources and examples, to benefits of PDF documents, to sample documents, tips on using PDF, and to PDF file creation, submission, downloading, and use. I wondered if it might not be a little introductory in content for the _Technology Source_ audience, but leave that judgment to the journal editor. Should alternative forms of document sharing (e.g., RTF files, text-only, HTML files, etc.) be presented upfront, with a brief explanation of how PDF files meet similar and alternative goals for file production and dissemination? Finally, I would recommend, since the authors have taken the time to list the numerous PDF resources available on the web, filling that list out by adding example items to each "genre" (e.g., manuals, newsletters, etc.). The manuscript would be a useful "Tools" contribution for instructors not familiar with Adobe Acrobat.