The single document format debate

Last year, we introduced Blackboard at Lincoln, and, whatever your views on the merits, or otherwise of virtual learning environments, the functionality it is providing is definitely leading to an increase in interest in on-line submission of assessment. This is also an issue for exportability in e-portfolio development. (Just so I can keep the blog on theme!) If you want to make sure documents can be easily exported from one e-portfolio system to another, then I think it’s sensible to try and standardise your document formats. (Of course, this all depends on the type of documents you want to store in your portfolio)

But the submission of assignments issue presents a problem. Students don’t all use Microsoft Word 2003, which is still the University’s preferred word processing platform. So they’re submitting in Word 2007 (and a variety of other exotica that lurk out there on the net.). The result is of course that tutors can’t read these strange files when they download the files to mark them.

So, one suggestion, is that the university should move to insisting on submission in PDF format. Broadly, I think that’s a sensible approach, (although it’s not a solution). For all the talk we hear of digital natives, students aren’t all as tech savvy as they’re sometimes portrayed. And unless you’re on campus, or willing to pay for a PDF converter for your personal PC, it’s not so easy to do.

Anyway, my point is, if you want to convert documents to PDF, I’ve just discovered some useful (and free!) tools to do it. Here’s the link.

3 thoughts on “The single document format debate

  1. The PDF chestnut again! I think it’s less about a tool to convert to pdf and more about the training to provide a correctly constructed original document and the means with which to access the final result. Regarding online submission isn’t the one feature that staff and students like the Word Track Changes option? Is there a way to create an editable track changes environment with pdf?
    I do agree with the digital natives comments though!

  2. Or, you could just have some sort of PDF convert script on your end (BlackBoard/Portal) and tutors always see PDFs, regardless of the format students upload their documents in.

    @ Sue — Students could get back an annotated PDF for feedback as well. Using Adobe Reader you can leave notes into PDF documents.

    Anyway, some courses (ahem, Journalism) still have to file papers…

  3. having spent some time experimenting with some of Julians free options (not without a number of technical problems which seem par for the course with freebie software) I’m not convinced that this is the way forward. One of the advantages on institutional software must be the availability of conversion programs. We can already do this with MS Works and Word 2007. I think this is a situation where individual choice of software should be respected (in line with equality and diversity policy) and we find ways to work around those choices rather than the dictatorial requirement of a single file format.

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