I posted this about a year ago and updated it to reflect our current learning environment. Let me know if this resonates with your experience:
The main reason teachers DON’T like cloud online accounts has nothing to do with money, security, or privacy. The fact is that they are not inclusive enough. Students cannot access cloud storage, Google Classroom or their LMS for a project they are working on due to no internet at home or slow internet, or the teacher cannot access lesson plan resources due to a dead spot at school or overload, the excitement of learning melts like ice cream on a hot day.
That’s why, no matter how good web tools sound, I won’t install them if they’re problematic – like they’re slow to load, the website isn’t reliable, or there’s a save problem. The most reliable method of accessing resources is through programs pre-loaded on your local computer or available as PDF files that are easy to share.
I will understand. Schools have moved many of their educational resources to the cloud. This may be done to save money on maintenance or to make them accessible from anywhere, or for other important reasons, but the changes lead to the problems I mentioned. Too frequent and annoying. This has spawned a resurgence in popularity of books and resources in Portable Document format, commonly referred to as PDF. While not ideal for every situation, they are the right answer for many.
Here are ten reasons to consider when evaluating PDF vs cloud resources:
PDFs work well with others
PDF files work on all digital devices and platforms. Don’t worry about whether they work better on Firefox or Chrome, Mac or PC (or Chromebook or iPad), Windows or MacOS (or Linux or iOS). They are working on all of these and most others. With a free PDF reader (such as Adobe or many others–check out this link for ideas), students can open the document and get started right away. Even if their school system is a Mac and their home system is a PC, the PDF opens just fine.
PDF files can be annotated
Unlike print books and many e-books, PDFs can be marked up and then erased at the end of the school year. Using the PDF annotation tool, for example Kami for Chromebook or Adobe Acrobat With almost any digital device, you can take notes throughout the year for review or reminders. Many annotation tools (eg iAnnotate and Excellence) include options to highlight, underline, add text or handwritten notes, and can include audio files, images, and more. The PDF is saved with all notes and shared with everyone, making it more versatile than most other note-taking tools.
PDF files are readily available
PDFs are always available. If the Internet is down, if the host site gives you a Gateway 504 bug, if you don’t have Wi-Fi or internet at home, your PDF will still open (provided it’s saved on a working digital device). This means more students can access and complete homework created as PDF files.
PDFs are fairer
PDF readers are free and adapt to most digital devices (actually, I can’t think of any that aren’t adaptive either, but it absolutely freaks me out). This means that regardless of what the family has chosen as a computer solution, whether it matches the school or not, the PDF school resources will likely open. Parents don’t need to buy a separate tool, install software, register on a website, log in with a username and password, or learn a new web tool. They just click on the document and it opens.
It is important to note that the PDF files are also accessible for visually impaired readers. Most PDFs offer text-to-speech options or work with text-to-speech tools, meaning students can still hear the text in a way that best suits their needs.
You own it
If the owner of your favorite web tool decides to change their access rules or stop supporting the program that runs your document, you won’t be able to access documents created in their format. This does not happen with PDF files. You own the software. It is not proprietary and there are many PDF alternatives to choose from.
No website required
Since it’s software, you don’t need a website to open the PDF. Students will double-click the icon on their computer to open the resource. If it is stored on the website (or in the LMS), students download it to their drive without losing access, tools or privileges.
PDF files do not require a password
If your classroom is anything like mine, students have a long list of passwords they need for a wide variety of classroom tools. Because the PDF files are stored on a local drive (the student’s PC), there is no login required and no password to forget.
You can password protect the file, but that’s a topic for another article.
PDF files are easily printable
Users can print a page, a selection, a highlighted paragraph, or the entire PDF. They can also save it in various formats including MS Word and Google Docs. PDF files should be versatile, easy to use and convenient. The print is proof of that.
PDF files can group the resources you need
Many PDF tools (such as Adobe Acrobat) allow users to group related PDF files into a package that is transferred as a single file. With PDF, the user accesses a single document, which may include a list of attached documents. Users can open them as needed or all at once in individual tabs of the PDF tool.
PDF files are an exact match to a written document
If the PDF is a printed book, the page numbers and layout will be consistent with the printed book and will include all graphics, charts, and images contained in the original document. PDF files are like a photocopy without reformatting to adapt to the specifics of a website. If you’re working in a mixed group, some with print resources, others with PDFs, everyone will follow the same guidelines. It makes presentations easier, clearer and faster.
The biggest drawback I find in PDF resources is: Their simplicity confuses teachers. I suggest a many resources in PDF format and I keep getting the question “Where’s the login for the website that comes with this?” Since so much of what teachers use is web-based, it needs some thought!
After all, classes work on a set of tools, each of which is suitable for a specific purpose. Include PDF files in this toolkit. Once it’s there, you’ll find many reasons why it’s the best fit.
Jackie Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 30 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred technical resources including a The K-12 Technology Curriculum, K-8 Keyboarding Curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship Curriculum. She is an Adjunct Professor of Technology, Principal Lecturer, Webmaster of four blogs, The voice of Amazon Vinefreelance journalist on technological topics, participant NEA Todayand author of technical thrillers, To hunt for sub and Twenty-four days. You can find her resources at Structured learning.