Using Adobe Acrobat for Electronic Portfolio
Helen C. Barrett
School of Education
University of Alaska Anchorage
Copyright 2000. Association for the Advancement
of Computing in Education (AACE).
Distributed via the Web by permission of AACE.
Abstract: Adobe's Portable Document Format is the ideal
container for electronic portfolio reflections connected to digital
artifacts. This paper describes the software environment, and
then describes the process for converting digital artifacts from
many applications into the Portable Document Format, and maintaining
a cross-platform, web-accesible, hyperlinked digital portfolio.
There are many tools and strategies that can be used for Electronic
Portfolio Development. In the SITE 2000 Conference Proceedings,
I outlined a five-stage, five-level model of electronic portfolio
development, using off-the-shelf software. In addition to the
stages of portfolio development, there appear to be at least five
levels of electronic portfolio development, each with its own
levels of expectation and suggested software strategies at each
stage depending on technology skills of the student or teacher
portfolio developer (Barrett, 2000). There are several commercial
templates for creating electronic portfolios using PowerPoint
and Hyperstudio, books and resources for creating digital portfolios
in HTML, and a variety of proprietary software packages. However,
there are few resources available on how to publish an electronic
portfolios using Adobe Acrobat. This paper outlines strategies
for using this software to create an electronic portfolio.
Adobe Acrobat and the Portable Document Format: the Universal
Acrobat has been branded as ePaper by Adobe, with the
following description on their website:
Adobe® Portable Document Format (PDF)
is the open de facto standard for electronic document distribution
worldwide. Adobe PDF is a universal file format that preserves
all of the fonts, formatting, colors, and graphics of any source
document, regardless of the application and platform used to
create it. PDF files are compact and can be shared, viewed, navigated,
and printed exactly as intended by anyone with a free Adobe Acrobat®
Reader. You can convert any document to Adobe PDF, even scanned
paper, using Adobe Acrobat 4.0 software.
Adobe PDF is the ideal format for electronic
document distribution because it transcends the problems commonly
encountered in electronic file sharing. Anyone, anywhere can
open a PDF file. All you need is the free Acrobat Reader. PDF
files always display exactly as created, regardless of fonts,
software, and operating systems. PDF files always print correctly
on any printing device.
Adobe PDF also offers the following benefits:
- PDF files can be published and distributed
anywhere: in print, attached to e-mail, on corporate servers,
posted on Web sites, or on CD-ROM.
- The free Acrobat Reader is easy to download
from our Web site and can be freely distributed by anyone. More
than 110 million copies have been downloaded or preloaded onto
- Compact PDF files are smaller than their
source files and download a page at a time for fast display on
- Using Acrobat 4.0 software, bookmarks, cross-document
links, Web links, live forms, security options, sound, and video
can be added to PDF files for enhanced online viewing. (Adobe,
Adobe Acrobat is based on PostScript, a device independent
page description language, introduced by Adobe in 1985 to control
printing documents to laser printers. The Portable Document Format
(PDF), introduced in 1993, is an advanced version of the PostScript
file format, which saves each page is an individual item, incorporating
fonts within the document while creating a file that is usually
smaller than the originating document. The underlying concept
of creating a PDF document is printing to a file (Andersson et,
Creating a PDF file makes it portable across all computer platforms,
using the free Reader that can be downloaded from the Adobe web
site. Adobe grants permission to publish the Reader Installer
on a CD-ROM without written permission from Adobe. There is even
a version of the Acrobat Reader that can be pre-installed on a
CD-ROM, although most computers are being shipped today with the
Acrobat Reader pre-installed on the hard drive. PDF files are
WWW compatible, with the PDFViewer plug-in for most web browsers.
The latest version of Acrobat can even download web pages with
fully functional web links.
Electronic Portfolios published in Acrobat
An electronic portfolio includes technologies that allow the
portfolio developer to collect and organize artifacts in many
media types (audio, video, graphics, and text). A standards-based
electronic portfolio uses hypertext links to organize the material,
connecting artifacts to appropriate goals or standards. Often,
the terms "electronic portfolio" and "digital portfolio"
are used interchangeably. However, I make a distinction: an electronic
portfolio contains artifacts that may be in analog (e.g., videotape)
or computer-readable form. In a digital portfolio, all artifacts
have been transformed into computer-readable form. (Barrett, 2000)
In my opinion, Adobe Acrobat is the most versatile and appropriate
tool to publish electronic portfolios because this software most
closely emulates the 3-ring binder most often used in paper-based
portfolios. In my opinion, PDF files are the ideal universal container
for digital portfolios. In fact, here is how John Warnock, Co-founder
and CEO of Adobe Systems, Inc. defined the Adobe Acrobat Portable
PDF is an extensible form of paper, a hypermedia that is device
independent, platform independent, color consistent and it is
the best universal transmission media for creative and intellectual
What else is a portfolio but a container for our creative and
intellectual efforts? If Adobe Acrobat is chosen as the development
software, here are the skills I have found to be important:
- Convert files from any application to PDF using PDFWriter
or Acrobat Distiller
- Scan/capture and edit graphic images
- Digitize and edit sound files
- Digitize and edit video files (VCR -> computer)
- Organize portfolio artifacts with Acrobat Exchange, creating
links & buttons
- Organize multimedia files and pre-mastering a CD-ROM
- Write CD-Recordable disc using appropriate CD mastering software
- Post PDF files to a web server
Structure of my Electronic Portfolio
- Here is the process I use to create and then update my electronic
portfolio every year. I maintain two separate PDF files: The
Portfolio.PDF file is organized by the major sections
as outlined in my table of contents:
- Table of Contents
- Introduction to the Reader
- Workload Agreement
- Annual Activity Report
- Self-Review and Standards Achievement
- TEACHING SUMMARY
- Curriculum Development
- Course Syllabi
- RESEARCH & CREATIVE ACTIVITY SUMMARY
- Conference Presentations
- SERVICE SUMMARY
- University Service
- Community & Professional Service
- Summary of Professional Development
- Supporting Correspondence
The Artifacts.PDF file contains copies of each artifact
I might want to include, organized chronologically with all of
the artifacts together for each year. The order of each yearís
- Annual Activity Report
- Syllabi for the year for all courses taught
- Course Content Guides for all new courses developed or revised
- Grants written/received during the year full text
- Publications for the year full text
How I Create and Update my Electronic Portfolio using Adobe
- Organizing files and folders - My hard disk drive
is really my working portfolio. Once a year, I "mine"
my hard drive for those "gems" that I want to include
in my artifacts file.
- During the year, collect appropriate artifacts in a folder
called, ìnew itemsî or in a folder named for the
year. I keep a "Working Folder" to store all of the
artifacts for inclusion in the portfolio that have been converted
into Acrobat format. Sometimes I add contemporaneous reflections
to the artifacts using the Notes tools in Acrobat.
- Set up a new folder for the working files for the new year.
Save all of the new summary files in the new current year folder
if you want to maintain source documents for prior years (the
prior year folders can be tossed later, if hard disk space is
an issue). Once a PDF file is inserted into the main Portfolio.PDF
or Artifacts.PDF document, I store them into a folder that I
call ìPDF filesî inside the current yearís
- Contents of portfolio pages
- At the end of the summer, I write up my Annual Activity Report
(AAR). Each component of the report becomes the foundation for
updating the separate sections of the portfolio. The formatting
of each section matches each section of my Vita.
- From my Annual Activity Report (AAR), copy the publications,
conference presentations, and any other appropriate information
into my Vita. Print the Vita to PDF.
- Update major section summary pages (Teaching, Research, Service)
- From my Annual Activity Report (AAR), copy the contents of
each section to the Summaries of each type of activity (i.e.,
classes taught, different types of service, publications, conference
presentations, etc.) after adding a heading for the current year.
This results in a summary of the different aspects of my work
for all years. I recommend organizing these summaries in chronological
order, adding the current yearís record at the end. That
way, if links have been made to artifacts, those links would
remain in the same place when the new information is added at
- Convert these summary pages to PDF (all of these items are
drawn from the AAR):
- Summary of Courses Taught
- Overview of Curriculum Development
- Summary of Research & Creative Activity
- Summary of Publications
- Summary of Grants Received including paragraph Abstracts
- Conference Presentations
- University Service
- Professional Service and Affiliations
- Community Service Summary (including School District In-Services)
- Paid Consulting
- Summary of Professional Development
- Supporting Correspondence (see description #3.6)
- Organizing the PDF files
- Take last yearís PDF portfolio, save with another
name. Create a new folder to hold the new portfolio and place
this new file into that folder.
- I maintain my artifacts in a separate PDF file. Make a copy
of that file, but keep the same name if you want the old links
to that file to work. Move that new file to the new portfolio
- Replace the appropriate pages in the portfolio, updating
them with the new versions. This will leave the links intact.
Don't Delete Pages and Insert Pages; the links will disappear.
The only pages to insert should be those where the page counts
exceed the previous year when the additional information is added.
- Review the artifacts that might be included in the portfolio
file (in my case, the current yearís syllabi), and copy
those pages to the end of the Artifacts file. From prior experience,
the cross-document links from the Portfolio PDF file to individual
pages in the Artifacts PDF file will be correct only if pages
are not inserted in the middle, but rather at the end of the
document. I insert a divider page before the beginning of the
new yearís files.
- While the Artifacts file may be filed in chronological order,
the Bookmarks can be organized by artifact type, so that each
major heading can have sub-headings that link to individual documents.
- An important component at the end of my portfolio is a collection
of correspondence that I have received during the year that support
my portfolio. Many of these items are e-mails and have been converted
to PDF at the time they were received, and are stored in the
folder described in Step 1. I create a summary list of these
pieces, convert that document to PDF, and insert into the portfolio.
This is the only page that I delete and insert, and then need
to update the links and the bookmarks. I also make links to each
individual piece of correspondence.
- Adding Reflections (Reflections turn artifacts
into evidence of achievement)
- When creating the PDF version of an artifact, sometimes I
add a reflection to the file, using Acrobatís Annotations
- Update the Introduction to the portfolio, convert to PDF,
and replace the older version in the Portfolio file. If necessary,
link from the Table of Contents and re-link Bookmark.
- Write up my summary reflection for the year, convert to PDF
and insert into the Portfolio file. If necessary, link from the
Table of Contents and re-link Bookmark.
- Review the document that contains the Standards I have chosen,
and update the reflections from the prior year. I keep my ATE
reflections in a FileMaker Pro database. Convert to PDF and replace
the older version in the Portfolio file. If necessary, link from
the Table of Contents and re-link Bookmark.
- Fine-tuning the finished files before publication
- Check all Bookmarks or make new ones.
- Check all links or make new ones.
- If file size is not an issue, create all Thumbnails.
- If you want the PDF files to open with the Navigation Pane
showing, select File Menu -> Document Info -> Open and
select the appropriate Initial View.
- Before finalizing the PDF files, do a ìSave AsÖî
using the same name to compress the file. If saved too many times,
the file becomes very large.
- If the files are to be posted in a public space, such as
a web server, I save the files with Normal Security, to prevent
printing, copying, adding notes, making any changes or form fields.
I also assign a password required to change those security provisions.
Be sure to remember the password, or keep another version without
the security provisions.
- Adding Multimedia
- I review the portfolio for standards or reflections that
could benefit from a multimedia reflection. I also review the
video clips that I have collected over the year. I create short
video clips to illustrate a component of my portfolio (try to
keep each clip less than 30 seconds).
- Save the files in Quicktime cross-platform format or AVI
format. Store in a "Movies" folder inside the current
portfolio folder. Once stored in a place that will not change,
create links from the Portfolio document to the appropriate video
- If appropriate, I will create a tour of the portfolio using
CameraMan or another Screen Recording software package, narrating
the overview for a novice viewer, and saved in QuickTime or AVI
- Publishing the Portfolio
- Using a CD-mastering program, I set up a temporary 650 megabyte
partition and copy the all appropriate files and folders in the
current portfolio folder to that partition. Organize the windows
the way they should appear when the CD is loaded in the CD drive
(Macintosh only). Write the CD.
- Post the appropriate files to a web server. I post only the
Portfolio.PDF file, not the Artifacts.PDF file to a web server.
I also use the Normal Security so that the document cannot be
printed, pages or text/graphics copied, etc. I do not include
the video clips with the online PDF files, since the links to
video do not work over the Internet.
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