Convert PDFs to Google Docs - and 5 Other Tools for Learning

My father called me to ask if there was a way to turn a JPEG into a PDF. I told him that there were a few ways we can do it and that I should just come over and see what he’s trying to accomplish. It’s the best way to coach someone on technology issues.

When he told me that he needed to scan receipts to share via Google Drive, I suggested that we install the new Adobe Scan app on his phone. This worked perfectly and cut out about two steps and a piece of hardware for my father who doesn’t need extra headaches over hardware and software. Who does?

Helping my father sort out his issue with converting to PDF got me thinking about how far these tools have come. It also got me thinking about how many tools we actually do not need to accomplish some of the tasks we face as teachers in connected classrooms.

My favorite PDF conversion trick is to open a Google doc in drive by right clicking on the file and selecting open with Google Docs. Most files that were originally created in word or Google docs and then converted to PDF will convert to a doc file rather easily. But this wasn’t always the case because I can remember when Google Drive could barely convert a word doc without severely messing up the formatting.

This way of converting PDFs to Google Docs is a sort of a hack. If you open the PDF and then select open with in the upper toolbar, you don’t get the same option. You get whatever apps are pre-installed in your Google Drive or whatever apps you’ve installed to convert PDFs. But after trying several of them, right clicking within Google drive and selecting to open with Google docs has been the cleanest way to do it.

Some of these PDF tools, however, could be very helpful for classroom teachers. Let’s look at five tools I do not want to live without in the 21st-century connected classroom.

1. Print to PDF

If you’re looking for a way to print content from a website, look no further. Print friendly and PDF is a Google Chrome extension that will make any website ready to print with one click. And if you don’t want to print it, you can download a PDF instead.

When you click the extension while visiting the web page you want to print or save to PDF, a window opens that allows you to edit the images and delete the elements of the page that you don’t want. This feature is nice because sometimes you don’t want all of the links that go in a post, or perhaps you don’t want all of the images or text. Most chunks of content can be deleted to clean up the document.

Maybe you want the images but you want them to be a smaller size. You can adjust the size of all the images at once by selecting a different scale percentage in the toolbar across the top of the window. The same goes for the size of the text.

One of the nicer features of this extension is how the title of the page and the URL are at the very top of the first page and can’t be deleted. I like this feature because sometimes I have to add the URL so my students can refer back to the site from which we got the content. It’s also just good modeling to show my students that we include the back link when we use someone’s content. This could be better than giving them credit because it’s giving them a direct link back to their site – a drop of link juice for their site's authority. When was the last time a works cited page had the authors source material on speed dial for client referrals?

If you need to email the PDF, there’s an email button built in to the toolbar, as well. I haven’t needed to use this feature much with students, but it’s very easy to see how this could be helpful for someone who lives by the email workflow.

2. Dochub

I’ll admit that Dochub was a little buggy in the beginning, but I saw that it was a small company with a good idea and lots of potential. Wow, am I glad that I stuck with it for the past four years because it’s now my go-to for editing PDFs.

Dochub is great for adding or removing pages from a PDF document. It’s can also facilitate adding or removing content from a PDF. There’s no need to print something, tape a piece of paper over the part you don’t want, and recopy the document. Dochub allows you to do it digitally and save the edited file to Google Drive.

I like to add questions and comments in the margins of readings that I pull from the web. This also includes adding symbols or icons like a pencil on paper to various parts of documents where students may need a cue to make a note of something or to refer to their skills packets.

And this is just the free version. If you needed more features like signing documents securely, the paid versions of Dochub do that, too.

3. Google Drive Previewer

The new PDF preview features in Google Drive are perfect. I know this has nothing to do with converting PDFs, but it has a lot to do with using PDFs in a new way for learning activities. Let me explain.

Remember the content I pulled off the Internet with the Print Friendly and PDF Chrome extension? Picture this .. it’s in a Team Drive folder that students can access. They are assigned sections of the reading (or whatever the content may be) and you ask them to use the comment tool to write “need to know” questions about anything in their assigned section of the content. The teacher can watch the students work and reply to comments as they are posted.

It’s amazing how much teaching and learning can happen when students are charged with asking questions. Now, the lesson is about uncovering the content instead of covering it. We can all see the questions, responses, discussion, and the connection between the text and the need to know information.

The comment tool in the Drive preview also works for image files. This opens new doors for establishing thinking routines, making thinking visible, and learning with others because the decisions of each learn are clear and available to their peers.

In effect, the expectations are better reinforced when students see an example from their classmate that passed my examination versus an exemplar provided by the teacher. If you teach teenagers, like I do, then you know that an idea from a peer is far more “sticky” than one from me.

4. Adobe Mobile App

This is the app I showed my father. The best two things about it is how hard it works to scan a clean image and the ability to share via almost whatever app you want. For my students, and my Dad, this means sharing via Google Drive.

The app uses your device’s camera to scan the document. It recognizes the document and automatically locates the edges before taking the pic. Then, the app will recognize the text and adjust the tracking of the document to straighten it out.

If you want to scan several pages, it will recognize one page after another and not make the PDF until you touch the “Save PDF” button in the upper right. It’s easy to crop, delete pages, change the order of the scans for a multi-page PDF, or edit the color or orientation. I think you get the point.

5. Make PDFs With Google Slides

Let’s think beyond a slideshow app and use Google Slides as a publishing platform. It doesn’t matter whether you need to publish digital or print media, Google Slides is the best free app that gives you a clean slate for your students’ work. In my toolbox, it’s only second to Adobe InDesign, but I don’t need powerful apps like Adobe CC for my history students.

Slides can be used to make ebooks. In fact, I’m using it to make my first ebook about learning strategy templates with Google apps. I changed the page to 8.5 by 11 inches and made a design template for the content. This particular ebook shares 30 templates on Google Slides, Docs, and Drawing – all based on learning strategies that work. 

What else can we do with PDFs?

I’ve already written about using Slides in different ways, so I won’t get too deep. But I want to mention that individual slides can be downloaded as PDFs, and the print options open doors for rethinking how to use Slides.

Consider instructing students to use the slide for drawing or images and the speaker notes for the text. In the print settings, choose the settings that allow you to print the speaker notes and one slide per page. This becomes a great way to print all of the student work at once. More in-depth directions can be found in this article.