Adobe announced the release today of its latest Acrobat document creation software, Acrobat X. It is accompanied by a new version of the reader software, as well, available on all desktop platforms, Android, Blackberry, and Windows Phone 7 (Apple's iOS is conspicuously absent). While the new workflow features are great and the latest in digital signatures lays the groundwork for increasingly paperless schools, the feature that intrigues me the most is the new PDF Portfolio.
Portfolios have special meaning for teachers of special education students, but in all cases, from the most challenged to the most gifted, students increasingly need to build a digital portfolio of their work through their school careers. Many colleges now place far more weight on a portfolio than on SAT scores and an incredibly competitive job market means that recent graduates need to arrive at interviews with compelling examples of their work. For special education students, a well-prepared portfolio can mean the difference between graduating and not receiving a diploma in this era of high-stakes tests.
Acrobat X now has tools built in for managing not just PDF files or even converting multiple formats into a single PDF, but for incorporating files in their native formats into a single container document. Thus, slide decks, photos, YouTube videos, Word documents, and scanned pages can all be managed from within the PDF Portfolio interface. And while users can add metadata to a Word document, for example, the document itself can be extracted and/or edited in Office (retaining the metadata added in Acrobat) or viewed directly within Acrobat.
As Adobe explains it on their just-launched Acrobat X site,
Make sure source files are simple to locate, access, and archive. Attach them to any PDF document in their original, native formats, ensuring a more complete document of record.
Acrobat can now support Flash and interactive elements, making PDFs much better, much less static choices for instructors disseminating information to students and for textbook publishers looking to use PDFs for their electronic texts. According to Adobe, users of Acrobat X can,
Quickly bring ideas to life through rich, interactive documents. Insert audio, Flash Player compatible video, and interactive media into PDF files, for seamless playback in Adobe Reader X or Reader 9.
Speaking of Reader X, a welcome tool for students comes in the form of new annotation tools:
Make notes and share your feedback with others by marking up PDF documents using the Sticky Notes and Highlighter tools.
Books? What books? Oh, you mean those things we used to print on dead trees?
If it sounds like I'm gushing, well, I am. Educators spend inordinate amounts of time trying to bring a variety of documents together in a usable form for students. Students, on the other hand, often lack the tools or wherewithal to assemble a meaningful portfolio. And students with special needs often end up without adequate supporting documentation to demonstrate that they have met state standards because portfolio management is so difficult. Acrobat X literally solves all of these problems in a smooth, polished package. Add in features ranging from document automation to SharePoint integration and you have a really powerful tool that just happens to fit the education vertical to a T.
It isn't cheap, of course. This is Adobe we're talking about. Educational licenses of the full Acrobat X Pro (not an upgrade) will run you around $159 a piece. However, for the professor assembling large documents for many students, the reduced copying costs alone will pay for the license. And the giant hug you get from a special education liaison will probably be payment enough, as well. There simply isn't another tool out there that can create documents like Acrobat X can, particularly in a way that resonates so well with the educational marketplace.