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Educational PDFs and the Paperless Classroom

This quick tutorial shows how teachers can use PDFLive to turn PDFs into editable, fillable forms that students can use on their devices for homework and studying. 

There are a lot of reasons to reduce the volume of paper used in the classroom. Digital and remote classes make physical papers difficult to distribute and collect. Environmental concerns have led to reducing the use of paper as well as plastic pens, binders, and other materials needed to organize paper handouts. 

Finding the right digital alternative to physical paper is no easy task. Not every student will have access to the same document editing software. Documents that you, the teacher, create may lose their formatting settings when opened by a student. 

This is why PDFs are so useful. The portable document format, or PDF, is easy to create and will look the same no matter who opens it on any device. PDFs are the best format to distribute syllabi, study guides, and even worksheets that students can fill out. This allows any student to do their homework entirely on their computer rather than writing on paper. 

In this article, we’re going to cover how you can work with PDFs using PDF.Live’s online PDF editor tool. The editor tool allows you to make alterations to the settings and format of a PDF. 

How to Make an Editable PDF

Before you make a PDF editable, you may be wondering how you can make a PDF in the first place? The document editing software you already use has this capability. How do we know this? 

Well, if you’ve built a worksheet or syllabus in a doc editor, you’ve probably printed it. When printing, you’ll usually select your printer in the Destination section. Then, if you click the dropdown next to it, you’ll see Save as PDF as an option. Your experience may differ, depending on your operating system (iOS vs Windows, for example), but generally, most software programs allow you to save as PDF from the printing functions. 

screenshot of printing to pdf

This will save your document as a PDF file instead of printing a physical copy. If you simply want to distribute a worksheet that your students will then print and fill out, emailing or uploading a PDF is by far the best option. This will ensure every student can print out the same version of the worksheet with no changes in formatting settings. 

If you create a Microsoft Word Document and upload the file as, say, a .doc or .docx file, there’s a good chance the page’s margins and lines will be altered. This can lead to students being confused about where one question begins and another ends, or having enough space to fill out the answer for a question. 

However, if you want your students to work with the document in an entirely digital format, we have a solution for you. 

Form Field Recognition 

What is form field recognition? This term is the name of a tool contained within the PDF.Live editor that will find fields within a PDF that are intended to be filled out by the person using the document. It will add a fillable form field to the line so that text can be typed within the PDF. In this example, every slightly shaded in box above an empty line is a fillable field:

(Source: FDIC “Smart Money Instructor Guide” for classrooms.)

So how do you access the form field recognition tool? 

Upload your PDF to our online editor by dragging and dropping your PDF into PDF.Live’s online tool. You can also click Select File to Edit and navigate to where the PDF is located on your computer. 

Once you’ve done this, select Edit PDF

In the PDF.Live editor toolbar, navigate to Form and click Run Form Field Recognition. This tool will automatically identify empty lines in your PDF and add fillable forms to it. 

screenshot showing the run form field recognition button on pdf live

The tool may have missed a couple of fields or created ones that you didn’t want. You should go through your worksheet to ensure that every field created is in the correct place. 

screenshot showing how the form field recognition works

To add or remove a field, select Create Text Field within the Form tab of the toolbar.  

screenshot showing where the create text field button is on pdf live's editor

With this tool selected, you can now edit the text fields that the Form Field Recognition tool has created or create new fields. To edit existing fields, simply click one of the text fields with the tool active. You can then resize, move, or delete them. 

To create a new field, click and drag anywhere on your PDF. The new box will then be a fillable field for anyone with access to your PDF. 

screenshot showing the form field for pdf live's pdf editor

Once you’re happy with your worksheet, select Home and Download to get a copy of your PDF with fillable fields applied to it. 

In this example, we’ve opened the fillable form PDF in a web browser. We’ve filled in a couple of fields with text. Once all text has been filled in, when downloading the PDF, the owner will be prompted to download a new version of the PDF with changes. The “changes” represent the text that’s been typed out into the fillable forms within the PDF. 

screenshot showing how to save with changes when you use the form field in pdf live's editor

Using this tool, you can send out worksheets to your students, have them fill them out, and send them back without any PDF editors or physical paper needed!