Downloading and Printing: Thoughts on Info Dissemination

Florian Klauer_unsplash.jpg
Photo credit: Florian Klauer,

We are moving towards the midpoint in Collaborative Curiosity. You should be spending time thinking about how you might best disseminate information to and with your potential community partners.

There are times when we want our readers to be able to download and print our materials from our blog posts: informational handouts, flyers, white papers, other documents…the list is kind of long.

When we think of downloading and printing, most of us tend to think in terms of .pdf files.

Disclaimer: .pdf files have a controversial history on the web. Much has been written regarding their search engine optimization, accessibility, and appearance/appeal in the context of HTML dominant environments.  There are many great articles on the pros and cons of pdfs in web pages, but all of them start with the assumption that .pdfs were designed for downloading and printing.  If you want your readers to download and print something, you need to consider – just consider – .pdfs. There are many ways to incorporate .pdf files into blogs.  I’m going to talk about three of them.

#1. Upload the .pdf to your Media Library.

If you insert the .pdf into the document just as you would an image, it will look like this:

ConnectedCourseWhitePaper_Gogia (1) (1)

You can alter the hyperlinked text however you like. I’ll alter the link so it does not reflect my bad habit of downloading the same thing to my laptop over and over again.

Connected Course White Paper

You can also add an image thumbnail to go along with it, to make it look more interesting. Admittedly not the most exciting thumbnail image, but hopefully you get the point.

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Connected Course White Paper

#2. Hyperlink to a .pdf that you have housed elsewhere.  

This can be effective, particularly if you were planning on posting your document on anyway [Example].  The downside of this approach is that all you get is a link – no visuals to go with it.

You could always upload a copy of the cover and put the link in the caption…something like this.  This is a screenshot I took of the first page.  I uploaded the screenshot and then added the link as a caption.  Click on the link and you go to, where you can download my document.

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Click to download.


#3. Embed the .pdf directly into your post.

Vanilla PDF Embed is a free WordPress plugin that allows you to embed a .pdf reader directly into the post. Those of us who use regular, free sites (such as this one), cannot upload plugins such as Vanilla PDF Embed.  One of the perks of paying for a hosted site on WordPress (e.g. my site) is that you can upload plugins. Alternatively, VCU has paid for the privilege of offering RamPages users 85+ plugins, including Vanilla PDF Embed.  So if you are a RamPage user, you are good to go with these instructions.

How to use Vanilla PDF Embed on your RamPages site

Go to your dashboard.  Click on PlugIns. Check the alphabetical list.  If the prompt under Vanilla PDF says “Activate” then click the “Activate.”  If it says “Deactivate” then it is activated already – do nothing. I think you will all need to activate the plugin.

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I’ve already activated my Vanilla PDF Embed on my RamPages site. If I wanted to deactivate it, I’d just press “deactivate.”


Once Vanilla PDF Embed is activated, upload your pdf file to your media library, copy the attachment url, and then exit the media library without posting.

using vanilla pdf

Paste the copied url into your post (visual or html view – it doesn’t matter) and you’ll get this.  Again, note that I can’t actually demonstrate this on my blog, since my blog is not a site. The hyperlink I just gave you – that’s to my RamPage site.  For someone teaching this sort of thing, it’s useful to have webpages set up on several platforms for demonstration and diagnosis purposes if nothing else.





Why A Course Hashtag

Collaborative Curiosity: Designing Community Engaged Research, VCU’s openly networked connected course, had its first twitter chat last Thursday with the course hashtag, #curiouscolab.  It was an AMAZING first Twitter chat, particularly since so many people were new to the concept.  However, many of us sometimes forgot to use the hashtag (including me) or used a course mention (@curiouscolab) instead of the course hashtag (#curiouscolab).

What’s the difference between a hashtag and a mention?

In Twitter, a “mention,” is the @ symbol followed by a specific Twitter handle.  For instance, if you wanted to mention me in a tweet you’d type @Googleguacamole.  It’s how you direct a comment towards me.  Imaging you were at a chatty cocktail party and you wanted to make sure I knew you were talking to me.  You’d say my name before you made the comment (e.g.”Laura, how was your day?”). A mention on Twitter has the same function as saying my name at the cocktail party.

When you put @Curiouscolab in a tweet, you’re directing the comment to whichever one of the course instructors or assistants happens to be manning the account at the moment. It’s kind of like calling the phone company and talking to a customer service provider – someone you know is affiliated with the company and is trained to offer some help or information, but is kind of faceless and nameless on a personal level. (Aside: tweeting @CuriousCoLab should be a better experience than calling @Verizon, though cable and phone services are notoriously better with customer service when you do it in public through tweets then in private over the phone.)

When you use a hashtag on Twitter, you are employing a keyword system that facilitates searches, so that people can follow conversations around topics rather than around people. Entire communities (I prefer the term affinity groups, technically) emerge around certain hashtags: #BlackLivesMatter. #ConnectedLearning. #DataViz. #CuriousCoLab.

Therefore, when you include #CuriousCoLab in a tweet you are adding a keyword that allows anyone interested in #CuriousCoLab tweets to see your tweet through a search.

Why is it important to put the course hashtag in the tweet?

  • Course hashtags allow the people in the course to see the entire conversation in a twitter chat. This is particularly important in larger courses where students don’t know each other, or in courses where students might read the conversation after it has occurred, or in courses where some students might be big tweeters who follow many people other than the other students.
  • Course hashtags allow for easier curation.  Collaborative Curiosity, like many online learning experiences, uses Storify to archive the conversation for documentation, later reading, or reflection.  Here’s an example from last year’s course. Storifying a Twitter chat can be a great experience because it allows you to read through all the tweets, reorganize however you like (chronologically? thematically?), add other explanatory pieces (ex. blog posts, images, or videos, or free text to help tell the story), and discover all the things you missed the first time around. However, Storifies are only possible if most of the conversation is hashtagged with the course hashtag.  A Storify creator can’t be expected to poke around all the corners of the Internet looking for stray pieces of the conversation.  That’s not reasonable.
  • Course hashtags are part of the mechanics of academic Twitter. It’s like indenting a paragraph or using an Oxford comma. As Academic Twitter continues to grow (FYI: Bonnie Stewart is my favorite Academic Twitter researcher if you are interested), it behooves us to learn a bit of the mechanics so that we can better engage in professional conferences and digitally mediated professional development.
  • Course hashtags allow for easier documentation. As I wrote last week, Collaborative Curiosity is designed to help you reflect on your connections – connections across ideas, people, and time. Reflection requires documentation, because – Schon aside – reflecting in action is notoriously difficult.  The appropriate use of mentions and hashtags allows us to automatically capture and visualize your conversations through social network analysis.  On the course website, we use TAGS Explorer.  In my research, I use NodeXL.  This crazy map was created with

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Social network analysis is a way to visualize interactions in space. By pushing a few buttons, I collected all #curiouscolab tweets from last week. mapped out who was talking to whom on Twitter via their mentions.  The dots (“nodes”) are people, and the lines (“edges”) are the connections.

For the purpose of participant privacy, I hid all the node labels other than my own (@googleguacamole) and that of the lead instructor (Valerie Holton).  Later we’ll get into what I could have done to make this a much more meaningful piece of data visualization, but my point right now is this…See how big I am?  Yeah, I talk frequently to a lot of people using the #Curiouscolab hashtag, but my prevalence is also related to the fact that I captured many of the other participants’ unhashtagged Twitter chat contributions and retweeted them with the hashtag.  I got credit for their work.

Collaborative Curiosity does not grade based on number of tweets.  However, the lack of adequate documentation matters because later on in the course, we are hoping that participants will start to engage in (hopefully deep) reflection on how they engage others on social media platforms.  Are you good at networking? Do you seek out new voices? Do you only talk to the instructors? Do you spend time mostly talking to a small cluster of people? These social network analyses, when properly created (and not my mess shown above) can help people see who they engage and how often.  It’s a tool for self reflection that only works if course tweets are hashtagged.

How can I remember to use the course hashtag?

“Practice” is the most accurate but least useful piece of advice I can give you.  So here are some strategies for remembering to use the course hashtag:

  • Type it (or copy/paste) at the beginning of a tweet?  That way you know you have enough characters and you don’t forget it in a fit of passionate microblogging.  It’s perfectly fine to leave it at the front of the tweet (because in a sense you are addressing the #curiouscolab community as if it were a collective mention).
  • A sticky note to the computer screen?
  • A ribbon tied around your wrist?
  • Do whatever works for you.  The point is…course hashtags are important because they enable community, documentation, and self reflection.
Sylwia Bartyzel
Remember that course hashtag! Photo by Sylwia Bartyzel (CC BY 2.0)