How I Made the PDF Transcript

As of 2012-02-16 the most current version of the Big Picture PDF Transcript is 105.  (That link is to the location, here’s another link to a copy archived here on this WordPress).  Here are some features of the PDF Transcript:

  • This PDF is editable in Adobe Acrobat Reader (the free tool), and the user can save their edits to a new PDF file.
  • Since the field sizes are all locked, the pagination of the transcript is locked.
  • Since field sizes are locked, the font in the field reduces in size (points) if you type more than the field can hold.  NOTE:  to reduce font size by hand, merely type additional carriage returns or spaces.
  • It is easy to click a checkbox (or tab to it and press spacebar or use left and right arrow keys) to indicate level of proficiency.  NOTE:  there is also a hidden, tiny checkbox, so that you can “clear” a checkbox without clearing the entire form.  You use the arrow keys to get to the tiny checkbox.
  • The CADR column can only contain 2 characters.  Page 3 contains a key for the CADR values.
  • The title, and column titles can all be edited in the “College Transcript” table at the bottom left of the second page.
  • The largest fields on the transcript accept copy and paste from Word, if you need special symbols or more interesting formatting.
  • The keyboard tab-order is set so that you can easily tab between all fields on the transcript.
  • You can define the sub-categories under each Learning Goal (they are editable).  Also, each Learning Goal has a blank row for any additional criteria.
  • There is a spot on the transcript (bottom of the first page) where you can add a digital signature.  This doesn’t really lock the form from additional changes, but it is there in case in the future a more digital signing process is implemented.

I undertook this project to see if I could create a more durable Adobe form-based solution, since the original Word-based form had the following disadvantages.

  • fields would overflow and re-size causing pagination issues
  • checkboxes for indicating level of proficiency are always a little clunky in Word
  • Word just doesn’t have an easy-to-use form solution (my opinion), i.e. it is impossible to lock-down some fields, while allowing others to remain editable.

Here are the rough steps I used to create the final version, i.e. version 105.

  1. The entire form is mocked-up in Excel, including the titles, outlines of fields (boxes) and pages.  NOTE:  to get lightweight box outlines, use the dotted linetype in Excel.
  2. Using Adobe Acrobat X Pro, that spreadsheet is then imported into Acrobat used to define a form.  NOTE:  do not have the Excel spreadsheet open at the same time you import.  NOTE:  you can’t import twice into Acrobat Pro without hitting a bug, so always exit Acrobat between imports.
  3. Fields were then added to the form including checkboxes (this was very time consuming since each one had to be named and then the tab order set intelligently).  When that was done the form was saved.  NOTE:  this version of the form cannot be saved again from Adobe Acrobat Reader (the free tool), but it is where you would start when you want to update the form using Adobe Acrobat X Pro.
  4. In order to get a version that advisors and others can edit in Adobe Acrobat Reader (the free tool) and then save their changes to a new file, you need to do a  “Forms : Distribute” on the file in Adobe Acrobat Pro.  This will save a local copy of the distributed version or you can publish that distributed version to  Here is the link (repeated from the above) to the distributed version.  NOTE:  I recommend you save the file as the same name with “_distributed” in the title, so that you know which version you can give to others so that they can use.

IMPORTANT:  Each advisor should keep a copy of Student_A_Transcript.pdf which is fully editable.  However, when passing the Transcript to an Administrator  or outside party, the advisor should “Print to PDF” in Acrobat Reader, and thus pass along a copy that *cannot* be edited.

Future scenario A:  Suppose Big Picture moves locations in 2015, how should a new version of the transcript be created which has the new address?  Here are the steps I would use:

  • Download the version on the link in step 3 above.
  • Open that version in Adobe Acrobat X Pro.
  • Make the changes you would like (you can edit static text on the form in this case), and then save it as a new version, e.g. 106.pdf
  • In Adobe Acrobat X Pro, click the menu item to distribute the file.  A new filename is created, e.g. 106_distributed.pdf
  • You can now give 106_distributed.pdf to staff and they can edit in Acrobat Reader and save copies for students at will.

Future scenario B:  Suppose a more significant change to the transcript is needed, how should a significant revision of the transcript be made?  If the edits to the version in step 3 above are too time-consuming, then I would suggest a new mockup be made or a variation of the mockup in step 1 above be created and then the steps above can be repeated for the new form.

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