Common Errors - Why can't students view my PDFs

Why can't students view my PDFs?

If you post PDF files as Blackboard "File" items, beware:  as of summer 2011 there is a bug in both Safari and Firefox for Mac that will prevent your students from viewing the files.  This is a browser bug, not a Blackboard bug, but there's a simple blackboard fix.

The fix -- new items

Visit the content area where you want to post the PDF file.  If you use the "File" content type to post PDF files, then when you create the item you will get a dialog similar to the one below.  Be sure to change the value of "Open in New Window" to "Yes" (from the default of "No").

The fix -- existing items

If you have already created a File item then it will appear in your site with a page icon and the name of the file as a hyperlink.  Use the contextual menu next to the name and choose "Edit".  Change the setting as above.


More detail on the problem

When you tell Blackboard to open in new window:no, Blackboard generates html code similar to:

<EMBED NAME="PDFEmbed" SRC="/bbcswebdav/xid-4847905_1" TYPE="application/pdf"></EMBED>

Firefox 4 (and later) for Mac and Safari 5.1 for Mac both broke their browser's ability to handle such "embed" tags.  Instead of showing the PDF file framed inside a browser window, they display a message about missing plugins.  We expect the problems to be fixed eventually, but possibly not till late fall.  Meanwhile you can completely avoid the problem by forcing the viewer's browser to open a new window that displays only the PDF file itself.

The problems with PDF display in Blackboard affect only the File content type.  If you build content and create a normal Item and attach a file to it, that approach will also let your students open the PDF file.

Sophisticated students can also work around the problem by a change to their browsers, installing the appropriate plug-in or by switching to the Chrome browser.

tags: PDFs, view, error, FireFox, Safari, mac, missing, plugin, flash, plug in, plug-in