CSULA Department of English | Distributing Digital Course Materials

When it comes to distributing course materials electronically, instructors at CSULA have many options. This brief primer highlights some of the most common strategies used by CSULA faculty to distribute digital copies of instructional materials to students. Use the links below to jump directly to a topic.

Sending Email Attachments

Using Library Electronic Reserves (CSULA Library)

Course-in-a-box Online Handouts

Instructional Materials Online

Online Document Sharing Service


Sending Email Attachments (back to top)

One of the simplest ways of distributing course materials is through email. Most email programs and services allow users to copy and paste text into the body of an email. To retain the formatting of instructional materials you can send documents as email attachments. 

Student email addresses are available through GET. 

  1. Login to GET and display a list of your courses for the term.
  2. Click on the "Class Roster" icon (the three-person symbol) to display the class roster for a particular class.
  3. The next step depends on how you normally send and receive email messages. 
    1. If you normally use a program on your computer (i.e. Microsoft Outlook, Mozilla Thunderbird, Eudora, and so on) for email, click on "Email to All Students". Your email client software should start with a new message open and the email addresses of all students in the class displayed in the BCC field. Type your message and use the email client's procedure for attaching a file.
    2. If you use web-based email (i.e. Google, Yahoo, or some other online email service), you might want to click on "Send Me the Email List". You will be prompted to provide an email address to which the list of student email addresses will be sent in the body of a message. When you receive this message you can select and copy the email addresses in the body of the message and paste them into the BCC or TO field of a new message. You would then type your message and use the email service's procedure for attaching a file.

Cautions About File Format

Email attachments are a quick and easy way to share documents. Problems arise, however, when files are sent in their native format. Most word-processing and desktop publishing software use proprietary formats that can be difficult for other programs to read and so can make sharing files a hassle. Microsoft Word users tend to be unaware of these problems because most other word processors have been forced to get along in a Microsoft-dominated world. Users of other word processing software have undoubtedly encountered recipients complaining about unreadable attachments. To ensure that all recipients will be able to open and read the file, you should save the file in an interchange format, such as RTF, or create a PDF version.

Save As RTF

Before sending an attachment, users should consider saving the document in an interchange format, such as Rich Text Format (RTF). Virtually all word processing programs have a "Save As" feature, which allows a user to save a copy of an open document in a different format. In Corel WordPerfect, for example, a user can select "Save As" from the File menu (or simply press F3) to save a copy of the currently open file to a new name and new file format (or "file type" as it is sometimes called). One of the available file types is RTF, a format supported by most other programs. Please note that most formatting will be retained in RTF, but complex page formatting might be lost.

Create a PDF

Another option is to create PDF versions of documents before sending them as attachments. PDF, or Portable Document Format, is the digital interchange standard for exchanging documents. The added advantage of PDF files is they maintain all formatting and prevent users from editing the text. The disadvantage is most users do not have easy access to the software needed to create PDF versions of their documents. If you have Adobe Acrobat, you can create PDF versions of your files with ease. Additionally, some word processors and desktop publishing software allow users to create PDF versions of documents. Corel WordPerfect includes a "Publish to PDF" option (on the File menu), which allows users to create a PDF version of the currently open file. OpenOffice Writer (open source and free word processing software from Sun Microsystems) has an "Export to PDF" option on the File menu. 

Microsoft Word, however, does not support direct creation of PDF files. (A plug-in with this feature is available, however, for Microsoft Office 2007.) To create PDF versions of your Microsoft Word documents, you have two options:

  1. Download and install a "PDF converter," such as PrimoPDF. These programs are easy to install and use. 
  2. Use one of the free online services that allow you to upload documents and have the PDF versions sent to you as email attachments.  PrimoPDF (https://online.primopdf.com/Default.aspx) provides an easy-to-use free online PDF converter.

Using Library Electronic Reserves (CSULA Library) (back to top)

Any materials can be placed on reserve at the library, including class notes, student papers, exams, and handouts. Of course, books, articles and other materials can also be placed on physical and/or electronic reserve. Please note that there is a 3-5 working day wait for materials to be available and given current library staffing the wait could be longer.

For more information, visit the library’s web site (/library/facultyreserves.htm) or drop by the library and speak with a librarian.

Course-in-a-box Online Handouts (back to top)

If you are using one of the department’s "courses-in-a-box" for 095, 096, 101, or 102, then virtually all handouts associated with the course are available online in PDF format. The only course instructional materials not available online for the course-in-a-box are the syllabi, midterms, and final exams. If you are using a course-in-a-box, simply instruct students to visit the "Base Course Handouts" pages for the course. An overview page is available at /academic/english/cboxhandouts.php, which can be accessed from the Composition Faculty Resources main page. The base course handouts page for each of the courses-in-a-box are listed below:

ENGL 095 (/academic/english/cbox095.php)

ENGL 096 (/academic/english/cbox096.php)

ENGL 101-1 (/academic/english/cbox101-1.php)

ENGL 101-2 (/academic/english/cbox101-2.php)

ENGL 102 (/academic/english/cbox102.php)

Instructional Materials Online (back to top)

Some common composition course handouts are also available at the department’s Composition Faculty Resources website. Go to the "Instructional Resources" page (/academic/english/cresources.php) to access a range of common handouts.

Online Document Sharing Service (back to top)

Some faculty have access to webspace (i.e. have previously requested file storage space on the campus’ web server) and can post their course materials online and either create web pages for courses, or link the files to their faculty web page. Some faculty have used WebCT or Blackboard and so have access to online file storage through those programs. Most faculty though probably have neither. For them, there is always the wide open spaces of the Internet.

Everyone knows about video sharing sites like Youtube, but almost as popular are document sharing sites like Scribd. These document sharing sites combine social networking with texts allowing users to post, share, collect, and categorize a wide range of online documents. Some educators have discovered the utility of these sites for sharing course materials. One word of caution, though, before you get too excited—be sure to read the terms of agreement to make sure you understand what you might be surrendering when you upload a document to a document sharing site.

It is not too difficult to get started with a document sharing service. The procedure described below is based on Scribd, the most popular of the document sharing sites, but similar procedures apply to most of them. The short version is

  1. Log in to the service (become a member first if necessary).
  2. Upload your documents.
  3. Make your documents easy to find by your students by giving them meaningful names or by tagging them (assigning meaningful search terms to them) or by collecting them into a category or group. (Scribd calls these collections "groups".) For example, you might tag all documents for a course with the keywords "CSULA," "ENGL 101," and your name.
  4. Search for the documents yourself to make sure they can be found with appropriate search terms. If possible copy down the URL of the category, group, or individual document. You might be able to give students this URL to simplify their access.
  5. Make sure you know whether students need to be members of the service to view, download, and/or print your documents. (Scribd does not require membership to view and/or print documents.)

The long version for setting up a group for your class on Scribd is shown below. (You might want to print out this page since there are several steps in this procedure.)

  1. Go to www.scribd.com and click on “Log In” (top-right of the screen) to log in or if you don’t have a member account to create one.
  2. From your Scribd home page (it should display “Hello, <username>” at the top of the screen), click on “Community” in the navigation bar at the top of the screen.
  3. From the “Community” page, click on “Groups” (listed below the categories on the left-side of the screen).
  4. From the “Groups” page click on “Start Your Own Group” (left side of screen).
  5. From the “Create a New Group” page, select “Managed Public” as the type of Group you want to create.
  6. From the “Create a New Managed Public Group” page, enter a name in “Group Name” that will associate the name with a course (if that’s what you intend to use the group for). For example, I created a group named "CSULA ENGL 467." (Be sure to type the scrambled code at the bottom of the form.)
  7. From the “Upload Picture” page, you can upload a picture to associate with your group. This step is optional.
  8. From the “Upload Picture” page, you can also start uploading documents to your group. Under your group name (on the left side of the screen), click on “Add documents to this group” to start uploading documents.
  9. From the “Upload to Share” page, click on “Click to Choose Files” and then select the files on your computer that you want to upload to your Scribd group. On a PC you can use the CTRL or SHIFT keys to select multiple files. On a Mac you can use the Apple or SHIFT key to select multiple files.
  10. When your selected files are listed on the right side of the “Upload to Share” page, click the box “By checking this box...” and then click on “Upload Docs”
  11. After the documents have been uploaded, the “Describe Your Documents” page will be displayed. You can choose a category and enter tags to be applied to all the documents you uploaded (if you uploaded more than one) or you can choose categories and enter tags and a brief description for each document. Since you will probably be giving students a URL that will take them straight to your group, extensive tags and descriptions are not necessary. When you have completed this step, click on “Save Changes” to continue.
  12. From the “Share Your Documents” page, click on “Go to My Documents”.
  13. You should now be looking at a page with all (or the first 25) documents uploaded to your account. To see the group you created and the documents placed in the group, click on “Community” at the top of the screen, and then on “Groups” (as you did in steps 2 and 3 above). Your group should be listed under “Your Groups” at the bottom left of the screen.
  14. If you click on the group name you should be taken to a page that lists all the documents you uploaded to that group. Note the URL shown in the address bar of your browser. You can give students this URL and they can then access any document you place in this group simply by going to group page. For example, here is the URL for the group I created for ENGL 467: http://www.scribd.com/group/81908-csula-engl-467 .
  15. When students go to your group page, they will see a list of the documents you have uploaded. They can click on the document to read it online. They can click on “Print” to print a copy of it. They cannot download and save it, however, unless they have a Scribd account.
  16. To add more documents, simply login to Scribd, find your group, and click on “Add documents to this group”

While the above process looks very complicated, most users find sites like Scribd very easy to use.