Embedding PDFs Stored in Google Docs

It should be easy to upload a PDF to Google Docs and then embed it into a WordPress blog, and I’ve wasted a lot of time trying to figure it out. Here’s the story and the solution:

Schools that run WordPress (WPMU) for teacher and student blogs have a very powerful tool at their disposal. There are, however a few workflow issues that can greatly impact teacher buy-in and the consistent application of best-practices. Perhaps the most vexing problem to me is the issue of attaching and/or embedding documents.  As a single blogger it’s not too hard to come up with an attachment workflow that works, and it usually isn’t a problem to find a location to host the files, but it quickly falls apart when scaled to a large group of teachers who have widely varying competencies and extremely tight storage limits on their blogs.

Although I’m not personally a fan of cluttering up blogs with endless embedded documents that bring load-times to a crawl, I do understand that a large percentage of teachers want to get their pretty documents straight into their blogs. They want something simple to get them from a highly stylized Word document to an easily printable embed on a blog post.

Many teachers have learned to use Scribd, but the advertisements and need to log-in in order to print make it a poor solution. I thought I had found the solution in embedit.in but after some trials, we found that despite its perfect interface and lovely embeds, uploaded documents often got stuck “processing” for days.

Then I thought I had a good solution using Dropbox*, but the IT director balked at the reliance on a bunch of unmanaged, free dropbox accounts. Since my school is belatedly embracing Google Apps, I really wanted to find a Google Docs solution as it would help drive people toward exploring it more.

There are quite a few nice WordPress plugins which turn PDFs into embeds, so how about uploading PDFs to Google Docs and then linking to them. With plugin names like Google Doc Embedder (GDE) and Google Docs Viewer you might think it would be a breeze. Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple.  The author of GDE clarifies:

“… a common misconception that I regret. It’s called Google Doc Embedder because it uses the Google Docs Viewer, but changes after Google made this service publicly available made Google Docs themselves difficult or impossible to embed in this way…”

At my prior school, we used Google Sites and it was easy to use a Google Docs Widget to add Google Docs, but uploaded PDFs were tricky. I had previously found that Mori79’s PDF widgets worked wonderfully, so I took a look at the URL that was embedded in the iFrame of a Google Site using his widget. Eureka!


From here, it was easy to get this into an iframe. I’m not much of a coder so I chose to use the excellent Embedder Plugin to generate a slightly easier shortcode. The added advantage is that if Google changes their URL formatting for their viewer, I can change it in the plugin rather than every post that uses the embed code.

Thus, users can now upload a PDF to a public folder on Google Docs, grab the doc ID and add it to a shortcode like this:

[gpdf id=”0B-PPWU-EByz4MWFlZjAjAtN2E1Mi00YjFlLWJkYzgtMmJiMWYE1NDM0″]

to get this:

<iframe src=”https://docs.google.com/viewer?embedded=true&a=v&pid=explorer&chrome=false

which renders this:

Do I think this is a good workflow for teachers? No, of course not, but I’m hopeful that the developers of the existing Google Viewer plugins will incorporate this. Better yet, someone will extend the WP media uploader so that instead of the file uploading to the WP site, it uploads to Google Docs (or other cloud location) and then generates a link or embed for it.

I’d love to read about work that others may have already done in this area.

* The Dropbox solution was really a lot simpler than this Google Docs nonsense: user saves as a PDF directly into their public dropbox folder. Then they navigate to it, right-click to get the public link and paste it into a blog post. Then a plugin like dirtysuds embed does the rest.
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Crisis & Opportunity

An object at rest will stay at rest unless an unbalanced force acts upon it.

Throughout history, opportunities for change have arisen from times of crisis. New leaders emerge and people consider new ideas that had been, up until recently, quite unpalatable.

Remembering what the road of good intentions is paved with,  the more cautious among us may be hesitant to step forward during such times, but we must remember that with or without our input, the problem will have some sort of solution – why not be a part of it? We’ve all had a nagging desire to improve something but we don’t know how get others interested; sometimes a little crisis can provide an opportunity finally get some traction on it.

Here in Bangkok, we’ve had our own little crisis in the form of a biblical flood. My school was forced to close, and teachers were required to provide an online learning program. This was to be implemented on through the class websites. Unsurprisingly, all of the simmering issues people had previously had with the blogs suddenly became important. In comparison to the flooding around us, these problems were pretty small, but trying to provide support to a school of teachers using only an iPhone with a slow Edge connection gives one some clarity on what issues really need to be addressed. More important, those teachers suddenly cared — that’s momentum.

For those of my friends a little further along than us, these may seem like embarrassing shortcomings, but our blogs (WPMU) had no standardized theme elements, navigation structure or categorization, and several specialists teachers were not currently blogging because nobody had ever told them they had to.

When we returned to school, I met with my principal to discuss how to address these issues, and a few hours later, I was presenting a simple plan to the faculty of how we would reform and standardize some of our blogs.  The result was that my ICT colleague and I had what we both felt was one of the most positive work experiences of the year. Each team we met with had a great interest improving their blogs. They saw the direct impact on teaching and learning. It was easy for them to understand when we told them that some of them would need to change their themes, and nobody complained when we tweaked their menus. Teachers who had previously yawned impatiently when forced to sit through training sessions were now approaching us asking questions like, “How to I easily have students submit webcam captures to my blog via Youtube?”

Maybe my best day of the year supporting #edtech: Nothing like a flood and school closure to help teachers embrace the power of class blogs.
Brady Cline


Yes, these are pathetically small potatoes, but something dramatic has happened: there is a shared vision between senior management, teachers, and the ICT department. How about some mixed metaphors: we got the ball rolling and hopefully it will continue to snowball. It’s not a lot of movement, but we’re not standing still.

An object in motion tends to stay in motion.

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Chemical Beginnings

My grandfather had converted his garage into a darkroom and worked mostly with medium format. Every now and then he’d let me shake the canisters, and when he bought an early video camera (Sony Betamax), he put my brother and I to work lugging around the equipment. As long as I can remember, photography has had a place in my heart.

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Back Catalog

If I had to pick just one hobby, I would probably choose music. Funny enough, it’s the one I’ve spent the least amount of time on in the last few years. Sure, I’ve practiced guitar a bit, and I’ve helped some talented friends record some demo tracks, but I’ve done precious-little writing and zero recording.

The inclusion of the “Creative” section of my blog is basically an attempt to blackmail myself into doing more music. Until I get there though, I suppose it would be appropriate for there to be at least a few tracks available here to reward the three or four people who click their way here.

I’ve chosen these three tracks, for no other reason than because they are completely different from each other. If you hate one, maybe you won’t mind another.  None of these three, however, would I really consider fully developed songs. I’ve got those, but most of them are still in rough demo form, and like most things you really care about, you want them to be just right before sharing them.

Eclectic Sampler by bradycline

Track Notes:

  1. All Those Birds: I had fiddled around with that main part in C#m for 10 years, but while in Hawaii in 2009, I finally added a chorus-type section and an outro. I was hanging out one day in the studio with Richard Harrison, owner of Grass Shack Records, and he asked me to record something. I’d always thought this song should be on nylon strings so I gave it a few takes. Back at home, I overdubbed the bass and drums. I asked my dad to add a guitar solo, and while going through several takes, I kept hearing a bunch of birds chirping outside in the headphone monitors. Thus the name of the song.
  2. Blame This on the Blues: While living in Wiesbaden, Germany, I set out to record a few proper songs that had been sitting in my notebook for a few years. With one, titled Blame This on You I foolishly laid down a drum loop and rhythm guitar without actually singing it in my head. The result was something that was completely incompatible with the song. I kinda liked the groove though, so I turned it into a bluesy jam with a few of the lyrics of the original song sprinkled in with an alternate melody. I like to think of  it as well-suited for a non-album track on the 12-inch single. Maybe just the Japanese import.
  3. Pygmy Pie: I have no idea where I got this title from and I’m not really sure what genre this fits into. Like too many of my recordings though, this one started out with me fiddling around instead of tackling a finished song. Despite the electronic feel to this song, I played quite a bit of live instruments on this one: drums, bass, and guitar. They’ve been chopped up, looped, and covered in a healthy serving of techno nonsense, so the end result isn’t what you could really call organic. It’s all kind of silly and sloppy, but I think it might actually sound alright in a sweaty dance club.
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Hello World

Search Google for “ed-tech” and you’ll get three million hits. What’s one more self-promoter on a blog-sized soapbox?  It’s still profound to talk about revolution and the unknown jobs of the future – right?

Yes, I’ve got some of that in me, but there are already enough tech-evangelists in the echo-chamber, so this blog aims to take a step back and examine some of the more concerning trends in ed-tech. What interests me in particular is the popular implication that everything we used to think about education no-longer applies. Far from being unique to ed-tech, these are the same progressive bromides that have dominated education for several decades.

The view that education is a pathetic shadow of what it could and should be is not, however, completely without merit.  Too often though these complaints rely upon the straw man of a really terrible teacher boring a group of nice kids that have all the potential in the world if only the teacher would let them work in collaborative groups to make a poster about their feelings.  If only.

That’s the gist of what I learned in teachers’ college ten years ago. Today, the tech-evangelists are saying basically the same thing, but now they want us to make a blog post instead of a poster. Again — this is not all, or even mostly, wrong, but there’s an awful lot of rhetoric which suggests that serious pedagogy is nothing but an impotent leftover from a crumbling educational bourgeoisie.

Well, I’m not much on Marxist constructs and I’m not persuaded that everything we used to think about education is now wrong. And even if it is, there is still a question to answer: what’s the way forward? It’s not enough to be a cheerleader.  We must articulate arguments and test them in marketplace of ideas.

What better place than on a blog?

Does anything I’ve written strike a chord? As I set out on this new blogging adventure, I’d be thankful if it were more than a conversation with myself. Suggestions, disagreements or just a pithy anecdote would be very appreciated (along with a tweet/like).

Short Bio on Brady

Brady Cline works in Singapore as the Learning Innovation Coordinator at GEMS World Academy. He holds an administrative certificate,  M.Ed in teaching, and B.S. in psychology. He has taught in seven countries in a variety of positions in high school and elementary. Before becoming a teacher, Brady worked in his original home of California as a project manager for a dot-com start-up.

More on Brady here

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