Don’t get caught between the lines!

The start of the spring semester still looms large in our rear view mirror. Many instructors spent frenzied final hours before launch wrestling content into Blackboard. One frequent source of challenge is that nearly all of us develop our lectures, notes and syllabi in Microsoft Word and when we transfer these materials online, we unwittingly wander into a decades old battleground. We innocently expect that we should be able to copy and paste from our Word document directly into Blackboard. But the potential layers of complexity and conflict can be more than frustrating.

The root of the problem is that Microsoft Word documents contain invisible XML code that controls formatting. When you highlight and copy a selection from your Word document, you’re capturing these invisible codes, or worse, little orphaned fragments of formatting code. When you then paste your selection into a text editor in Blackboard, these invisible codes are going to haunt you, haunt you.

So, how can we safely get our content into Blackboard from Microsoft Word?

1. Consider typing the entry directly into Blackboard. Even if you’re retyping, you might just save yourself some time in the long run. Saving time in Blackboard makes you a Blackboard Rockstar.

2. From Word, you can save your work as a plain text file. (Save As, Format:Plain Text). From this new plain version, you can safely copy and paste into Blackboard. You will lose some of your formatting, but you’ll also leave behind the invisible code haunts.

3. Complicatingly, some browsers are reluctant to let you paste into Blackboard. In Chrome, if you insist, you can shoehorn your selection into the Blackboard text edit window by adding the shift-key to your (CTRL + V) or (CMD + V) keyboard paste shortcut. When you add the shift-key it tells Chrome that you’re serious. (SHIFT + CTRL + V) or (SHIFT + CMD + V) on Chrome can paste about anything into Blackboard.

It’s a bit more fiddly in Firefox. Open a new tab in the browser and type about:config. Click the “I’ll be careful, I promise’ button to proceed. The configuration screen will appear, and in the search bar at the top, search for dom.event.clipboardevents.enabled. The page will list only 1 line, and the value field should list “false’. Double-click the line, and the value field will change to “true’. After restarting the browser, your copy and paste function should work.

4. If you do end up with an ugly formatting tangle in Blackboard, there’s one last tool you can use as a sort of life ring. Once your content is in the text editor in Blackboard, use (CTRL + A) or (CMD + A)   to select everything, then use the “Remove Formatting’ option in the Blackboard toolbar.

Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 7.00.56 AM

5. Lastly, if you are desperate to retain your formatting and want to try something more wizardly, you can try converting your word document to HTML, then pasting that HTML into Blackboard. From Word, Save As, Format:Web Page (.htm). Once you’ve created the web friendly version of your document, go to the View menu in Word and select HTML Source down near the bottom. Select everything you see (CTRL + A) or (CMD + A) then copy (CTRL + C) or (CMD + C). Now, from within Blackboard, select the little HTML button slightly below and to the right of the Remove Formatting button as pictured above. A new little window for HTML entry will open. Paste your HTML in there and click Update. Voila! Blackboard is much better at understanding HTML than XML.

When done, click “Submit’ to save/post your work to Blackboard. Best of luck and safe formatting.


More information about the complexity of the issue from Microsoft’s perspective: