Archive for June, 2011

June 30, 2011

AN ULTIMATE EXAM, PHOTOSHOP ELEMENTS 9 AND SUCCESS

An ultimate exam – can there be such a thing? If it is in a high school senior design class is the Adobe Digital School Collection up to the task? ABSOLUTELY – on both counts. My classes did it and the results were fabulous.

Our principal explained she needed a favour. She was the volunteer chair of our school board’s United Way campaign for 2011-2012 and she needed new posters for the campaign. The posters would be printed and distributed throughout the board (no small deal – we are one of the largest school boards in Canada) . I love authentic tasks. Having spent 20 years in ad agencies and design firms before moving into teaching I know the difference between textbook work and “real” assignments and this opportunity was incredibly real. Each year I have several students who are move into the design field in post secondary programs and for them to have first class published work in their portfolios would be fantastic.

To make it interesting I chose to do the posters as the final exam project in my senior design classes. Our provincial ministry of education allows us the freedom to create our final exams in whatever form best suits our courses and students and for me that always involves a practical design assignment. After all, we are a project driven, student centered creating, solving, building, testing and evaluating class so why not get the students to do exactly that as part of their exam. The challenge built in to this, however, is that because the poster assignment was being presented as an exam I would not be able to offer all of the feedback and assistance I would normally offer in a regular assignment. But – I had promised fabulous posters for my principal to use for the campaign. Would I be able to deliver as promised?

The software we use is the Photoshop Elements 9.0 (with Premier Elements 9.0, and Web Standard CS4 – Dreamweaver, Fireworks and Flash Pro). My senior students have repeatedly confirmed that this version of Photoshop is more than up to the task. So many tools and functionalities have been carried over from the CS4 version that it has become a powerhouse of its own. A full slate of layers functions – layer blends, clipping masks, layer masks – plus a broad range of colour functions and selection functions as well as a full range of filters means that there isn’t much you can’t do in this version. Obviously it is not the same as Photoshop CS4 or CS5, but it isn’t a pale junior version either – it holds its own and produces wonderful results. For high school classes getting into digital design I find it is a very accessible and accomplished tool.

A quick side note, should you chose to do this type of assignment – I helped many of the students with the words for the posters. We are not a creative writing class, we’re a design class, so helping them with the text really eased their concerns and allowed them to focus on what was important – their designs. Photos came from www.morguefile.com only – it allows users to use the images in almost any way imaginable and that was important to me since the school board was printing and distributing the posters and copyright issues could not interfere with this process. As part of this assignment the students also had to learn and meet the requirements of logo use for both the United Way and for our school board – yet another authentic element built into the project.

So – how did it all work out? My grade 11 classes created two posters each – one for an adult audience and one for a student audience (their choice of age range – elementary, middle school or high school). The grade 12’s did a similar assignment but had three posters to do – they also had to create a poster using typography (no illustration or photo). In all 200 posters were created – and I was delighted by the results! I presented the top 21 designs to our principal and she was totally blown away. She wanted to use all of them! Our superintendant was equally impressed and I was delighted. It had worked. A real task with a real client and a real deadline and real requirements. THIS was an ultimate exam – and in a few weeks I will learn which posters the committee has chosen so they can be prepped and printed.

One last important note. Like every other teacher I have students who bail part way through a course. It happens and sometimes you can try to overcome this but…. Well – apparently word got out to all of the students, including those who had not attended regularly, because every single student participated in the exam assignment. AND I am very pleased to say that included in that group of the top 21 designs were designs from the peripheral students. A couple of them had really come through and their work was exemplary. And isn’t that why we do what we do in our classrooms every day?

10:52 AM Permalink
June 25, 2011

Using Connect to connect with a real audience

For the last few years, our Grade 2 classes have been doing a project called “Great Inventions” which looks at the history of various common items, such as toys, bicycles, toilets and Christmas lights, to name a few. Each child picks a topic, then puts together a slideshow about it. These kids are only in Grade 2 (about 7 years old) so there are quite a good collection of research, technology and presentation skills involved in this project.

Last year, I helped the Grade 2 teachers rethink this task a little, making three main changes.

Firstly, we scaffolded the task a little more than it had been, getting the students to have only three slides (plus a title slide) – one that informed about the past history of the invention, one that informed about the present state of the invention, and the third which tried to make a prediction about the possible future of the invention. This allowed for a nice balance of factual research with some imaginative dreaming.

Secondly, we created a wiki that had a sort of “sanitised” collection of the relevant information that we wanted to students to focus on. Being only 7 years old, we felt it would be better if we pre-selected the information that they would find most useful. This meant we could then ensure the language was at an appropriate level, and it gave the kids a bit more focus on the information we knew they’d be needing.

Thirdly, I suggested to the teachers that the whole point of creating a PowerPoint instead of a poster or a printed document was that they should be presenting the final product to a real audience. In the past, the PowerPoint file was the end result on its own, but I really felt that if you go to the trouble of making a set of PowerPoint slides then you ought to be standing in front of an audience and actually presenting them.

To this end, I pushed for the idea of live streaming the student presentations out onto the open web so that parents, friends, grandparents, etc, could log on and watch their child present to the rest of the class. After carefully addressing the obvious concerns, letters went home to parents and the student presentations were live streamed using the free UStream service.  Feedback from parents was very positive.

A full explanation of the project from last year can be found here http://chrisbetcher.com/2010/07/redesigning-learning-tasks-part-2/

Following on from the success of last year, the teachers were very keen to do it again this year. When they approached me about setting up the live stream again I started to set up the same UStream channel, but I was dismayed to realise just how much advertising is now being inflicted on UStream users. Ads were being injected into the streams, and the UStream website has so much advertising on it that it’s basically unusable for schools.  I looked at other alternatives, such as Livestream, but without much success.

Then it dawned on me… why not use Adobe Connect? I don’t know why I didn’t think of it sooner, but Connect is a perfect tool for this kind of thing. Not only is it clean of advertising, it’s as private as you want to make it. We decided to still make the room completely open to guest access for anyone who knew the URL, but it’s good to know that higher levels of access security are possible.

We arranged a layout using the modules we wanted, with a backchannel chat, a live video window and also the shared screen of the student PowerPoint. This meant we were able to not only watch the student actually present their work, but we also got to broadcast a high quality version of their PowerPoint output screen as well. Because we had the Connect-enabled computer connected to the classroom Interactive Whiteboard, the student could simply stand at the board and present as usual, but the video and shared screen would both be broadcast synchronously with each other. We also used an external Logitech High Def eyeball-style webcam with a built in microphone, so the quality of the audio and video was quite good. It all worked really well.

As intended, the chat room soon became populated with parents and grandparents logging in to watch their little darlings. The positive comments from the chat room, and the fact that it was an authentic audience they were presenting to, were hugely motivating factors for the students. Every child that got up to present their work knew that it was not just their classmates and the teacher watching them, but a whole audience “out there” on the Internet. That sort of authenticity makes a big difference.

Adobe Connect was exactly the right tool for this sort of thing. As well as the fact that it was relatively protected and ad-free, it also allowed us much better control over the virtual presentation space, the layout, the participants, the backchannel, etc. The presentations were all recorded and archived so that parents – and teachers – could revise the presentations and watch them again if necessary.

The parent feedback was extremely positive. Within the hour after the first set of presentations, the Grade 2 teachers had received several emails from parents who were over the moon about being able to watch their child from their home or office, such as this one…

Thank-you for the opportunity to watch the presentations this morning through a live stream.
I was very happy as I managed to log on just as Ashley was about to begin! It was so impressive to be able to watch the wonderful presentations and comment at the same time. I did have to turn the volume up high on my speakers but it was good to see Ashley get up and she was looking forward to doing her presentation.
I think it’s a wonderful tool for the students.

And this one…

I just wanted to share with you & the girls that both my husband & I really enjoyed the webcast of the Invention Presentations this morning very much!
It was really wonderful to see the great work & preparation that the girls have put into researching their topics, & their Powerpoint skills are just fabulous! They could teach some of my team here at work a couple of things about clip art & animations!
We would love another opportunity to dial into the classroom one day.

For all the hoo-ha about students accessing the Internet and the supposed dangers of students being online, I think the results of this session with Adobe Connect, and the positive feedback from the parents, speak for themselves.

9:56 PM Permalink