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?