I was recently commissioned by Web Designer magazine here in the UK to produce a two part tutorial to create and prepare an interface in Photoshop ready for Flash Catalyst.
I expected the design to port straight across from Photoshop without any problems but there are a couple of design features that didn’t make it across. I thought it would be a good idea to share with you what they are so you can get up to speed quickly. Once you are familiar with the workflow everything is very smooth.
The main problem I had was with text that that had layer styles. Keeping the text as ‘editable’ caused Catalyst to lose any layer styling. Flattening the layer to a bitmap worked okay, but if there was a semi-transparent region – with a drop shadow for instance, then this merged with elements of any layers below. This becomes a problem when layers turn off and on as you move from one page/state to another. The solution – flatten the layer in Photoshop first before importing to catalyst. While this loses the editability of text, visually the design remains intact. So there is a trade off here depending on what you need.
The second problem was with vector shape layers that also have layer styles applied – this gave very similar problems to those found above, but the solution here was much simpler. Check the ‘editable paths and layer styles’ for that layer in the advanced import.
Once the design was into Catalyst it was very easy to apply interactivity and transitions. The main problem seemed to be importing it 5 or 6 times in order to find the right way to get the visual appearance exact. Now as I understand how the design is treated on import, I think this will be very useful software.
Archive for November, 2009
I remember vividly now. I was preparing for my K12 Connect Pro User Group Meeting. I was excited because I dialed in my content for the meeting. I had three computer screens filled with multiple Connect Pro Meetings. I was ready to dazzle my audience with the Acrobat Connect Pro Software Architecture, File Sharing Pods, Polling Pods, and Shared Content. I began to chat with someone online with me before the meeting. We both realized he was over on the next saltwater inlet over from where I lived. I thought what a small world I live in with some many people. I looked up and notice the wind was really blowing, the water was churning with white caps on the water in front of me. I thought to myself. It would be a real bummer if I was online with all of these people, being the leader of the group and would lose power. I made a joke with my new friend, “well if I disappear from the face of the earth inside Connect Pro it is because I lost power.” He joked back with me. The time approached and I realized I had more people in my session than ever before. I reached out to my friend at Adobe who is a Connect Pro expert and invited him to jump into my session as backup through an email. I saw someone from NASA even join my session. I began my session. I had a great flow going with my audience. I was having a blast and the wind kept pounding through the trees in front of me. Then it happened, a large tree went down in my neighbor and zap, the power was gone. I had a UPS, but my internet connection was toasted. I ran down to my garage and pulled out my generator. I thought if I was back within five minutes maybe people would not notice I was gone, you think of real dumb stuff in the middle of a crisis. I fired up my generator, switched over my switch box and I was back online with power. I ran upstairs, tried to fire up my computer. The computer can back online, but my internet connection was still toasted. I decided to blog about my experience to turn a “Lemon” into “Lemonade.” I have realized now that anytime I am doing a large event, I need to have backup. I would encourage everyone to have someone who can second as “Host” in your Connect Pro Meeting Room. The person should be in another state or region if you think a natural disaster may occur during your session. If I had planned it right, my friend Bruce would have joined my session. I could have promoted him as “Host” before the session began, then when I lost power, he would have notice I was gone and would step right in and continue the meeting. The trick to this strategy is that I would have had someone in a different geographic location where a power outage would not influence the outcome of the session. You live and learn, giving me another great Connect Pro war story to my collection.
My Connect Card
I have recently been working on creating an ambient art work called ‘Tracier’, which is currently on display in the Kube Gallery in Poole, Dorset. The live, interactive piece is built using Flash and takes a live video feed from a web cam. This feed is heavily processed inside Flash so that just ‘ghostly’ movement is displayed on a projected screen. Using motion tracking, Flash then takes ‘tracings’ of the image along with sampled colours, these are eroded and displayed resulting in kinetic visuals. The piece was created as part of my research and was intended to add visual interest to any public space, not necessarily a gallery.
I recently heard a colleague liken the experience of being a student in school today to that of someone riding in an airplane: you have to turn off your phone, unplug everything you care about, and stare straight ahead for hours. In an age when the economy–and many student interactions–are increasingly digital, our schools are becoming disconnected from the world our students know and falling behind in preparing students for the workforce. For many students, the result is that they are simply unbuckling their seat belts and walking off the aircraft.
Today’s dropout rates are staggering. A recent study published by America’s Promise Alliance cited that only 53% of youth in the 50 largest U.S. cities graduate from high school on time. It is a devastating statistic that–as administrators of schools large and small know all too well–seriously impacts youth and society in general. It also has major effects on districts, as they experience continued funding cuts because fewer students are attending their schools.
A study done by researchers at Texas A&M University found that Texas school districts could lose up to $1.1 billion in state funding because of declining enrollments. At a district level, these impacts can be severe. For example, after 104 students dropped out of the graduating class of 2007, the Longview Independent School District in Texas lost approximately $558,000 in state funding. Like the Texas schools, districts across the U.S. are actively taking on this problem.
“One of the biggest challenges today is keeping students in school,” says Jana Hambruch, project director at the School District of Lee County in Florida. “Discussions about improving education or funding opportunities are essential, but they mean nothing to a student who drops out. We need to keep students engaged and devise strategies that make learning more meaningful and relevant to them.”
Building on student interests
In the report, “The Silent Epidemic: Perspectives of High School Dropouts,” researchers found that 47 percent of students who dropped out said they did so primarily because they felt their classes were not interesting. Other reasons students gave for leaving school were that they thought their classes had no connection to skills or activities they would need after graduation.
Some of the most shocking statistics in this report were that 88% of the students had passing grades upon leaving school, and 58% dropped out with just two years or less to complete high school. The reality is that students are not flunking out. They are getting up and leaving due to disinterest, low expectations, doubts about the value of what they are learning – or a combination of all those things.
In a report released by the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) titled, Focus on Technology Integration in America’s Schools, it was noted that by effectively integrating technology, districts saw significant improvements in student retention, achievement and teacher quality. In high-need districts, the high school graduation rate increased as much as 14%. More than simply making school ‘exciting,’ the report notes that the use of technology has a measurable impact on student test scores in math and reading.
From this perspective, the value of effectively integrating technology into curricula is apparent. In the U.S., the availability of Race to the Top funds is currently driving even greater innovation and reforms at schools. To better engage students, district administrators are exploring new programs that enhance student outcomes and give them essential design, development, and communication skills that will serve them long after graduation. The aim is to appeal to students’ penchant for technology and desire for real-world skills by teaching them how to use the software that business and creative professionals rely on daily.
State and district leaders have been looking at technology rich programs, and in particular career focused programs to bridge the chasm between student interests, the real world and our schools.
Real returns from CTE
Success at the School District of Lee County in Florida highlights the opportunities. Several years ago, educators in Fort Myers, Florida became concerned that Lee County was not effectively reaching all of its students. They set out to create a program that would prepare high school students to excel in a society built on information and technology. “We believed that an exciting program focused on technology would entice students to stay in school,” says Hambruch. “It would also produce well-qualified graduates with skills to pursue high-paying technical careers.”
To help achieve its goals, Lee County School District opened in 2005 the Academy for Technology Excellence (ATE) at Dunbar High School, a public magnet school in Fort Myers. ATE complements Dunbar’s Center for Math and Science and offers hands-on courses taught by IT-certified instructors. Teachers and students can complete Microsoft software certifications, as well as entry-level and advanced certifications on Adobe’s industry-standard creative solutions.
“The impact of the program far exceeded our expectations,” says Hambruch. “ATE students have an enthusiasm for learning that carries over to subjects beyond technology. We’ve seen our standardized test scores increase above state and district averages, as well as an increase in our graduation rates since inception of our ATE program.” Currently, Lee County is looking to expand industry certification programs to other district high schools, and perhaps even to middle schools.
In Florida, school districts can receive $1,200 (through the Perkins Fund) for every student passing the ACA assessment. For schools, this can be a windfall, considering per student funding in some districts averages $5,000 annually. Of course, students benefit as well, coming away with skills that can translate after graduation into jobs they feel passionate about.
Taking a global view
The focus on enhancing the quality of technical education available to students can be seen around the world. Earlier this year in Australia, the New South Wales (NSW) Department of Education and Training invested approximately $20 million dollars (Australian) in Adobe solutions. The software will be provided to more than 741,000 NSW government K-12 students and 50,000 K-12 teachers, as well as to more than 500,000 students and 10,000 of their teachers in high-quality job training programs.
The rollout of Adobe software is part of a much larger Australian government initiative called the Digital Education Revolution, which also includes providing students and teachers with laptops, expanded wireless capabilities, and additional software. The aim is to transform teaching and learning in Australia by giving students the skills to live and work in a digital world.
“NSW public schools lead the nation in providing computer resources, giving our teachers and our young people the vital skills they need to help them succeed in our IT savvy world, said NSW Premier Nathan Rees. “The combination of the laptops and the software contracts we have signed will open our classrooms up to the world. Using this software, students will be able to create videos, edit photos and make presentations for class assignments and projects.”
The efforts in NSW further enhance CTE in schools across the state, while aiding overall technology integration into everyday coursework. Students can use creative software to visually communicate and interpret complex ideas across a range of subjects. For example, students in history classes can develop interactive timelines and recreate significant historical events through dynamic, digital scenes. Or, science students can capture images of experiments, analyze details, and add visual elements to bring greater clarity to their findings.
Pathways to success
The importance of balancing student interests with proven educational approaches is more important than ever today. With so much competition for students’ attention, it makes sense to incorporate ways of learning and working that reflect their lives inside and outside of school. For educators, discussions about enhancing student creativity, strengthening problem-solving skills, or teaching students to work alone or as part of a team are nothing new. What is changing is the effectiveness of the tools available to achieve these goals.
“It’s about making education more relevant and even useful to students,” says Hambruch. “We want students to have pathways to careers they aspire to – so they are excited about what they are learning today and can see how these creative and problem-solving skills will serve them tomorrow.”
* Statistic from Cities in Crisis 2009: Closing the Graduation Gap; Prepared for America’s Promise Alliance by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center.
* From “The ABCD’s of Texas Education: Assessing the Benefits and Costs of Reducing the Dropout Rate.” The Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University – report commissioned by the United Ways of Texas.
* From “The Silent Epidemic: Perspectives of High School Dropouts”. A report by Civic Enterprises in association with Peter D. Hart Research Associates for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. By John M. Bridgeland, John J DiIulio, Jr., and Karen Burke Morison.
Testing your web sites in multiple browsers is a drag.
I typically test web pages in Safari, Firefox, and the latest release of Internet Explorer. However, I have found it necessary to test in older versions as well. This can prove difficult because I don’t have older browser versions installed on my computer(s).
Adobe BrowserLab comes to the rescue!
“Adobe® BrowserLab is an online hosted service that lets you test the pages of your web site across a variety of web browsers and operating systems. The service works by taking screen shots of your web pages in different browsers, and then displaying them in the BrowserLab application window.
You can use BrowserLab as a standalone service, or integrated with Dreamweaver CS4. The standalone service lets you test pages that you’ve posted to a server within the context of a web browser. If you use BrowserLab as an integrated service with Dreamweaver, you can test your pages from within Dreamweaver without publishing your pages to a server.”
The following browsers are supported:
- Firefox 2.0 – Windows XP
- Firefox 3.0 – Windows XP
- Firefox 3.5 – Windows XP
- Chrome 3.0 – Windows XP
- Internet Explorer 6.0 – Windows XP
- Internet Explorer 7.0 – Windows XP
- Internet Explorer 8.0 – Windows XP
- Safari 3.0 – Macintosh OS X
- Safari 4.0 – Macintosh OS X
- Firefox 2.0 – Macintosh OS X
- Firefox 3.0 – Macintosh OS X
- Firefox 3.5 – Macintosh OS X
BrowserLab also gives you the ability to view your page in “2-up” view and the very cool “Onion Skin View.” Two-up view allows you to scope-out a web page in two different browsers in a side-by-side layout. Onion Skin View overlays the pages so that you can quickly spot any major layout problems.
Visit Adobe Browserlab
Onion Skin View
Last month, I participated in a phone interview with the education team at Adobe to talk about how the University of Denver is using Flash Media Server to stream both live and on-demand content across campus and out into the world. The resulting article was recently published on the Adobe Developer Connection website.
Topics covered include our CourseMedia™ system, live events, and various video uses across departments. It’s a fairly quick read and a comprehensive look at what DU is doing with media streaming using the Flash Platform.
Check it out: Q & A with Joseph Labrecque
Acrobat ConnectPro User Community is a great community site which is free and a place where you’ll find a wealth of resources that will help you learn the technology and connect with others who are passionate about the Adobe Acrobat Connect Professional Suite. The site is broken down in five main sections: Community, News, Events, Learning Center, and Forums. The Community section offers User Group management, connecting you to others in your geographic or industry, a Member Directory, Community Gallery where you’ll find Adobe Presenter Presentations, recorded Connect Pro meetings, Partner Showcase, and Spread the Word. The News section offers the ability to Subscribe to the News RSS Feed to any News and/or Blogs that are happening within the community. The Events section alerts anyone to upcoming Meetings, Seminars, and lists an archive of past records of key meetings and presentations. In addition, the Learning Center contains tutorials, topic of the month, Connect Pro Extensions, and Additional Resources. Finally, the Forum section allows for the ability to community members to post important information, announcements and events. I started Connect Fridays for the Adobe Education Leadership Program and now have moved over to manage a monthly ConnectPro User Group meeting for K-12. Please join me every third Thursday of each month, 11:30 a.m. Pacific Standard Time to learn about the ConnectPro suite. Everyone is invited! Meeting URL: http://www.connectusers.com/groups/k12/events/389/.
My Connect Card