For years, educators have struggled to integrate the latest in digital art and collaboration tools into the classroom. Where advanced software applications from companies such as Adobe and Corel showed promise, they also proved complex, expensive, and difficult for educators to use.

How times have changed.

In recent months, both Adobe and Corel have released scaled-down versions of their most advanced multimedia art and design products, built specifically for use in schools. To help educators integrate these tools more effectively, the companies have unveiled a wealth of free educational resources, from interactive training videos to curriculum-based learning exercises, designed to work within the parameters of a typical classroom environment.

In an interview with eSchool News, Megan Stewart, director of K-12 education at Adobe, discussed how new product developments are making it easier for teachers and students to produce professional-grade multimedia documents–including interactive presentations, school-based publications, and other materials–with minimal effort.

Reacting to concerns from educators and policy makers that today’s students need a better grasp of technology if they are to compete in the 21st century, Stewart said, product developers spent a lot of time thinking of ways to integrate aspects of advanced multimedia design and collaboration into classrooms.

Their answer? The Adobe Digital School Collection, released in early October, combines resources from four Adobe products–Photoshop Elements 5.0, Premiere Elements 3.0, Contribute 4, and Adobe Acrobat 8 Professional software.

Built with students and teachers in mind, Stewart said, the suite of products provides tools for doctoring and manipulating photos, creating interactive book reports and other multimedia-rich presentations, constructing and distributing custom-made lesson plans and classroom learning materials, updating and maintaining school web pages and blogs, creating video resources, and sharing and collaborating with parents, among other uses. The product essentially is a scaled-down version of the company’s more advanced Creative Suite, which includes such higher-end applications as Adobe Illustrator and InDesign. Rather than bog down students and teachers with more advanced applications, some of which would be beyond their current skill set, Adobe decided instead to assemble a collection that schools could utilize completely.

Where many of the features now available as part of the school collection were once reserved for school technology experts, Stewart said, new advances in development, as well as additional training resources, have made it possible for novice computer users–including teachers and students–to develop, design, and create professional-grade multimedia presentations and content.

"Educators who talk about incorporating technology in the classroom but are intimidated by expensive and hard-to learn software will be surprised at how easy using the Adobe Digital School Collection can be," said Steve Adler, learning systems integrator for the Northern Valley Regional High School District in Bergen County, N.J. "Even if you’ve never used technology in your curriculum, the software is simple to learn."

The product even comes with a Teacher Resource CD that includes resources to help educators get started, he said.

 

Besides using the software as a classroom tool, Stewart said, teachers also are using the products to create blogs, parent newsletters, and even professional development videos for use in their districts. The more educators use the software, "the more uses they find for it," she said.

Adobe isn’t the only company offering new design software for the classroom. This past summer, one of its largest competitors, Corel Corp., introduced a free curriculum for educators interested in using the company’s robust Draw Graphics Suite X3.

Designed to teach students how to integrate graphics and images into various aspects of their schoolwork, the free curriculum features integrated lesson plans and includes video training exercises, as well as PDF documents for continued study.

As with Adobe’s products, Corel says the idea is to surround students with the kinds of tools they’re likely to encounter in the years to come.

"Innovative teachers and institutions know that their students will be best prepared for the world of work if they know how to take advantage of the latest software to create the most compelling documents and presentations," said Nick Davies, Corel’s general manager for graphics. "By offering this curriculum free of charge, we’re making it easy for educational institutions to widen their students’ horizons and prepare them with the skills they’ll need to succeed in the workforce."

The Adobe Digital School Collection can be purchased through Adobe’s Open Options licensing program and pricing starts at $149 a license, a steep discount from the $1,000 or more Adobe charges for its more elite product lines. Corel Graphics Suite X3 sells in stores for $399, but like Adobe, the company also offers special education pricing.