Colleges and universities embrace Adobe Creative Suite 5 to teach practical skills for today's job market.
Students enrolled in photography courses at College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Ill., spend so much of their time using Adobe Photoshop that it's sometimes difficult for them to let go at the end of the day. One student, recalls professor Jeff Curto, even wrote a paper using the application's text tool, a function usually reserved for identifying digital images.
"Once our students learn the program, it becomes a big part of how they function and what they do and how they do it," Curto says. "The big question is not how they learn photography with this software, it's more like: How would they be able to learn without it in this day and time?"
In the past, photography program coordinators at College of DuPage used Photoshop as a stand-alone application. However, in 2003, Adobe started offering Photoshop as part of its Creative Suite. Today, the school's creative programs prefer the bundled version, and they wasted little time in upgrading to Creative Suite 5, or CS5, which was released in early 2010. Along with Photoshop, CS5 includes Adobe Illustrator, Dreamweaver, InDesign, Acrobat, Soundbooth and After Effects.
"These programs are the predominant market standard, and we are training students, ultimately, for the marketplace," says Charles Boone, a professor at College of DuPage who teaches computer art, printmaking and drawing. "So it behooves us to use whatever they're going to use once they reach that environment, or as close as we can get to it."
From the time College of DuPage first started using Creative Suite, the software delivered a number of workflow and usability benefits, and it's only gotten better over time, Boone says.
"The ability for us to use the different applications in a smooth workflow is part of what is necessary when teaching students – that ability to go in and doctor something in Photoshop and have it smoothly show up in InDesign or Dreamweaver," he explains.
"Those kinds of capabilities are critical because we're dealing with students who are not necessarily computer savvy. So the simpler those moves happen, the better. And that's why every time a release like CS5 comes out, it gets a little smoother," Boone adds.
Ray Valdes, an analyst with Gartner, says Adobe's upgrades typically help users keep up with the latest technological advances. Parts of the new suite, including Dreamweaver, now offer support for emerging web standards such as CSS3 and HTML5.
"Essentially, CS5 is the foundation for tracking the future of web standards as they evolve. And if you're in CS4, you won't necessarily get that level of support," Valdes says. For example, Adobe recently introduced Wallaby, a tool that converts Adobe Flash artwork and animation files created in CS5 to HTML5; the new tool doesn't support Adobe Flash files created in CS4.
College of DuPage's Curto says Creative Suite also includes a number of less familiar utilities that allow students to work more efficiently. He points to Bridge, a tool that lets students visually choose, manage, organize and edit their best photographs and convert raw proprietary camera files into electronic JPEG images.
Bridge also lets photography students open, manage and use their images in any of the other Adobe applications. In the photography curriculum, students occasionally use Dreamweaver, a tool for website development. But Curto says most are also enrolled in additional creative courses, where they use other Adobe applications, such as InDesign, Illustrator and Dreamweaver.
"If they have a project going on, where they're creating a newsletter and a website and using their photographic images in both projects, then they can see all of their assets using Bridge and be able to open them in the individual applications," Curto says. "It's a big advantage."
Academic departments at other colleges are staying on track with CS5 to keep their students abreast of industry norms. The Visual Communication faculty at the University of Oklahoma upgraded to CS5 almost immediately, mostly to determine its latest advances and any potential bugs. The faculty then integrated it within their various curriculums for the fall 2010 semester.
"It is important that our Visual Communication students graduate with a skill set that allows them to be as competitive as possible, so we evaluate and employ the latest appropriate software," says professor Eric Anderson. "We prepare students for careers in firms that use Adobe software predominantly, so its use [in our courses] is a requirement."
Other colleges upgrade because they want access to compelling workflow and online collaboration advances in specific software applications.
Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., uses CS5 to remain current in its offerings of high-quality software to students and faculty. However, the new advancements in workflow, online collaboration and usability are a definite bonus, says Fiona J. MacNeill, an academic technologist at Carleton.
Users there were especially keen to take advantage of the suite's content-aware fill function, which lets Photoshop users more easily and automatically delete unwanted objects from a photograph. The Carleton staff was also attracted to some of the improvements in InDesign that make it easier to edit, resize, move, animate and transform objects; lay out text; create corner effects; and control white space.
The number of applications and tools that come bundled in Adobe Creative Suite 5 Master Collection
"We've found that there's a level of professionalism in the materials that can be created with these types of software that can't necessarily be created to the same standard in other software programs," MacNeill explains. CS5 can actually be quite challenging to learn, she notes, but "it is the industry standard, and it is a tool that students can use beyond their time at Carleton. The investment in learning the tool is worth the payoff."
While there are plenty of compelling reasons to move to CS5, many colleges find it hard to justify the expense, says Gartner's Valdes.
"We are in a difficult economic climate, and that does weigh on any organization's decision of whether and when to do any kind of technology or application upgrade," Valdes says. "On the other hand, if higher education institutions are going to prepare students for the modern world going forward – and Adobe does offer significant educational discounts – then certainly it makes sense to upgrade. The only question is: Can the school afford to do so in these times?"
Adobe applications are no longer only for graphic artists and web designers. In fact, Fiona J. MacNeill, an academic technologist at Carleton College, says that in today's increasingly visual media society, students across all academic pursuits want to learn how to produce highly professional-looking print and web materials.
"The use of these applications is beginning to branch out across the entire curriculum, across multiple departments," she says. "Increasingly, students are using Dreamweaver to create websites, InDesign to produce posters and magazines, and Photoshop to analyze and edit digital images."
MacNeill says the school encourages the students to use the tools. "I think everybody needs to become more savvy about visual communication in general," she says. "That's just part of the awareness that's been growing on this campus, and so we are trying to integrate it more into the pedagogy."