As Adobe launches CS6 and its cloud dazzlers, Hugh John looks at one of schools' best software deals 
Adobe's Kevin Lynch Adobe's Kevin Lynch places people into scenes to demo new appsAdobe's global launch of its new Creative Cloud online service and Creative Suite 6 (CS6) software has turned many heads. There was genuine astonishment at the London demos (see videos below) with the realisation of what can be achieved on desktops and tablets with the new generation of application and apps.

In the rush to embrace the new, however, it would be foolish to overlook what remains one of the outstanding education resources and tremendous value for money into the bargain, namely the Adobe Digital Schools Collection.

Comprised of Photoshop Elements 10, Premiere Elements 10, Acrobat X Pro and a wedge of lesson plans from some of Adobe’s most talented Education Leaders (EALs), the latest Adobe Digital School Collection is geared to generate enthusiasm and creativity among students and teachers, and not just in subjects such as art, graphics and design.

'Adobe Acrobat X the unsung hero for media-rich e-portfolios'

ADSC is a cross-curricular tool that gives users the opportunity to express themselves in a contemporary idiom. Digital communication – image, sound, video – can be organised and manipulated in an astonishing variety of ways and is now a compelling alternative, or supplement, to text-based presentation. Key to this process is Acrobat X Pro, the unsung hero of the trio, which can be used to create, manage and disseminate media-rich e-portfolios. 

Free lesson plans and curriculum-related content are available from the Adobe Education Exchange, an online exchange community which is host to a wide range of free, teacher-generated, teaching and learning resources. They are developed, says Adobe, “by teachers from around the world who are already integrating technology in the classroom with great success”. (See "Adobe pushes creativity in online space for teachers".) And it's also worth checking out the video tutorials at Adobe TV.

Photoshop Elements (PSE) has long been (would you believe 10 years?) an exceptionally versatile and powerful image editor and "astute" doesn’t begin to describe the way in which Adobe’s developers and designers have managed to establish and maintain a clear distinction between PSE and 'big daddy" Photoshop while steadily, almost stealthily, increasing PSE’s editing capabilities. 

Photoshop Elements Photoshop Elements 10: simple click for Warhol effectAs in previous versions, the home screen offers users two options: Organize and Edit. Organize, essentially a digital asset management (DAM) tool, is where you’ll do the cataloguing and archiving of both images and videos. (Photoshop and Premiere Elements share the Organize function) There is also the opportunity for some fairly basic editing within the Organize module, the default options being mostly auto-fixes (Color, Levels, Contrast, Red Eye, Sharpen). These uncomplicated tools will be welcomed by less experienced users.

Given the number of pictures now being taken, importing, sorting and storing digital data has become a core function of image editing software. PSE gives users the choice of automated or manual manipulation. Import a portrait using Organize for example, and the very clever face-recognition software will bracket the face and ask "Who is this?" Smart technology or what! This time round Adobe has added new search tools including "Search by Object" and "Find Duplicates". You can also search by History, Media Type, Metadata, Filename. You get the picture? Well, you will...

When importing images, either directly from camera or card reader, the prompt "Organize and Edit using Adobe Photoshop Elements" reveals a bunch of very useful time-saving options, including File Rename, Subfolder Creation, Fix Red Eye and Import Into Album. 

Edit, the other home screen selection, presents a gamut of editing tools spread across three modules: Full, Quick and Guided. Full is, effectively, a 'Photoshop Lite' palette. That is, most of the functionality of the full Photoshop program wedded to an Adobe Lightroom-style interface – all muted browns and blacks – with a vibrant and intuitive set of editing icons running down the left side of the screen. Experienced image editors will appreciate the fine tuning of effects available in the Full option. New to this version is Text On Path – a very useful tool familiar to Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop users – which allows text to be wrapped around the contour of a defined object. There are also 30 new effects in the Smart Brush palette

Quick, the second option, has a smaller tool-set (Zoom, Handtool, Magic Brush, Crop, Redeye, Black and White, High Contrast and, er, Whiten Teeth!) but offers a useful collection of slider functions that make for quick editing of Lighting, Colour, Balance and Sharpness. 

'Guided' is PSE at its most avuncular and benign, leading the user through a set of wizard-style progressions that result in some very powerful effects. Depth of Field? Lomo? Pop Art? No problem. Just click on the two- or three-tab process and you’re there. These hand-holding procedures have their critics but they’re a great way to introduce students to post-production image manipulation and to encourage creativity and experimentation.

Premier Elements 10 – 'consolidation, connectivity, compatibility and automation'

This time around with Premiere Elements 10 (PE10) it’s about consolidation, connectivity, compatibility and automation. When you’re tied to a 12-month production cycle, as Adobe seems to be with ADSC, it’s unrealistic to expect ground-breaking innovation year on year. The improvements in PE10 – and there are plenty – are unspectacular, but nonetheless significant. First, the program is now available as a 64-bit application which heralds an all-round and welcome boost to performance. Video clips load up faster and editing processes are quicker. 

Adobe is doing its bit for the connected world. Uploads to social media websites are easy-peasey; it is now possible, for example to upload directly to Facebook and YouTube and Flickr. Key to this content dissemination is the Share tag which allows users to broadcast their content in any way they choose. Video clips can be sent as email attachments, BluRay or DVD discs or as an online album.

What makes this connectivity even more attractive is that Premiere Elements recognises and can import most video file formats. As well as Adobe Flash, AVI movie, MPEG Movie, Windows Media and QuickTime Movie, PE10 will import and export in AVCHD (Advanced Video Coding High Definition), a format for the recording and playback of high-definition video. It will also import video from mobile phones via Apple’s QuickTime (Adobe cautions that the most recent version should be installed on your computer).

Automation? Not only do you get automatic video and people tagging, you also have – new in this version – AutoTone and Vibrancy which automatically adjust the tonal quality of video clips. It’s not, however, the blunt instrument one might expect as there is an over-ride function which allows for manual editing and adjusting of brightness, contrast, exposure and black-and-white levels with individual slider controls. Also new is the Three Way Color Corrector which offers subtle adjustments to hue, saturation and brightness.

Adobe has freshened up some of its more popular effects, most notably, the Pan and Zoom tool, known to film aficionados as the "Ken Burns" effect. Pan and Zoom is a technique that simulates video from a single or collection of still images and has been used to great effect by the aforementioned American film-maker. Adobe’s version of Pan and Zoom employs the Auto-Analyzer function to identify individual faces within a single image and create a tracking effect, pausing on each face and zooming in and out as required It’s a very powerful tool and one likely to be used repeatedly by enthusiastic young film-makers! With more than 80 other video effects available in PE10 there’s never been a better opportunity for varied and creative film editing. 

Adobe believes that its Digital Schools Collection represents terrific value for money and who’s going to argue? The street price of the Photoshop and Premiere Elements bundle plus Acrobat X Pro is in excess of £100. Schools opting in to Adobe’s licensing scheme and buying more than 100 ASDC units would pay £30 per pack. That’s a saving of more than £70; no small amount for such an excellent package, available, incidentally in virtually identical formats on both Windows and Mac platforms.

Add 'touch' apps, 'Creative Suite 6' and Creative Cloud for an explosion of new tools

This collection was the bottom line of what has been available from Adobe for schools. Before the recent creative explosion that has produced the tablet 'touch' apps  for iPad and Android (five of them, at £6.99 each), Creative Suite 6 (CS6) and the Creative Cloud, the online space where Adobe's clients can store their work and collaborate online.

The new CS6 software, launched at a prestigious London venue (see video below) will be available within a month and Adobe is holding the price for education at the same level as the previous version. Together with the new apps it massively extends the range of tools and the sharing possibilities for Adobe's community.

Imagine how much easier it will be for students to learn from each other when they are using tablets - passing them over for each other to try out features and approaches. Photoshop Touch itself is impressive enough on iPad or Android tablet (in this case Samsung Galaxy Pad) but the full range of apps give students a mind-boggling range of possibilities including multimedia brainstorming (Ideas) and prototyping (Proto).

Teacher feedback has been positive. One of Adobe's Education Leaders, teacher Renaldo (see "The Innovators: 24 Renaldo Lawrence"), was at the London event, and provided a down-to-earth back channel to the astonishing demonstrations – "Yes, you could do them too," was the gist.

But even he was bowled over by the sheer scale of the advances. "Adobe CS6 is a revolutionary product release that gives me and my students the opportunity to create real-world projects with tools that are, quite simply, the best in the world," he said.

"Having access to these products means my students are a step ahead of most of their peers when they start their careers. With the economy still recovering from recession and the demands on today's workforce so great, it is imperative that young people have experience in using technology in order to succeed. These tools are an important part of that. For my students to have the same power at their fingertips as real producers creating major motion pictures is truly amazing."

The move on to digital tablets is impressing other school users of Adobe. Andrew Field, head of ICT at Neale-Wade Community College near Cambridge, said: "The Adobe Touch Apps and the Creative Cloud mean my students can now use a tablet as a great prototyping tool. They can design and plan on their tablet, then upload to the Creative Cloud, and in an instant their design appears in Dreamweaver for additional coding and development. Brilliant!"

Adobe has consistently majored the importance of students' creative abilities and skills, particularly since the Coalition Government's silence on technology for learning and the failure to connect it to the central role of digital creativity in the UK economy. And it placed the debate right at the heart of the London launch of its new wave of products with a panel discussion by innovators who included designer Wayne Hemingway. Education, and the way digital tools have democratised creative processes, was central to their discussion (see video below).

While the first iteration of the Creative Cloud, Adobe's online service where users save and share their work, will also be available for schools, many will probably want to wait for later versions. Access to the Creative Cloud is part of the individual education subscriptions to the new apps suite and comes as part of the Student and Teacher edition of Adobe Creative Cloud at £18.26p a month based on an annual licence. But before getting lost in figures bear in mind that with such a huge range of offerings, Adobe is likely to engage a flexible approach to meet schools' needs (see links below) and offer them licences to many different tools. But one thing is sure the market for digital pads will have to move even quicker and dispose of school PCs before the sheen on the Adobe Digitral Schools Collection is dimmed.

Ratings (out of 5)

Fitness for purpose 5
Ease of use 4
Features 5
Quality  5
Value for money  5

Adobe Digital Schools Collection 

Adobe creative software package for schools. Consists of Acrobat X Pro, Photoshop Elements 10 and Premiere Elements 10 (prices below)
Adobe Digital Schools Collection  
Adobe Education Exchange    
Adobe TV 
Adobe volume licensing 
Adobe education supplier prices also at Pugh Education

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