In case you are tuning in for the first time, I am a Teaching Assistant for INFO 130: Intro to Web Design and Programming at Cornell. This is my fourth entry in my series on "Teaching Web Design."
Today's (or by now, yesterday's) section was all about Photoshop. Apparently, we are done covering XHTML and CSS topics and are moving on to visual design. We went over a brief guide to Photoshop today, and followed it with some exercises for the students to practice working with the program. All the computers in the lab have Photoshop 7.0, though there is a limited number of licenses, so some students apparently had to do some finagling (I insist that is a word) to use the program while a license dialog popped up.
I really don't have much to say about the section itself, since everything went by without a hitch. Even with being sick this week, I was able to explain everything clearly, and if I'm not mistaken, every one of my students was able to complete the exercises. They can all say they know Photoshop now, which is definitely brag-worthy.
I will mention that their current homework assignment involves some exercises with constructing a maze out of images, and then just with divs, all using valid CSS. This isn't hard for the typical CSS pro, but it's definitely a challenge for most of these students. Not so much because the basic concept is difficult, but because they are all encountering something nobody likes to deal with; slight pixel differences between browsers, and those tiny pixel gutters that seem impossible to get rid of.
In trying to be vague yet helpful at the same time in giving my students advice, I did everything I could to get them to be creative and think outside the box. The first thing I did was draw some alphabet blocks on the board and ask what they were. Someone said "boxes" and I replied no, with a sound in my voice that probably indicated that I was thinking, "how could you say that?" A couple students then said "cubes," and again I said no, now really surprised since I figured this was a no-brainer for Pictionary. At that point someone finally said "blocks," which had to happen eventually, and I apologized for anyone who did not get to play with blocks as a child. I then explained that we build things with blocks, not "inlines," and that they would probably all benefit from getting all their elements to display like blocks for this assignment. I also recommended that they remove margins and paddings on as many things as possible. Hopefully they will get the hints, because as I told them, it's important they know how to eliminate these inconsistencies before they move on to bigger CSS designs.
Back to Photoshop… I was reminded that when I was a student in the course a year ago, and we had a different professor then, that someone in the class asked about learning Flash. The professor at the time said that they used to cover Flash, kind of in the way we covered Photoshop, but that they decided to stop covering it because Flash is proprietary technology that is expensive to work with. I was reminded of that because it seemed like a new thing to put more attention on Photoshop. I'll admit, Photoshop is an industry standard, and the cost is justified for anyone who uses it for their work, but otherwise it's just not affordable. As you might already know, I'm a fan of the GIMP, and I made sure to let my students know that rather than stealing copies of Photoshop for personal use, they should get the GIMP; I even offered to teach it to them at my office hours. At least for everything they will do in this course (and for everything I've ever done for any of the sites I've worked on), there's nothing that Photoshop has that GIMP doesn't. Sure, Photoshop is the standard, but it still seems a little silly for us to insist on using open source technology like PHP and MySQL, only to go the complete opposite route by using Photoshop for graphics. It's not a big deal, since Photoshop is available in just about all the labs on campus, but someone has to show some love for the GIMP. Besides, if you lack artistic talent like I do, there's no way you can justify the cost of Photoshop. No way at all.