Philadelphia Students Gain Real-World Experience From Web and Graphics Design Curriculum


In the clamor surrounding the state of urban schools, one vital element is frequently overlooked: successful programs. Budget w'es, overcrowded classrooms and high dropout rates make headlines. Yet, as educators know, that is only part of the story. While teachers and students learn to make do with less, many districts are realizing that smart investments of time, money and talent can yield results far greater than anticipated. Such is the case at the Philadelphia School District, where instructors are using Adobe software to teach the Fundamentals of Web Design course that is part of the Cisco Networking Academy Program.

The Cisco Networking Academy Program combines theoretical and applied learning to teach students how to build and maintain computer networks and design Web sites. These classes have created a successful learning environment where students arrive early, stay late and do more work than is required. Naja Wigglesworth, a junior at Roxborough High School in northwest Philadelphia, expresses the sentiments of many students: "I am learning things that I never imagined having the opportunity to learn in high school."

A Comprehensive Curriculum

The Fundamentals of Web Design curriculum helps students explore the history of the Web and underlying Web technologies, and introduces them to the basics of Adobe software to design simple projects, such as Web pages. The latter part of the coursework deals with more complex projects, such as designing entire Web sites, video presentations and creating magazine articles. Along the way, students learn not only how to use the software, but also valuable skills such as managing their time and collaborating effectively with fellow students. Currently, 58 instructors are certified to teach the Web design curriculum at 29 Philadelphia high schools. Each instructor completes a full week of training on the Cisco Networking Academy Program, with many teachers having previous experience using Adobe Web and graphics software. This year, an estimated 900 Philadelphia high school students will complete the Web design coursework.

The hands-on design component of the Cisco Networking Academy curriculum makes use of an award-winning suite of Adobe tools, including GoLive, LiveMotion, Premiere, Illustrator and Photoshop. The goal is to show students how electronic images are created, as well as to empower them to bring their own ideas to life on screen or on paper.

Lorraine Bell, a teacher at Mastbaum Area Vocational-Technical School in Philadelphia, works with almost 60 Web design students using the Adobe software on a daily basis. From her perspective, giving students access to leading design tools d'es much more than prepare them for work in design-related fields. "There's a level of growth that happens when students begin taking the design classes," she says. "First, they realize that they can be creative on their own and not always rely on the creativity of others. Then, they discover the importance of hard work and the resulting satisfaction that comes from taking their own ideas from concept to completion."

Students in Mastbaum's Web design classes participate in real-world projects. For instance, many of the school's students live in neighborhoods where Spanish is spoken almost exclusively. As part of their coursework, students can design a Web site in Spanish for a local business, such as a grocery story or hair salon. It's a novel approach that brings students closer to their communities and exposes people who might have limited technology experience to the Web. "Students are challenged to write the text, select and design images, layout the Web pages, and get the Web sites online - all while juggling deadlines and the concerns of the business owners," says Bell.

Application Integration Encourages Exploration

It's one thing to teach students about what technology can do, and quite another to let them discover the possibilities for themselves. The Cisco Networking Academy Program was developed to encourage an active approach to learning. In addition to working on projects for local businesses, Philadelphia high school students use the Adobe software to create Web sites for their schools, Web pages for their families, online histories of their neighborhoods, and stories for video and print publications.

"A key benefit of Adobe software is its flexibility," says Chris Tully, multimedia instructor at Roxborough High School. "These are the same applications used by design professionals. What is great is that novice and more advanced users can jump in and create designs they like." And as students' skills improve, they have options for making designs richer and more interactive. The ease of using Adobe applications and their powerful features enable teachers to work successfully with students at different skill levels.

Intuitive features in Adobe GoLive offer students a point-and-click environment for incorporating advanced functions into their Web sites. Students can quickly build links between pages on a site, optimize graphics and images for on-screen presentations, create complex tables, and, if necessary, view the source code underlying their designs. With Adobe LiveMotion, students can further enhance the look and interactivity of designs by integrating Macromedia Flash (SWF) animations and QuickTime content into their GoLive Web pages.

Adobe graphics software, including Illustrator and Photoshop, enables students to create artwork, ranging from simple line drawings in black and white to colorful scenes with text, photos and images. As a result, students are more likely to create their own graphics, rather than pull stock images from commercially available sources. Equally important for students is the ability to capture their voices, import sounds from CD-ROMs and edit videos, all of which are supported by Adobe Premiere.

The integration between Adobe applications also makes it easier to personalize designs. Rather than struggling to learn five different programs from scratch, students can apply their experiences on one Adobe application to the others and achieve the results they want. "I never considered that I'd have the chance to design my own Web pages," says Roxborough High School senior Tyrell Parker. "Now I have insight into a possible career."

Effective Electronic Communication

Pat Walder, an instructor and technology coordinator at Roxborough High School, is enthusiastic about the potential of the Web design curriculum to teach students effective communication across any medium. "Creating visuals and writing text for the Web requires a different approach than laying out stories for magazines or on video," she says. "Whether it's presented on screen or in print, students need to learn how to engage their audience with clear, concise communication. It's a skill that will serve them well, no matter what they do later in life."

Apparently, Roxborough High School students share Walder's enthusiasm. What started out as one Fundamentals of Web Design course with 33 students in fall 2001, quickly grew into two courses with a total of 66 students. Eventually, a third introductory Web design course was added for spring 2002. "The hands-on design coursework is vital for students," says Walder. "They learn how to work alone, work together and manage multiple tasks simultaneously. And just as importantly, they learn to better trust their own creativity to share ideas and experiences unique to their lives."

For more information on the Cisco Networking Academy Program, visit

Anne Marie Urevick
Philadelphia teacher;
Cisco Networking Academy
Program Coordinator

Contact Information
Adobe Systems Inc.
San Jose, CA
(800) 833-6687

This article originally appeared in the 06/01/2002 issue of THE Journal.