By Marilyn J. Ellis

When I was in graduate school, I had the opportunity to teach Adobe Photoshop at a local community college. I had used a previous version of this graphics program, but the current version included new features I hadn’t used.

The most prominent skill gap I had concerned Layers. To prepare to teach this skill, I tried to glean useful information from a stack of Photoshop textbooks. After this exercise, I decided that people who wrote texts on Photoshop were more interested in showing how smart they were than in providing a clear and concise tutorial.

After a month of studying, I eventually mastered the process. I used this background information to design a simple project using a step-by-step tutorial for Layers. As I created the lesson in Photoshop, I wrote down each step in WordPad. Then, I walked through the steps I had created, making corrections as needed.

The illustration shows a picture with type superimposed, created in Adobe Photoshop.

On class day, I handed out copies of the tutorial and the picture file they needed. Then, I walked through the steps in Photoshop on a display screen while students watched. After my presentation, all but two students completed the assignment utilizing the lesson presented during that class period. (The other two finished it the next time they came to class.)

At first, I was angry because they had picked it up so easily. After all, it took me a month to dig up the same information. Then I realized I had created a valuable learning tool and invented what all those texts hadn’t—a simple solution! This article will outline how to create a simple plan to teach a complex program like Photoshop.

Preparing for class
When teaching Photoshop, you should start with the easiest tools and progress to the more difficult ones. My objective was to incorporate as many tools as possible into each lesson and have each subsequent lesson build on prior ones.

I followed this four-step plan to create each lesson:

  1. Decide what topics need to be covered in each lesson.
  2. Make sure that your lesson plan incorporates old skills into the subsequent lesson on new skills.
  3. Use Photoshop to create the lesson. After completing each step of the lesson, type it up in WordPad, and work through the tutorial you have created to make changes and corrections.
  4. Make copies for your students, and copy any necessary computer files they will need to complete the tutorial.

Creating skill levels
When planning the class, I grouped each set of Photoshop skills into three levels: beginning, intermediate, and advanced.

This is what was done to acquire the skills at the beginning level:

  • First, students worked with pixels using basic Photoshop tools. They were given a black and white bitmap image file that needed to be cleaned up. They learned to distinguish pixels using the Magnification tool, and how to edit pixels using the Selection, Magic Wand, Paint, and Pencil tools.
  • Secondly, they touched up the background of a black and white photograph in grayscale mode. They used tools from the first lesson, plus the Rubber Stamp tool, which replicates parts of photographs in order to be used in another area.
  • Thirdly, they applied color to that same black and white photo. After converting the photo from grayscale to RGB, students used the Airbrush tool in the Color mode to apply color to the photo without destroying what was underneath.

Intermediate level skills included Layers, Channels, Color Corrections, and the Eye Dropper tool.

Advanced lessons included Paths, the Pen tool, and a whole array of special effects tools under Filters. In my final presentation, I showed students how to experiment with effects once they have mastered the basics.

On class day, students used the tutorial and graphics files as they followed the lesson plan projected on a screen. Students who fell behind received one-on-one instruction at the end of the lesson.

Individual help worked in this class because the class size was limited to 10 students. With a larger class, providing individual attention is more difficult, so it helps to keep the class small enough for teaching such an intensive and comprehensive software package.
How do you move students from beginning to advanced techniques? How do you select images for them to work on? Send us your tips for teaching Photoshop so we can share them with other TechRepublic members.

Marilyn J. Ellis, MCSE, has a master’s of science in occupational education with a specialization in training and development. Her experience also includes classroom and online instruction of data communications courses at Tomball College inTomball, TX.