Adobe's Project Rome: Term papers will never be the same

Or at least there's no excuse for them to be...it's about time.

I'm afraid I'm turning into a complete Adobe fanboy. Unfortunately, there's not much I can do about it. They keep turning out new and updated products that are incredibly powerful and frequently have direct and striking impacts on the educational market. The latest is Project ROME, which has both consumer- and education-oriented offerings. Announced this weekend, ROME is a whole new way of creating and presenting dynamic content in a completely platform-independent way. Want students to write a term paper? Give ROME some consideration before you assign that 5-page essay.

Called a "simple, powerful all-in-one content creation and publishing application," Project ROME has an entire YouTube channel devoted to tutorials, features, and promotion, but I'll let their Project Rome for Education introductory video give you a hint of just what's possible with this software:

This is powerful stuff and runs either as a Flash-driven Web application or as a desktop Adobe Air application. In both cases, it follows a SaaS model, charging yet-to-be-determined subscription fees to use the software (it's free for now while it's in beta and pricing for educational institutions is expected to be very competitive) and, in both cases, it operates on Mac and Windows PCs and the Web app runs on any Linux box with Flash installed. System requirements are remarkably low for Adobe software and just about any dual core box should be adequate, since this is essentially a relatively lightweight Flex application.

Enough about the tech specs, though. You've watched the video. What can ROME really do? Last week I described the incredible advances in Adobe Acrobat X that made the creation of modern student portfolios a snap. ROME incorporates many of these features, allowing a variety of content to be aggregated and presented, but also adds functionality from Flash Catalyst and Fireworks, among other Adobe software. Thus, ROME allows students and teachers to create as well as aggregate dynamic content.

ROME, as Adobe is quick to point out, isn't a replacement for their Creative Suite or even for Acrobat. However, spending a bit of time with the application makes it quite clear that it's powerful enough for many users who simply need to create compelling content quickly.

And that's really the idea, right? In most cases, we don't want our students and teachers caught up in learning a specific tool. We'd rather that they produce "things", whether those things are great presentations, works of art, essays, poetry, websites, or any other bits of content they can dream up. Adobe CS5 is awesome software, but it's pricey and the learning curve is steep. Outside of media labs or technical education programs, it's often overkill and it takes a relatively powerful machine to be effective.

ROME, on the other hand, while not so intuitive that most users will be able to dive in without viewing tutorials, is fairly easy to learn and more than sufficient for producing websites, Flash widgets, video compilations, galleries, and new interactive PDFs. And speaking of tutorials, the main functions and capabilities of ROME are detailed here, with step-by-step walkthroughs.

Finally, as if ROME weren't pretty cool all by itself, schools can apply to a pilot program to integrate ROME with their Moodle instance or their Google Apps for Education account.

Unless the final price that Adobe announces is exorbitant (they keep telling me it won't be), there's no excuse for students to be slogging through painful essays or teachers to be inflicting death by PowerPoint on those students anymore. ROME quite seriously has the potential to be a major game changer, both in education and the design space more generally.

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