Art school rolls out collaborative markup tool

Students at Toronto’s Ontario College of Art & Design (OCAD) will soon be using a new online collaboration tool aimed at providing them with the skills and knowledge they need in the digital world.

The technology, created by Toronto-based Octopz Inc., allows students to synchronously view and mark up a variety of digital media documents such as video, animations and images. The tool also allows users to communicate with each other while using it, via built-in text, voice and video chat.

Octopz’s application will be available to students in OCAD’s laptop program – an initiative that allows the school to provide professional level software to students who purchase their own notebook PC. The program is open to all students enrolled in graphic design, advertising, environmental design and industrial design courses.

“At OCAD, we have a lot of collaborative courses where there’s a lot of teamwork and people from different studies, such as graphic design, advertising, and others, all working together on projects in a cross-disciplinary way,” Michael Desjardins, manager of the laptop program at OCAD, said. “What we liked about this one is that it focused on visual people, so our students can post visual media, comment on them, and review the history of these discussions. The tool allows them to can even comment on an individual frame of a video.”

Barry Fogarty, co-founder and chief evangelist at Octopz, said that the application was created for professionals in the design and art-making industries and as such is well suited to tomorrow’s creative minds.

“The students are able to collaborate on not just images, but also video and 3D models, which is precisely the things that they will be delivering to their clients when they become professionals,” Fogarty said. “Exposing the students to this sort of technology while they are still under training is a great way for us to prepare them for the future.”

Desjardins said Octopz’s tool was also the school’s ideal choice because of its compatibility with almost any media format. For instance, students in the laptop program already benefit from being able to use the latest creative software from Adobe, he said, and this application is going hand in hand with those tools.

“Basically students using the Adobe creative suite can actually upload and comment on almost any kind of file imaginable,” Desjardins said.

And it’s not just students taking advantage of the software, as Desjardins indicated that OCAD faculty members are using it as a marking and collaboration tool. And with increased involvement from the instructors, he said, comes the increasing benefits for students.

“We had a course leader team teaching a class and he wanted a way to get faculty together to discuss students’ work,” Desjardins said. “It’s not that easy for faculty to get together because their schedules are quite varied, so this will help them in that regard.

Additionally, all the work both faculty and students do with the Octopz tool – which includes marked up documents and notes – is hosted securely as a Software as a Service (SaaS) offering by Octopz, so nothing needs to be installed on the users’ computers.

“We’ve really recognized that IT departments are pretty overwhelmed these days in having to ensure that they’re system is secure and available all the time,” Fogarty said. “We made sure to build an application that we can host, but is also totally compliant with all of their security and privacy regulations. So, the IT guys are quite pleased that this has been a painless rollout for them.”

OCAD said the tool is in the implementation stage and will be ready to start using sometime this term.