Technology and Creative Problem Solving Are the Future of Design Education: Lessons from Educator Day at Adobe MAX

Panelists pose for a photograph at Adobe’s MAX 2018 Educator Day, an event focused on the future of design education.

Adobe MAX attracts creative individuals and companies that make design their business from all over the world, but a considerable number of its attendees are educators. For them, MAX is the chance to talk about the future of design, literally; they are responsible for teaching the young people who will drive the next half-century of design and shape the world we live in.

At MAX 2018‘s Educator Day, these educators came together to share ideas, hear speakers, and collaborate on projects centered around technology in the classroom (and beyond). The key focus was not just on emerging technologies to teach students, but on how educators themselves must change the way they teach to prepare students for the future.

Rethinking the teaching process is top of mind for Michael Hernandez. He’s the broadcast journalism and film production teacher at Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach, California, and for him, the teaching transformation began with a piece of technology already in the hands of his students: their phones. This was coupled realization that he would have to go against long teaching traditions if he wanted to properly prepare his students for the future.

Embracing technology in design education

Michael spoke, alongside several other educators and industry leaders, as part of a panel devoted to teaching creative problem solving in the classroom and cultivating creativity using digital tools. According to an Adobe survey of 1,600 educators and policy makers, creative problem solving is one of the most critical skills we can teach young people, with 75 percent of respondents saying it’s key to helping students avoid the negative aspect of increased automation. Still, Michael says it’s often difficult to teach those dynamic problem solving skills within the confines of the education system.

“My ideal dream is to see teachers move to be more of the facilitator of learning rather than the fountain of knowledge. We have the answer to everything on our phones, so it makes me question the role of the teacher in the classroom; if the information can come from other places faster, and on-demand, why am I here in this classroom,” he said.

“Instead of being afraid of technology and holding it at bay, or trying to diminish it, I think we should embrace it in our role as an educator. It’s about facilitating learning, because information changes and things evolve constantly. If we’re just focusing on facts, then we’re not training our students to have the mindset to adapt. Our most important role as educators is to train students how to learn, and how to adapt, otherwise they will become obsolete.”

Wide angle view of the MAX 2018 Educator Day audience and discussion panelists.

The MAX 2018 Educator Day audience listens to a panel discussion on the future of design education.

The key to doing this was helping his journalism and video production students embrace the technology they already have, beyond the 58 minutes a day he has to teach them in the classroom. By teaching students how to work on projects using their own smartphones, allowing them to pick away at projects and be creative wherever and whenever they’d like, he’s been able to engage students in a combination of guided and self-guided learning and discovery using tools like Adobe Spark. Often, this has meant combating negative messaging many of his students receive from parents and other teachers.

“Educators and parents have been asking students to lead a double life. The life that they lead in the classroom, which is about textbooks and writing on paper and turning in essays, and then the life that they lead outside of the classroom, which is on social media, YouTube videos, and networking and collaborating digitally,” he said.

“When you do that, you make learning irrelevant to the students, they don’t see how that applies to their real life, and so we do them a disservice when we don’t integrate technology. There’s the attitude about technology that the students are told by adults, that it’s not a good thing, and there’s this idea of limiting screen time…Everyone, educators and parents, need to see that technology can be used for productive means, like in the real world, and that we should embrace that.” Michael’s students are seeing some big successes, using Spark and other tools to create new ways of presenting of online journalism that’s not only effective, but gets students excited and engaged with key lessons and takeaways.

Empowering young creatives to become change-makers

Keynote speaker Mike Weikert is the founding director of the Center for Social Design and the Master of Arts in Social Design program at Maryland Institute College of Art. He offered educators a glimpse at just how powerful it can be when you empower design students with applied learning in real-world scenarios.

The Center for Social Design embeds design students (in the MA program) in organizations. Their goal is to identify social problems and the corresponding impact on people, and how those problems can be addressed and remedied through design. His students have helped find design solutions to challenges facing health care, elder care, drug and alcohol abuse, and the fight against poverty. Always, the focus is shifting power to those directly affected by the problems themselves, by using human-centered design to influence policy-making decisions.

“Social design doesn’t solve social problems,” Mike said provocatively.

“That doesn’t mean we are not, as designers, problem solvers, but rather within the space of social design there’s a complexity to the work that makes it more than just solving problems,” he added, stressing social design’s ability to shift relationships in decision making and power dynamics.

Mike echoed the sentiments of other Educator Day speakers, saying that to cultivate that generation of creative problem solvers, educators must push forward with a new kind of teaching. We need an approach that empowers students to look beyond grades and standardized tests, he said, allowing them to seek innovation through trial-and-error, without fear of failure, and prioritize communication and collaboration over competition.

“We have a responsibility and opportunity as educators to really shift the power to the next generation of creative change-makers, because they’re the ones that I hope are going to take things to places we can’t imagine,” he added.

It’s a task easier said than done, when much of our education system remains focused on memorizing textbooks and ‘getting good grades,’ but many educators in attendance said they are hopeful an ‘education revolution’ is taking place, one in which creative design thinking and digital literacy are core of the learning process.

Adobe’s pledge to educators

While Educator Day at Adobe MAX is an extraordinary chance to come together as a global community with the goal of improving the lives of students and those that teach them, it’s not enough. We must work to push forward the ideals of digital literacy, creative problem solving, independent thinking, and lifelong learning. We, at Adobe, pledge to help educators do just that.

Join more than 550,000 educators on the Adobe Education Exchange to find free online professional development and educational resources.