Creativity for All in Higher Education: Reflections from EduMAX and Adobe MAX

by Karen Freberg

posted on 11-15-2019

EduMAX and Adobe MAX have become my favorite brand conference experience. The fact that learning is so experiential in nature is what makes Adobe MAX and EduMAX so unique. We have labs, workshops, presentations, keynotes, and receptions to attend. We are able to connect, discover, and learn from everyone across the industry. Each year, I come back with a load of new ideas, insights, and practices to bring to my classes at the University of Louisville.

This year marked the fifth anniversary of EduMAX, the first one started at USC in 2015. Designed to unite partner with education partners and clients to help bridge the gap between education and industry.

In 2019, EduMAX has become a place to hear from peer institutions on what universities and students are able to do with Adobe products. Peers and fellow colleagues are able to share their journey and stories on how they have integrated Adobe tools and products in their campuses, making a lasting impression and impact on the lives of the students, faculty, and staff at these academic institutions.

There were many takeaways from the experience in Los Angeles, so here are a few I would like to share:

Adobe is committed to education

This was a very strong theme that came across for me during both events. Bryan Lamkin, executive vice president and general manager of digital media at Adobe, shared this in his talk to the educators for EduMAX about how there are many challenges in education, and that Adobe understands how educators are on the frontline, being flooded with constant changes, expectations, and trends they need to be incorporating into their classes and work. Lamkin also went on to explain the role creativity has within education – everyone is aware of the deep changes happening in the workplace, and many jobs, skills, and industries will be changed because of it. We need not only creative people but creative problem solvers. As a professor, this point struck out to me because as I tell my students – creativity can be applied and used in many different ways.

Another aspect that is important to point out from Adobe MAX and EduMAX was the fact that there were many different universities and institutions represented in their presenters. We had Mesa Community College share their digital storytelling journey in captivating the stories of the Native American tribes and communities in their courses. We heard from Winston-Salem State University about how they were able to bring together students and their faculty on the latest tools to incorporate into their classrooms. We had big institutions presenting at the event such as the University of Florida and Clemson University. We heard from students, faculty, and staff – representing diversity in roles within the education space, which was very refreshing to hear and see. The integration of diverse presenters and audience members really created a dynamic learning environment for everyone.

In addition, one of the takeaways I had from EduMAX on this point is the fact that Adobe is not only investing in education at these respective campuses, but bringing on board leading educators to be part of their team. It was announced at EduMAX that Todd Taylor, who was an English professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, is now the pedagogical evangelist for Adobe. Todd’s role is about working with academic institutions on how to integrate Adobe products into their curriculum to address digital literacy and creativity challenges and opportunities. I think this is the first time I’ve seen a brand have this type of position – so this may be a trend to note for the future in this area. Congrats Todd, on your new position.

Digital literacy is necessary, but fluency and competency are both key as well

I really liked the points Sid Dobrin, professor and chair of the English department at the University of Florida, made in regard to this topic. Our students need different things from us when it comes to digital literacy – it is all about understanding the digital and human aspects of digital literacy. Literacy is what others do not have, instead of those who do have it. In essence, what we all need to be aware of is how digital literacy is absolutely key and what each student who is walking into our classrooms need, and where they are standing at this moment. Having the foundation and the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information that requires both cognitive and technical skills is crucial.

While at EduMAX, it was great to hear how universities around the world are investing in the tools, skills, and efforts to make creativity accessible for all – which is a growing theme across Adobe MAX as well. Clemson University, for example, was able to create the first Digital Studio of its kind, a safe place for “dangerous” ideas to be fostered in creativity. I also appreciated seeing what Jan Holmevik, associate professor of professional communication and rhetoric at Clemson, mentioned in his presentation about the top skills students need to have to be able to be successful in the workplace, such as creativity, persuasion, collaboration, and adaptability.

I believe more universities and programs need to consider addressing some of these points as they evaluate the curriculum and opportunities they are providing to their students. We are seeing more universities follow the same path Clemson has done in their efforts in supporting students in their creative journey. As of November 2019, there are over 30 universities who have earned the distinguished honor of being named an Adobe Creative Campus.

The future generation is making waves

If you want to see innovation taking place in the future generation, look no further than Hillary Andales, who is currently an MIT freshman studying physics. Hillary went viral a few years ago when she won a science communications award for creating a video explaining relativity using Adobe products. We had heard about Hillary in previous EduMAX and Creative Campus sessions but, hearing her speak on stage was tremendous.

If you need to show students and others what can be done with the right tools, resources, and dedication to creativity, make sure to share Hillary’s video. At EduMAX, she was the only speaker who got a standing ovation from the entire crowd of over 200 people. That shows the impact Hillary has made with her contributions to creativity.


Digital literacy should be integrated not just in a classroom or department but should be embraced as a core pillar for all universities. In preparing students for the future of work, we all have to be able to practice, teach, and embrace digital literacy principles in the work we are doing in and out of the classroom. Digital literacy is a necessary skill to embrace at all levels of higher education.

Topics: Industry, Education, digital literacy,