How Digital Literacy Projects Unleash Creativity Within Students

by Valentina Arismendi

posted on 12-09-2019

If there were ever a place that teaches you why fostering digital literacy across the curriculum is vital to the 21st century student, Adobe’s EduMAX conference would be it. For its fifth anniversary, this year’s EduMAX welcomed nearly 200 higher education professionals for a day full of inspiring stories celebrating student success. The biggest takeaway? Digital literacy is constantly being redefined. Although this year’s conference was my fourth Adobe Creative Campus event, each event brings me new insights to take back to Chapel Hill.

Bryan Lamkin, executive vice president and general manager of digital media at Adobe, started the day off with an important question: how can universities prepare students for a workplace permeated by technology and artificial intelligence? He spoke about the importance of bolstering creativity, the one quality separating humans and machines. Throughout the day, both students and teachers alike highlighted their experience adding multimedia components to reinvent traditional text assignments.

Why multimodal assignments make sense

During my first year of college, I was lucky enough to have Dr. Todd Taylor as one of my professors. In his multimodal composition course, he asked us to create a portfolio of work that included one story as told through five different mediums. This meant using the Adobe Creative Cloud programs to create a magazine, film, podcast, website, and mobile app. Originally, a course of this nature didn’t seem like a “breakthrough” in teaching to me. In fact, it wasn’t until my first EduMAX last year that I realized this course was considered revolutionary. I didn’t think integrating a digital literacy component into the curriculum was something out of the ordinary because it seems so natural, and maybe even expected.

It’s no secret that Generation Z students entering college are more adept at technology than any other generation. As employers start to shift their requirements, it only makes sense the college curriculum evolves with it. At the University of Florida, English Professor Sid Dobrin is working to answer the question of “Who is going to create the content that occupies new, technology-enabled spaces?”

As the biggest consumers of media, students today know how to use a wide range of technology. However, it’s not as easy to leap from consuming media to creating it. Connecting classrooms to these tools is crucial across all disciplines, but it’s still just the start.

To kick off EduMAX, Todd shared his new role bridging the gap between industry and education as Adobe’s pedagogical evangelist. I’m excited to see the benefits educators can reap by hearing from someone like Todd at their campus.

Closing the digital divide

Each year, EduMAX serves as an environment for collaboration – somewhere schools can openly discuss their journey defining digital literacy on campus. Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) was spotlighted as the first HBCU (Historically Black College and University) to become an Adobe Creative Campus. Educators realized their students were falling behind in the “digital divide” and sought out a solution.

Technology serves an important purpose in education and beyond. The failure to evolve with it leaves students in the digital dark ages. However, bridging the gap between traditional and digital composition is not something that occurs overnight. So where can students and faculty who may not be as tech-savvy start?

Throughout EduMAX, several schools shared their personal experiences with Adobe Spark. As a relatively recent addition to the Adobe family, Spark fulfills the goal Bryan Lamkin discussed of building tools that put creativity in the hands of all.

Adobe Spark is easy to integrate into the curriculum. Writing digital stories through Spark offers benefits that a traditional research paper doesn’t. For example, Spark projects are readily available for sharing and inviting ideas and content that are easier to present in front of an audience. Berkeley Professor of English Susan Schweik even said as a teacher, “It’s more fun to read student Spark pages than papers!”

Traditional research papers are sometimes necessary — however, faculty members should also consider the instances in which a research paper may not be the most appropriate assignment. One factor that Mesa Community College students Elijah Livingston and Jacob Barney brought up was that with assignments where creativity is at the forefront, it is no longer about the grade. There is more learning and engagement that occurs during the experimentation phase of a new assignment than with the automatic completion of a standard paper.

Innovation for all

MIT student Hillary Andales was a prime example that creativity doesn’t just apply to the humanities. Hillary said, “My classmates always described me as intelligent, but never creative. I asked myself, ‘Why can’t I be both?’”

Hillary started using the Creative Cloud to break down the stereotype that STEM students can’t be creative. She is encouraging other students to hold an “I can make that!” mindset, a type of thinking that fosters entrepreneurship and innovation.

“I found myself creating something that was not there before, it was magic,” she said.

Hillary was the 2017 Breakthrough Junior Challenge winner for her video explaining the theory of relativity, which she created using Adobe After Effects.

Using media projects to increase civic engagement

WSSU’s presentation was also particularly interesting to me not just for the use of Spark, but because of the subject the project covered. Joe Baker and Keith Penn are two first-year experience faculty members who asked their students to research and create a Spark page about a social justice issue. In more recent years, it’s become a trend to use media as a form of encouragement for students to become activists on issues they care about.

For my summer research project, I used the skills I learned in my digital composition courses to share the stories of Venezuelan immigrants living in Los Angeles. I hoped that by publishing these stories online, my project could promote empathy for the immigrant community. I took advantage of the fact I had access to all these tools to create something that could make a difference in a community that was important to me.

As Sid Dobrin said, “I would rather students have access [to these tools] and not need them, than to need them and not have them.”

Giving students the resources they need to pursue self-designed projects is not just essential to teaching critical thinking and problem solving, but also for teaching students how to write for an audience beyond the classroom. Knowing their work can be published and shared online motivates students to create more meaningful and impactful work.

Jacob Barney, a student at Mesa Community College, said in his closing remarks, “If Adobe had a byline, it should be ‘Ideas die in darkness,’ because the Creative Cloud is finally giving us the ability to share our ideas.”

Topics: Industry, Education