Auburn University Starts a Legacy of Digital Literacy for Tomorrow’s Students

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Auburn University is among the top public universities in the United States, and its students are among the happiest, according to The Princeton Review. What’s at the heart of Auburn’s allure? In addition to its high-energy, winning sports programs, the school invests heavily in students’ futures by providing a forward-thinking education and creating a community of well-rounded scholars.

“Auburn was the first SEC school to become an Adobe Creative Campus, which was a big deal for us,” says Chelsy Hooper, Instructional Technology Specialist in the Media and Digital Resource Lab at the Auburn library. “Digital literacy gives our students an important advantage as they prepare to enter the workforce.”

Developing digital literacy requires more than just tools, and key players across campus work together to support students, faculty, and staff. Chelsy is at the center of this effort and helps ensure students and faculty know how to use digital tools effectively with multimedia workshops and online resources. Her work is pivotal in bringing Adobe Creative Cloud to online courses as well, supporting distance learning and even enabling on-campus events to happen remotely, when needed.

Chelsy collaborates closely with Wiebke Kuhn, associate director in The Biggio Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning at the university, to bring digital literacy directly to classrooms. Her work includes consulting with faculty on pedagogy, recommending the right tools, and teaching faculty how to maximize educational technology in their courses.

“I build physical and virtual learning spaces and train faculty members how to use them,” says Wiebke. “I can point them to Chelsy to further enrich and expand those spaces with Adobe Creative Cloud. We want to make them feel comfortable bringing digital tools into courses and give students multiple avenues to show they’ve mastered creating more visually rich content.”

Auburn’s journey with Adobe started in 2005 and culminated in a Creative Campus partnership in 2017 led by Kevin Watson, now Director of Student Affairs Technology. “Adopting Adobe Creative Cloud was an opportunity for us to do something a little different as a historically engineering- and agriculture-focused land grant university,” says Kevin. “We were happy to see almost 1,000 people sign up in the first 24 hours. We see it as a way for students to build more creative skills and set themselves apart.”

Today, Adobe Creative Cloud is used across campus, from architectural design and construction to music, English, science, and engineering. It’s a powerful way to enhance the digital skills of students and faculty, whether they’re in a physical classroom or learning remotely.

Left-brained scientists learn digital drawing skills

In a Scientific Illustration course taught by Assistant Professor John Beckmann, Ph.D., students get a powerful lesson in drawing — a right-brain skill they might not develop otherwise.

“Scientists think communicating research is just about the data. But when they submit their thesis or a paper for publication, half the space is occupied by figures, images, and concept illustrations,” John says. “They need to make sure those visuals are presented clearly. This is just as important as solid data and good writing.”

Students start by learning the fundamentals of Photoshop with a simple black-and-white drawing of an insect stick figure. They quickly progress, using advanced features to capture the subtle coloration of a mushroom, the wet shine of an eyeball, and the variety of textures that can be found in the natural world. After they master Photoshop, John introduces his students to Illustrator and a completely different way of drawing. Instead of realism, students are aiming to extract the essence of the object for a cartoon-like effect. Graduate students are expected to bring their new skills to a scientific illustration of an object from their own research.

Figure Fundamentals: Scientific Illustration of a “sarcophagidae” using Adobe Illustrator.

Pushing the boundaries of a design curriculum

Access to Adobe Creative Cloud has enabled David Smith, Assistant Professor of Graphic Design, to expand horizons for students of all levels and academic concentrations. His design thinking course encourages students to express themselves visually through the easy-to-learn interface of Adobe XD.

“We explore the concept of design thinking through three prototype projects — a video game, an app, and a website,” says David. “Adobe XD has a gentle learning curve because it’s streamlined for a single purpose, and students can start using it very quickly, whether or not they have design skills.”

Adobe XD also provides a way to introduce graphic design students to the world of interactive design. “Many students are reluctant to start coding,” David says. “Adobe XD allows them to create interactive screen layouts that look and perform like actual mobile apps or web pages. Students are often then able to focus more on user interface and experience rather than their own limitations writing code.”

Students have fun and tackle real-world sustainability issues

Auburn also hosted an Adobe Creative Jam, bringing 35 students together to compete for the best-designed mobile app. The five-hour event was a fun way to encourage students to learn Adobe tools, support digital literacy, and increase awareness of community issues.

“After hearing from a speaker from the Auburn Office of Sustainability, students had two hours to design a mobile app that addressed a local sustainability issue,” says Chelsy. “They got a one-hour bootcamp from an Adobe XD expert, so they could participate without bringing any prior experience to the event.”

At the end, professional app designers from the Red Cross and Disney helped choose a winner and provided feedback to the student teams, giving them valuable insights into how design can solve real-world challenges.

Beyond design — workflow efficiency is part of digital literacy

Efficiency is an important goal at Auburn, and the Provost issued a call to go as paperless as possible across campus. For Tim Jones, Associate IT Director at the Office of the Provost, that meant expanding its use of Adobe Acrobat Sign for e-signatures. Given the competitive pricing and the university’s existing contracts with Adobe Creative Cloud, the e-signature solution was a natural choice for Auburn.

“We wanted to bring a more strategic approach to IT, maximizing our use of the technology we have,” Tim says. “By standardizing on Adobe Acrobat Sign and Adobe Acrobat, we make sure departments can benefit from paperless workflows, with faster turnaround times and better traceability.”

In the past, departments chose their own approach, which meant some people used Adobe tools while others used DocuSign, email, or even paper-based workflows to gain approvals and signatures. Today, as people discover how easy it is to use Acrobat Sign, adoption is spreading across the Auburn campus. The Athletics Department is currently the biggest user of Acrobat Sign, and it’s being adopted in HR, IT, Facilities, and Procurement. The Procurement Department uses Acrobat Sign for invoice approvals, which are then submitted for payment through the Banner system. There’s also a strong value proposition for document-heavy departments such as International Programs and the Registrar’s Office.

Auburn University keeps students in focus as it looks to the future

Auburn University has a lofty vision: to lead and shape the future of higher education. The school is bringing that vision to life with its continuing investment in digital literacy and student success. Through a distributed team of innovators and visionaries across campus, Auburn steadily infuses digital skills and creativity into the everyday life of students, faculty, and staff.

But it’s a journey, not a destination. As Chelsy says, “There’s no one answer to digital literacy. It’s a work in progress that we’re always looking to improve upon.”

As an Adobe Creative Campus, Auburn University has committed to digital literacy and invested in student success by providing Adobe Creative Cloud tools to its entire student body and staff.