Enhancing university faculty development with innovative and engaging training programs

Group of people at a table with tablets and phones in their hands.

Adobe recently hosted its third Digital Literacy Café Webinar of the year, which focused on faculty engagement. Guest speakers discussed the unique faculty development programs their schools created amid the pandemic to help cultivate, engage and innovative online teaching across curricula.

In an hour-long discussion with host Todd Taylor, Adobe Pedagogical Evangelist, Eliason Distinguished Professor of English, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the speakers highlighted:

Below are a few key highlights from the discussion:

University of Utah - Spurring faculty and student innovation with greater access to digital tools

The Digital Literacy Café kicked off with a presentation by Holly Kristin Johnson, associate director, Learning Experience Innovation & Outreach at the University of Utah, on the institution’s reimagined innovation grant system and integrated housing development.

Like many colleges across the nation, the University of Utah made an overnight shift to remote learning during the pandemic, and faculty quickly recognized the importance of innovative teaching practices in this new environment in order to maintain student engagement. However, faculty members had varying levels of familiarity with digital tools, which is why they turned to workshops and webinars offered by the university to learn how to successfully employ these tools in their classes and make more dynamic content for students.

In response to this demand for faculty development resources, the University of Utah launched a new innovation grant system, which employs a cohort model to encourage technology use in the classroom. Faculty apply for the grant using a pre-proposal process that walks them through what digital resources to request. Once accepted into the program, they are encouraged to meet with other grant recipients on a monthly basis, where they can discuss their own development journey and share best practices for incorporating tech tools, like Adobe Creative Cloud, into their classrooms. They also receive training and ongoing consultations from instructional designers, librarians, and Adobe Creative Cloud consultants, and, at the end of the year, present in an online symposium to highlight their findings and key learnings.

The university also facilitates student-driven innovation with the recent addition of the Kahlert Village residential towers, which provide students with a focused, live-in education experience in one of three key areas focusing on STEM, community engagement or health and wellness. Students enrolled in these programs have access to a wide variety of tools, from Adobe Creative Cloud to 3D printers, and workshops to help them build new skills and encourage creative innovation. In addition to resources provided by the university, students receive “success kits” created by their peers, which feature examples of previous projects, best practices and other support resources that can help them navigate and succeed in their own academic careers. Johnson said that the tools offered in the living-learning communities help students to remain focused in any learning environment and empower them to take innovative approaches to projects in their respective fields.

Arizona State University - Creating customized digital “backpacks” to support faculty

Kyle Bowen, executive director of Learning Experience, Office of the CIO at ASU, shifted the focus of conversation by highlighting how his university developed tailored digital “backpacks” to support students and faculty during the pandemic.

The ASU Digital Backpack is a collection of technologies that students can use across campus, including Adobe Creative Cloud, Slack, Dropbox and Google Workspaces. Bowen explained how students gain greater access to a revolving workshop series of these tools helps them build fundamental skills, such as storytelling, and ultimately enhances their learning experiences.

While the ASU Digital Backpack program is specifically designed to meet the needs of students by enhancing their access to technology, it also drives faculty to learn how to integrate these technologies into their curricula.

“As faculty have transitioned into teaching remote teaching and hybrid [environments], they’ve had to wrestle with their self-identity as [educators],” Bowen said. “We’re at a critical point where those changes have taken place, so if somebody was on the fence about teaching with technology, they have since been pushed off the fence, so they’re now seasoned veterans and have in many cases, two semesters of instruction using technology to engage their learners.”

Over the past year, faculty gained a better understanding of new teaching modalities that they had not leveraged prior to the pandemic and used these tools to help students achieve greater learning outcomes.

Pennsylvania State University - Enhancing Student Engagement with Adobe XD

With the transition to remote learning, faculty at Penn State were interested in understanding how to better engage students in preparation for the next school year. Dr. Anne Hoag, associate professor and director of Intercollege Minor in Entrepreneurship & Innovation, closed out the Digital Literacy Café webinar with an overview of an hour-long training workshop that taught 80 faculty members how to use Adobe XD and the benefits of using digital tools, especially when teaching remotely.

Professors and librarians from all fields of study across the university attended Hoag’s workshop during a virtual professional development retreat. She demonstrated the value of Adobe XD by showing the tool’s prototyping capabilities and how it could be used to present to investors or stakeholders in a nonlinear, creative way. Hoag also showed faculty how they could further engage students, helping them to build and hone their storytelling skills using Adobe XD.

“Students really learned how to use [Adobe] XD because we had professors at many different campuses who understood its value,” Hoag said.

A positive outcome that she noticed following the training is how faculty not only integrated Adobe XD in their courses but were also inspired to teach their peers how to use the tool as well.


Although colleges will mostly resume classes in-person this Fall, faculty training will remain a priority as hybrid learning practices have proven to help bridge access issues while enhancing student engagement and skill development. Institutions can use these successful practices deployed by the University of Utah, ASU and Penn State as a framework when creating their own faculty development initiatives that are tailored to meet educators where they are in their digital journey.

Adobe tools make a great addition to any digital teaching kit by enhancing faculty development programs across campus with a variety of specialized apps and tools and preparing students for the future workforce. They can also help transform how institutions engage, empower and recruit students by offering state of the art tools that enhance skillsets and creative aptitude.

For more information on how to integrate digital and creative skills across disciplines and throughout curricula, please visit Adobe’s Digital Literacy resource page. Be sure to also keep an eye out for details from Adobe on our upcoming Digital Literacy Café Webinar later this year. In the meantime, tune into the on-demand webinars.