Exploring the importance of Adobe Creative Cloud in STEM fields

Group of children looking at electronics.

In the fast-paced digital world, STEM fields — Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics — are priorities in education. These fields provide the skills that students will need to become the innovators and inventors who bring society into the future. While some have interpreted the focus on STEM education as an end of arts education, the reality couldn’t be further than the truth.

As part of a recent Adobe Creative Campus virtual event, Adobe held a roundtable with three academics working in STEM fields to discuss why creative expression is critical to every STEM field.

Stephen Moysey, professor of geological sciences and director of the Water Resources Center at East Carolina University, specializes in looking at how environmental data can be translated into meaningful insights. In particular, he’s interested in helping individuals, organizations, and governments understand how decisions big and small affect water and the environment.

Carla Romney, director of research for CityLab at Boston University School of Medicine, is a cancer cell biologist. Her great passion is STEM education. She works closely with middle and high school students and teachers to promote interest in STEM and excite them about building their STEM skills.

Earl Scime is a professor of physics and astronomy at West Virginia University while also acting as the director of the School of Mathematical and Data Sciences. Though his scientific research is known throughout his field, Scime is also well known for his mentoring work, from high school robotics clubs to supervising the next generations of PhD students.

While the three roundtable members work in different STEM fields, they all agree that creativity is critical. It fuels innovations and leaps of imagination that can push their research to the next level. It helps them communicate findings, whether with fellow researchers or members of the public. Creativity also increases engagement with students and improves student outcomes. By bringing creative skills into the classroom with Adobe Creative Cloud apps, they are building a stronger foundation for student success, no matter where students’ eventual careers take them.

Encouraging innovation in STEM

STEM is built on innovation, but where does innovation come from? According to Scime, creativity is the key to helping people explore, imagine possible meanings of data, and look at problems in a new light. “By the end of the 1800s, scientists knew that our understanding of the universe was wrong, but it was Einstein who reconciled the science by suggesting a different perspective,” says Scime. “That’s a big creative leap, and it demonstrates the importance of approaching science in a creative, open way.”

Scime spent part of his career helping to develop instruments for space research. When the group became concerned that it was falling behind organizations that had more resources, members decided to try a different approach to stay competitive. They set aside time to focus solely on creative exercises, brainstorming, and stretching their imaginations. The group tried to picture what the field of space exploration might look like in 50 years. Then they set out to build tools that would solve challenges facing those future scientists and explorers.

Imagination plays an important role in Moysey’s work. “It’s difficult to actually see groundwater,” he explains. “Instead we have to analyze data, look at the surrounding earth, and try to imagine exactly what processes are happening and how it might be affecting the groundwater. That’s why it’s important for us to encourage creativity in our students.”

Communicating scientific findings

Whether working with the public or sharing ideas with fellow specialists, communication is essential in every STEM field. “If you have a groundbreaking idea that you can’t communicate to others, then it doesn’t really exist,” says Romney. “For me, creativity is a key to expressing and communicating ideas.”

In today’s digital age, effective communication requires much more than a printed thesis or a lightly illustrated research article. With a lot of communication now digital, elements such as color, design, animation, and even video are all needed to enhance existing text. Clear and compelling visual communications enable the public to absorb complex information more readily, whether it’s Moysey’s groundwater studies or Romney’s medical outreach programs.

Romney and her colleagues are developing a classroom project that asks students to create video grant proposals. Working with video encourages students to embrace their subjects and communicate ideas visually. Romney imagines that video might become a standard part of proposals in the future to convey more dynamic ideas. As Boston University is an Adobe Creative Campus, all students have access to Adobe Creative Cloud apps, including apps that can be used for video production such as Adobe Spark, Adobe Premiere Pro, and Adobe Premiere Rush.

“We want people to really think about what message they’re trying to communicate through presentations, infographics, or video,” says Romney. “Every student needs to understand and develop digital skills to be effective communicators now and in the future.”

Hillary Diane Andales, currently a sophomore at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is a prime example of what scientists can accomplish through clear and compelling communications. Inspired by her father, a lover of physics, Andales grew up surrounded by science. But she also had a passion for art, learning Adobe Photoshop to create t-shirts, infographics, and fun designs involving her favorite TV shows. When Typhoon Haiyan tore through the Philippines in 2013, killing thousands, Andales was struck by the idea that if the danger of the typhoon was communicated more effectively, perhaps more lives could have been saved.

Andales realized that with her dual passions for science and art, she could be someone who creates life-saving communications. In 2017, she won the Breakthrough Junior Challenge Award with a polished and engaging video that explains Einstein’s Theory of Relativity in just three minutes. The video combines live footage, dynamic motion graphics, compositing, color, sound, and animations to make a complex topic not only understandable, but fun. Today, Andales continues to promote the importance of creativity and digital literacy for STEM students.

Engaging with STEM students

Moysey believes one of the greatest impacts of creativity on STEM is how it helps students explore their identity and perspectives. “We’re looking to bring more people across more communities into STEM fields because it’s so important to have a diversity in thoughts, perspectives, and opportunities,” says Moysey. “When we give students tools that allow them to explore topics freely and creatively, we ask them to figure out who they are, what they want to do, and what they want to say to the world.”

In her work with middle school and high school students, Romney uses Adobe Creative Cloud apps to create interactive learning modules delivered through Adobe Captivate. The modules help students connect with STEM, encourage their interests, and push them to continue to explore STEM education in the future.

Bringing Adobe Creative Cloud into classrooms

Adobe Creative Cloud apps can bring more creative lessons into the classroom and support students as they explore and communicate effective messages.

For Moysey, the key to successfully bringing creative assignments into classrooms is to make sure the focus stays on the science and the learning objective, not just the creativity and design. In one assignment, Moysey asks students to create and design a blog post exploring a topic covered in class. But then he also asks student to write a reflection piece where they explain why they chose a particular topic and what decisions they made about communicating the topic through social media. The reflection piece focuses students on making smart communication choices and provides a more objective way for Moysey to assess students’ understanding of a subject.

For a graduate course covering the fundamentals of medical biotechnology, Romney asks students to complete a digital multimedia capstone project that encourages students to think about communicating scientific messages effectively. “I co-teach the class with a wonderful professor who has been teaching at Boston University longer than I’ve been alive, and I was worried at first that he wouldn’t understand the importance of a multimedia project,” says Romney. “I used Adobe Spark to share my reasoning with him. Once he saw my presentation and heard that students already had access to Adobe Creative Cloud, he thought it was a fantastic idea. It’s a great example of how compelling creative presentations can be for communication.”

Scime works closely with faculty to bring creative tools that will inspire students, whether they’re exploring a concept or trying to communicate results. “People think there’s a dichotomy between the rules of science and the freedom of the arts,” says Scime. “But I’m creative every day. I’m communicating science to the public. I’m coaching a robotics program where students have limited time to come up with the solution to a problem. I work in data science where the ability to make connections and share ideas is fundamental. It’s important to introduce creative tools like Adobe Creative Cloud apps to teach students how to explore their creative sides and become successful in the STEM field.”