East Carolina University encourages creativity for all with Adobe Creative Cloud

Image of East Carolina University.

East Carolina University (ECU) was founded more than 100 years ago with the important mission to serve people through education and improve the quality of life in the region. While ECU sees innovative education and research as cornerstones of its mission, it also emphasizes the importance of creative skills.

As an Adobe Creative Campus, ECU demonstrates a commitment to teaching creative communication and digital literacy to all students. “Today digital literacy is a basic job skill for any of our students, whether they’re working in art, design, STEM, music, or medicine,” says Grant Hayes, provost. “By teaching our students to work with Adobe Creative Cloud apps, we’re fostering creativity, communication, and critical-thinking skills that are highly sought-after in the job market.”

All faculty receive free access to Adobe Creative Cloud apps, and students are provided licenses when using Creative Cloud for a course. “As a Creative Campus, we provide equitable access for students to industry-standard Adobe Creative Cloud apps,” says Dr. Wendy Creasey, director of Digital Learning & Emerging Technology Initiatives, ECU. “We’ve received a great deal of support from Adobe to help us learn how to use Adobe apps in the classroom. We’re teaching our students how to enhance their work and become leaders in the digital age.”

Telling stories through science

When Dr. Siddhartha Mitra attended his first Adobe Creative Cloud bootcamp, he knew nothing about Adobe applications. But as a professor in the Department of Geological Sciences and director of the Integrated Coastal Sciences Ph.D. program, Dr. Mitra knows the importance of using science to tell stories.

“My research deals with using organic chemicals to tell the story of the Earth,” says Dr. Mitra. “It might involve understanding the water quality off the coast or looking at how historical climate change may have affected wildfires. We use science to understand these stories, but the next step is knowing how to share those stories with others. That’s why I wanted to learn more about using Adobe Creative Cloud apps in the classroom.”

In his Mathematics for Geoscientists class, Dr. Mitra decided to incorporate lessons on social justice and creative communications into one project using Adobe Express (formerly known as Adobe Spark). “Even though I teach geology, it’s important for students to think about the struggles of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) minorities,” explains Dr. Mitra. “Many people who have made important scientific and mathematical discoveries are minorities, and their contributions are sometimes overlooked by the scientific community due to their background.”

Dr. Mitra assigned each of his students an important figure in mathematics or geosciences who also happened to be a person of color. He instructed each student to create a Adobe Express presentation sharing their research about the figure, including their contributions to their field and how issues such as racism or sexism affected their professional careers. Student Nicole Cataldo created a dynamic Adobe Express webpage centered around the life and career of Mary Jackson, the mathematician and engineer who helped pave the way for women at NASA. Another student, Mikayla Dixon, combined music, narration, still images, and video to create a four-minute video explaining the accomplishments of geophysicist Dr. Estella Atekwana.

“Students enjoyed the opportunity to learn about some overlooked contributions to their field,” says Dr. Mitra. “I chose Adobe Express because it’s so easy to learn. It’s a huge improvement over PowerPoint for presentations, which has become somewhat of a crutch for teachers and students. With Adobe Express, we can make dynamic presentations faster, easier, and better looking than ever.”

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Educating the next generation of music teachers

Dr. Cynthia Wagoner approaches teaching differently than many of her colleagues at ECU. As an associate professor and Department Chairperson of the School of Music, Music Education and Music Therapy, she spends much of her time teaching the next generation of teachers how to teach. “Whenever I create a lesson, I also think about how I can share my process with my students,” explains Dr. Wagoner. “I’m constantly thinking about teaching and modeling simultaneously.”

One lesson that Dr. Wagoner attempts to share with her students is the importance of moving beyond reading and lectures to a wider variety of content. This is particularly important for music education, where collaboration and creativity are essential for understanding.

When lockdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic forced Dr. Wagoner to take her lessons virtual, she started exploring digital ways of connecting with students. She created a variety of lessons that ranged from podcasts and vidcasts to filmed interviews with fellow musicians and educators. For some lessons, Dr. Wagoner filmed herself doing exercises and tasked students to film themselves following along at home.

“I didn’t want to just have lessons where students sat and stared at a screen,” says Dr. Wagoner. “I like to imagine that some students listened to podcasts while taking a walk outside. There was great feedback on the variety.”

Dr. Wagoner used Adobe Premiere Rush to edit many of her videos. The simplicity of the mobile-first tool helped her create videos quickly and easily. She also introduced Adobe Express to her students, as it allows them to combine video, still images, text, and other assets into a digital presentation.

“I’m always trying to get students to be less wordy and think about multimodal methods of sharing information,” says Dr. Wagoner. “Adobe Express helps them easily combine different types of media, which encourages them to think about whether their information works best as text, a figure, or even a video.”

Image of students at East Carolina University.

Graphic design

As a strong advocate for digital literacy, graphic design professor Cat Normoyle was one of the voices that helped lead ECU on its path to becoming a Creative Campus. “I’ve used Adobe apps throughout my own artistic and teaching careers,” says Normoyle. “Digital literacy is key for students in the future. It’s not just about understanding how to use specific apps. It’s about becoming comfortable in the digital space and learning how to solve new challenges people will face.”

User experience design is particularly important for the digital age. For one project, Normoyle challenges her design students to create a mobile app from scratch. The project starts on paper to really connect students with their design. Adobe XD comes next, allowing students to quickly take their design digital.

“I like Adobe XD for its convenience and easy learning curve,” says Normoyle. “Students have a lot of fun with it because there’s the immediate feedback. They can build something and start clicking on it right away. They can share their prototypes with others for user testing and feedback. This agility helps students really hone in on the design and user experience, leading to much more polished results.”

One of the benefits of Adobe Creative Cloud is its variety of apps for mobile and desktop use. Apps such as Adobe Premiere Rush, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe InDesign, and Adobe Illustrator are used throughout all classes at the School of Art and Design. While the school’s labs all have Adobe Creative Cloud apps, Normoyle sees a difference for students who now have access to licenses on their own devices through the Creative Campus program.

“Many students like to work at home or at a coffee shop, not just in a lab,” says Normoyle. “This trend has been amplified by COVID. With their own Adobe Creative Cloud licenses, students have the flexibility to work wherever they want. They can even sync work across multiple devices, sketching on a tablet and then finishing on a desktop.”

Giving student ambassadors focus

The Adobe Student Ambassadors program has long been a major factor in the success of Creative Campus programs across the country. Students are trained to promote Adobe Creative Cloud apps amongst their peers, providing training and insight into how developing digital literacy skills might benefit students. Rather than providing a single group of student ambassadors for the campus, ECU decided to embed a student ambassador into each department. This encourages student ambassadors to focus on how Creative Cloud apps might be most helpful for each department’s specific needs and challenges.

Shannon Brink is a student ambassador and graduate student in geological sciences. Adobe Creative Cloud apps play an important role in her thesis research. She uses Adobe Illustrator to draft figures for her thesis, and she’s considering using Adobe Premiere Rush to help visually explain the methods and analysis of her experiments for the defense of her thesis. As a student ambassador, Brink works closely with other geology students to demonstrate how to use Adobe apps such as Adobe Express to enhance their work.

“Students were really excited to see all the things they could do with Adobe apps, such as use artificial intelligence to remove backgrounds,” says Brink. “Communication is a huge skill for any scientist — there’s no point in doing science if you can’t tell people about it. Working with Adobe Creative Cloud apps helps us learn how to use the tools, but more importantly, it teaches us how to take advantage of the creative process and become more successful communicators.”