Creative Cloud programs can enrich coursework, increase student engagement

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adobe cc insideUsing technology to enhance the student experience is par for the course these days, and six faculty are working to help their peers use the Adobe Creative Cloud suite to enrich coursework, increase engagement and better prepare students for the job market.

The Creative Cloud Educators Program provides an opportunity to learn to use Adobe Creative Cloud to develop a range of compelling and meaningful multimedia projects in the classroom; English instructors Amy Cates, Aparna Dwivedi and Anamaria Santiago and associate professors Margaret Jay Jessee, Ph.D., and Chris Minnix, Ph.D., lead workshops that introduce faculty to Creative Cloud for writing and media projects. The group’s first two-day workshop in December 2020 taught 25 faculty to incorporate the digital programs into their curriculum, and each participant received a $500 stipend.

The Creative Cloud suite is free for UAB students, and employees can request one of a limited number of free Creative Cloud licenses through UAB IT. 

Prioritizing digital literacy

The funding to launch the Creative Cloud Educators Program came from the Strategic Investment Fund for UAB’s Signature Core Curriculum, says Alison Chapman, Ph.D., professor and chair for English and head of the Signature Core Curriculum Committee. The new curriculum will re-envision UAB’s core courses to help students learn to think critically and develop innovative solutions to local and global problems, an integral component of the education pillar of Forging the Future, UAB’s strategic plan.

minnix cc insideAlison Chapman, Ph.D., English department chair, and Chris Minnix, Ph.D., associate professor of English and director of Freshman Composition and Developmental Studies“The idea is that if a department that is central to the core would like to do a deep reimagining of how certain classes are taught — or to develop new resources or provide new kinds of training — we wanted to be able to make that happen,” she said. “English seemed a natural place to start because all students take freshman writing, and because of the small class sizes these courses are such a crucial entry point to college life.”

Chapman and others in the department hoped to capitalize on UAB’s new cost-free Creative Cloud resources and introduce the digital toolkit to students in their very first courses at UAB — and that meant instructors first needed to learn ways to best incorporate them, she said.

More than 35 faculty ranging from adjuncts to tenured professors participated in the fall workshops. All teach courses that range from freshman composition to graduate seminars, each of which provides a unique opportunity to incorporate projects using Adobe programs.

Faculty and staff can access free video training courses in Creative Cloud and dozens of other software packages through the university’s LinkedIn Learning platform.

Minnix, who directs the Freshman Composition and Developmental Studies program, helped spearhead the creation of the faculty training program after realizing its usefulness in freshman comp courses.

“When we teach writing courses, we are ultimately teaching rhetoric, an ancient but ever contemporary art of persuasion that uses all available mediums and means of persuasion; this includes not only words on a page, but also design, visual culture, and digital composing,” Minnix said. Incorporating digital creation into teaching rhetoric works to expand the spoken narrative: “Learning to compose in digital mediums is wonderful in and of itself, but it also allows us to teach communication and rhetoric in really rich ways.”

From the fellows

Cates, Dwivedi, Jessee and Santiago all have worked to incorporate Adobe Creative Cloud programs into their English courses, and all have been successful.

Amy Cates
Amy Cates

Cates used Adobe’s Spark and Portfolio programs in her first-year composition courses to create a trio of assignments that required critical thinking skills and encouraged students to work beyond a traditional writing assignment. Spark, a design app for creating social media graphics, short videos and web pages, added flexibility to students’ creative options, and Portfolio, a web-building tool for showcasing creative work, enabled them to think of their work in the bigger picture.

“Students generated projects that I know are meaningful to them, and I credit the creativity and flexibility of Adobe Creative Cloud for giving them that space and experience,” Cates explained. “Faculty do not have to be graphic designers or coders to offer these opportunities. Students are relatively fearless when it comes to experimenting with software.”

Aparna Dwivedi
Aparna Dwivedi

Dwivedi says that though she does not consider herself particularly tech-savvy, she does believe in the importance of a multimodal education. Participating in the Creative Cloud workshops reminded her of what it’s like to be a student, and she brought that experience back to her freshman composition and literature survey course. She required students to use Spark to create a webpage and record videos of the process and then film a separate video reflecting on the course and the webpage project.

“The best part is that we are creating a classroom where students take ownership and the materials are accessible to them,” Dwivedi said. “By creating assignments in Adobe, particularly Spark, we are illustrating how the student too can become the maker.”

Margaret Jay Jessee
Margaret Jay Jessee

Jessee opted to join the fellows program because, like Dwivedi, she is interested in multimodal education. Because all UAB students can access the Adobe Creative Suite regardless of their computer’s operating system, using the suite will help streamline her courses. Students who once used iMovie on Apple products or Filmora on PCs now can use industry-leading video-editing software Adobe Premiere, and Jessee can incorporate the content as a single package, which she considers more efficient. She used the tutorial videos and additional help from YouTube videos during the learning and troubleshooting process.

“Many of us who are no longer in our teens and 20s assume that we are bad at technology compared with our students, but I have not found that to be true,” Jessee said. “Our students often find new technology just as daunting as we do, and by us being willing to learn new technology, we model for students the importance of keeping up with new and important modes of communication.”

Anamaria Santiago
Anamaria Santiago

Santiago says she long has been interested in digital literacy; as a freshman composition teacher whose courses already incorporate different mediums, the Adobe Creative Suite seemed like a natural extension of her instruction. Santiago has worked in filmmaking before, but Adobe programs such as layout and page-design software InDesign and vector-based graphic software Illustrator were new to her. In her English Composition II courses, students use Spark to create infographics; Santiago says using Spark is a refreshing way for them to think about composition, which should consider audience, purpose and the communication tools available.

“We all consume texts created by technology like this,” Santiago continued. “This is a way to pull back the curtain for them to see there is real intent and decision-making that informs what we watch. It helps them become more savvy consumers because they know what goes into it.”

Beyond the campus

The marriage of the Signature Core Curriculum and the Adobe Creative Suite also works to promote the curriculum’s focus on civic engagement and awareness of place and local committees; contemporary activists aren’t writing scholarly papers too often, Minnix says. Rather, they’re using media to reach into communities.

“Faculty do not have to be graphic designers or coders to offer these opportunities. Students are relatively fearless when it comes to experimenting with software.”

“Platforms like Adobe create an environment where we are able to pursue teamwork in really rich ways,” he said. “They can collaborate on things such as websites and media campaigns and bring their ideas together in ways can persuade real-world audiences.”

Chapman agrees, citing an example: An assignment in which a student is asked to design Spark pages to address a social issue is a more engaging project than writing a term paper.

“What is the student going to do with that other than submit it?” Chapman asked. “The opportunity to produce a Spark composition or Rush video has an immediate currency in the world. So, by teaching programs for the Adobe suite, we are giving students the tools they need to think about what it means to make a change.”