From Dinosaurs to Social Justice — How University of Arizona Teaches Digital Fluency

University of Arizona campus
Photographer: Gregor Orbino.
From Dinosaurs to Social Justice — How University of Arizona Teaches Digital Fluency
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The University of Arizona had the distinction of being the first Adobe Creative Campus in the western United States. With Adobe Creative Cloud available for students, faculty, and staff, the institution doesn’t just talk about digital literacy — it takes concrete steps to prepare students for a digital future. Faculty members across departments regularly use the digital tools to bring new levels of creativity and multimodal communication to their curricula.

Dr. Melody Buckner is associate vice provost of digital learning and online education at the university. She’s a pioneer in digital learning, and her expertise helps the university make the most of its investment in Adobe and other technologies.

“If you want to build digital fluency, providing technology is only part of the equation,” Melody says. “We felt it was also important to empower faculty and students and make it easy for them to integrate digital-skill building into their coursework.”

Prioritizing training and adoption

Melody knew that software launches often fail because universities don’t allocate enough time, budget, and human resources to adoption. Determined to avoid that trap, she hired Brian Puente in a new position as a support specialist for Adobe Creative Cloud. The move showed just how committed the university is to digital literacy.

“I was so excited to see a university invest in professional creative tools,” says Brian. “There’s been a terrific response from people across campus.” He runs three workshops per week, plus a live-streamed, online training series that can now be accessed on demand. He even hires students and trains them to deliver workshops to keep up with demand.

The tutorials are a big help to faculty who want to introduce Adobe tools into their classrooms but can’t spare any instruction time.

As distance learning becomes even more important with COVID-19-related closures, Brian is pulling together assignment prompt materials to help instructors use Adobe Creative Cloud online. He shows up in online classrooms to conduct demos and help students transition to a fully online learning environment. And, to help students and instructors with specific challenges, Brian offers virtual drop-in support hours.

Dinosaurs come to life in the digital age

The adoption efforts are paying off. To date, more than 23,000 students and 3,500 faculty and staff have signed up to use Adobe Creative Cloud, and inventive assignments are cropping up in courses across campus.

In a popular course on dinosaurs, a former senior lecturer in the Department of Geosciences ran a “Mesozoic Madness” bracket—pitting different species against each other in combat and having students fill out the bracket based on evidence in the fossil record. Video played a key role in the project.

Honors students picked a species to research and used Adobe Premiere Rush or Adobe Premiere Pro to create a short promotional video. The assignment was to find a creative way to communicate why the students’ dinosaur could win the fight and move to the next match-up. Students loved it.

Students find creative solutions to social justice challenges

In the College of Law, students are working on creative ways to promote social justice. Stacy Butler is director of the Innovation for Justice Program, where students use Adobe XD to address specific challenges in the justice system.

“The Innovation for Justice Program seeks to understand where our civil legal system has failed underrepresented and marginalized populations, and how to make it better,” Stacy says. “In one of our projects, we’re evaluating the usability of online dispute resolution tools. It’s an opportunity to design a more intuitive and accessible approach to better serve the public.”

Adobe Creative Jam event. Photo Credit: Sarah Mauet.

Stacy partnered with the State of Utah to test its online dispute resolution platform, which is being piloted in three counties for civil disputes such as debt collection. Students worked with people in low-income communities to understand what worked, what didn’t, and where people struggled to complete tasks. Drawing from those insights, they redesigned a prototype of the platform in Adobe XD using wireframe templates specifically created for the project.

“We have undergraduate and graduate students from nine disciplines in the program, from law and writing to science and graphic design,” says Stacy. “It has been fantastic to watch all of them learn Adobe XD and become experts in user experience design.”

Stacy also teaches an undergraduate course called Visualizing Justice, where students using Adobe Illustrator to make posters, brochures, and art installations to serve the community. They’ve even redesigned official documents, including court eviction forms.

“This year, we worked on meeting the needs of survivors of human trafficking,” says Stacy. “Adobe Illustrator allows us to contribute to the community and make a real difference in people’s lives.”

A more secure and streamlined solution for bookstore documents

In the University of Arizona bookstore, a different Adobe tool is making an impact.

“We use Adobe Sign as a highly secure, authenticated way of signing legal documents, saving time and paper,” says Mike Wang, technology manager at the University of Arizona bookstore. “It makes it easy to get sign-off from multiple people, track routing and activity, and maintain accurate records.”

Sunset shots of campus and the Tucson area from the roof of the Administration Building. Photographer: FJ Gaylor.

The bookstore started using Adobe Sign for authorizing payroll deductions, which faculty and staff use to defray their upfront costs in technology and equipment. Instead of filling out payroll deduction agreements in person, people can supply their address, telephone number, initials, and signature in an easy-to-use electronic form.

Today, the bookstore uses Adobe Sign for a wide range of processes, including student employee evaluations, which require multiple signatures in a particular order and need to be managed and stored carefully for legal reasons. Mike also uses it to push out important memos to make sure everyone understands and signs off on new policies and procedures.

Digital fluency is a commitment to students’ futures

As an Adobe Creative Campus, the University of Arizona does amazing things to promote digital literacy and give students opportunities to excel. Instructors bring creativity and digital tools into the curriculum, and students learn skills beyond their traditional areas of study.

The university is conducting a longitudinal study with 7,000 freshmen to make sure the investment pays off for students. With a series of surveys and awareness campaigns about access to Adobe tools, Melody hopes to show that the digital tools will level the playing field for students who otherwise would not have access to professional software. The University of Arizona also offers a for-credit class introducing students to Adobe Creative Cloud.

As the world becomes more digital and visual, the university gives students a clear advantage, no matter what direction they take after graduation.


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