By Bob Flynn


July 25, 2012

Imagine a situation where you finally have something you and others have yearned for for years and yet it has now become common and people have become blasé about it. You struggle to get everyone excited about it, to find it relevant to their work and daily lives, to take advantage of it. No, I’m not talking about the right to vote in the US. I’m talking about Adobe’s great tools and technologies.

After years of conversations and negotiations my institution, Indiana University (IU), signed an Enterprise License Agreement (ELA) with Adobe giving our students, faculty and staff access to Creative Suite, Captivate, Lightroom and others. At first they melted the wires downloading it, but now it’s become commonplace. Sure the Fine Arts, Journalism and IST students are still in hog heaven, but what about the Business or Chemistry students? How can we make it relevant to them? Think of how well Mendeleev could have presented the Periodic Table if he’d been able to throw together a mock-up in Fireworks. And imagine how much more accessible E=mc2 would have been to the average reader if Einstein could have added an Edge animation to his landmark “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies” paper.

How can we broaden the conversation about Adobe tools? How do we get our entire school populations to think outside of the creativity box? This software is not just about makin’ thangs purty. This software helps us express ideas – sometime simple, sometimes complex. It should be an arrow in our communications quiver. We need to help our communities screw in and turn on the lightbulbs of inspiration. These tools are for everyone.

How. Do. We. Do. This?

First, we need be sure the tools are up to it. Are they simple enough to use? DW has a nice drop-down list to change the layouts. Can you make a “for dummies” layout that gives you just the essentials and removes the finery? if Adobe can simplify the UI for the touch apps, why can’t they give us an option for a simplified UI in the desktop apps. Sure, we want to power, but only when we need it. The rest of the time we want simplicity. Imagine Steve Jobs designing an SUV. It would be able to 4-wheel up the mountain when necessary, but the rest of the time it would be a car simple enough for anyone to drive to the grocery store. Can we get reach those heights of UI simplicity for PS or IA?

Second, we need someone – the community? Adobe? – to examine the WHOLE education space, not just when the teacher is in the classroom with the students, and develop relevant examples to seemingly mundane activities for all to see. Adobe Connect for office hours? Not really flexing the muscles of the product, but it is simple, relevant and gets people using the tool. A time-lapse profit chart in a Business student’s company case-study report? It will not only blow away his professor, but it will give the student a deeper understanding of the content. It might even be their gateway drug to other CS apps… The list goes on.

I have the greatest respect for those who work and teach in the visual and creative arts. I am envious of their talents. However it is far too easy for the Adobe Creative Wow Factor, exemplified by their work and the praise it justifiably receives, to so dominate the conversation. It can seem unattainable to and shut down the imaginations of those who exercise less artistic pursuits.

We need inspiration. We need examples. We need to show a broad spectrum of use cases from across the academic spectrum. Adobe tools for the poets and scientists! Adobe tools for music and pre-med! Adobe tools for the researchers! Adobe tools for the secretaries! If the tools can be used by everyone (jury is still out on that question), then lets show everyone using them.

This may not seem relevant to you. You may be in a school where getting the software is a struggle. It was a struggle for us too. That’s why keeping it, by showing its ROI, is so important.

Stand up and be counted! Share your thoughts.


  • By Judy Durkin - 3:03 PM on July 26, 2012  

    My daughter is going to use Forms Central for her Linguistics thesis. once I showed her the possibilities of doing surveys with FC, she was blown away. This is an example of how Adobe software fits into every corner of academia. I wish there was a traveling side-show of Adobe tips and tricks for faculty meetings – I guess that is what the AELs are supposed to do, but there is always so much doubt from education administration. Adobe has been long labeled as software for the creative-types only.

    • By bobflynn - 2:44 PM on July 30, 2012  


      My first inclination is to say that Adobe needs to come up with the good examples, to put together that slide deck, but I guess that is a cop out. There are some they could provide, but I think we need to. There are examples out there, like your daughter, and we need to put them together for others to see/use.

      When speaking to Matt Nimitz about the role the Adobe Education Exchange could play as a collection point for these examples he said that the AEE has been struggling to get content in the “non-creative/non-traditoinal” areas. (We really need a better term.)

      I think that with the right examples we could turn administrators and other faculty around quickly. They just can’t be things that take experts to build. Edge, Muse and the Touch Apps are a step in the right direction. Adobe just has to figure out how to get them to us!

  • By Jeff Larson - 2:52 AM on July 30, 2012  

    Great post Bob! I agree wholeheartedly with much of what you say here. For the last several years I have been pounding my head wondering what it will take for this creative potential to be unleashed at school sites, districts, and institutions around the state and country. I try to offer the opportunity at my school site for students to learn some of the skills in an after school program, but it’s impact is minimal.

    I have over a hundred students each year walking out of my classes with an amazing skill set and knowledge of how to produce fabulous content, but then there is little space or opportunity in the context of other teachers courses to demonstrate these skills in those subjects. Granted the production time is considerably longer for an animation production than that of a Powerpoint, and few other educators seem to be moving in the direction of learning and incorporating this knowledge and skill set.

    I believe the answer lies in ongoing on site professional development, led by other educators in the district. First and foremost in using a number of the Adobe tools, and then repeatedly in the curriculum application and integration area. By leaving it an option not to work with and learn these communication tools educators are doing themselves and their students a great disservice.

    As I prepare to return to my school site and district this year, I have vowed to myself, that this is the year that some shift and forward movement is going to take place around this. I am tired of waiting and trying to do it on my own and I am going to recruit and build a team this year and set some goals and move to accomplish them.

    Your post has only served as a reminder of how crucial this matter is. Thank you for your thoughtful and encouraging voice.

    • By Bob Flynn - 3:36 PM on July 30, 2012  


      I agree that we need to build teachers’ awareness and skills. Like with most things tech, though, I think the students will lead the change. I wonder how we can incent students to get in the game.

      I believe this is more about increasing your productivity (see Judy’s example above) and enhancing the power of your communication than anything else. A paper or presentation about math, science, history, etc. will communicate more effectively with visual elements. I’m not suggesting we start turning their work into picture books. A good PPT presentation is less about text bullets and more about the image you build in your audience’s mind. It should be the same with a research paper, journalism report or creative writing assignment. Researchers have already caught on to the need to include data visualizations in their work to convey meaning. We just need to build on that paradigm.

  • By lukasengqvist - 5:27 AM on August 7, 2012  

    I think we need to work at several levels. If we look to history and see how the subject geography came to be a school subject. When people teach tools they don’t understand knowledge regresses. We get a transfer of knowledge that has no understanding. This is at the learning stage. I find I spend much time with students to unteach so I can teach.
    The second is once we have understood how to use the tools they can be applied cross curriculum. Here I think the model of liberal arts is key. In education there is a tendency to large monocultures, that graph easily to prove progress irrespective of the actual direction of the development.
    I think media education ought to be as natural as geography. By nature it is a cross curricular skill, which makes it difficult to fit in but Celestine Freinet who built the classroom round a printing press had a model for media education that we could adopt.

  • By jameskinney - 2:06 PM on August 16, 2012  

    All very good points. I have been following your school’s lead. We inked an ELA for our Design School and it was a huge success with the students. I work tirelessly to promote the power of design, visualization, mapping as value adds for other, non-design domains. The difficulty lies in convincing the directors and SVPs of the relevancy. I have forwarded the various documents supplied by yours truly and Adobe but the uptake is slow.
    The default, as you pointed out, is too look at what designers are doing and relegate this sort of activity to the sole domain of “those crazy designers”
    I am currently working on building a post baccalaureate program in information/education design that will allow graduates to build powerful products and services that relate to their various areas of interest.
    I have had great support from the Adobe Team here in Canada on that initiative.
    Much of the culture shift has come from my students. We were able to showcase their production of learning assets as a huge boon for content production within the college and opened a door to embracing new roles in the classroom. I had them teaching faculty this spring and the faculty and students were quite thrilled with the experience. I am now trying to branch out into the business division and beyond. I am really jazzed about getting some of these tools and techniques into the hands of students in our healthcare stream.
    I agree with the overarching sentiment that a core competency of basic narrative, social-media, media and visualization skills are necessary if our non-design areas are going to develop efficiencies or innovate in the delivery of products and services.