Addressing Creative and Digital Literacy in K-12

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This is one article in a series on addressing the need employers have for real-world ready workers. What do real-world skills look like? How can science and math combine with creativity in the classroom? Discover an online community of educators committed to sharing curricula and best practices for arts integration in “Integrating Creativity into the Classroom – One Teacher at a Time!”

As industries grow much more technologically advanced, cloud-based, and global, it’s become clear to educators and administrators that they must teach digital literacy in the modern classroom. Students need these tools to excel in secondary education, as well as in their future careers. However, as technologically advanced as our society has become, digital literacy gaps remain in our educational systems. Today’s students will become the next generation’s workforce, so closing digital literacy gaps is crucial for these students to be prepared in the real world.

What is digital literacy, and why is it important?

Digital literacy is a person’s ability to discover, create, analyze, and share content online. Students should not only be able to research efficiently, but they should also be able to think critically, draw conclusions and assessments, and introduce their own projects from the content they absorb. Lastly, they must be able to apply this knowledge to real-world scenarios in their student life, not just web experiences.

For students to remain competitive moving forward, they must be able to excel at these skills, and fortunately, many industry-leading technology companies are working with educators and administrators to do just that. For example, the Adobe Education Exchange offers a variety of resources for educators interested in incorporating digital skills and creativity in their classrooms. Here are five ways top contributors to the Adobe Education Exchange are making a difference in their classrooms:

1. Include students in education planning.

David Olinger is a Seattle-based humanities teacher who didn’t use many digital tools in the classroom until his principal approved Adobe Photoshop for a digital learning course. When this course first started in 2006, about half of his students had to scan analog negatives to create digital files. By 2008, he noticed many stores had stopped selling analog film altogether.

Even though it was clear photography was shifting to digital back then, the education sector struggled to keep up with this movement. David has seen firsthand the impact technology can have on students’ lives and the overall experience in the classroom.

“As I have become a more digitally literate instructor — by employing ISTE standards, using lessons from Adobe’s Education Exchange, and collaborating with my colleagues from Adobe’s Education Leaders program — I have noticed that my lessons become more student-centered,” David explained. “Since joining the Adobe Education Leaders (AEL) team, my classroom has changed: the content that is delivered has been constructed more and more by the students, my students are more active in choosing and achieving learning targets, and the students have become more like a team of learners as opposed to individual competitors.

2. Use multimedia tools to your advantage.

Renaldo Lawrence works in the London-based Chiswick School, where 1,200 students from all walks of life come to learn. In fact, about 42 different languages are spoken by students at the school, showing the diversity of this education setting.

In particular, Renaldo works with educators to help integrate multimedia content into their curricula, whether it be on an iPad, iPhone, or other electronic device. By creating visuals and storyboards with teachers, Renaldo builds out the curriculum with video and audio assets, and then tests both with individual students and the full classroom. He says one of the biggest problems with education today is the fact that many teachers do not know how to use these tools to their advantage.

For instance, Renaldo uses Adobe Captivate to record his lessons. This way, if a student misses school for any reason, he or she can simply click, listen to the lesson, and have all of the tools they need to ensure they don’t fall behind in their schoolwork.

Additionally, Renaldo believes there are not enough options for digital literacy, but once the students understand how technology works and how to use digital products, the end result is creative, engaged, and curious students who are ready to learn.

3. Teach digital workflows.

Brett Kent, an Australian Adobe Education Leader, believes digital literacy is crucial not just from an education perspective, but also because we need to evolve into informed digital citizens who know how to interact with the world.

“I am finding that many students are becoming familiar with communications and research-based reading when working with digital technologies, but there does not seem to be a scope and sequence to their learning,” Kent stated.

Brett worked to bridge this digital literacy gap by teaching basic functionalities in Photoshop, then coaching students to develop their own digital workflow with other web-based technologies. This not only lets them graduate into more sophisticated content as they learn, but it also allows the student to become digitally informed.

Brett also stresses the importance of engaged teachers who are open to tech-based tools. “Don’t assume that the Y-Z millennial generations are naturals in the digital world,” Brett explained. “They need to learn how to find their way in the technical world that they have been born into. Remember that we made it, they just inherited it, and it is our job to make sure they understand the world we made for them.”

4. Meet students where they are.

Seth Chambers is an educator at The Center for Advanced Research and Technology (CART), a joint operation between the Fresno Unified and Clovis Unified school districts in California. CART champions project-based learning and group activity — instruction that ties into the data-driven process of digital literacy for Seth.

CART has a range of students, so the school takes a very diverse and integrated approach to digital literacy. High-functioning students can delve deeper into the concepts as a result, and lower-functioning students have the opportunity to work one-on-one with Seth as a partner rather than a teacher.

His students have created incredible projects as a result of using Creative Cloud tools and Adobe Spark. Chambers also runs a multimedia lab allowing students to focus specifically on video production and graphic design. Some of these include documentary films and instructional videos — even the class syllabus.

“Instead of us reading our students the syllabus and the school handbook, we assign them all sections. We have the students download Premiere Clip and make videos that describe them,” Seth explained.

5. Use digital literacy to build real-world experience.

Sherri Kushner, who works in grades 6 through 8 just north of Chicago, is part of the Digital Promise Verizon Innovation Learning School (DPVILS) program, which ensures an iPad and data plan for every student. Using translation apps has been very helpful in communicating with second language learners, but that’s only the beginning.

Students use Photoshop to design the school’s sports team logos which they silkscreen onto apparel, but Sherri says the students are also now using tech tools for problem solving — such as using Adobe Illustrator for sketching out ideas or Adobe Spark for presentations. Sherri teaches a media arts class focused on sound creation, storytelling, visual arts, 3D modeling, and digital fabrication to give students a wide spectrum of media with which to use these tech tools in real-world scenarios.

“I like that they take ownership of that whole process, almost like a business, learning what logos to pick, figuring out how we will sell them, setting the price, and choosing the materials so that they have a sense of entrepreneurship,” Sherri concluded.

Making digital literacy a reality

Knowing how to master different forms of technology and navigate web content will become more crucial as students enter today’s workforce. Though this can be challenging for teachers at first, there are ways educators can bridge the gap and help their students succeed in a 21st-century workforce. Find out how you can make a difference by exploring the free resources and professional development courses offered on the Adobe Education Exchange.