What It Means to Be Digitally Expressive

Bridging the creativity gap with mobile tools in education.   

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

Tacy Trowbridge worldwide education manager AdobePassionate about inspiring and engaging educators and students to create, and not just consume digital media, Tacy Trowbridge has led national programs and organizations to provide professional development for educators, to develop curriculum, to design online learning, and to conduct research. She has worked for the University of California, Teachscape, Stanford University’s Persuasive Technology Lab, and San Francisco-area schools. She earned her B.A. from Wesleyan University in Connecticut and an M.A. from Stanford’s School of Education in Learning, Design and Technology. Currently, as Adobe’s worldwide manager of education programs, she has a lot to say about the state of learning today, and she shares her words of wisdom in this EdTech Digest interview, including thoughts on STEM to STEAM, what’s missing from today’s classrooms, and what she thinks educators should first discuss before they acquire any technology — and what happens if they don’t.

Victor: Why is it important for children to be exposed to technology in school? 

Tacy: Digital expression is the new literacy. With the rapid expansion of mobile tools that enable video capture, like smart phones, tablets and cameras, digital expression is becoming more powerful and immersive than ever. Video, sound, images and interactive elements are becoming an important part of sharing ideas in nearly every subject or department, including math, science, architecture and engineering, business, public policy and medicine.

Victor: What are some of the most important tech skills students should be learning today?


·         General media literacy

·         Digital communication

·         Data visualization

·         Basic coding

Victor: What are some of the challenges you see educators facing when it comes to teaching with technology and getting tech into the hands of students?

Tacy: Commonly identified challenges by educators include the need for training, curricular resources and the rapid pace of technological change. At Adobe, we support educators with free up-to-date instructional resources and professional development to help them foster creativity and digital literacy in their students. The Adobe Education Exchange is the largest community of creative educators and an amazing place to find inspiration – to learn, to connect with others and to explore curricular resources.

Victor: How does Adobe help make technology more affordable for students and teachers?

Tacy: Adobe provides access to technology in many different ways and offers a variety of highly discounted software licensing models for individual students and teachers as well as institutions, districts, and in some cases, entire states. However, beyond simply pricing software affordably, Adobe clearly understands the need for teaching and learning resources, curriculum, certification, professional development and community engagement solutions. Technology and software alone will not make a difference in education unless it is coupled with the right solutions and services that can assist in successful implementation and enable improved student outcomes.

Victor: What’s missing from today’s classroom that is a bit of a travesty? Anything you can think of? Why?

Tacy: Our recent research study, “Barriers to Creativity in Education: Educators and Parents Grade the System,” reveals a creativity gap. Eighty-eight percent of educators and parents believe creativity and innovation will fuel the economy of the future. A similarly high number of 86 percent believe that teaching creativity requires a transformation in the way schools work.

The top barriers to teaching creativity, according to parents and educators in the U.S. include:

·         Educational system is too reliant on testing

·         Educators are restricted from straying outside the curriculum and;

·         Lack of resources

Victor: Very interesting responses. Alright, next: How can technology enhance creativity in the classroom? Why does this matter? 

Tacy: Technology provides a means to be creative. Consider how digital storytelling or building apps or animations are all creative acts that require much more than just knowledge of technology. Technology gives students an opportunity to develop a creative idea and make that idea come alive.

Victor: What advice do you have for today’s educators?

Tacy: Educators should first discuss and evaluate long-term objectives and goals before they acquire any technology. Without administrative support, strong technology plans, on-going professional development and required IT support services, technology integration in schools will simply fail. Technology integration needs to support a sound pedagogical and general teaching approach and be in service of a modern learning environment. Plans should include set hardware and software refreshment cycles just like they do in commercial enterprise environments and technology acquisition needs to be age- or grade-appropriate. Software applications should be chosen based on real-world relevance since future employers will be looking for actual work-environment skillsets.

Victor: Broadly, what are your thoughts on education these days?

Tacy: We live in a time of tremendous opportunity where students and educators have the tools to not just consume digital content, but to create it as well.

Victor: What makes you say that?

Tacy: We can prepare students to be innovators and ensure that creativity isn’t a specialized skill. Just look at the schools creating Maker Spaces or at the clear consensus that parents and educators see creative skills as critical for the growth of our economy. There are state level movements to develop creativity indexes to measure how well schools are preparing students to be innovators. The STEM to STEAM movement adds the arts, creativity and innovation so important for success in technical fields.

Schools must lead the way by teaching technology and creativity to prepare tomorrow’s innovators.

Victor: Can you share some examples of projects from educators that others can replicate in their own classrooms? 

Tacy: Educators are doing amazing work and sharing it through the Adobe Education Exchange in over 4,500 lesson plans, activities and resources. For example: The World Wide Workshop’s Globaloria program is a learning network and curriculum for students in grades 6 through 12 that advances science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), as well as computing knowledge, through hands-on game design and programming. More information can be fund here.

This video highlights how Adobe Education Leader Michael Skocko developed a new system to support “quest-based” learning – a unique twist on the gamification of education. Skocko worked with two of his Valhalla High School students to write the system’s code from scratch, pushing the students to think creatively (and out of their comfort zone). Disclosure: This video was created by Vaus Media for the Classroom of the Future Foundations’ Innovation in Education awards.  

Adobe Education Leader Mali Bickley created a video series where her fifth-grade students simulate an evening news report. Each segment highlights a different science-related topic that is currently making headlines, including global warmingdeforestation in Borneo and ocean acidification. The videos help students better understand the real-world importance of the topic they’re learning about, as well as improve public speaking skills.

Victor: Anything else you’d like to add or emphasize concerning education, technology, today’s classrooms, creativity – or anything else for that matter?  

Tacy: Today, it’s not about what you know. It’s about what you build, what you design and what you create. We’re facing big challenges — in our global economy, in our environment, and in social issues. We need creative ideas to solve them. Without creativity and creative thinking, existing problems will be solved the same way, with the same results.

Victor: Excellent! Thank you for sharing, Tacy!

Tacy: Thank you, Victor!

Victor Rivero is the editor in chief of EdTech Digest. The 2014 EdTech Digest Awards Recognition Program nomination period opened August 19, 2013 and will close on September 30, 2013. For full details, write to: edtechdigest@gmail.com


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