Curriculum change can unleash staff and student digital creativity

AI can give impetus to universities' curriculum change agendas, says Mark Andrews - but staff and students need to be on the train

Mark Andrews is higher education lead (EMEA) at Adobe.

At a recent roundtable event on the impact of artificial intelligence we heard from Jean, a recent Masters graduate, now employed in marketing – where, as in many fields, the industry is scrambling to adopt generative AI tools that can help with productivity, efficiency, and creative thinking.

Jean is grateful for the existence of Chat-GPT because, as she says, it is “like having an intern within your team.” Yet it’s really not that long since Jean herself would have been the intern – stuck with the dull, repetitive work.

Jean now says she is not concerned about AI taking her job, because, thanks to her university degree, “I know that I have the skill set that AI cannot replicate. And these skill sets are really important…things like critical thinking, adaptability, flexibility, things like creativity, and storytelling skills, or even emotional intelligence.”

Universities continue to wrestle with the implications of generative AI tools for teaching and assessment. But the conversation is evolving away from anxiety about academic misconduct and into a much more productive and creative space in which AI is acting as an agitator for change – giving impetus to curriculum transformation agendas that in many cases were already in train.

Curriculum change journey

Our recently published work with Wonkhe on changing curriculum looked deeper into the curriculum change process. Through it we gathered a range of perspectives on how institutions are seeking to prepare students (and, indeed, the institution) for a changing world. It revealed a steady trajectory towards a more authentic, more engaging, more inclusive curriculum and pedagogy.

A recent Jisc investigation found that students are already using AI in their learning and, mindful that AI tools are set to become ubiquitous in their future lives, are keen to see it incorporated into teaching as well so that they can deploy AI tools to support their development of essential life skills through their higher education experience.

Universities want to realise their ambitions for a world-class curriculum that will give their students the kind of learning experiences that will foster Jean-level confidence that they are prepared to handle whatever their industry throws at them. That can look like authentic pedagogy and assessment, building students’ digital fluency, or enabling more collaborative, active pedagogies.

But the process of curriculum transformation is not always smooth. I have spent my career being fascinated by curriculum change – how organisations as complicated and messy as universities, with so many different cultures and professions co-existing and learning together manage to strike the balance between innovation, scale and consistency of provision.

Speaking to university and subject leaders during the research it was clear that all embrace the opportunity of changing teaching and learning. Strategic leadership is essential to convene thinking and resources around change agendas – to create an “engine-room” of change that coordinates, supports, and champions change. But it’s notable that when universities are undergoing the process of change it’s not always obvious where the nucleus of transformation, or ownership of the change, lies.

This lack of formal structure and direction creates a messiness that can be hard to grasp, but also frequently offers space for fresh thinking and innovation that is authentic to the discipline and its students. Without that passion and enthusiasm from staff and students on the ground, change agendas quite simply fall flat – they don’t “take” – and the hoped-for impact is lost.

Success through partnership

Institutions involved in our global Creative Campus programme partner with us to further their mission to transform teaching and learning. Being a Creative Campus brings with it connection to a global network of like-minded institutions each with their own bank of ideas, experiments and initiatives to share. So very different universities can collaborate and evolve their own responses to shared challenges around achieving curriculum transformation at scale.

A new white paper Success through partnership with Adobe looks into strategies of four institutions, including three UK Creative Campuses – Teesside University, Solent University, Bath Spa University and Weber State in the US and illustrates how this works in practice. All are very different institutions, and have adopted different approaches to rolling out their Adobe partnership in the context of their wider strategic agendas for learning and teaching. But there are also striking similarities in their respective journeys to leverage the opportunity of working with us to create change.

All have a strong vision and leadership that tells a clear story about how the partnership with Adobe helps to unlock strategic challenges and realise the potential of their wider learning and teaching plans – creating that scale and consistency while affording personalisation and experimentation. But rather than mandating use of our tools or being directive in how they are adopted, leaders have focused on creating opportunities for staff and students to familiarise themselves with Adobe’s creative tools and start experimenting with them, encouraging staff and student ownership and creativity from the outset.

The newly launched Adobe Express is the most accessible tool yet for enabling creativity at scale – as an all-in-one design, photo, and video tool that opens up all kinds of possibilities for content creation, it doesn’t require deep expertise in design before you can start having fun with it. Adobe Express is powered by Adobe Firefly, a generative AI model that is designed to generate high-quality images – and that is trained only on Adobe stock images and public domain and openly licensed content. Express acts as an institutional hub for creativity, and a shared platform for staff and students to experiment and collaborate on novel forms of pedagogy and assessment, using diverse media.

Offering universal and equitable access to digital creative tools is only the beginning – the real difference comes when university staff and students are able to use those tools to shape their own stories. As a result, as Jonathan Eaton, director of student learning and academic registry at Teesside, told us, “success for us often looks like the use of technology we never imagined when we started on the journey.”

This article is published in association with Adobe. Download the white paper Success through partnership with Adobe here.

2 responses to “Curriculum change can unleash staff and student digital creativity

  1. Great in theory but clearly written by someone who doesn’t have to make it happen in practice at the coal-face. The explosion in workload coming from all directions onto academic staff means that time for CPD and being creative is very limited – even activity that used to be done “in your own time” for interest is now displaced by having to work long hours and weekends just to keep up with the basics. I long to be able to do the things yuo describe

    1. With many ‘teaching’ Academics being forced to work split shifts teaching the same thing several times a day to huge cohorts split into lecture theatre sized groups time pressure is becoming unsustainable, many Universities have latched onto AI and recorded lectures as a way of getting even more out of their Academic staff, and more income from greater student numbers, without paying the lecturers any more. Perhaps that’s why those who can ‘escape’ teaching and get a research only contract are doing so in greater numbers?

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