Today’s young people live in a world where tech is ubiquitous. Where industries and individuals constantly create, innovate and explore new technologies. Yet, according to a recent report by Nesta, there is already a creative digital skills shortage in a number of key creative industries, which leaves this generation, and the UK economy, poised to fall behind.
Creative digital skills are increasingly vital to both finding work and progressing, as well as active participation in society. The surge in our reliance on technology during the pandemic has further highlighted just how vital these skills are, and the crucial role they will play in the recovery programme and beyond.
So if we know that building dynamic digital skills is crucial to helping young people to become the digital workforce of the future, how can we address this shortage? Some of the biggest barriers cited by teachers are a “lack of access to reliable technology”, “a crowded curriculum or lack of time” and “an emphasis on exam preparation”.
How to develop creative digital skills in schools
Here are five tried-and-tested strategies to tackle these challenges and build creative digital skills in young people.
1. Utilise students’ existing tech knowledge
Boosting digital creativity in students doesn’t have to mean additional work on a teacher's already demanding curriculum.
“Our young people are already experts in fields of social media and gaming,” says Christian Mba, head of media studies and an English teacher at Kettering Buccleuch Academy. “Yet we're not always tapping into that as educators.”
Mba says a great way to capitalise on this is by giving students a “200-word challenge” in which they pick from a range of topics – for example, plastic pollution or mental health – and express their views on it in 200 words through a digital medium.
He says students often use tools that are known to them like blogging, tweeting, uploading a video to YouTube or sometimes a mix of all of these. It’s an activity that Mba regularly uses to bring topics to life and inspire a creative response.
“Students are already using these tools in their free time, so why not bring that to the classroom?” says Cheryl Shirley, lead teacher of technology for learning at the LEO Academy Trust. “That's what they love and enjoy, so that's what's going to engage them.”
Dominic Traynor, education evangelist at Adobe, agrees: “The pen and paper method that schools have traditionally used doesn’t need to be scrapped – it can be brought to life through the digital medium.”
Indeed, for the past five years, Shirley’s students have made digital book reviews using Adobe Spark instead of writing these up in their class books. Shirley says the diversity it offers her students is incredibly useful as they can use a variety of templates to custom create everything from web pages to posts, integrate audio and video, and all on a single platform.
“It’s so user-friendly that even teachers and students who aren’t quite so proficient with digital skills feel confident with it,” adds Shirley.
2. Make meaningful connections
Young people are passionate about making change. More and more young people are spearheading societal and political movements, predominantly using digital applications to drive these campaigns. So why not tap into this enthusiasm and help students to bring their ideas to life using the technology they are familiar with? Whether it’s creating awareness through social media, documentaries or vlogging, these are all skills that can be championed in the classroom.
A digital storytelling campaign launched by Adobe and Sky, The Edit, does exactly that. Students are invited to write, edit, produce and broadcast a news report raising awareness of climate change using professional training and applications. The programme equips students with key digital skills while helping them to find their creative voice on a subject they are passionate about.
“Digital tools are the most powerful and flexible tools we have to make positive changes in the world,” says Dan Sutch, director of CAST (the Centre for the Acceleration of Social Technology). “Young people should know that, so when they are really motivated by something that’s important to them, they can use digital tools to resolve those motivations.”
3. Make it cross-curricular
And the beauty of digital creativity is that it can be embedded in any subject, not just the arts. Sutch has encouraged students and teachers he’s worked with to explore how they can present their scientific learning online and allow others to get involved.
Traynor recommends tasking students with documenting their science experiments in the form of a video diary or multi-media digital presentations to introduce digital creativity into Stem subjects.
Much like Shirley, Traynor suggests using applications like Adobe Spark for science projects, as the use of text, visuals, audio and video templates can really bring the scientific concept students have learned to life. Traynor says this is especially effective because “using such a wide range of rich digital media as a next step to traditional pen and paper allows content to embed deeper into our students' long-term memories", which is a win-win for students and teachers.
Similarly, participation in citizen science projects, whereby interested members of the public contribute to real scientific research, is a great way to develop digital creativity as students get involved in real-world science problems doing small bits of work that often require digital collaboration, either by collecting or analysing data and uploading their results.
4. Encourage digital collaboration among students
Collaboration is one of the key strategies that Sutch suggests for boosting digital creativity in students: “The tools you use can be very simple and yet extremely creative,” he says.
Flipped learning – where students do their background reading of a subject at home then engage in live problem-solving activities online in class – is an approach he’s seen used with great success. One of the most effective activities he cites is getting students to create a “Choose your own adventure story” together.
In class, students discuss complex concepts like story structure, narrative and character analysis then each write a chapter of the story at home. When they return to class, all of the chapters are collated in a single Word document to create a vast adventure story with multiple routes.
Collaborative note-taking is similarly effective. Here students are able to see the different perspectives each of them has on the lesson being taught, by putting their notes in a shared document online. This can be taken a step further with teachers and students leaving comments on each other’s notes, driving an exciting digital discourse.
5. Keep it accessible
In order for students to unleash their creativity and start experimenting, the technology needs to be accessible. Mba advises using applications that are intuitive with a user-friendly interface so that students can explore them with ease – allowing teachers more time to focus on pedagogy. He feels applications such as Adobe’s facilitate students creating high-production-value pieces across various mediums on a single software.
Traynor suggests using cloud-based tools to make it simpler for students and teachers to access all of their creative content in one place, which also allows students to continue their learning in their own time.
When selecting reliable technology with a proven track record, speaking to other schools and educators about what works is invaluable. Sutch suggests joining peer-reviewed networks as a great way to find out which technologies have stood the test of time and proven most transformative.
Though, as Shirley says, boosting digital creativity is not just a means to an end. “[Digital creativity] makes students improve skills across the board; from being able to collaborate, persuade and communicate better,” she says. “These are important skills to have if young people want to thrive in the modern world.”
Payal Mohta is a freelance content writer covering edtech, business, and design. Her work has been featured in The Guardian, Washington Post and Al Jazeera.
Find out more about how Adobe Creative Cloud can help develop digital creativity skills in education here