Creative Discovery Fellows @ Berkeley

Group shot of first cohort of Adobe Fellows, October 2018

How do we leverage creative tools to support teaching and learning, foster public understanding, amplify diverse voices, and empower students?

Creative Discovery Fellows @ Berkeley aims to help integrate digital design tools into the Berkeley academic experience in ways that enhance instruction, foster student agency and development, and strengthen the university's public mission. The program is a collaboration between the American Cultures (AC) Center and the Academic Innovation Studio, with strong support from Digital Learning Services, Educational Technology Services, and the Library.

In many AC courses, creative projects are central to "lifting" the analytical work of the classroom into broader circulation. The AC curriculum serves as a nexus for socially, personally, and politically meaningful work as well as interdisciplinary connections and collaborations. It is also a home and navigation system for underrepresented and marginalized students, who traditionally have less access to technology and opportunities for creative production, and whose experiences and stories may be devalued within a traditional academic context.

The Creative Discovery Fellows program has four main goals:

  • Support AC faculty in deepening and enhancing their course assignments through the critical use of creative tools
  • Help students, particularly from marginalized groups, become "empowered producers" and see themselves as effective change makers
  • Better leverage the university's existing investment in Adobe software, which is paid for by student fees
  • Research and understand conditions for equity-oriented student learning within the context of creativity and social justice

The program is organized around several critical gaps and opportunities:

1. Access to software isn't enough.
Since 2011, Berkeley students, faculty, and staff have had campus-wide access to powerful, industry-standard tools such as the Adobe Creative Suite. Yet, most students don't know how to take advantage of these tools and usage is concentrated in specific pockets of campus. Students, especially those who have no previous experience with digital design, need support, training, and meaningful opportunities--situated within the curriculum--to learn.

2. Instructors need support, too. 
The content of AC courses is well-suited for narrative rendering, artistic exploration, and public dissemination, but instructors need help thinking through their ideas, creating scaffolds for creative assignments, and connecting these to larger learning goals. They also want to focus on their disciplinary content, not have to provide technical support for tools.

3. Students are eager and excited to engage in a new way.
Berkeley students are hungry for opportunities to stretch their imaginations, to learn new skills, to express their experiences and ideas, to engage deeply with challenging content, and to share what they're learning with others. Creative projects privilege different skills and methods, so they allow students to "show up"  for the classroom in new ways. Digital content is also inherently easy to distribute, which creates opportunities for dialogue, for work to "walk," and for students to learn from how things get received and taken up.

4. Creative assignments can be a powerful vehicle for student agency and growth.
Within an AC context, producing creative work involves making choices, getting intimate with other people's (and your own) stories and experiences, and confronting issues of representation, voice, ethics, and marginalization, among other things. For some students, it may become an opportunity to articulate a personal experience within an intellectual framework or a new set of tools that can be leveraged for activism or other purposes; for others, it may be grappling with and working through something new or challenging that creates a shift in perspective. 

Program Model

Our model is a multi-pronged approach that involves working closely with faculty cohorts and providing near-peer support for students.

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Diagram of Adobe Fellows model, showing types of support offered to instructors and studentsInfographic of faculty journey map

On the faculty side, this includes hands-on training, monthly pedagogy discussions, one-on-one consultations, co-developing resources around related needs (such as grading rubrics, copyright, accessibility, creative process), and topic-driven workshops that serve both the cohort and the larger campus. Over time, we hope to develop a tight learning community where instructors can share best practices, tips, and ideas.

On the student side, peer consultants provide support for individual courses and the campus at large by hosting workshops, facilitated feedback sessions, one-one-one consultations, and in-class trainings. Teacher scholars provide an additional layer of course support for instructors who have completed the program and want to build on or continue their work. Our hope is to create a pipeline for students in AC courses to develop and grow their creative, technical, and instructional skills by participating in our various support offerings.

Faculty Cohorts

Our first cohort of 13 instructors was drawn from a range of departments across campus, representing different class sizes, levels of comfort/familiarity with technology, teaching styles, and types of assignments. 

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Graphic showing departments and thumbnails of Adobe Fellows first cohort

Our new cohort (2019-2020) includes faculty from History, Ethnic Studies, Chicano Studies, Labor Studies, Integrative Biology, Global Studies, Comparative Literature, as well as Theater, Dance, & Performance Studies. Applications for the next round of Adobe Fellows will be available in May/June 2020.


In addition to evaluating the effectiveness of our program, we are engaged in research to understand and describe powerful examples of faculty/student learning and the types of activities and support that foster identity development, knowledge production, skills acquisition, and social impact within AC courses. 

Through our holistic program approach, we hope to foster local expertise at multiple levels, develop a model of responsive support for the campus around purpose-driven creative activity, and provide critical infrastructure and ground-tested resources to animate campus-wide initiatives such as the Discovery Experience and Digital Learning.

For more information, please contact Jean Cheng (jeancheng@) and Victoria Robinson (victoriarobbi@) or adobefellows@berkeley.eduAdditional background about this program (Adobe Spark presentation):