Academy of Art Draws on Digital Tech

Digital technology is transforming even the most traditional organizations, forcing business and IT leaders to rethink and reinvent the way they go about myriad processes. One organization that’s at the center of this type of disruption is the Academy of Art University (AoA) in San Francisco.

“We have had to transform ourselves from a traditional brick-and-mortar school to a dynamic 21st century learning institution that produces students who are able to thrive in their professions,” says Jason Shaeffer, vice president of online education.

Over the past several years, the 88-year-old private school has focused on adopting an arsenal of digital tools and technologies. However, with 26 departments and about 13,000 students, achieving broad and deep technology integration has been a challenge.

“It’s important to have a consistent experience for everything from learning management systems to content and grading,” Schaeffer explains. Although the school had adopted numerous ad hoc tools and technologies, “In the past, we lacked a strategic framework for digital technology.”

In the mid-2000s, the university began using Adobe software tools. In July 2015, AoA decided to embrace a more advanced and comprehensive digital platform based on Adobe software. The goal? Improve learning across different devices and screens, inspire creativity through mobile apps, and save time and money on administrative tasks, such as human resources.

Deploying a Single Set of Software Tools

The organization uses a full spectrum of tools, including Adobe Creative Cloud and Document Cloud. The former includes Illustrator, Photoshop, Lightroom, InDesign, Bridge, Premiere Pro, AEM Mobile, Muse, XD, Character Animator, and Typekit. The latter supports communication and collaboration through Acrobat, Adobe Experience Management (AEM) and electronic signature tool Adobe Sign.

“We wanted to have a single set of tools used across the organization,” Shaeffer says.

The initiative has helped transform a variety of processes. For example, it introduced Adobe Sign to replace a cumbersome paper-based signing process used for disclosures, acknowledgements and contracts. Over the previous 12 months, it used the tool to process more than 18,000 signatures at a mean time of 3.7 minutes per document.

“What used to sometimes take several days now takes place in hours or minutes,” Shaeffer reports. This has allowed HR and other groups to focus on more meaningful tasks and has eliminated confusion as well as the time spent tracking the task. “We can glance at a dashboard and see exactly where things are and what requires follow up,” he adds.

Meanwhile, instructors and students have standardized on Creative Cloud, Adobe Experience Manager and other digital tools that streamline teaching, content creation and content delivery. “When a student enrolls, he or she has immediate access to the entire suite of products,” Shaeffer says.

What’s more, using Adobe Connect, groups, departments and teams can hold online meetings, discussions and even town hall type events using videoconferencing and collaborative tools. The system also supports guest lectures and live streaming. Finally, the school uses Acrobat to distribute catalogs electronically rather than through the mail.

The transformation has been remarkable. “We have used these systems to drive improvements and innovation,” reports Aaron Schuyler, senior director for Online Education Systems at AoA. “We have built a better framework for learning and teaching through digital technology.”

“We want to make sure everyone has the tools they need,” Shaeffer adds. “We want students to be employable. We don’t believe in starving artists.”

Samuel Greengard writes about business and technology for Baseline, CIO Insight and other publications. His most recent book is The Internet of Things (MIT Press, 2015). 

Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard writes about business, technology and other topics. His book, The Internet of Things (MIT Press) was released in the spring of 2015.

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