One year ago at BETT 2018, Adobe revealed their plans for a new version of Spark, exclusively for educators and students.  Christened as Adobe Spark For Education, the company announced that it would be making their $120 premium service free for all K-12 and Higher Education Institutions.  As an educator who had already been featuring Adobe Spark in professional development sessions for a few years, I was naturally excited for this announcement.

At that time, the only way to access Spark was to sign up for what is now referred to as the “personal” account, which required email access to login.  This obviously created many obstacles for student use. It appeared that the new education version would solve many of the biggest problems associated with personal accounts including the need for a working student email address, inability to control inappropriate images in search engines, product branding and privacy concerns.  

While everything sounded great, I have to say that I was also a bit skeptical.   If you follow EdTech, you’ve probably have an example of product or service who announced a promising ideas, only to never have its expectations fully materialize.  How did Adobe Spark for Education compare? Well, I’ve had the chance to use the platform for nearly six months and my review and reflections can be found below.

Yes, it’s really free!

Adobe Spark is a legitimately free service provided by the company to K-12 and Higher Education Institutions.  Each member will have access to the features on the premium plan – the same ones which currently cost $9.99 per month for an individual user.  Based on the language from the Adobe Spark education guide for teachers, it sounds as though keeping the platform free for educators is a priority.

“Adobe Spark is free to use. The ability to create and edit and share, is, and will remain, free. No bait-and-switch, we promise. While Spark itself is free, we do offer premium features (including the ability to create custom branded content) that are only available with a paid license. As mentioned above, Adobe Spark for Education users get these Premium Features free, too.”

Configuring Spark For Education

In order to get started, an organization will need the Adobe Admin Console.  Within the console, Spark will be listed as a free offer in “Overview” tab. If a school doesn’t have any Adobe products, a network administrator can contact Adobe to request a console to deploy Spark.  The phone numbers can be found at the bottom of this page.  

From there, the technology network team can proceed through several steps to set-up and identity to ensure that Spark can be accessed with student/staff credentials.  I personally wasn’t very involved in the set-up, but was told that the process was fairly easy to set deploy.

If you’d like to see the entire technical configuration steps for setting up Spark For Education, it is detailed below:

https://helpx.adobe.com/enterprise/using/edu-deployment-guide.html

Additional Premium Features

As mentioned earlier, each education account will be provided with Premium features which essentially are additional options to further customize your creations.  You can replace those annoying Adobe Spark watermarks with your own logos and also take advantage of personalized templates and fonts.  The end result is a consistent brand theme that teachers and student can use on published work.

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Enhanced Student Privacy

In a blog post from last Spring, Adobe announced that schools can use it’s platform to “create and manage student accounts in a way that is consistent with COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule) and in an environment that keeps students and their privacy safe and secure.”  

If you’ve used the personal version of Spark before, you know that there are options to share each item through a customized URL hosted on Adobe’s servers.  The education version provides schools with options to restrict sharing of assets as detailed on the Adobe help desk website.

No public link sharing: Completely turn off the ability to share content as URL.  Members can only download their creations

Sharing only to domain users:  Members can share their work as URL, but only those within the school domain can view their work.

No Restrictions (Public sharing):  Members can share their work as a URL and anyone in the world can view it.  

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Restrictions on Image Search Engines

One of the helpful features of Spark is the ability to search and add Creative Commons photos directly to your project from sources like Flickr, Pixabay, Unsplash and even Adobe Stock Photos.  While this was a convenient feature, many educators reported instances of students coming across inappropriate photos in these search engines.  

In Spark for Education, the ability to search photos through the Creative Commons licensed photos in Flickr (one of the major culprits of these images) is blocked.  The same can even be said for Adobe Stock images (culprit #2). From my own experience, I haven’t encountered any inappropriate since transitions to Spark for Education, so this feature has been welcomed.

Of course, as Adobe points out “no technology filtering is foolproof,” and the ability to upload any photo that are manually downloaded from inappropriate locations still exists.

You won’t lose your projects when you convert to Spark Education

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So if you signed up for Adobe Spark using your school email and then enable Spark for Education, will your personal account get overwritten?  Fortunately, this doesn’t happen. Adobe will recognize your personal and education accounts separately.  So when you enter your email address, it immediately prompts you to an option to select which version you’d like to create it in.  

You will notice this login on both the web and iOS app versions of the Spark Apps.  Remember on iOS there are 3 separate apps to download.

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Are there any issues with Spark?

The only problem I have encountered is with sharing permissions.  Many schools have a policy of “enterprise sharing” for nearly all technology platforms.  This means that if I create a Google Doc, I can share it anyone in my school inside our school domain.  If I try to share it with someone that doesn’t work in my school, they will be unable to view it.

One of the schools that I work with have correctly set the sharing permissions to “Enterprise,” however technical issues on Adobe’s end currently will not allow for Enterprise sharing.  This is a known issue that Adobe is working on, however there is not time-table for a solution.

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The good news is, this issue doesn’t affect Spark Post or Spark Video much.  You can easily download the files for both of those programs and upload to a different host or within your LMS.  It does however greatly affect Spark Page, as naturally there is no other method to share a website.  Users do you the ability to download their Spark Page as a PDF file, and Adobe make a really effort to convert, but they are completely different visual mediums and experiences.  It’s really not worth designing a media-rich website, if you have no way of sharing it with anyone.

I am hoping for a solution soon, because out of the three I think that Spark Page can be an invaluable tool to allow students to create single-topic websites that look great.   

So…is Spark for Education worth the hype?

I would have to say yes!  As previously explained, I’ve always been a huge proponent of Adobe of the Adobe Spark platform.  Each of the three apps with Spark are a fantastic way to introduce students and educators to creating high-quality media-content.  As opposed to programs which are only used certain grade levels or lessons, I feel that you’ll find opportunities to utilize Spark for a variety of purposes across all grade levels and content areas.  It’s very convenient for teachers and students to access and provides a safe, customization atmosphere for students to be able to share and create their work.

Adobe Spark for Education delivers on just about everything that Adobe has promised nearly one ago at BETT. In fact, I’m somewhat surprised that more school districts haven’t taken advantage of the free offering, especially those that already have Adobe products.  Outside of the issue with Enterprise sharing and occasional browser crashes with Spark Video, everything has worked seamlessly from a technical standpoint.  This is an extremely powerful, platform neutral tool and it would behoove any school districts to take the time to look into deploying.    

If your district is considering the possibility of Adobe Spark for Educations, based my positive experience, I would highly recommend it.