Dr. Jennifer Culver is an Academic Technology Service Director for the Simmons School of Education and Human Development here at SMU. An Academic Technology Service Director (ATSD) serves as the liaison between academics and the Office of Information Technology, ensuring that faculty and student’s technology needs are met. I recently sat down with Dr. Culver to probe her on a recent trip she took with Dr. Robert Hunt, where she was able to share her passion for technology use within the classroom throughout the Phillippines.
I heard that you recently returned from a trip to the Philippines, what were you doing there?
I was there with Dr. Robert Hunt, who works in the Global Theology Department in Perkins and also teaches here in Simmons in the Graduate Liberal Studies Department. Dr. Hunt had an idea to collect and curate video resources of scholars and pastors speaking on religious topics they’re passionate about. These video curations would enable students anywhere to see how religion is viewed all around the world directly from experts. Dr. Hunt pulled together a handful of resource scholars he calls “virtual professors” and videoed them teaching about their individual passions. Robert Emery from Meadows did all of the videography work, and I came along to give a one-day seminar at the Wesleyan College of Manila. When we finished after about 7 hours, one of the research scholars, who happened to be the president of another college in the Philippines, asked me to give the same presentation to her faculty. I traveled two hours to another province to give the seminar again, and while I was gone, Dr. Hunt and Robert Emery finished the videography. Then we spent a couple of days at a research conference called “Global Forum on Education: Connecting and Co-Existing Through Education in the Fourth Industrial Revolution” where Dr. Hunt presented along with other scholars from all over Asia.
Why was Dr. Hunt drawn to the Philippines for his project?
Dr. Hunt has an extensive amount of experience in Asia. He’s done a lot of work through the Methodist church and had been in the Philippines previously for about four years. He understood the culture and had some really good connections with people that could jump-start the idea.
That must have been incredibly helpful to have someone who knew about the culture and had connections already. It’s also impressive that you were sought out to give your presentation twice. Can you tell me a bit more about the seminar you taught and the material you covered?
My presentation included information on best practices using online teaching tools in blended classrooms. In a blended classroom setting, there’s an expectation that some of the work being done is happening online, and I was teaching educators how to utilize various online tools. And yes, being called to do the second seminar was really special. The college was an all-women’s teachers’ college that also certifies in church music, which was very close to my heart because I was an educator, and my mother is a church musician.
Wow, that’s incredible. Based on your expertise, what do you consider to be an undervalued resource/online tool that faculty at SMU could take more advantage of?
Well, I think that when we look at student surveys, one of the things they want more of is Canvas use. Students would like Canvas to be used in a wider variety of ways. Most of what Canvas is used for is to post syllabi and files for students to access, but students have strongly voiced that Canvas should be used for more. They want it to be made a place for grades to be posted while the class goes on so that they know where their performance stands; they’ve asked for assessments to be placed in Canvas so they get proper feedback, and they want to see rubrics and other documentation all in one place. Canvas offers so much and it keeps growing and changing; we need to intentionally use it to provide a more consistent experience for students.
How can students and faculty leverage the services the Instructional Technology department offers here at SMU?
As one of the ATSDs (Academic Technology Service Director), I think the best way for faculty to leverage our services is to partner with us and ask us questions. Faculty should let us know when they have problems so we can help come up with solutions for their classrooms. Here in Simmons, I send out a monthly newsletter that has small pieces of information about new happenings and ideas in instructional technology. I also offer in person and virtual sessions that highlight resources faculty have pointed to previously wanting more instruction on. I like that there’s an ATSD in every school because that puts us right in a position for Faculty to find us easily.
The newsletter sounds like a great tool for faculty use.
There are several of us that do that for our schools. I’m a former educator so I know how it is during a semester to have so much going on there’s no time for additional work. So, we try to offer sessions during downtimes when faculty members are rethinking things for their upcoming courses.
Going back to the conference you attended named the “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” what exactly does “the fourth industrial revolution” mean?
The college that set up the conference is referring to different places in history where advances have been made that change the way we think, teach, and learn. The fourth industrial revolution is our current state, and it is the advent of artificial intelligence and how it changes the way we teach, live, work, and learn.
What resonated most with you from the conference?
I think one of the key takeaways we got from the conference was the idea that students learn in a very different way than traditional learners like myself did previously. Technology has changed access and availability of resources. I spent a lot of time in my undergraduate work hunting down resources limited to the confines of the library, but now resources come from all over. The problem is not “will I be able to find enough of what I need,” it’s “when do I stop looking.” There is so much material available that comprehensive views are almost impossible to achieve. Our job is now about helping students decide when to move on from the research process. Additionally, people who access different resources know completely different things, so how do we make room for all of that extra knowledge? Lastly, our conversations about ideas are different now. We want students to feel like they can contribute in meaningful ways, but what is viewed as “meaningful” has changed.
Overall impressions of the trip to the Philippines?
The Philippines was a beautiful country with incredibly welcoming, warm, people. Getting a chance to listen to different perspectives and various people speak about what they are passionate about was so inspiring. Spending time with all different types of educators, and realizing that educators all over the world are having some of the same struggles was very powerful. There is validation in the fact that people everywhere are experiencing problems similar to your own and are striving for a similar student experience. We all want an authentic and engaging learning experience for students.