May 15, 2018

Staff with deep roots in UCalgary help make teaching and learning shine

How the renewed Academic and Research Plans shape our workplace at University of Calgary
Isadora Mok-Kulakova is the online learning environment lead at the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning.

Isadora Mok-Kulakova is the online learning environment lead at the Taylor Institute.

Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Isadora Mok-Kulakova balances the phone between her head and shoulder, takes another sip of mint tea as her eyes dart between two computer screens, asks for the course name and number, reaches past her iPhone with its pink cover, nods to someone passing by and tries her best to determine for the instructor on the other end the best way to set up an online quiz.

You got a problem?

Two University of Calgary tech whizzes from different departments who enable clear communications — Mok-Kulakova and Keith Mills — juggle tech-related questions daily. They ensure the smooth use of technologies that enhance learning and teaching, while driving innovation within the refreshed Academic and Research plans.

“Most people would not consider what I do as research, but in my everyday work, I do a lot of investigations,” says Mok-Kulakova, BA ‘99, BEd ’01, Med ‘07, the online learning environment lead at the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning. “People report issues, sometimes with very little detail. I have to ask questions, review logs, come up with steps to replicate the problem, troubleshoot and find a solution.”   

Alignment with plan focuses energy on what matters most

Her goal is to support faculty, students, staff and administrators, helping them to use learning technologies such as D2L more effectively while enriching learning experiences — so they can focus on teaching and learning. Change can be a challenge but it can also present new opportunities to learn, she says. There will be a new look for D2L this year to make the learning environment more accessible on mobile devices, which will be great for students.

“As our name suggests, our department is all about teaching and learning,” says Mok-Kulakova. “In our staff meetings, when we plan our future programs and reflect on our previous accomplishments, we are often reminded to think about how our work aligns with the academic plan. It helps us focus our energy on things that matter most to our campus community.”

In the coming months, she and her colleagues will be working on developing the Engaging Students through Technologies: Workshop Series. The learning outcomes tie back to the priorities outlined in the Academic Plan.

Keith Mills is manager of communications media, classroom services and client services.

Keith Mills is manager of communications media, classroom services and client services.

Audio-visual support reaches new audiences

Mills, BSc ‘81, BEd ‘87, who is manager of communications media, classroom services and client services, also faces the challenge of keeping up with technology changes, including the ways courses are taught. Teaching methods are changing to include more active learning, prompting him and his team to respond with solutions.

“The work other people are doing on campus forces us to innovate,” he says. “We’re a support department, so we’re here to help people do what they need or want to do. In audio-visual support, there are things that we are doing now to connect to the (Academic and Research) plans.”

When the Faculty of Law had a course where the students were in Calgary but the professor was in New York City, the team figured out a solution by using a product that is also used for Human Performance Lab webinars. Webinars can be used both for teaching and for outreach to the broader community to share what’s going on at the university, says Mills. 

The Com/Media Events Team provides conference support and webcasting for Continuing Medical Education’s events. When they added the webcast to their events a few years ago, it allowed them to reach a larger audience with their professional development programs.

Mills and his team provide video conferencing for a research group that has regular meetings with its members at other universities. Video conferencing allows collaboration between researchers and research groups, as well as being an important part of graduate thesis defences.

The Com/Media Technical Unit designs and installs audio-visual systems in both new and renovated classroom spaces, responding to client requests for new technology. They did all the audio-visual work in the Engineering G Block expansion and are currently working in the Veterinary Medicine expansion at Spy Hill.

“Things can get hectic and stressful at times, but we generally manage to keep it together,” he says. “There’s a fair bit of humour around the workplace. Usually, I’m in my office (in the MacKimmie block), either spending too much time on the computer, or not enough time on the computer.”

Mills and Mok-Kulakova have been making positive changes for decades

Both Mills and Mok-Kulakova have deep connections within the university that inform their work and personal lives.

Many of Mok-Kulakova’s family members were teachers and she wanted to be one, too. She got her undergrad degree at UCalgary and taught as an elementary school teacher for a year. She has been attending the Calgary Chinese Baptist Church for years and that is where her teaching career started informally, as she helped with the children's ministry. 

“Most of the kids I have taught back then have now graduated or will soon graduate from university,” she says. “That’s another reason why I love working at UCalgary. I get to see and work with the friends I’ve grown up with. I think I will be a lifer at the university.”

Mills is in deep, too, having been either a student or an employee at UCalgary for 39 years. He’s worked at 31 Calgary Folk Festivals and 32 Canmore Folk Festivals, mostly on the sound crew. He likes to collect weird things, he says, including four microscopes, about 40 cameras and seven keyboard instruments, among other stuff.

“The university has played a pretty big part in my life,” he says. “I suppose that makes you want to look after the place that has been so good to you for almost four decades.”

Read more about the energized Eyes High Strategy or watch videos about its origins.

Read more about the energized Eyes High Strategy or watch videos about its origins.

About UCalgary's Academic and Research Plans

Students, faculty, staff, and postdoctoral scholars at the University of Calgary move us forward every day in the work they do supporting our Eyes High Strategy 2017-2022. People in the Plans, a series appearing in UToday, explores how our people drive the success of the renewed Academic and Research Plans — the road maps to Eyes High.

The refreshed Academic and Research Plans are based on an integrated model, one that acknowledges the connection between teaching, learning and research. Each plan has three priorities with identified major goals and strategies. Both plans are connected through the value propositions of student experience and impact, and share a common priority of driving innovation. The five priorities included in the Academic and Research Plans will drive human, capital and financial resource allocations over the next five years at the university