Community Conversations: Shannon Dunn on Student Engagement [video]

min read

John O'Brien, EDUCAUSE President and CEO, talks with Shannon Dunn, Assistant Director, UFIT Center for Instructional Technology and Training, about the work that the University of Florida has done to provide students resources for engagement.

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Shannon Dunn
Assistant Director, UFIT Center for Instructional Technology and Training
University of Florida

John O'Brien
President and CEO

O'Brien: Welcome to our community conversation with Shannon Dunn. Shannon is the 2020 Rising Star Award recipient and she's the Assistant Director with the University of Florida Information Technology. And there she manages instructional design and educational technology. Welcome Shannon.

Dunn: Thank you so much. I'm so happy to be here.

O'Brien: So we know so painfully well that it's been hard during this last year for our most vulnerable students to engage and during the pandemic, when they lack access to broadband connectivity devices that are appropriate or both, what has the university done to try to close this gap?

Dunn: I suspect that a lot of us feel that no matter what we do, we could do more. That said I'm really, really proud of what the University of Florida has achieved so far. One of those programs has been additional support for our mascot branded Aid-a-Gator program which provides direct to student financial assistance in the form of grants. So students can use those funds to purchase technologies that are required for coursework that can include computers as well as peripheral devices. Students apply online. And in the spring of 2020 alone nearly 3000 students received Aid-a-Gator emergency funds totally more $2.5million. The provost office also didn't take it for granted that they knew what the pain points were which I think is really smart. They ran multiple surveys, student surveys, during and after our transition to remote. And one of the biggest takeaways from those surveys was that our traditional definition of at-risk students which often includes limited income, limited access to housing or healthcare, might need to expand a little bit. Angela Lindner, who is our Associate Provost for Undergraduate Affairs has suggested that we need to consider a more intersections of need and create a more robust and holistic view of student needs and the definition of risk. Because while traditionally we've defined at-risk as a high risk in a single area, they're also cumulative. So low and moderate risks in multiple areas we saw particularly during the pandemic created some really difficult situations for students. So part of that vulnerability is financial, but part of it is also just where students are in their academics as a result of the stressors in their lives. So undergraduate affairs has launched a tutoring program that is free of cost to many or most students. And it connects students who have performed well in courses previously with students who seek out support currently, which is really nice for both students.

O'Brien: So when the internet was young, I'm thinking back a while ago, let's just say there was a lot of talk about how technology could have a tendency to isolate people around the year 2000, I think it was when the book "Bowling Alone" came out. And now there's a change and I think we're starting to see ways that technology can actually connect people, connect people and resources and really that it's one way to address the mental health and wellbeing challenges we have now. what are you experiencing in Florida

Dunn: Here at UF, We've put a lot of effort both before and during the pandemic and to connecting students quickly and easily with the right services and with each other. This includes a recently launched student success website which functions a little bit like a concierge to connect students to services and to resources, regardless of where they are in our organization, which is very large and very complex. We also have a virtual student union site and that connects students to extracurricular organizations into events. And our counseling and wellness center expanded their online presence and remote services really quickly. We've also got a training for faculty and staff on identifying and connecting at-risk students to support resources, and it utilizes a type of basic VR simulation for social emotional learning. And I admit that I was very skeptical of that and going into it. And I actually found it really impactful. And I learned a lot on that. So kind of more broadly and hearkening back to my mom's technology resistance, I'm not sure that the questions about modern technology right now are that much different from those that we talked about when other technologies were new, right? Because when the printing press was new and radio was new and when television was new I think we encountered similar questions. And where we have to continue to engage is around the ethics of these technologies and making sure that we're using them to take care of one another. Making sure that we're asking the right questions and designing technologies to meet the needs that we want to see. So I think we can do that, like asking what's important to us about our in-person experiences what we need to preserve about those experiences and why and how we can design and utilize technology to meet truly student centered goals in our areas.

O'Brien: Thank you, Shannon. It's been great talking to you.

Dunn: Me too, thank you so much, John.