While other students on the UM-Dearborn campus may be studying for more traditional finals, Stein Brunvand’s students are finishing up multimedia lesson plans to address various needs in the South African K-12 school curriculum.

Brunvand, associate professor of education at UM-Dearborn, teaches an academic service learning class to undergraduates studying teaching. His area of expertise is on educational technology and integrating technology into the classroom.

This semester, his class partnered with School in the Cloud, a nonprofit organization and online resource for schools in South Africa that may not have access to quality educational materials.

“I’ve got undergrad students who need to learn how to use technology to develop learning materials, and I found this organization that needs content developed. We can do service while also achieving course goals,” Brunvand says.

Stein Brunvand, associate professor of education at UM-Dearborn, teaches an academic service learning class to undergraduates studying teaching. (Photo by Scott C. Soderberg, Michigan Photography)

His students had to disregard Michigan’s Common Core curriculum and learn all about South African curriculum. For instance, their currency learning activities teach the rand, not the dollar.

Brunvand had visited South Africa previously, on a Global Intercultural Experience for Undergraduates trip to Johannesburg to volunteer at the Village of Joy, an orphanage, but his students hadn’t. In order to help them understand the South African culture, Brunvand partnered with a colleague at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

His students video-conferenced with South African education students to discuss teaching strategies, cultural differences, and implementation of technology. The South African students helped explain to Brunvand’s class that there are 11 official languages in South Africa, and language acquisition is heavily emphasized in early grades.

As a result, schools there don’t formally start teaching science until the fourth grade, so the School in the Cloud science lesson plans must cover the basics.

His students had to design their projects to fit the technological limitations of schools using School in the Cloud lesson plans. They may not have high-speed Internet or the ability to stream material, so Brunvand’s students are creating videos that can be downloaded and learning activities that can be printed and brought into school.

“I know students are going to go into teaching environments where they won’t have a lot of money, so we use software that’s free, like PowToon for animation or Scriblink, an online whiteboard tool,” Brunvand says.

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Brunvand puts up educational demonstration videos of his own on his personal YouTube channel, and that’s how the School in the Cloud first found him.

“Someone affiliated with the organization asked me for permission to use my videos, and I said, ‘Sure. And here’s an idea — what if my class made more videos, specifically tailored to your needs?’” Brunvand says. “He responded over winter break, saying that he read my message on Christmas Day and thought it was the best present ever.”

When Brunvand isn’t working with undergraduate students, he also teaches in UM-Dearborn’s master’s program in educational technology that is run online.

“I try to help students understand that there’s a lot that exists in the world outside of the classroom, and technology is one way to bring that world closer,” he says.

Q and A

What moment in the classroom or lab stands out as the most memorable?

Every time I get to see an “a-ha” moment, when students put together a piece of work that’s really impressive that shows they’re understanding what I’m trying to teach. It’s reassuring and affirming.

What can’t you live without?

Family — my wife and daughters.

What is your favorite spot on campus?

The Environmental Interpretive Center. UM-Dearborn has the Henry Ford estate on campus, and the nature area there is beautiful.

What inspires you?

Seeing what other people are capable of and the innovation they come up with.

What are you currently reading?


Who had the greatest influence on your career path?

U-M professor Barry Fishman, who helped shape my thinking about educational technology and my approach to teaching and learning.