Since 2017, Dr. Rachel Ralph has been offering students at Centre for Digital Media (CDM) an innovative education that has been pivotal in creating digital futures and new lives in Canada. Her student-centred approach to teaching—combined with her research interests on curricula development emphasizing experiential learning in digital media—has been recognized by Simon Fraser University’s Distinguished Teaching Excellence Award.
The award—which is nominated by faculty, graduate students, and alumni—demonstrates the impact Rachel has had, particularly on students. “Students are the reason why I am an educator and why I do what I do,” says Rachel. “They inform my decisions, pedagogy, and fuel my passion. Every time I get a new group of students, I make a considered effort to get to know them. And in getting to know them, their interests, diverse backgrounds, and passions, I get a chance to update what I teach. Even when I finish a course and make changes for the next year, the first group I go to for feedback are former students.”
Rachel’s dedication to her teaching extends beyond the classroom. She plays an important role in students’ transformative growth, both academically and personally, by guiding them through their creative and professional processes. Eugenia, a Master of Digital Media alumnus, was one of Rachel’s students who went on to work on an Oscar nominated production. “Seeing Eugenia’s journey from a student to someone who landed their dream job at Sony Imageworks, to eventually working on The Sea Beast, an Oscar-nominated show, makes me incredibly proud to be part of her journey”, says Rachel. “My students’ success is my success.”
Embracing change, fostering a genuine connection with students, and staying adaptable in the fast-paced and ever-changing creative technology space are all lessons Rachel imparts on both her students and other educators. “Everyone will experience imposter syndrome at some point in their life. I arrived at CDM to an endless wave of digital media vocabulary, but I used it as a chance to grow. I took a chance, what seemed like a stretch for me, and became Scrum and Agile certified, which enabled me to develop my own courses and micro-credential on leadership and agile management. My advice is that it’s okay to fail, and to take courses, read books, listen to podcasts, watch shows, and let Google and AI work for you. Keep learning, have fun in your education journey, and make sure you enjoy the process.”
Rachel’s journey in education has been dynamic, starting at the City of Richmond, to teaching middle school, completing her Master’s in Education Technology, getting her PhD, and eventually becoming a faculty member at Centre for Digital Media. “Getting my PhD and expanding to teaching adults and focusing on digital media opened up new avenues for exploration and impact in digital media education”, says Rachel. “I’m surrounded by talented students and professionals and get to work with bleeding edge technologies. I’m constantly inspired to explore innovative pedagogies, adapting my courses for the future, and am looking forward to writing a curriculum book to share my practices with others”.
“Receiving this teaching honor is truly humbling and reaffirms my passion for teaching and the work I do with students. I’m extremely grateful for the acknowledgment.”