Profiles in IT: Irina Knokh—OER advocate

Irina "Irene" Knokh

Tell us about your role.

I work in Professional Development and Education for Nursing at Michigan as an instructional learning senior. My job involves everything from informing my team of the best technology and teaching practices to video editing to curating resources for our group. I look to professional development groups, EDUCAUSE online learning consortium, and my own volunteer work through presentations at the Teaching and Technology Collaborative (TTC),, and mentoring. I think a lot about how to accommodate students and staff, and I strive to share my discoveries as widely as possible to help those who may not know where to look.

I did this kind of work informally, while I was getting my degrees (I graduated from an honors program and have earned bachelor’s degrees in sociology; German for business; and French; and I have achieved master’s degrees in education and instructional technology). With my background, I can help people in IT and instructional design, and share a variety of experiences for professional or personal growth. 

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Letting the nursing staff know about available best practices for technology, teaching, and learner engagement, and streamlining various processes that can help us communicate and collaborate better. 

Many of us were surprised by the depth and breadth of the pandemic which forced us to change the way we do a lot of things, but I was doing a lot of this well before the pandemic. I’m proud, for example, that I was able to help an educator in a unit who needed resources for dyslexia. I was able to pull together resources for the educator, and I also took courses via Microsoft on dyslexia, and gave a presentation for educators on making communication more accessible and inclusive. My experiences and difficulties in my own education motivate me to make someone else’s educational journey better by sharing what I have learned.

I strive to provide resources, particularly for those who don’t have the budget or knowledge of where to find resources, including Open Educational Resources (OER). To do this and to maintain a work-life balance is not easy—it takes a lot of my personal time, but if I and the groups I belong to don’t share the resources, who will? 

You are the EDUCAUSE ambassador for the university. Tell us about that work.

I am a volunteer liaison with EDUCAUSE and I advocate for the university’s IT staff. It involves keeping everyone abreast of the latest trends in learning and teaching, information technology, cybersecurity, and IT issues in education. I write monthly articles on various topics covered in EDUCAUSE. The issues covered in EDUCAUSE encompass everyone, including instructional designers, instructional technologists, trainers, and administrators. When I write my articles, I include resources from different topics because there would be no way for everyone to go through all the different resources—my goal is to make it easier for our communities to stay on top of the current trends.

What advice do you have for people as they consider new educational technology?

Think about how technology will enhance what you and your colleagues, do, and how your students will learn. Can it streamline various processes and engage learners? Think about these questions (especially now that the university has adopted the Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility policy [SPG 601.20]): we must ask whether technology is accessible and equitable. If not, how can we make it more equitable? The most important suggestions I have are to be patient and find champions.

You are active with the Council for Disability Concerns, Disability Culture at U-M, and DEI. What can those in academic technology think about while they’re working?

Technology is a right for everyone. Digital accessibility, accessibility, and helping learners with disabilities is important to me. I do a lot of this exploration on my own time—learning about tools, how to make things better, dealing with learning disabilities, and ageism. 

Digital accessibility and accessibility in general means “an open door.” Can we open the door for everyone? Can we learn from our older population to see what is possible to help everyone? How can software and resources be more accessible? 

A few examples of useful tools I’ve found include: Morphic, a tool that can make computer work more digitally accessible, equitable, and digitally ergonomic. Another tool is within Microsoft products. You can now run accessibility checks on documents. An option for learners with disabilities is Immersive Reader (which is actually helpful to everyone). You should do the final checking, however, because it greatly improves the process and allows others to receive accessible communication. 

You were born in Russia. How does your upbringing influence your work at the university?

I was born in Leningrad, USSR (now St. Petersburg, Russia). My parents were Refuseniks-Soviet Jews who wanted to leave because of antisemitism, but were not allowed to. For more than 16 years they tried and were denied. We were finally able to leave as a family in 1989. It took us five months to get to the U.S.; I was almost 15 when we finally arrived. My parents taught me to respect others and the importance of education beyond the college degree (my mom was the first in her family to get higher education). Our family’s experiences influenced my interest in being an advocate for open education, digital accessibility, for helping learners with disabilities. It took me a long time to come to grips with my experiences immigrating to the U.S. and being an outsider, to start talking and understanding how it impacts my identity. 

What do you do to re-energize?

I have a big paper and electronic library. I enjoy British mysteries and comedy shows. I have a lot of books by Gerrald Durrell, a British naturalist, writer, zookeeper, conservationist, and television host. And, I love ANYTHING zoo related! The animals and the zoo help me cope. I also came up with “Zoo Karma” (I usually give out Primate and Croc/Gator blessings to lots of people for good karma). 

A plush chimpanzee.
“Katya” is Irina’s creature comfort.
Author: D. Stephanie Dascola, Medical School Office of Research

Stephanie is a communications manager at the Medical School Office of Research. Contact her at