St. Thomas E-Learning And Research - The Intersection of Technology and Pedagogy
STELAR Events, STELAR Partnerships with Faculty, Technology Tools

Art + Technology: New Perspectives on the Humanities

What is the Digital Humanities Grant Program?   

The Digital Humanities Grant Program is a collaborative effort between the College of Arts and Sciences and STELAR (St. Thomas E-Learning and Research), which was established to increase awareness and participation in the blending of two complementary fields of study, Art and Technology. It offers grant funding for faculty and graduate students whose proposals are chosen by the selection committee. Sound interesting?  Come to the information session on how to apply for the next round of grants on Thursday, December 5th (5:00-6:00 pm) in the STELAR Smart Classroom (OSF LIB LL21 St Paul campus) to get details on the application process and see project examples. Read on for a rundown of currently funded projects that recently participated in a mid-point showcase.

In the spring of 2019, the Digital Humanities Grant Program awarded three grants to support projects that merge art and technology in the areas of Virtual Reality, Story Mapping, and Machine Learning. On 10/29/19, the grant winners participated in a showcase to display their work in progress. In addition to faculty and staff, the gathering included students from Emily James (Associate Professor of English) “Modernism and Its Afterlives” class.    

Learning together Oct 29     Eric presenting learning

The Arts provide boundless content and expertise which can be exhibited and explored in novel ways using emerging technology. The grant program is funded by generous donations from Dean Yohuru Williams and STELAR, who provided seed money and technological expertise for the initial round of grants. 

Presenting This Year’s Projects 

 The committee reviewed proposals last year and chose three excellent and diverse projects for funding. Two faculty projects and one graduate student project were funded. A recap of the projects:  

Professor Gretchen Burau submitted a project on the culture and art of the Asmat people in Indonesia that utilizes ArcGIS Story Map technology to create interactive maps that allow viewers to regional cultural differences and similarities tied to the geographic locations of this diverse tribal culture. 

Gretchen presenting learning

Professor Laura Zebuhr is exploring the nature of Eros in the writing of Thoreau. This project uses machine learning and a contextual word search algorithm developed by STELAR to explore all 10,000+ pages of Thoreau’s published works and private journals for commonalities, correlations and coded messages that would be impossible to notice through reading and study alone.  

Laura presenting learning

Graduate student Theresa Malloy’s project is an Ethnographic Virtual Reality work that highlights the activity of Appetite for Change, which works in North Minneapolis to build community through urban gardens and food markets. Theresa’s work allows the viewer to step into the garden to experience it in three dimensions while learning more about the organization and their work. 

Theresa presenting learning

 When completed in late Spring 2020, the projects, as well as the technology used to produce them, will be highlighted in the STELAR Showcase, allowing visitors to interact with the three works and to learn more about how the technology is used in order to inspire further works that blend art and technology. 

More Background on this Partnership 

How the Partnership DevelopedThe program grew out of the vision and initiative of Professor Alexis Easley (English Department) who then reached out to Brett Coup (AVP of Academic Technology) to discuss the concept of Digital Humanities and how we could promote and support them. From that conversation evolved the idea of a grant program. Alexis took the idea to Dean Yohuru Williams (College of Arts and Science) who provided funding, while STELAR agreed to provide the coordination and technical resources necessary to produce the projects.   

Leadership TeamThe DHGP committee members are representative of interested parties across the university, with Ann Zawistoski. Associate Director of Research and Instruction for Libraries and Information Services, Tommie Marrinan, Assistant Professor in Computer and Information Sciences, Salvatore Pane, Associate Professor of English, Alexis Easley, Professor of English, Brett Coup, AVP of Academic Technology, and Eric Tornoe, Associate Director of Research and High-Performance Computing. This group creates the documents, runs the application process, selects grantees from the applicant pool, and assists the grantees in the execution of their project. Heather Shirey, Associate Professor of Art History, served as Faculty Mentor to Theresa Malloy, the grad student winner.  

For questions on the grant, contact Eric Tornoe or anyone on the leadership team! And watch for a future STELAR Stream announcement on the spring 2020 in-person learning showcase.   

This post was written by Eric Tornoe, Associate Director of Research and High-Performance Computing with the St. Thomas E-Learning and Research (STELAR) Center at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. To learn more about this topic, please visit our website at or email us at


Invention, meet your Mom…

The 1999 MacWorld conference in New York was memorable for lots of reasons, not the least of which was the introduction of a thing called the “iBook” that — get this! — could stay connected to the Internet without wires.  Amazing.  But what I remember even more was a breakout session where the presenter described a workaround to do the impossible: Get email notifications… while you were outside!

Here’s how it worked.

Take an old but still fairly modern and powerful computer like a Macintosh LC or Quadra 605, and attach it to a modem.  (Nothing extravagant like a 56k; 28.8k would do fine.)  Install a new email program like Outlook Express and set it to check for mail every 15 minutes or so.  If you configured your system properly, it would automatically dial the modem to check the email account for updates, then you could set it to time-out and disconnect. (This was important, both to free up your phone line — so if anyone called they would ring to your answering machine — and to save on the monthly minute allotment from your ISP).

Here’s where the magic happens.

With some AppleScript programming, you could have your computer check to see if you had any unread messages that were now downloaded.  If it found any, it could run them through Apple’s text-to-speech software to read them out loud.

At this step, you have to skirt ethics and Federal law, but that’s beside the point.

Only a couple years before, in 1996, the FCC created a new level of license for “Family Radio Service” which was a form of glorified walkie-talkie.  While you weren’t supposed to use them for automated communication… well, let’s overlook that.  You could route the audio from your Macintosh into the “microphone in” of an FRS radio, and set it to the VOX setting so it would transmit whenever audio it “heard.”

When heading out to do yardwork or walk around the block, you’d simply turn on your FRS radio and set it to the matching channel.  If someone were to send you an email, you were guaranteed to know within 15 minutes that it was waiting for you… assuming you were still within radio range.  If you weren’t, maybe someone else was, so they’d get to hear a robot voice reading your personal email to them.  (Small price to pay.)

This, ladies and gentlemen, was what it took to avoid FOMO 20 years ago.

Someday… FRS radios might reach even greater distances!  ISPs might offer more minutes for the same monthly cost!  And… well, I can’t think of anything else.  What more could we possibly expect to have available while walking in a park?

This post was written by Eric M. Larson, an Instructional Systems Consultant in the St. Thomas E-Learning and Research (STELAR) Center at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., and could have been composed and published with an always-on pocket device from anywhere in the country.  To discuss this and any other topic, you can email and several of us at STELAR will get the message immediately, no radio involved.

Best Practices, Tips, and Tricks, Technology Tools

Basic Video Production Tips and Tricks, Part 2

In a previous post, we looked at five basic video production tools available to faculty and students at St. Thomas.  In this article, I offer some best-practice tips to increase the production value of your recordings. Because videos are often viewed independently online, it’s easy for the viewer to get distracted or multitask while watching. While you don’t have to be a “rock-star” to keep their attention, there are some basic things you can do to make your videos more engaging.

Video Engagement” is a way to track views and retention. The main take-away is that if you want your students to view the entire video, keep it short (5-10 min. or less). If you have more content to cover, consider splitting it into a Part 1, Part 2, etc. Keep your message moving and provide appealing visuals to help carry the content and help students nurture meaning.

Here are ten more tips and tricks for increasing the production value of your audio/video recordings.

  1. Sketch, storyboard, or script your message before recording begins! Even though it’s more work, you’ll find that all your efforts will pay off in the overall quality and impact of your video.
  2. Good video can’t make up for bad audio! Use a good microphone and minimize extraneous noises. If people can’t hear clearly, you won’t get your message across no matter how awesome the video is.
  3. Use well-lit, well-balanced room lighting to light the subject but avoid shadows!  Be careful not to shine a harsh light directly on the subject, nor record in front of windows open to the sunlight.
  4. Control your environment as much as possible! This includes distracting room noise, visual distractions, people and pets. It’s best to be in a quiet, well-lit space.
  5. Frame the shot to capture what’s most important, and then some! Balance your subject in the shot so it’s large enough to be visible, but not too close to be distracting. A little background helps provide context.
  6. Think about what you’re wearing! Avoid wearing pin-stripes or anything distractable. Select clothing that will be in high contrast to the background so you don’t blend in or get lost in the background.
  7. Make sure the text is readable on all slides! Leave plenty of white-space around the text. Choose contrasting colors for text and images. Remember, each screen displays colors differently.
  8. Use headphones and a good microphone during live web-conference situations! This minimizes audio interference and feedback.
  9. All video content need to be close-captioned! This helps all learners. Check out the Close-Caption Request form on the STELAR website.
  10. Check out St. Thomas’ LinkedIn Learning for good examples of videos and tutorials that help with video recording, editing and producing.

Following a few simple tips can make all the difference between students actually watching what you produce, or just skipping through it. After all, if “content delivery” is the primary reason for creating videos, don’t give them a reason for not wanting to watch.

If you’re interested in getting the most out of your pre-recorded videos, but could use a little more guidance, feel free to contact STELAR to request a consultation around your next audiovisual recording project.

This post was written by Michael Wilder, an Instructional Designer for the St. Thomas E-Learning and Research (STELAR) Center at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. To learn more about this topic, please visit our website at or email us at

Best Practices, Tips, and Tricks, Technology Tools

Utilizing Library Resources in Canvas

shelves full of books

St. Thomas has a handy tool for helping you integrate library resources into your Canvas sites. The Resource List is easy to set up, saves students money by using existing library resources, connects you with librarians who may be able to provide copyright guidance and management, and simplifies linking.

STELAR has just developed a self-paced, online Resource List training. This training will teach you how to set up your Resource List, add and link items, and identify special considerations such as accessibility and copyright.

For more information on reducing course materials costs for students, please see Greg Argo’s previous post: Reduce Course Materials Costs, We’ll Help.

This post was written by Nancy McGinley Myers, Instructional Designer with the St. Thomas E-Learning and Research (STELAR) Center at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. To learn more about this topic, please visit our website at or email us at For more information on training available through STELAR, please see our Training & Events page.

Student Systems of Support

When A Student Has Tech Struggles: Tips for Instructors and Advisors 

Everywhere you look, technology holds a growing role in our lives. At the University of St. Thomas we provide an array of supports for students. Instead of a “one size fits all approach” to student tech support, we strive for personalized and responsive solutions since when it comes to technology since not everybody needs the same thing or accesses learning and technology in the same way.  

Our options run on a continuum from self-help, “do it yourself” resources to people-to-people (expert-guided) support. Options also include in-person, phone, email, live chat, 24/7 self-guided Tommie Tech, and 24/7/365 Canvas-specific support.  

Here are suggestions on how to help students find the range of technology supports available for their success.  

  • Point your students to Tommie Tech, a St. Thomas Canvas resource/tutorial site that helps students to find and use St. Thomas technologies, 24/7/365. You are welcome to give students the link that will allow them to self-enroll into this site. You can perhaps send a course announcement reminding them of this resource or post where you list other tech help information. If you tend to hear from certain students a lot about tech questions, guiding them to Tommie Tech may help address some of their needs and clear up their confusion. 
    • Graduate students can self-enroll in the Tommie Tech for Graduate Students Canvas site. Please share the link!  Fall 2019 is our first launch of this site, and students who explore the site are invited to share feedback that will help shape the site for spring 2020 and beyond.  
    • Undergraduate students can self-enroll in the Tommie Tech for Undergraduate Students Canvas site; all first-year undergraduate students are automatically enrolled in the site, but it is an option for all undergrads. 

And yet…Tommie Tech is just a part of the array of student supports at St. Thomas. If a student continues to have unaddressed tech needs or it seems like they would benefit from talking to a person right away, here are additional options. 

  • Ask students to contact Canvas 24/7/365 live chat or toll-free phone call if their technology need seems specific to Canvas (e.g., trouble uploading documents or media into Canvas, trouble opening something in Canvas). There are also Canvas Student Guides for the visual learner.  Click the Help button (question mark) on the far left, purple global navigation panel to call or chat. 

In addition to the “do it yourself” Tommie Tech Canvas site and Canvas 24/7 for Canvas specific needs, there is a range of additional ways to get personalized support from the St. Thomas Technology support team. 

  • Some students like the Email option. The St. Thomas Tech Desk can be reached at When sending the tech desk your question, it may help to take a screenshot of your issue.
  • If you are on-campus and would like in-person Tech Help, please stop by! 
    • St Paul campus, stop by the Center for Student Achievement Technology Help desk (first floor of Murray-Herrick Hall, St Paul).   
    • Minneapolis campus, stop by 300 Schultz Hall 
    • Check locations and hours before making a trip to one of these locations. 
  • Phone St. Thomas Tech Help- Yes, some people still prefer talking on the phone!
    • Local (651) 962-6230 | Hours listed on Tech Desk Services page 
    • Toll-Free: (800) 328-6819 
    • On-campus: ext. 2-6230 (651-962-6230)
  • And students always have the 24/7 option to visit and explore the St. Thomas Innovations & Technology Services page

This post was written by Jo Montie, Online Learning Systems Facilitator and Peter Weinhold, Director of Academic Technology, with the St. Thomas E-Learning and Research (STELAR) Center at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. To learn more about this topic, please visit our website at or email us at