December – 2018 – St. Thomas E-Learning And Research
Monthly Archives

December 2018

Student Systems of Support

Digital Learning Essentials Site: A Resource for Students and Faculty

This article describes the Digital Learning Essentials online student resource and how faculty can use this site to support student success.

What is the Digital Learning Essentials Site?

Digital Learning Essentials is an online resource for St. Thomas undergraduate students to prepare for online courses and any Canvas courses. Although the site targets student needs, we think students are more likely to explore the site when faculty point out the resource, so we are increasing our efforts to get the word out to faculty.

This Canvas site grew out of a process of listening to student and faculty feedback during the 2017-18 school year where we learned that some of our undergraduates—especially those taking online or blended courses, found it beneficial to have access to technology and Canvas resources before or at the start of an online class.

Three self-paced modules guide students through content and activities on these topics:

  • Your Tech Prep helps students to check their computer set-up and technology resources.
  • Explore Canvas helps students to learn about the St. Thomas online learning platform.
  • Learning Success highlights learning resources on topics such as time management.

Once enrolled into the site, students can access the site for their entire program: this is a 24/7/365 resource! Students also have the option to earn a Digital Learning Essential Certificate of Completion to further demonstrate some base technology and digital learning knowledge and skills.

Who Can Access the Site?

First-year undergraduates (starting fall 2018) are automatically enrolled into this site to have access to this resource when they need it; other students who are not first-years can be given these self-enrollment directions by their instructor:

To self-enroll into the Digital Learning Essentials site, copy/paste this URL into a new browser window, then accept the course invitation.

Faculty use this same link to self-enroll and explore firsthand what is in the site to determine if or how you’d like to have their students use the site. Site moderators monitor the discussion board, update course content, review requests for the certificate, and respond to occasional student questions. Non-St. Thomas users can contact Jo Montie to request access to a visitor version of the site.

How Can Faculty Use the Site to Assist Students with Online Readiness?

Review this list to consider ways that Digital Learning Essentials may be a resource to you and your students:

  • Provide the Digital Learning Essentials self-enroll link in your professor announcement the week before class starts.
  • Include directions for participating in the Digital Learning Essentials Site in a Get Started module. Here is an example of how Professor Paul Wojda (Department of Theology) introduced students to this resource in a Start Here module page.

  • Suggest reviewing a portion of the site before an upcoming class activity. For example, ask students to complete the “Using VoiceThread” or the “Taking Proctored Exam” page. Or perhaps design a “Go Find These Five Things” activity or quiz to tailor the activity to your course content.
  • Require students to complete activities in the site to earn the Certificate of Completion and then share a copy of the certificate with you. See the home page of the site for the requirements to receive the Certificate. Here is an example of a direction page for your Get Started module:

  • Offer a review activity after students complete the resource site. Professor Alison Underthun-Meilahn (Department of English) includes these directions for a 5 point reflection assignment after students complete Digital Learning Essentials:

We hope that these ideas inspire your creative thinking on how to support your learners in pre-course preparation for online and blended courses. To share your examples or for help finding ways to leverage the Digital Learning Essentials site, reach out to Jo Montie or any STELAR instructional design partner.

This post was written by Jo Montie, Online Learning Systems Facilitator 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 Jo at

Future of Higher Education

HyFlex Model Expanding Into New Programs

The University of St. Thomas first offered a course in the HyFlex model during the summer of 2017.  Due to high student demand, FINC 321 was offered again using this delivery model during summer term 2018, and other programs are starting to offer HyFlex courses as a way to accommodate student preferences around course attendance.

What is HyFlex? 

HyFlex is a course delivery model that allows students to choose their mode of participation from online and on-campus options during each class session.  That’s right, each class session students can choose whether to come to campus or attend online.  Online options may include synchronous or asynchronous sessions.

Flexible participation policy in a single course offering the choice of face-to-face, asynchronous online, or synchronous online

HyFlex was recently added by the Registrar’s office as an official course type category and is defined as, “Instruction is delivered concurrently via in-person class meetings, synchronous online class meetings, and asynchronous methods. Learners choose how they participate and engage each week.”

What does a HyFlex Course look like?

A HyFlex course strives to provide equivalent learning activities in all participation modes.  In FINC 321 students can participate in a live lecture on campus or through web conferencing or can view the lecture at their convenience online. Participation points are earned through live class discussions or through asynchronous VoiceThread discussions.

What technology is used?

The HyFlex model is made possible through the use of cutting-edge technologies including Zoom, Canvas, Proctorio, Panopto, classroom video capture, and smart boards.  STELAR staff members are available to support faculty as they plan and develop these courses.

Integrating Online and Traditional Course Sections

In the graduate program in Special Education, Dr. Lynn Stansberry Brusnahan has found that students more often enroll in the online sections of required courses than in on-campus sessions. In order to honor individual student preferences for how they experience and participate in the class, Dr. Stansberry Brusnhan combined the online and on-campus sections of SPED 785: Behavior Management.

All of the students are in the same Canvas course site; on Wednesday evenings, they can come to class in Minneapolis Opus Hall, or they can attend online via Zoom and interact with the class remotely. If they aren’t available to attend during class time, they can watch the recorded lecture and provide a summary of what they learned. Students choose from week to week, so it’s all about student choice and preference. Courses in the educational leadership program are also exploring this model.

More Information about HyFlex

STELAR has presented about the HyFlex model at educational conferences including OLC Accelerate, the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) and the Minnesota eLearning Summit and has found a great deal of interest in this model with follow-up visits, conversations, and a write-up in Inside Higher Ed.  Also check out our February 2018 post Interest Building Around the HyFlex Model of Course Delivery.

Interested in exploring HyFlex for your own course?  STELAR may have a grant for that.  See the call for proposals section of our website.

This post was written by Glori Hinck, 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

8-Point Canvas Tune-up

Avoid common pitfalls and make your course easier to navigate with this 8-Point Canvas Tune-up.

Hide unused buttons 

Eliminate confusion and streamline the students’ experience by hiding any unused left-navigation buttons. You can also reorder the items in the left navigation to suit your needs.

Post your Syllabus in Syllabus 

In the Fall 2018 semester, more than 80% of St. Thomas students clicked on Syllabus in Canvas, expecting to find their course Syllabus. Make finding your Syllabus easy for students by posting your syllabus in Syllabus (found in the left navigation). You can upload a Word document or PDF or copy/paste the text directly into the page’s rich content editor.

Organize your course chronologically in Modules 

Organizing your course chronologically in Modules creates a natural progression through course materials and activities each week and eases navigation. It also helps students manage their workload because the modules contain everything they need—an overview page to provide context, a list of assigned readings, videos, or links, and assignments.

Stream course videos through Panopto 

Uploading or recording new videos in Panopto (St. Thomas’ video streaming and management system) gives you the ability to embed/link that video directly in Canvas, so students won’t need to download the video to view it, and you won’t need to worry about running out of space with large video files.

Send course updates via Announcements 

The best way to send a message to the whole class is to post an Announcement. Doing so triggers email, Canvas app, and text notifications (depending on how students set up their notifications) that tell students a new announcement exists. All announcements are also saved in the Announcements tool for future reference.

Turn files into Pages

Using Canvas Pages instead of files makes your content easily accessible on any device or operating system. Instead of presenting a series of files (handouts, documents, and PDFs) to students, you can use Canvas Pages to present the same information. The power of Pages is that you can present short instructions, long articles, hyperlink to websites, as well as link to multiple documents, all on a single page. You can also increase the visual appeal of your content with page headings, images, color, and much more.

Publish, publish, publish 

Courses, by default, are not published until you publish them. For students to see your course content, you must publish the course, the modules, and the items. Use Student View to make sure that the content you choose to share with students is available. (The Syllabus is automatically available as soon as the course is published.)

Check your dates 

Check your start and end dates in Settings to make sure your course is scheduled to open and close when you want. Remember, students won’t have access to the course (even if it is published) until the start date occurs. Also make sure the dates in your Syllabus match the dates built into your modules, assignment descriptions, Canvas calendar, and announcements. This will reduce questions and confusion from students, so you can keep their focus on learning.

This post was a collaborative effort among St. Thomas E-Learning and Research (STELAR) Center staff 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