March – 2019 – St. Thomas E-Learning And Research
Monthly Archives

March 2019

Student Systems of Support

Articulate the Goals, and Identify Ways to Assess the Goals

In this article I introduce Strategy 1: Articulate the Goals, and Identify Ways to Assess the Goals. This is second in a series of blogs tailored to faculty and staff who create electronic learning resources for students. Our university uses the Canvas LMS for our for-credit courses as well as for orientation and student success sites.

The strategies in this blog series apply to resources created in both Canvas as well as resources using other electronic platforms. See the February Success Site blog for a list of all eight strategies.

The word goal with an arrow hitting a target in the "0"



Strategy 1: Articulate the Goals, and Identify Ways to Assess the Goals.


As you plan your student orientation and success sites, be explicit about the purpose(s) the site is designed for. As you clarify what you want students to get out of the resource, think about practical ways to assess the effectiveness of the site.

In other words: What are you aiming for, and how do you know when you hit the mark (or at least inch closer to it)?

To assist you in this planning stage, view this five minute Backwards Design Process video. This video is offered as inspiration and to give you ideas to adapt to your situation—not as a rigid prescription.

Our St. Thomas E-Learning and Research (STELAR) team incorporates elements of the Backwards by Design (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005) process into our course design with faculty. I think that this Backwards by Design approach is also helpful in the development of student success sites (including orientations and community sites).

Example of Strategy 1

During the fall 2018, a St. Thomas team launched a new student success module in Canvas called Degree Planning Essentials. Our purpose was to help students to understand their responsibilities for their own degree planning, to learn more about degree graduation requirements for their degree, and to know about the electronic degree planning tool “Degree Works.”

At the end of the module, students take a six question quiz that checks their understanding of concepts presented in the site. Students need to earn a certain score on the quiz in order to be able to register for their next semester. They can go back and further explore the site material and then retake the quiz at any time. We included a survey at the end of the semester to invite additional student feedback on their experience with this tool.

Kudos to Susan Anderson (Director of Academic Counseling), Christian Sobek (Administrative Assistant), and Dr. Wendy Wyatt (Associate Vice Provost of Undergraduate Studies) for identifying a clear purpose and goals for this Student Success Site. The team also identified a way to assess how the resource worked for the students during this first round to further inform the use of that resource during the second year of implementation.

Continually Revisit Your Goals (Strategy 1) to Reap Benefits!

These initial extra efforts in the design process (clarifying the purpose and goals for your site and how to assess how you reach your goals) will really pay off.

Don’t be surprised if you need to clarify your site purpose and goals as you begin developing the site. Eventually being able to articulate the goals, followed by ways to assess your goal(s), is an important step.

If the purpose (and what you want students to learn) is fuzzy for you as a developer of the site, chances are that it will also be fuzzy to the students. Conversely, if you clarify the site purpose and goals, this clarity will facilitate your ability to communicate the purpose and goals of the site to your students and thereby aide their success!

Strategy 1: Foundational to the Other Strategies

Recall the February Success Site blog and the eight strategies to plan orientation and success sites.

Clarity on your goals and ways to assess this (Strategy 1), in turn, helps inform the design of the site (Strategies 2-5). And clarity on the goals will also help you to better communicate the benefits of the site to others (Strategies 6 and 7).  Finally, as you launch your site and reflect back on the “first run” of your site, reflecting upon what you are learning (Strategy 8) will be much easier by having initial designer goals and ideas on assessing them.

The next blog will illustrate Strategy 2: Create a clear home page and simple site navigation so students start and stay with it.


Galanek, J.D., Gierdowski, D.C, & Brooks, D.C. ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2018. Research report. Louisville, CO: ECAR, October 2018.

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design (2nd edition). Alexandria, VA:  Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

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

STELAR Partnerships with Faculty

STELAR presents workshops at the STAR Symposium

St. Thomas staff members from STELAR recently presented at the STAR Symposium, a virtual-only conference hosted by the Minnesota Online Quality Initiative.  The conference held on February 8, drew approximately 155 participants from around the state and country, with a large representation from Minnesota state colleges and universities.  The all-day Symposium was conducted in a Zoom webinar format.

One of STLEAR’s Instructional Designers, Michael Wilder, offered a workshop called “Increasing Engagement with Multimedia-based Projects & Presentations” which had approximately 58 attendees in the afternoon session.

In his workshop, Wilder heightened awareness of instructional video and the importance it plays for students. Participants learned about non-complex strategies for using video to deliver instruction. They also explored options for creating multimedia projects and presentations that can increase interaction and engagement. Taken from his workshop description:

Video is the new “text” for 21st century learners and is replacing traditional delivery systems as a way to communicate content and demonstrate authentic learning. Today’s students consume much more video than they read in text.* Using multimedia video in your course opens up options for communicating and presenting your subject in ways two-dimensional text just can’t do.

Wilder’s presentation materials can be accessed here.

Jo MontieLisa Burke, and John Kinsella presented a session called “Online Orientation Learning Sites: Student Success Resources” and shared the story about STELAR’s development of two student orientation and success sites.  

The presenters illustrated numerous benefits in using Canvas, our learning management system (LMS), to attend to student onboarding needs in online, blended and face to face programs. 

They shared a student success framework from the ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2018 Report (Galanek, Gierdowski, & Brooks, 2018). The findings illuminate ways that success tools benefit students, and emphasize ways to involve faculty and staff who play pivotal roles in helping students notice and use digital success tools.  

The presenters also shared how a self-assessment tool can assist students to better identify what they already know (which helps them to better connect new learning to prior learning) and points them to content that addresses their own prioritized needs.

Many of the 59 attendees in this session, engaged in the conversation via chat which reflects a shared commitment and high interest around creating effective orientation experiences with students.  

See the Online Orientation presentation materials.

Our St. Thomas team members found significant benefit in the task of preparing to share our collective learning (we practiced with each other!); then the actual presenting and interacting with participants sparked further learning.  

In addition, that opportunity to attend other Star Symposium sessions widened our own understandings about what is possible and might be possible. For example, attending the conference modeled numerous best practices around using video conferencing tools (like Zoom) for an entire all online conference, including the importance of having room moderators in an online conference. 

This post was co-written by Michael Wilder and Jo Montie on behalf of the St. Thomas E-Learning and Research (STELAR) Center at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. Please visit our website at or email us at

Technology Tools

VoiceThread’s New Features

VoiceThread– the online discussion platform that incorporates voice, video, and images, continues to improve their cloud-based interface. Many faculty and students at the University of St. Thomas use VoiceThread as a way to increase engagement and social presence in online learning.

Here are two new features that will make using VoiceThread even easier and more accessible:

Interactive Video Commenting

Now you can “insert your comment directly into the video’s timeline while also interacting with it dynamically as you record,” according to VoiceThread.   Here’s how it works:

Stop the playback of any video playing in VoiceThread. Click the + button to start recording your comment. You can ask questions about a particular thing right within the video, or describe and draw directly on a certain frame within the video.  You can even move the video’s timeline and comment along the way.  Any movements you make (scrubbing, annotating) while making your comments are recorded right along with your comments so when others view your comments, they see how you are interacting with the video.

Use this feature when you need to stop and ask questions at a specific time in the video. You can also use it to point out elements of a diagram or describe a stop-motion happening in the video.

Closed Captioning of all Comments


Beginning in March, all comments that professors and students make will be closed captioned for accessibility.

This will happen automatically behind the scenes and will appear directly on the comment after processing. To view the captions, viewers need to turn on Closed Captions during playback from the CC menu in the upper-right. With this update, there will be no more requesting that VoiceThreads be sent off for captioning or waiting several days for the captions to appear. While captions are machine processed immediately and probably won’t be 100% accurate, you now have the ability to edit those captions anytime you want.


Simply click the “CC” icon on the individual caption and then click Edit Captions to correct the machine captions.

To find more exciting features being developed by VoiceThread, check out the VoiceThread Roadmap.


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