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

November 2019

Accessibility, Student Systems of Support

Design Resources that are Accessible for All Learners

In this article, I introduce Strategy 3: Design resources that are accessible to all students, not just some students. This is from an Eight Strategies blog series about creating electronic orientation and success resources. New to this series? Also read about Strategy 1 and Strategy 2. 

Strategy 3: Design Resources Accessible for All  

Learn to design resources that are accessible to all learners, not just some learners. I do not know how to fully do all of this (yet), but I am committed to continuing to learn accessibility skills. Whether you are developing a digital orientation, tutoring support, employee training, or another resource in Canvas (or another learning management system), you want everyone to have access to your terrific content, right?  

Accessible for All: Our Values, Mission, and the Law 

Creating fair and equitable access for all is the right thing to do. My values and the St.Thomas Mission Statement guide my accessibility work. Advancing the common good is about the well-being and participation of everybody in our community. People need to have full access to information and learning experiences, including digital/online content, in order to be active members of a learning community.  

If values and mission are not enough to nudge and inspire, recall the many laws (Americans with Disabilities Act-ADA, the Rehabilitation Act Section 504 and 508, Minnesota Human Rights Act) that give “teeth” to these principles. The Section 508 Refresh and What It Means for Higher Education (LaGrow2017) describes Electronic Information and Communication Technology (EICT) as accessible “if it can be used as effectively by people with disabilities as it can by those without.”  As we communicate information electronically (digitally, online), ensure that our learners have equal opportunity and equivalent ease of use.   

Specific Strategies to Use Right Now 

Consider these actions as you strive to create student success sites that work for all learners!

  • Develop a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Mindset. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a set of research-based principles to guide lesson design and teaching. This UDL at a Glance video (4:36) effectively introduces UDL. This CAST website provides additional information on UDL. Consider following the  CAST Twitter to join this movement to expand learning opportunities for all people. 
  • Incorporate new accessibility skills into your resource design. ThUniversity of St. Thomas Faculty Development accessibility website page describes approaches to create better access for all. The University of Minnesota Accessible U site promotes six Core Skills for targeting accessibility practices into your site design:  
    • Headings and Document Structure 
    • Hyperlinks 
    • Video Captions 
    • Bullets and Numbered Lists 
    • Color and Contrast 
    • Image Alt Text 

The next revision of the University of MN Accessible U site will add a 7th core skill to the list.   

  • Use the Canvas features for accessibility designOr if you are from an organization that uses another learning management system, ask that company for their accessibility features.  
  • Keep on learning! After you learn and incorporate one new accessibility practice, pick another skill to develop. Creating accessible digital resources for all learners requires continual learning and a commitment from all of us. 

Examples in our Success Sites 

Below are some of the practices we currently use in our orientation and student success sites that are co-created with the St. Thomas E-Learning and Research team (STELAR).  

  • Ensure that anything with audio is closed captioned.  
  • In addition to close captioning, also include a transcript document of the audio or video content.  
  • Use bold or italics instead of underline to emphasize a wordunderlining denotes a URL link in an online environment.  
  • Structure documents using paragraph styles or heading tags to make the documents accessible to an individual using a screen reader, and more readable for all students.  
  • When using a colored font for emphasis, use color combined with another visual indicator (bold or italics) to convey information. Someone with color blindness may not perceive the emphasis if you only use color. 

Providing an equitable and effective learning environment for all students requires that we present teaching and learning materials in ways that are accessible for all, including individuals with disabilities. When course materials are designed with this intention, ALL learners benefit. 

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 

Canvas: Did you know...?, Technology Tools

New Gradebook In Canvas

Canvas is rolling out a new gradebook to all users this winter, and we think you’re going to like the new features. St. Thomas is going to switch from the old gradebook to the new one on January 3, 2020 to accommodate posting Fall 2019 grades and the start of J-Term 2020.

New Features:

To see a list of all the changes, please view the complete functionality comparison chart. Here are three exciting new features that will help you streamline your grading and reporting:

Enhanced Features:

To see a complete list of enhancements made to current features, please view the complete functionality comparison chart. The following feature enhancements might be especially handy:

  • In the old gradebook you could only sort student names alphabetically by last name. In the new gradebook, you’ll be able to sort students by first or last name, sort alphabetically, and choose which secondary information (like username or group) you’d like to show.
  • You have much more control over the arrangement of your assignment columns with the new gradebook. You can arrange by name, due date, points, or module.
  • You can also filter your columns by assignment group, modules, and/or section. In the old gradebook, you could only filter by section.
  • The new gradebook allows you to mute all assignments by default (by selecting the manual post option) in Grade Posting Policies.

Features that Still Exist but Have Moved:

Looking for an old feature, but can’t find it? Quite a few features have either moved to another location in the gradebook, or their icons have changed. To see a full list, have a look at the functionality comparison chart.

Getting Help

Looking for something in the New Gradebook, but can’t find it? Trying to make sense of new icons and locations? Canvas has multiple help options for you:

  • Look through the New Gradebook Instructor Guide to see if you can find an answer to your question.
  • Contact Canvas help if you have any issues setting up your new gradebook. They are available 24/7 via phone or chat.

This post was written by Nancy McGinley Myers, 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

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