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Technology Tools

Best Practices, Tips, and Tricks, Technology Tools

8 Tips for Launching Your Canvas Course

Each semester, consider these 8 tips for launching your Canvas course.   

  1. Hide unused buttons.  Eliminate confusion and streamline the student experience by hiding any unused left-navigation buttons. You can also reorder the items in the left navigation to suit your needs. 
  1. 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. 
  1. 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 can be one-stop shop for everything they need—an overview page to provide context, a list of assigned readings, videos, or links, and assignments. 
  1. 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. 
  1. Send course updates via Announcements. The best way to send a message to the whole class is to post an Announcement. Doing so triggers an email, a Canvas app push notification, and a text notification (depending on how students set up their notifications) all of which tell students a new announcement exists. All announcements are also saved in the Announcements tool for future reference. 
  1. 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. 
  1. Publish, publish, publish.  Courses, by default, are not available to students 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.) 
  1. 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 post includes contributions from Katherine M. Nelson, St. Thomas Innovation & Technology Services Communications and Training Manager, and was slightly modified from a Dec 4, 2018, blog (Point Tune-Up) first contributed by STELAR Instructional Designer Darcy Turner. To learn more about the St. Thomas E-Learning and Research (STELAR) Center at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn, visit STELAR’s website or email us at

Technology Tools

Art History in 3D

Virtual reality has been around for about two years now, and new educational applications are emerging every day. In the first image below, Dr. Heather Shirey’s art history class use the ClassVR system to view a 360-degree image of the Temple of Palmyra, in Syria (bottom image), giving students the illusion of standing in the middle of the temple. These detailed, 3-dimensional images become particularly precious as this historical site has been significantly and intentionally damaged by warfare in recent years. The ClassVR system is a group of connected virtual reality goggles that can be controlled from a central location, allowing a professor to send images to all headsets at once, create playlists of related subjects, upload their own 360-degree photos or allow students to explore on their own. When it’s time to leave virtual reality, they can all be shut down at once, too! If you are interested in exploring ClassVR for your own project, come talk to us in STELAR!

ClassVR in Art History

Temple of Bel, Palmyra

Temple of Bel, Palmyra 15.jpg” by Bernard Gagnon (Own work) is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

This post was written by Eric Tornoe, Associate Director of Research Computing 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

Technology Tools

Qualtrics: Beyond Simple Surveys

When most people hear about Qualtrics, they immediately think of standard surveys: fill-in-the-blank questions, multiple-choice questions, perhaps long-form essay/response questions. You know, basic survey stuff – and that’s to be expected! Qualtrics was born out of a desire to serve the needs of academic research: data collection and analysis. The purpose of this series is to take you beyond those basic survey features and explore some of the unique and powerful uses of the Qualtrics platform. During the course of this series, we will demonstrate features such as branches, variables, scoring, authentication, actions, data reporting and analytics, and much more.


One of the most powerful features of Qualtrics is its ability to introduce branching logic. Branches allow the project designer to tailor the respondent experience based on various aspects. For instance, an answer to a specific question might lead the respondent to a whole series of questions that are not presented to others who did not select that answer. Branches also allow projects to do special math operations, create variables to be used in other parts of the project, and customize feedback or end-of-survey experiences, just to name a few. Branches come in two forms. The simplest form is called display logic, which is when you tell an individual question “Display this question ONLY if these criteria are met.” That criteria could be a specific choice selected in another question or a combination of choices selected (or not selected) in a range of questions.

The more powerful form of branching is represented in the Survey Flow, where you define the flow or experience of a respondent as they move through question blocks. Utilizing this form of branching, you are able to create wholly customized, often personalized, experiences through the project.

One example of the use of branching is a “choose-your-own-adventure” project. In this example, the participant is trying to find the quickest route from New York to Sydney based on various criteria (jobs, items, choices, etc). There is a random element introduced at the beginning where the participant is assigned a role that includes specific items to be carried along with them. This project uses branches extensively to define what is presented to the participant based on the choices they make throughout. In some cases, the path leads them all the way to London. In other cases, they are stranded and their voyage fails.

Screen recording of Incredible Race example

Our second example is a part of capturing data variables (which Qualtrics refers to as Embedded Data) for use elsewhere in the project. In this example, participants were asked to rate their institutional plans for exploring changes to various parts of their IT infrastructure and the timeline for those evaluations. Branches were used to capture those pieces of data to be used at the very end of the project where their individual institutional timeline is presented utilizing a Javascript timeline library (a feature we will discuss in a future article)

Screen recording of the Timeline example

Our final branching example comes from a self-assessment project. Students were asked to rate their relative comfort with various technologies and other personal learning skills. Based on their responses, branching was leveraged to provide feedback and suggest further reading, to both help students sift through a large amount of training material as well as provide a more personalized user experience.

Screen recording of the self-assessment example

Branching is a very powerful tool that serves as the basis for other advanced features. In our next article, we will discuss how Branches and variables, which Qualtrics refers to as Embedded Data, can be used to build even more personalized and innovative experiences.

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


Technology Tools

OEC Studio Updates Benefit Content Creators and St. Thomas Community

The HD Multimedia Studio located in OEC LL2 has recently been upgraded to include several new functions that are useful not only for original educational material/content creators but also for the broader St. Thomas community to produce content in a highly controlled professional media production environment.

In addition to the multi-camera HD production capabilities, recent updates to the OEC multimedia production studio include:

  • The most fully integrated high-end media production SMART board on campus
    • 75″ screen
    • Display content and allow for content markup
    • Multi-color markup and highlighting
    • Individual screen capture or integrated into multi-camera production switched content
    • Recorded or live to web broadcast functionality
  • Live “Zoom” meetings integrated into the high-end media production facility
    • Take advantage of a highly-controlled production facility with staff support
    • Hold live web meetings with multiple remote participants
    • Record remote presenters
    • Useful for experts or presenters that are not always able to be in-person on location
  • “Panopto” multi-session recording capabilities
    • Individually capture SMARTboard as one source and professional cameras as another source
    • Fully utilize Panopto’s capabilities in your course using the studio’s high-end production cameras and gear

You can even view a 360-degree tour of the OEC studio!

These additional features add a whole new dimension to your content creation possibilities!  Stop by any time to the OEC Multimedia Studio located at OEC LL2 or email us at to reserve a time to get a demonstration of the facility or to schedule a time to meet with studio staff to discuss your next project.

We look forward to working with you!

This post was written by Dan Lamatsch, a Media Services Senior Engineer 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