St. Thomas E-Learning And Research - The Intersection of Technology and Pedagogy - Page 2
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


“Just double-click on the seagull…”

One interesting (“interesting” meaning a mix of “humorous,” “encouraging,” and “demoralizing”) aspect of paleofuturism is finding decades-old technologies that were called “obsolete”…yet are still alive and well today.

In January 1987, Fred D’Ignazio wrote that “The desktop metaphor came from computer designers’ image of computers as business tools, as information processors. We process information at desks, they reasoned, so why not make a computer simulate a desktop? The computer as desktop is a valid, viable image. But it’s only one image. It’s time for us to search out new images that relate more to our senses, feelings, and imaginations.”

This sounds like a great idea… but how much progress has been made in 30 years?  (Hint: very little.)  Does that lack of progress toward an alternate metaphor mean that humans are unable to escape the confines of an image that was established for us decades ago?  Or have we arrived at the best metaphor there is and that’s why we stick with it?

D’Ignazio gave an example of the kind of alternatives he was envisioning at the time:

The Seagull "Finder" - I had a conversation with award-winning science fiction writer Orson Scott Card a few years ago. We talked about new metaphors for computer operating systems and what would be appropriate for children. Scott closed his eyes and dreamed of a child sitting at a computer. When she turned it on, a picture of a seagull flying high over a blue ocean appeared on the display screen. The seagull was (to use Macintosh terminology) the "finder." As the child flew her gull over the sea, little islands appeared with coral reefs, atolls, and palm trees. The islands were files. If the child wanted to acess a file, she steered her seagull (via some pointing device-like a mouse or a finder) to the island. This sort of imagery might sound inappropriate for today's files, which consist mainly of text and numbers. But it will not be out of place for tomorrow's files, which contain pictures, voices, music, charts, graphics, animations, and photographs.

We’re definitely living in the world of “tomorrow’s files” yet we still seem bound to a virtual desktop.  Some VR environments are starting to approach this alternate vision: when you don an Oculus Go headset, you find yourself on a beach, surrounded by floating screens that you click.  Your phone or iPad doesn’t have a “desktop” but a… “home screen,” perhaps?

Those alternatives are a far cry from a flying seagull.

A dozen years ago, “Second Life” helped connect people to one another and flying (seagull-like) was a mode of transportation from one area to another… but it was much less efficient than simply typing in coordinates to a very DOS-like box.  But Second Life itself is another example of a technology and “computing environment” that died (no pun intended).

Are we stuck on the desktop forever?

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., from his very typical desk on a computer with a very traditional desktop. See it in person down at STELAR in the lower level of the OSF Library, where you’ll find yourself among friends. You can also 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.

Student Systems of Support, Uncategorized

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