Since launching in 2016, the St. Thomas E-Learning and Research (STELAR) center has been at the forefront of technology-enhanced instruction at the University of St. Thomas — to an enthusiastic response by both students and faculty.

At the recent inaugural STELAR showcase event, Associate Vice President of Academic Technology Brett Coup highlighted the dramatic increase in students taking courses online: Last summer 600 students took at least one course online; there are already more than 800 students enrolled in online courses for this summer.

“Students are telling us by their choices that this is something they care about and are interested in doing,” Coup said.

Beyond online courses, like Dalma Martinović-Weigelt and Kurt Illig’s Biology 105, faculty are discovering innovative ways to explore the intersection of pedagogy and technology.

One of the most popular tools in the STELAR center is the lightboard media development studio, allowing faculty to record on-demand lectures. Rather than having his or her back to the camera using a blackboard or whiteboard, the lightboard provides more engagement as faculty face the camera while writing on glass. (See the above photo for a screenshot from one of biology clinical professor Colin Martin’s lightboard lectures.)

Virtual reality (VR) also has been in demand at St. Thomas. When representatives from the Hult Prize visited the campus, they learned about refugees by virtually transporting themselves to a refugee camp. With VR, students have experienced the striated walls of the Grand Canyon, creating dynamic understanding rather than just seeing a textbook photo. Students in an education technology course created their own VR assignments they implemented at the school districts where they worked, evaluating the effectiveness of the assignments in the process.

“It’s not just technology’s great for technology’s sake,” said Daniel Hoisington, associate director of AV and classroom technologies. “We expect technology in higher education to give us better outcomes — whether it’s better learning, better retention for the students, or a broader audience that we can reach. We have high standards for the new technology as well.”

Presentations at the STELAR showcase included:

The passion for technology at St. Thomas continues unabated, according to Coup. On the horizon are four new online graduate programs: MBA; Graduate Certificate in Business Analytics; M.S.L. in Ethics and Compliance; and a Catholic Studies master’s degree.

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