University of St. Thomas Magazine COVID-19 Special Edition

though, is that a foundation laid as far back as 2016 proved critical in a rapid, high-quality transition. It allowed St. Thomas’ signature academic excellence and personal attention to take center stage in ways that will shape the university’s future. “It has been remarkable to see the community come together to ensure a high-quality educational experience continued despite the challenges,” theology Professor Kimberly Vrudny said. “I’ve never been prouder to be associated with St. Thomas.” Forward thinking pays off On March 2, members of the St. Thomas E-Learning and Research (STELAR) team looked at a whiteboard full of projects they were managing as more and more courses were migrating online. The team knew they could handle what would be needed in the coming weeks because St. Thomas already had evolved its online education capabilities. “There was a huge sense of, ‘Thank God we’ve been preparing for this for the last number of years,’” said Karin Brown, a STELAR instructional designer who helps faculty develop their online curriculum and pedagogy. With support from STELAR, which launched in 2016, the university has had a huge growth of online, hybrid and HyFlex education, including more than 1,000% growth in online summer courses, according to Ed Clark, CIO and vice president for innovation and technology services. Last fall Clark spoke about the St. Thomas community expanding and improving its online education. He said St. Thomas faculty embraced the effort. “It’s been this guiding light of, ‘Let’s be really good in this space and keep what’s special about St. Thomas even in online classes,’” he said. St. Thomas has made investments in technology infrastructure to support that development, from a top-level learning management system, Canvas, to web conferencing, to video and audio streaming and recording. Even more importantly, the university invested in STELAR staff and faculty training that has expanded every year. More than 150 faculty members have completed its online teaching certification courses. STELAR and Information Technology Services staff members developed an Instructional Continuity site for faculty in Canvas that – coupled with drop-in Zoom support sessions and faculty well-versed in online

teaching supporting their colleagues – meant ample support for quickly moving things online. A forum for students, Tommie Tech Online, also scaled up from supporting just new incoming students to more than 7,000 students by mid-April. Truly St. Thomas Core to the complete migration was the desire to maintain the high-quality academic experience and personal attention for St. Thomas students. “There’s a feeling of, ‘How can we make this work for the students so they’re getting the content in a way they can learn it and stay engaged with us?’ That’s St. Thomas,” Slack said. “That’s why I teach here and not other places. The student focus is so important.” School of Engineering Professor Kundan Nepal cited his course, Engineering 410, Control Systems, as a prime example of how faculty and students have worked together. “We created analytical labs with the equipment students know how to use. Faculty recorded sessions of themselves using the equipment as if the students were right there. …The students then have taken that data and used it to do an analysis at home, so they’re not losing any of the learning objectives.” In many ways, said School of Education Professor Lynn Stansberry Brusnahan – whose special education program has won several awards for online teaching – being online can improve academic quality as elements such as universal design can be built in to help students of all learning styles get what they need. Options such as hybrid and HyFlex courses – which offer options for students to attend class in person, Zoom in synchronously, or view recorded lectures – have grown at St. Thomas in recent years and will be key to shaping what the university offers students going forward. Giving students personal attention Along with meeting academic expectations, maintaining personal attention has been a guiding light for the entire university. The Center for Student Achievement has helped faculty ratchet up proactive contact with students and advisees, made virtual office hours more available and, in general, done all they can to make sure they are maintaining crucial touchpoints with students throughout a challenging time. “Our professors and administrators care about the health and well-being of the students, and that’s clearly

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