JULY 19, 2021 — UTSA’s key investments in digital learning initiatives, established prior to 2020, helped students and faculty succeed while off-campus during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, these collaborative learning practices and innovative incorporations of technology won’t end now that UTSA students are returning to campus. They’ll continue to shape and strengthen the learning experience of students for the fall 2021 semester and beyond.
Prior to the pandemic, the division of Academic Innovation had actively searched for effective tools to allow faculty to create the best learning environments for their students and to support academic integrity.
“One transformative commitment UTSA made to fostering digital literacy among our students was becoming the first, public, four-year Adobe Creative Campus in Texas,” said Melissa Vito, vice provost of academic innovation at UTSA. “Our faculty are committed to delivering high-quality education to students no matter how they’re enrolled at UTSA. Academic Innovation is ready help ensure faculty has the tools, resources, and strategies required to provide engaging courses regardless of modality.”
Improving the Virtual Classroom
When the pandemic began, Academic Innovation prioritized video learning content to bolster students’ online learning experience. The division signed agreements with Panopto, a platform that helps faculty create interactive videos with embedded quizzes and closed captioning capability, and also invested in PlayPosit, which allows faculty to further edit videos with embedded opportunities for students to interact with the content, the instructor and their classmates. This easy production and delivery of content ensured that students watched the videos and eased faculty’s concerns about accessibility.
“The pandemic accelerated a technology transformation that was already planned, but would require more time to be implemented,” said Claudia Arcolin, director of digital learning at the university. “UTSA’s nationally-recognized faculty champions and points of contact embraced these new technologies to enhance their teaching and leveraged them to create a more inclusive learning experience for our students.”
Faculty champions and points of contact supported instructors who had no prior digital teaching experience, assisted with integration of new technologies in their own courses, and guide other faculty within their departments who want to adopt these new technologies to create quality online courses.
Within the College of Liberal and Fine Arts, faculty champions created the “One Thing That Works” video series and “Lunch and Learn” series, helping to disseminate best practices for effective teaching. The Lunch & Learn series allowed faculty to meet regularly and learn about different technologies and online teaching strategies.
“It has been a wonderful support network for our department—bringing us together during a time when we were very isolated. It gave us a community and we all looked forward to meeting together,” said Jodi Peterson, assistant professor of instruction in the Department of History. “With all of the pedagogical changes due to the transition to online teaching, I think it also gave our faculty direction and confidence.”
Integrating New Technologies
Academic Innovation continued to invest in optimizing the use of Proctorio, promoting academic integrity and helping faculty redesign their assessment strategy using different tools such as Unicheck. The faculty champions in the College of Engineering and Integrated Design and in the College forHealth, Community and Policy started a partnership with Academic Innovation to identify alternative assessment tools and strategies and provide guidance for assessments.
Academic Innovation also partnered with the College of Sciences faculty champions to implement Labster, an online lab simulation tool to help create quality and interactive learning opportunities for STEM courses. Lorenzo Brancaleon, faculty champion and associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, piloted the first gamified course to teach physics. This course not only increased student engagement but also provided a more inclusive learning experience, as students could research the biographies of a diverse group of scholars within their discipline.
“Though I introduced gamification as an online tool in response to the loss of student engagement prompted by the transition online, I intend to maintain the component even in hybrid or traditional in-person courses,” Brancaleon said. “From the students’ responses, most stated that gamification was key to keeping them engaged with the course. Gamification also adds a level of creativity that helps faculty to better engage with the course, especially if, as I plan to do, we can change the game structure from one semester to another.”
The increase in technology within the classroom will continue to transform the UTSA student experience, creating instructionally sound experiences that value student engagement. One such integration of technology and experiential learning is the Defining Moments project, an interdisciplinary and intercollege project that not only promoted deep thinking and student engagement within a virtual environment, but promoted a sense of community for UTSA students and faculty.
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