If you thought college was about 300-person lectures in florescent-lit auditoriums, think again. Professors at St. Edward’s University innovate as teacher-scholars, and students are learning in new contexts, acquiring industry knowledge and developing skills they can use beyond graduation. Here are a few examples that exemplify innovation.

Kim Garza

Associate Professor of Graphic Design

The experiment: Garza’s Interaction Design class used augmented reality as a means to bring history into the present. The experiment involved overlaying an historical digital image of Main Building from the university archives on top of a current one.

Why it’s innovative: Thus far, augmented reality has predominantly been used for entertainment, such as the Pokémon Go app. But Garza explains that the concept has educational possibilities, too, by adding context to a place by overlaying its history in real time.

The outcome: Students delved into the archives, learned about the university’s history and were able to see their present-day surroundings through an historical lens using the Aurasma augmented reality platform. They also created a website featuring matching then-and-now images along with an online map of all the locations they overlaid.

Richard Bautch

Professor of Humanities

The experiment: Bautch challenged his students to make a videogame centered on becoming a prophet.

Why it’s innovative: Religious and Theological Studies majors typically investigate the prophets through close reading and textual analysis of canonical works, such as the Bible. Bautch encouraged his students to go deeper by studying the prophets’ lives, motivations and choices. This allowed “students to combine their tech smarts with their biblical literacy,” he says.

The outcome: By the end of the semester, students created “Many Adventures: Prophet Edition,” a two-player videogame featuring five levels of obstacles using the GameMaker Studio development tool.

Amy Wright and Jennifer Jefferson

Visiting Assistant Professors of University Studies

The experiment: In their class Austin Then and Now, Wright and Jefferson took 75 students out of a large, lecture-based model of learning and into the thick of experiential learning by exploring in groups 15 Austin neighborhoods.

Why it’s innovative: “Our goal was to have a true liberal arts experience, where we’re teaching students critical thinking,” says Wright. For one assignment (an ethnographic analysis of sites of labor and leisure), students visited local restaurants, movie theaters and coffee shops to investigate how employee and customer experiences differ, as well as how they interact.

The outcome: Students started to see how the perception of Austin as a place of leisure, where people come to enjoy the carefully curated live music and food scenes, was also informed by the perspective of workers and the effort that goes into creating the perception.

Peter Beck

Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Policy, and Director of the Professional Science Master’s in Environmental Management and Sustainability 

The experiment: Beck led a group of students in the Professional Science Master’s in Environmental Management program to the Costa Rican forest where they paired ecological research methods with social research techniques. They also traveled to La Frontera, where students researched how ecotourism businesses are making their communities sustainable.

Why it’s innovative: The integration of faculty and student research, along with the international field course component, sets this master’s program apart.

The outcome: After beginning their research during the field course, selected students return to the research stations during the spring semester for an additional three months with expenses fully covered through a National Science Foundation grant.

Debra Zahay-Blatz

Professor of Marketing and Chair of Marketing and Entrepreneurship

The experiment: Zahay-Blatz has integrated digital marketing certifications (think Google AdWords, Hootsuite and Hubspot Inbound Marketing) into courses in the Marketing and Entrepreneurship department in The Bill Munday School of Business.

Why it’s innovative: When combined with the practical experience students get in her classroom, these certifications meet the needs of a changing marketplace and prepare students for the professional world they will enter as they graduate.

The outcome: As digital marketing becomes the new standard, students with these certifications are better able to demonstrate their in-demand skills in areas like social media marketing and advanced analytical techniques, making them more attractive to employers.

Richard Kopec

Professor Computer Science

The experiment: In general chemistry classes, students not only learn the scientific facts of the arrangement of atoms, but they do so using these skills through active learning.

Why it’s innovative:  Anyone can consult the internet to find out about atomic structure, but not everyone can explain how we know this. With the support of a National Science Foundation grant, Kopec and other chemistry faculty are using materials developed in part by Professor of Chemistry Tricia Shepherd to transform how chemistry courses in the School of Natural Sciences approach student learning. “Instead of my telling them ‘this is the structure of atom,’ they’re given data about subatomic particles that form an atom, and they have to infer how these particles arrange themselves to discover the structure of an atom on their own,” he says. Similar approaches are also being implemented in introductory biology and calculus courses.

The outcome: Students are participating in active learning, a process that encourages them to analyze data, draw conclusions and synthesize conclusions to form concepts about scientific principles on their own.  

by Barbara Johnson