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Sacred Heart Revamps SHUsquare

Virtual teaching and learning commons gets a robust upgrade

Sacred Heart University has revitalized SHUsquare, the University’s virtual teaching and learning commons, as a way to engage and connect students and faculty in meaningful academic discussions.

The College of Arts and Sciences developed the first phase of SHUsquare in 2012 to link freshmen with professors and peers so they could engage in intellectual discussions on common academic topics. Professor Marie Hulme, who led this initiative in collaboration with the CAS faculty and students, won the Sloan-C Effective Practice Award in 2014.

Since then, the SHUsquare model has evolved; it’s now managed by the Office of Digital Learning, it’s geared toward the entire University, and it welcomes visitors across the globe.

Comprising students and faculty, the current SHUsquare team has created a new learning commons website in alignment with its enhanced vision. “This new website is much more robust,” says Jaya Kannan, director of digital learning, who spearheads this project with Professor Pilar Munday. “It enables free interchange between faculty and students that goes beyond the boundaries of the classroom. This allows for more interdisciplinary conversations and captures continuous learning. In addition, it showcases the digital pedagogy practices implemented by our faculty. To sustain the culture of innovation on campus, we need to draw attention to the constant experimentation with emerging digital approaches. The SHUsquare site is one way for us to show evidence of these innovative approaches and the impact it could have on student learning.”

When students visit the updated website, they are greeted with colorful images and plenty of icons to click on. Visitors can view videos, photos, professors’ work and student projects, and they can post comments.

Mary Awad ’16, a digital communications major, began working on SHUsquare in the fall of 2015 as the website’s graphic designer. She created all the site’s banners, logos, thumbnails and other images. “It was really important to us to make SHUsquare dynamic and exciting to look at, since we want students to utilize it, so aesthetics were very important in the development process,” Awad said. “I’m really happy with the way it turned out.”

Awad said SHUsquare is a great tool for Sacred Heart. “Students from various majors and departments now will be able to engage in conversation on certain topics and share their individual perspectives based on their academic backgrounds,” she said. “Bio students will talk to media students, who will talk to Spanish students. This varied discourse is sure to open student’s minds and help them learn from each other and come to understand different backgrounds.

“SHUsquare also acts as an intellectual archive for the University,” Awad added. “It will save colloquia videos, guest speakers’ lectures and one-time SHU events and projects. Saving these to SHUsquare will allow the conversation to continue even after the event is over and will give teachers and students access to this information in the future. It will allow one-time events to live forever online, and that is a great resource for the University.”

SHUsquare will connect students with other students and faculty, but it also will connect faculty with faculty. “This is not only about the students; it’s open to professors too,” said Munday, SHUsquare faculty coordinator and associate professor of Spanish. “They can talk about their teaching methodologies, their research and their projects.” Faculty talking to other faculty outside their department doesn’t happen often, Munday said, but she hopes SHUsquare changes that. “They can learn from each other, but if they don’t know what others are doing, they can’t learn.”

One of the first projects posted on SHUsquare was an election podcast featuring Professor Gary Rose, chair of the Government, Politics and Global Studies Department. The podcasts, which Rose is recording once a week until the November 2016 presidential election, also involve senior student Bridget Hughes, a global studies major. Kannan said Hughes doesn’t just interview Rose in the podcasts; they have scholarly conversations, crossing the traditional teacher/student roles.

Listeners from more than 35 countries, including the United States, have tuned in to hear Rose’s commentary on the presidential election.

Computer science graduate student Mareh Al-Sadoon and undergraduate Joseph Auito have been the masterminds behind the design of the SHUsquare website.  “I love the idea of SHUsquare,” said Al-Sadoon. “It’s quite unique and very interesting. I believe it’s important to have something like SHUsquare in our school to gather students and professors in one place, where they can share opinions and thoughts over many topics.”

The URL for the new SHUsquare website is