10:57 AM

Announcing Winners of UST’s 2022 TOAST Awards

TOAST 2022 Honorees L - R: Dr. John Simms, Dr. Brandon Green, Dr. Karen O'Brien, Brandon Carson, CISSP, Dr. Crystal Tran, Dr. Pritham RamWith the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the University of St. Thomas-Houston responded to the corresponding need for bold, excellent, online courses. Since then, the University’s annual Teach Online Awards to Spur Transformation (TOAST) recognizes colleagues for masterful design and delivery of virtual classes. 

On April 21, in the Scanlan Room, President Richard Ludwick and VP for Academic Affairs Christopher Evans introduced the TOAST Awards to honor six outstanding faculty for their online teaching success:

·      Brandon Carson, CISSP
Cyber Security, Kolbe School of Innovation
·      Brandon Green, Ed.D
Ed.D Program, School of Education and Human Services
·      Karen O’Brien, Ph.D, APRN, ACNP-BC
Nursing, Carol and Odis Peavey School of Nursing
·      Pritham Ram, Ph.D
Chemistry, School of Arts & Sciences
·      John E. Simms, Ph.D, Ed.D, CMA, CSCA
Accounting, Cameron School of Business
·      Crystal Tran, Ph.D
Psychology, School of Arts & Sciences

Following the faculty presentation of their courses, Dr. Brady Knapp, Chair of Music, accompanied student vocalists, Priscilla Salisbury, MSM soprano, and Alan Saldaña Silva, undergrad baritone senior, who engaged the audience, highlighting student success.

Judging Factors

Judges based their decisions on key categories from the quality rubric known as NICE (Navigation, Interactivity, Content, Evaluation). Several factors were considered, including novel approaches to online teaching, effective interactivity with students (and among students), and leadership in teaching courses that were previously not available online.

A Novel Approach

For virtual classes, UST instructors use a robust online course design system known as Blackboard. Associate professor of Nursing Karen O’Brien got innovative with the software in her design for Health Assessment and Holistic Nursing Care of the Critically Ill.

“My course design and use of predesigned components of Blackboard were novel,” she said. “The courses used Blackboard capabilities to complete activities needed after the pandemic, different from the original design and intention.”

Effective Interactivity with Students

Students of assistant professor of psychology Dr. Crystal Tran report that her online courses contain clear expectations, are engaging and easy to navigate, and make them feel like they are a part of the class. Not surprisingly, Tran was recognized for student engagement and interactivity and conveying consistent warmth and guidance to help students learn online.

Tran said interactivity is a key to success. She uses Blackboard’s discussion boards as part of her strategy to achieve interactivity and spur transformation.

“It’s about making sure every student has a voice in the class,” Tran explained. “Through the discussion boards, I provide a space where students can ask me and/or their peers questions—this creates a welcoming environment and class culture where students can feel comfortable asking me questions and encourages them to help their fellow peers. Furthermore, I have utilized Discussion Boards as part of graded class assignments where they can share their thoughts (about a video case, activity, etc.) for their peers and me to reflect on. Moreover, I create opportunities for students to become discussion leaders, where they manage threads (within a forum) that relates to their assigned presentation.”

Transformational Offerings

UST Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs and Director of Online Education, Dr. Jim Monaghan, hosted the awards, and said, “We have transformed in a short time from offering very few online courses to offering them in nearly every discipline. Furthermore, these UST courses are developed with the aid of experienced, dedicated instructional designers who help implement quality standards second to none.”

Monaghan emphasized the transformative power of these courses and programs for students who are empowered to pursue their educational dreams even when faced with challenges of distance from campus, work obligations and family obligations.

Congratulations to all of the 2022 TOAST Award Honorees!