SHUsquare: A Digital Networked Community to Engage Students and Faculty Across Disciplines and to Enhance Traditional, Blended and On-line Teaching and Learning.

Award Winner: 
2014 Sloan-C Effective Practice Award
Student-Generated Content
Author Information
Marie Hulme, Director of SHUsquare and Jaya Kannan, Director of Digital Learning
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
Sacred Heart University
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 

SHUsquare is Sacred Heart University's virtual public square project, a pioneering initiative to build a networked community of learners connecting First Year Seminars. SHUsquare allows students and faculty to synthesize, analyze and communicate ideas, information and work through a multi-modal, multidisciplinary approach of teaching and learning. It supports important 21st century competencies including collaboration, creativity, ethical use of information and media. Here is the landing page on the Sacred Heart University web-site under the College of Arts and Sciences:

Description of the Effective Practice
Description of the Effective Practice: 

Students engaged in interdisciplinary and integrative thinking and writing are deepening their understanding of complex issues, honing critical thinking skills and preparing for a world of complexity in which creativity, broad perspective, and integration of media literacy are important 21st c. skills. Students are interacting with faculty and students from across disciplines as they respond to various forums created by individuals and Seminar classes, expanding their intellectual community beyond their immediate classroom, Professor, and Seminar topic. Deans from three colleges at the University engage students with ideas that raise the level of intellectual discourse and model an intellectual on-line presence. A vibrant intellectual online community generates a cross-pollination of both ideas and pedagogy, enhancing deep learning between students and other students, students and a diverse range of Professors, and between faculty members from diverse disciplines, building a complex web of learning.

Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness: 

In the short period of one academic year, since the birth of a pilot program developed on Blackbaord in AY 2012-2013 with ten participating seminars, SHUsquare has evolved into an external on-line networked community of over twenty Seminars. During the AY 2013-2014, SHUsquare had 52 pages of content, including videos, discussion forums, multi-modal projects, and interdisciplinary “hubs” in which two or more Seminars shared ideas and work. There were a total of 536 users on the site, 71 forums, 181 topics and 1,286 replies. Topics ranged from discussions of the meaning of a good life to the holocaust.
A forum designed to bring the incoming freshmen class together over a common intellectual experience modeled a multi-disciplinary approach for the text "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" in the fall of 2013. Professors from six relevant disciplines, English, Biology, Theology, Political Science, History and Philosophy each created a video discussing the text from their perspective. This modeled an integrative approach to understanding the text. The discussions, begun on line, were continued in the Seminar classrooms and in a formal colloquium. An intellectual community was established prior to the incoming class arriving at Sacred Heart.
This online forum consciously brought together Knowledge Experts from diverse disciplines to critically analyze a common text. Modeling this connective thinking epitomized the role of higher order thinking that characterizes a liberal arts education. Here is the link to the Freshmen Common Text Forum:
Deep learning is further evidenced in the collaboration between Dr. Michelle Loris of Psychology and Dr. Mark Jareb of Biology. Dr. Loris’ Seminar entitled “Understanding Our Behavior” and Dr. Jareb’s Seminar entitled “Free Will v. The Programmed Brain” exchanged evidence from their respective disciplines in response to a common question. Dr. Loris discusses the experience in a video provided here:
A link to the Hub page on SHUsquare is accessible here:

How does this practice relate to pillars?: 

Learning effectiveness is demonstrated through the prism of active learning seen through:
1.) students as both contributors to and co-creators of content; 2.) student engagement across a broad range of topics across disciplines; 3.) student participation as an act of volition that led to the emergence of learner autonomy ; 4.) students going beyond the boundaries of an assigned course.
Even with learning effectiveness as the primary pillar, it is supported by the other factors. In implementing the academic vision for networked learning there was an implicit attempt to apply the principles of the Universal Design for Learning thereby creating equal opportunities for engagement and participation. Further, faculty and student satisfaction is evidenced by data that clearly indicates an increase in participation on the site. The creation of this networked virtual platform enabled a complex web of intellectual interactions not just between students, but also between students and faculty. This effectively broke down the hierarchies and empowered students to rise as inquiry-based learners. The scale of the pilot was limited to a private BlackBoard framework and was moved to an independently hosted public site. At a program level, it was begun as a support of the curriculum goals of the First Year Seminars and is expanding to sophomore level Core courses in order to build continuity along community based learning. Further plans are underway to expand the site to a University wide initiative.

Equipment necessary to implement Effective Practice: 

Mobile-computing devices

Estimate the probable costs associated with this practice: 

Web-Hosting (Blue-Host) @ 24.99 per month X 12 months = $ 299.88

References, supporting documents: 

Dr. Michelle Loris, Interim Dean, College of Arts and Sciences, Professor of Psychology, Professor of English, Sacred Heart University
Dr. James Castonguay, Director of Master's in Communications, Professor of Media Studies, Sacred Heart University
Dr. Leonard Cassuto, Professor of American Literature, Fordham University

Other Comments: 

First Year Seminars at Sacred Heart University are taught across multiple modalities in face-to-face, blended, and online environments. The unexpected learning from this SHUsquare project is that while it strengthens all the three modalities, this integration of the online community hub has greatly strengthened participation in face-to-face settings – in our observations.
Successful presentations on SHUsquare accomplishments have been delivered at the 19th Annual Sloan-C International Conference on On-line Learning (November, 2013), the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) Conference on Global Learning in College (October, 2013), and the Fairfield University Innovative Pedagogy Conference (May, 2014)
The SHUsquare model is unique in its creative design, mirroring the institutional objectives of developing 21st century competencies in creativity, media literacy, collaborative approaches, and multi-modal access to multi-disciplinary content. Nationally this is an innovative and singular model of a networked learning community in a Liberal Arts context.

Contact(s) for this Effective Practice
Effective Practice Contact: 
Marie Hulme
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Effective Practice Contact 2: 
Jaya Kannan
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