Assistant Professor Dan Shanahan, second from right, and students are shown at the La Biennale di Venezia art festival and exhibition in Venice.

From technology to community projects, Daemen faculty are blending innovation with traditional teaching approaches to create transformative and engaging learning experiences for students.

Daemen has emerged as a leader in education innovation, with faculty incorporating an array of interactive, digital tools, and unique experiences in their courses. The realms of online courses, the integration of easily-navigable education apps, and dynamic off-campus experiences have made for educational opportunities that best meet the unique needs of non-traditional students. Four Daemen professors from different disciplines shared the ways that their courses are enriched via technology and non-traditional teaching approaches. Recounting moments when the teaching-learning connection is made, each spoke of the joys of their craft.

Community Engagement, Entrepreneurial Style

Daemen Today spoke with Daniel Shanahan, assistant professor and program director of the Entrepreneurial Studies Program, which is offered as a minor at the college. He is also artistic director and co-founder (with his wife, Melissa Meola) of the experimental, nonprofit Torn Space Theater located in Buffalo’s Adam Mickiewicz Library and Dramatic Circle.

Joining the Daemen faculty five years ago, Shanahan teaches two courses in entrepreneurism, a storyboarding class, and a service learning course. His work extends globally as well. “I also recently co-taught a study abroad course for one week at the world renowned La Biennale di Venezia art festival and exhibition with Dr. Laura Watts, an art history professor at Daemen. I taught the arts management and cultural policy component of the class.”

He adds, “The Biennale was a great opportunity to learn about international artists. We gave each student specific research questions and they were responsible for pursuing the answers by investigating the Biennale and all it has to offer.”

Two students who participated in the study abroad experience received a Daemen Think Tank grant for a research project that will be presented at the college’s Academic Festival in the spring. One student worked with Watts and the other with Shanahan on how different countries branded and marketed themselves in this well recognized international forum.

For his service learning course, Shanahan had 10 students apply the concept of creative place-making and readings from the National Endowment for the Arts’ creative place-making case studies. From there, they created their own creative place-making project with partners in the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood – the Broadway Market and St. Stanislaus Church.

Shanahan explains, “We also worked with Slow Roll Buffalo and had the community bike ride end at the Broadway Market. Daemen students helped with promoting the market to the 850 or so riders and we hosted a party after the ride.We took the tenets of creative placemaking and applied them directly to a class project to give the students a greater appreciation for the neighborhood and its assets.”

Shanahan reports that the students were surprised by what they learned about the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood, an experience that dispelled their preconceptions. He mentions that they toured nearby urban farms, Corpus Christi Church, and Torn Space’s headquarters. They could, then, he says, recognize that the neighborhood is a “more complex place than they had previously thought.”

These concepts, he adds, cross over to his entrepreneurism classes. He has students read sections of the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council’s strategic plan. They also study the development plans for Broadway-Fillmore so that they can understand that there’s a strategy in place for neighborhood development.

Another recent service learning project involved highlighting the interior assets of St. Stanislaus Church, located in Buffalo’s historic Polonia district. “Animation students spearheaded this project and a drone photographer made images of the interior paintings as part of a virtual tour of the church. We provided the video to St. Stan’s so that they can use the project to market the church,” says Shanahan.

He will continue having students engage with the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood. When asked what the value of this type of off-campus learning is, Shanahan says, “it is to apply their learning in the classroom to the actual world and to have a better understanding of what it takes to move things forward with various stakeholders, all with their own interests and perspectives.”

Hands-On Devices, Hands-On Learning

Used by Dr. Gary Styn, the Complete Anatomy app incorporates vivid graphics and three-dimensional views to illustrate human anatomy.

Dr. Gary Styn, Jr., director of graduate anatomical sciences and clinical assistant professor, moves between two groups of students at work in his Schenck Hall lab one afternoon. In one group, a student names parts of the arm on a plastic model; in the other a lab team gathers around a cadaver, identifying parts of the shoulder. There is an affability between students and their professor, with the lab bustling with the energy of learning. Styn’s motto: “I’m here to help you.”

Later, in his office, Styn says, “I have wonderful teaching assistants (as many as his budget allows, all coveted positions) who help me. They are a tremendous asset to me in this role.”

Styn left family medicine to become an anatomist, his true passion. “This is my twenty-second year teaching at Daemen,” he says proudly, explaining gross anatomy as “the very thorough examination of human anatomy. It is what you can see without a microscope.”

Under different course titles, Styn teaches three cohorts of students in the physical therapy, physician assistant, and athletic training programs. “Approximately 150 students total utilize my lab, a space that also includes 16 to 18 anatomical gifts used in teaching students.”

Since 2011, Styn has built a video library for his Daemen students. “Instead of only using a textbook for finding landmarks on a body, I took that to video. We use iPad stations in the lab so that they can watch a video of me doing a dissection. I talk them through it with pause points and titles.”’

In the lab there is a list of 180 titles, with respective QR codes: scanning brings up a video posted on a secure YouTube channel. “The students can view the videos before coming into class on their own devices so they know what the steps of the dissection will be. The videos can also be used during dissection as a guide,” explains Styn.

In addition to his video library, Styn requires students to use an app called Complete Anatomy, and the website Both are accessible with vivid graphics, like an illustrated beating heart. “Previously I used PowerPoint, but with the three-dimensionality there is flexibility to change the view, zoom, pull layers off, and add layers back on,” says Styn.

He stresses that virtual and real-life components work in conjunction with one another. “The recent literature says that students are motivated to learn this way, with the virtual as an adjunct. Nobody learns the same way. Sometimes I show an image and maybe 75 percent of students will get it right away, but I still have 25 percent of students who I have to still reach. Students are learning anatomy in two different ways.”

He adds, “I often think about other ways that I can teach this better, if there is another way to explain the material. I like to think that I have learned a lot about pedagogy and student styles of learning. Ideally, the material is presented seamlessly between traditional cadaveric study and computer-assisted, visual technology.”

Styn, who hears regularly from former students who tell him his Daemen courses helped prepared them for the rigors of their careers, speaks of the moment “when you reach a student. That is the moment that a teacher lives for – when you know a student has understood what you are teaching.”

Reaching and Teaching Non-Traditional Students

Dr. Deb Merriam uses tools such as Articulate, Padlet, and VoiceThread to teach her online nursing courses.

Dr. Deborah Merriam ’08, associate professor of nursing, who has been teaching at Daemen for seven years, uses several software packages for her five nursing classes. She speaks fondly of her past “25 years at bedside as a nurse,” but loves teaching just as much.

Whether it is her professional nursing practice course that focuses on nursing research or “Theoretical Basis of Advanced Nursing Practice,” nursing students benefit from using an array of apps, she says. The apps are chosen with assistance from Daemen’s instructional design team, who offer any needed assistance along the way.

Within her office, Merriam demonstrates Articulate 360 for sharing e-learning content. Her YouTube channel is where she archives short podcasts on course material, and other oft-used apps are Zoom for class video conferencing and Padlet. “Padlet is collaborative, an online whiteboard that I use for presentations,” she says. VoiceThread, which she describes as “PowerPoint in a cloud,” is heavily used to post information and for her class discussions.

“Articulate is my favorite tool because it has given me the opportunity to create an interactive learning environment. I can display content in a way that fits the needs of our students,” says Merriam.

“We found that when we linked to a video that was 20 minutes long, students were not accessing it because of the length. As much as I can I make learning off of their phone or on a mobile device accessible, I know this approach will help them be successful in completing the course.”

“I love technology and I use it because it helps my students learn.”

Dr. Deborah Merriam ’08

Merriam notes, “Over the summer I revised 317 tutorials on Articulate, each about 5 minutes long. I spent a lot of time making the tutorials and the hope is that it will make a difference and help students engage. It is what I call the ‘ripple theory’ – when students learn it will help them provide better care and impact a lot of people down the road.”

She adds, “We are developing more online learning. I love technology and I use it because it helps my students learn. It can be a barrier if it is frustrating for them so I am very intentional in how I use it. I just recently completed a course in a mastery workshop for VoiceThread. In nursing, we are always looking for different ways to teach and increase our skills.”

Teaching and learning in Daemen’s nursing program, which is marking its 40th anniversary this year, has greatly changed over the past four decades. “VoiceThread bridges the gap between online and the face-to-face classroom. There are certainly challenges of online learning because people learn in different ways. When we added VoiceThread to the learning experience, it created another dimension in that you hear a student’s emotion, making it more real and helping students connect,” Merriam says, adding it has been a successful advantage for the fully online RN to BS degree students.

“This is the first semester that I am heavily using Articulate and course evaluations from students will help me know if it is working. I want to bring the same evidence-based knowledge to my teaching just as I did to my nursing practice. I want my students to let me know what I can improve.”

Staying connected with her students, Merriam says, “Our students are adults, and we provide learning that works for their life. That is part of the process, and I like walking along with people while they are on this journey.”

Heading to A Caucus

(L–R) Sam Williams, Tysai Washington, Carlos McKnight, Lindsey Hornung, Ricardo Marquez, and Dr. Jay Wendland will travel to Des Moines to get a first-hand perspective on “retil politics.”

Now in his sixth year teaching at Daemen, Dr. Jay Wendland is an associate professor of political science and Honors Program director. At one of his lectures recently, “Politics and the Media,” he and his students engaged in a lively discussion about political campaigns and ads.

Each student in the class is expected to keep up with current events and to blog weekly on the private blog set up for the class (Media and Politics: Watchdogs or Lapdogs?). Wendland also teaches American politics and courses that are mainly about political behavior, including campaigns and elections, research methods, and politics and pop culture.

He shares his PowerPoint presentations with his students, replete with hyperlinks to follow. Additionally, the interactive Poll Everywhere app bolsters class discussion with students responding to polling questions via text message with results populated onscreen immediately.

Inspired by projects created by political scientists who he follows, Wendland created “an inaugural experiential learning opportunity. I’m traveling to Iowa with five students to observe retail politics up close and personal.”

He explains that retail politics is “traditional politicking – low-tech, door-to-door, and meet and greets – which is the groundwork that goes into a presidential race. It also may include candidates popping into a local restaurant to eat chicken wings and be prepared to defend Anchor Bar or Duff ’s as their preferred choice.

Wendland adds, “It is a way for a politician to show that they understand what these voters care about and that they can be one of them. With it being the first time for this experience, I wanted to keep it at a manageable number of students. This is going to be an independent study once we get back and the course work will focus on presidential nominations and primaries, which are my areas of expertise.”

The students will not be doing any volunteer work, Wendland says, or work for any particular candidate. “We will attend various campaign rallies, town hall meetings, and grassroots events in and around Des Moines. I have a connection there and it is one of the larger cities in Iowa, so it will attract a number of candidates and also expose students to a variety of party leaders and organizers.”

Daemen’s Think Tank grant is underwriting most of the trip expenses. “I brought up the idea to Dr. Michael Brogan, senior vice president for academic affairs, and said ‘Wouldn’t this be a cool experience for Daemen students?’ Unless they are from a battleground state they have not been exposed to this. It was recommended that I apply for a grant because its purpose is to encourage research collaboration between faculty and students and for hands-on learning about the research process.

Wendland adds, “I’m encouraging the students to take pictures of their experience, and several of them want to record some video and interview different people participating in the events surrounding the caucuses.”

This will, he says, culminate in a “full-fledged research project of the typical political science mold and journal length, which could potentially be sent to an undergraduate research journal.” And all of the papers and fieldwork, he adds, will be presented at the collegewide Academic Festival in the spring.