Training Camp for CUPE 3902 Unit 1 Course Instructors – Dec. 7th, 2012

The 2011-2014 collective agreement between CUPE 3902 and the University,  outlines that Course Instructors (CIs) who are members of Unit 1 who will be teaching a course at the University for the very first time shall receive 6 hours of paid job training. At the Centre For Teaching Support & Innovation, we have taken a variety of steps to help the University meet this mandate. In the fall of 2012, I was hired as the first Course Instructor Training Co-ordinator and I have been developing a series of workshops.

On December 7th, 2012 from 9:30 to 5:00 pm we are holding a Training Camp, a full day of training targeted as advanced professional development for CIs beginning contracts in January 2013. Training Camp will be held in the CTSI Office, Robarts Library, 4th floor, Room 4029 from 9:30 am -5:00 pm.  The breakdown of the day will be as follows.

  • Course Design and Management for First Time CUPE 3902 Unit 1 Course Instructors (9:30-11:30am)
  • Making Your Syllabus Work for You and Your Students: Effective Course Syllabus Design (12:30-2:30 pm)
  • Designing Effective Assessments (3:00-5:00 pm)

To register for CI training camp please visit our registration page.  

We recommend that CIs review the information provided by CUPE 3902 on CI training. CIs should use the CUPE 3902 CI Training Request form on this page to get departmental approval for any workshops you plan to take through CTSI as part of your paid training.

Narratives and teaching

Robin Sutherland-Harris and I were co-facilitators of a TATP workshop today.  The workshop challenged TAs to convey a narrative (or a story) in a lesson for their students.  One of the foundational assumptions of the workshop was that narrative is a part of everyday life, including classroom life.  In the words of Abbott in The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative (2008), “We are all narrators” (p. xii)

As part of the workshop, we introduced Prezi as a platform for the TAs to build their narratives for classroom use.  According to the Prezi website, Prezi is software which exists in the cloud.  It is something between “whiteboards and slides” and features a “zoomable canvas” where you can “explore ideas and the connections between them.”  TAs, faculty and staff at U of T may be interested to know that they can sign up for educational accounts at Prezi if they are interested in exploring this zooming interface for classroom presentations.

We found a number of great Prezi exemplars online that we showed during the workshop to try to get the creative juices flowing.  To begin, we were very inspired by the big picture timeline provided by the Great Jazz Bassists and their Influence through the Ages Prezi.  We also felt that a presentation on the Physical Geography in Africa was great for demonstrating how you can hone in on concepts (or geographic features) in Prezi by using the zooming features.


Evaluating participation

Students in discussion at desks

Image by lynn dombrowski; Used under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Evaluating student participation in tutorials or seminars can be a challenge for everyone from first time TAs to experienced instructors.

Recently, I came across an interesting suggestion posted on the Student Participation/Active Learning page on the website of the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.  They offer the suggestion of providing students with the opportunity to assess themselves part-way through the term and receive feedback.  The blockquote below shows the choices that the University of the Sciences suggest for students to engage with for self-assessment:

  1. I contribute worthwhile comments several times during every class. Please cite an example
  2. I contribute one or more worthwhile comments almost every class. Please cite and example
  3. I often contribute or participate in class discussions. Please cite an example
  4. I occasionally contribute
  5. I rarely contribute

My first graphic syllabus

Recently, I was introduced to the idea of a graphic syllabus. In her book The Graphic Syllabus and the Outcomes Map: Communicating Your Course (available at the OISE library), Linda B. Nilson, suggests that instructors can convey the relationships between course concepts directly through the syllabus.

In the winter 2012 semester, I will be teaching a 4th year course called Integrative Design Project at the Institute of Communication, Culture and Information Technology at the Mississauga campus.  Incorporating a design element into a design course seems like something I should pursue.

The knowledge domains that constitute the integrative design project course for 2012: 1) design research, 2) user centered design, 3) eGovernment

These are the major knowledge domains that constitute the integrative design project course for 2012

To the left, I have posted my first attempt at graphically representing the knowledge domains that are covered in course readings and around which the assignments focus.  For example, the major group assignments will involve students researching and designing a prototype of a website or digital interface to enhance a government service or democratic society more broadly.  Their prototypes are expected to be user and citizen centric.


Curriculum guides for film – not just for K-12

Image of film audience

Image by Canadian Film Centre used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

This post addresses a question I have fielded as a TATP trainer who teaches a workshop on video in the classroom.

Partcipants sometimes ask, where can I find video curriculum guides to help me teach in my discipline? This question does not emerge out of thin air. It comes up because when I teach the workshop, I bring along a curriculum kit called Teaching the Levees.  Hurricane Katrina caused devastating damage to New Orleans.  The curriculum guide is intended to support discussion of the associated social and political issues that are raised in Spike Lee’s film When the Levees Broke. 

In my experience, TAs and instructors alike are very enthusiastic that other people prepare discussion questions that may be appropriate for their classroom!  It is often a novel concept that such resources are available.

A challenge for post-secondary educators, is that most curriculum guides for film seem to be directed towards the teachers of kindergarten to grade 12 students. In researching this blog post, Jenaya Webb, Public Services Librarian, OISE Library, indicated to me that they have a collection of curriculum guides to assist their student teachers on placements in the K-12 educational system.  Jenaya also helped me to compile a list of more widely available resources to the U of T community (see below).

In order to find curriculum kits or guides that may be useful in your post-secondary teaching, I recommend using the web as a starting point to find resources that you can adapt to make relevant for your course. Some options in alphabetical order include:

1) Amnesty International Film Curriculum Guides

As a human rights organization, Amnesty has a number of PDF downloadable curriculum guides for films that address issues such as war, race, and gender. I downloaded the curriculum guide for Born into Brothels, an academy award winning documentary, and found that some of the grade 9-12 level discussion questions could be easily adapted by linking to a university course level reading.

2) HotDocs:  Toronto’s own documentary festival has film resources in their HotDocs library for K-12 learning.  Here you may find materials that link to your courses.  In the words of the HotDocs team, “these docs will engage students with issues of our day; with vital ideas, critical questions and new perspectives outside the mainstream media and school textbook.”

3)  National Film Board (NFB) of Canada:
The NFB has a comprehensive section of their website devoted to educators. There is a section of the website where teachers can search for teaching guides on various topics. Additionally, I find the playlists for educators organized thematically (i.e. films about Science and Technology) to be a great resource.

I hope that you are able to find curriculum materials for films that are relevant for your classroom.  If you have experiences or tips you wish to share, please comment.

Hallowe’en and presentation horror stories

As a Trainer with the TATP, one of my responsibilities has been to design and teach a workshop for TAs on Classroom Presentations.  Within the workshop, we review a number of resources to provide inspiration to create dynamic and engaging classroom presentations.

Getting into the spooky spirit, I would like to share a Hallowe’en twist on one of these resources. is a website for sharing slide decks that can be easily emailed, linked, and shared on the web. Slideshare sometimes runs contests to identify the best slide decks. In one iteration of the contest, they ran a Presentation Horror Story Contest.

Boom or Bust, is one of my favourite winners from the presentation horror stories contest, because the creators draw on traditions from comic books to tell a story through their slides.  The types of images shown in Boom or Bust can be easily created using a software package like Comic Life.

If you are looking for a more general slide deck on presentation, I also recommend the tongue and cheek ‘You Suck at Powerpoint.’ It offers some up-to-date suggestions to make your presentation graphically appealing. If you are looking at keep in mind that you may need to translate concepts from business to educational contexts to make them relevant for your students.


View more presentations from @JESSEDEE.

TED talks and teaching

My Favorite TED Talk

Image of Bonnie Bassler’s TED Talk by jurvetson at Creative Commons License

Today, the Toronto TEDx event is happening in Toronto.

What are TED Talks you ask? According to the TED talks website:

TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design

As a TA and course instructor, I am very grateful these events happen. TED Talks and the associated, local community organized talks (called TEDx Talks), provide an archive of inspiring video materials that may be appropriate for classroom use. Personally, I’ve seen videos with subject matter ranging from nanotechnology to global politics!

In a 4th year course I’ve taught called Integrative Design Project, in the The Institute of Communication, Culture and Information Technology (ICCIT) at the Mississauga campus, I have frequently paired a reading by Hans Rosling with his TED talk video which “shows the best stats you’ve ever seen”. It is an interesting entry point for students to think about statistics and data visualization in their design practice.

You can tune into TEDx Toronto

And now I must ask, does anyone else use TED talks in their teaching? Please let me know in the comments.

PhD comics and TA training

Piled Higher and Deeper, a grad school comic strip, created by Jorge Cham, has long been a source of inspiration for the TATP trainers in delivering initial TA training sessions across the University of Toronto campuses. Cham’s comic strip provides many humourous takes on the challenges facing TAs.

Here are some of my favourite lessons about grading that Piled Higher and Deeper illustrates:

Check out for further comic strips.

TA Day 2011

TA Day 2011 was held on Sept. 1st. It was the perfect way to kickoff the month of September and the back to school season at U of T.

As a trainer with the TATP, I find that TA day is an interesting opportunity to meet returning and new TAs. While TAs are often very excited about the upcoming semester, they always have a lot on the go in the month of September. Many TA day attendees are new to the U of T and they can be settling into a new department, new city, or even be new to Canada. Luckily, TA day is a good place to gather teaching tips and also to find out informally about important stuff like the student housing service or TIFF.

This year the programming for TA day featured an array of presentations and workshops for both first-time and experienced TAs. A keynote address was provided by Prof. Mark Kingwell, from Philosophy on the topic of How To Be A Great TA Without Losing Your Mind, Your Soul, or Your Lunch. Presentations were also made by award winning TAs from U of T, and Dr. Tanya Lewis, Director of Academic Success and Accessibility Services, CUPE 3902 and CTSI staff. Throughout the day, new TAs discussed issues like ‘the first class’ and ‘grading.’ Returning and experienced TAs had the opportunity consider new challenges like designing their own courses.

If you attended (or wish you attended) TA day, we hope to see you out at the fall workshop series.