Ramping up for the new school year

Image: Walking on St George StreetRegistration for this year’s Back-to-School Series is now open. A complete list of workshop titles and descriptions is available online. This year, we have a new featured event – a Teaching with Technology Fair on Wednesday, August 28th. This all-day event, hosted by CTSI and Academic & Collaborative Technologies (ACT), is an opportunity for the U of T community to meet with educational technology specialists to learn about available free tools (and to discuss how these tools can be used in the classroom and online). You can read more about (and register for) this event online – information about visiting specialists will be added soon.

These sessions are for new and returning University of Toronto faculty. All sessions are free but registration is required.

For those of you who really like to plan ahead, the Call for Proposals for the 8th Annual Teaching & Learning Symposium is available. This year’s theme is Learning Across & Beyond Borders. As always, the symposium offers the opportunity for U of T faculty, staff and librarians to share research, experience and ideas about teaching, hear from the 2013 President’s Teaching Award winners, participate in workshops and enjoy a day together in Hart House. New sessions have been added this year – Lightning Talks and Nifty Assignments. You can ream more about them online. The deadline for proposal submission is September 16th.

On the graduate student side, the Teaching Assistants’ Training Program (TATP) has just completed a week of training for its new staff. Each year, the TATP hires 15 senior graduate students as peer trainers. They lead mandatory departmental training for new teaching assistants and course instructors (in CUPE 3902, unit 1), microteaching sessions, workshops and offer consultations on teaching dossiers and in-class observations. We’ll be posting more information about this new team shortly.

It is a bit surprising that we are almost half way through the summer months but it does feel good to have the jump on fall. Because it’s always a little closer than you think….

 

 

Munk School and TIFF: a perfect combination

One of the exciting things about fall (and I can think of many nice and/or exciting things, including knee socks and the return of Parks and Recreation) is that U of T lecture series kick into high gear. One of the first to arrive is a co-presentation with Munk School of Global Affairs and the TIFF group for their Contemporary World Speakers series. Janice Gross Stein, Ron Diebert, Michael Ignatieff, Brian Stewart and Ron Levi from the Munk School will introduce the films and participate in a Q&A afterward. This is an opportunity to see international cinema that you might not otherwise come across (although Australia’s Underground, a depiction of Julian Assange in his teenage hacker years will likely get press) and discuss the real-time connections to contemporary events with experts in the field. And this is only September…. imagine what October will bring?!

This is also a reminder that TIFF programs relevant, interesting and entertaining films year-round. As exciting (and often crowded and daunting for ticket buyers) as the Film Festival is, the fun doesn’t stop the second Sunday in September. Check out the TIFF website for their upcoming schedule.

Link U of T News

Learning through Current Events: Huge, Immediate and Complicated

In many courses, finding opportunities to incorporate current events into teaching can be a way to engage students by enriching traditional material through application of concepts and approaches to current issues. For example, the “Occupy” phenomenon that began in Fall 2011 provided an opportunity for students to engage with current social, political and economic issues. Some engaged through a call to action: Erin at UpbeaT returned from attending Occupy Wall Street with a desire to keep talking about it, so she sought out a conversation with her Academic Don. She found,

“[i]t was rewarding to hear someone in an academic position at U of T talk candidly about something that feels so huge, so immediate and so complicated.” (Erin Kobayashi, “Occupy Your Academic Don”, October 20, 2011)

A packed crowd at Varsity Stadium.

For those more scientifically- than politically-minded, current events don’t get much more “huge and immediate” than the most recent astronomical event, the Transit of Venus on June 5th. The event was huge in numbers (with some 5,000 people gathered at Varsity Stadium) and collaboration (with the Dunlap Institute, the Department for Astronomy and Astrophysics, the Department of Alumni Relations and the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies, and the University of Toronto Scientific Instruments Collection (UTSIC) all involved). Immediacy was to be found in the rarity of the event ( the next transit of Venus won’t take place until 2117), and the addition of a live feed broadcast to the Varsity Stadium screen from UofT’s own 8 foot refracting telescope on the 16th floor of the McLennan Physical Labs building. The event was one-of-a-kind and truly a UofT experience.

Yes, that transimission is coming live from space via McLennan Physical Labs

The Transit of Venus provided organizers with a rich opportunity to engage students in the historical, cultural and scientific impact of the event itself, while broadening outreach to the general public. UTSIC, managed by a group of PhD students from the Institute for History and Philosophy of Science and Technology (IHPST), worked with the Department of Astronomy to host an exhibit on the scientific instruments used to observe transits in the 18th and 19th centuries.  1830 Bate Gregorian telescope that was available for viewing the transit on June 5. The Dunlap Institute also increased its outreach by distributing pamphlets in multiple language; an Arabic pamphlet increased awareness of the event for a local Islamic school, who hired buses to bring large groups to Varsity Stadium.

Bringing events like these into the conversation with students not only helps bring our teaching material to life, but gives students a memorable experience that serves as a point of reference for their learning that brings their readings and discussion into the present. How many physics instructors will be inspired by the recent discovery of the Higgs boson to strike new conversations with their classes this week about the origins of matter? (It doesn’t get much more “huge” and “complicated” than this one!)  It might seem hard to make room in a packed course syllabus to take time out for the current and unexpected, but when you find excitement in current events, your students will find it too.

CTSI: the view from the 7th floor

With the start of the new year, we have settled in our new, albeit temporary, home. Our space on the 4th floor of Robarts is under renovation – our office has grown considerably over the last few years with the amalgamation of offices (Office of Teaching Advancement, Teaching Assistants’ Training Program and Resource Centre for Academic Technology) in 2009 and the addition of staff and services – so we are residing on the 7th floor of the library until July 2012.

We packed up our old space just before the holidays and many of us felt a little sad. There were no actual tears (at least not that I know of) but it was hard to say goodbye.

Throughout the time we occupied the space (as individual offices then one big pedagogical family), we enjoyed countless workshops and events, facilitated 6 Teaching & Learning symposia and many conferences, supported the implementation of the UofT portal (Blackboard) and training for instructors, graduate students and staff, supported teaching award files and facilitated the TATP Teaching Excellence Award and met with many, many instructors and graduate students on a number of teaching related issues and questions.

Thankfully, we’ve landed in a space that allows us to continue this pace and there will be no break in our schedule or programming. The one drawback is that we don’t have a seminar rooms right next door that we can use for workshops and training but the upside is that we can explore buildings and rooms around campus with our winter 2012 workshop series. And personally, I rather like being surrounded by old card catalogues and library stacks. It’s comforting. Also, we have space for the desktop computer archive so I know that we are home.

To reach our office, take the #4 elevator from the 2nd floor of Robarts and follow the signs. All of our other contact information remains the same.

ctsi.teaching@utoronto.ca
416-946-3319

To reach an individual staff member, please visit the CTSI contact page.

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.

More Grammar Matters

As we prepare for tonight’s Grammar Matters launch (Type Books, 883 Queen Street West, 6pm-8pm), our thoughts turn to–well, grammar matters. As Jila Ghomeshi demonstrates in her book, many people take the subjects of grammar and language very seriously. Ghomeshi’s analysis of language far exceeds the effects of a misplaced comma. She looks at the social and political implications of policing grammar and how the use and perceived abuse or misuse of language can be a contentious topic. A great many people have an opinion about grammar and just how it should be used. So, after reading Ghomeshi’s book, I’ve been thinking about the ways that we learn the rules of grammar and if that affects how we perceive it.

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Grammar Matters

“To use the language of rights, our right to comment on how others use language is as important as our right to choose how we speak in the first place.”

In certain circles, grammar is a hot topic, or even a hot button issue. Any perceived misuse or abuse of language can be the cause for a chuckle* or outrage or anything in between. The assumption is that grammar follows a logical and defined form. However, in Grammar Matters: the Social Significance of How We Use Language, Jila Ghomeshi, a professor of linguistics at the University of Manitoba, shows that this isn’t always the case. While “prescriptivists” might maintain that there is a right and a wrong way, Ghomeshi shows that language is far more personalized than a grammar textbook allows. She examines the fallacy of logic and precision in the English language and points out the hypocrisy and prejudice in claiming there is only one correct use of grammar. Her argument isn’t entirely against this prescriptive view but the belief that one form or use of language is better than another. It is a compelling and interesting argument and one that is sure to incite a reaction from grammar-snobs and grammar-phobes in equal measure.

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CTSI Back-to-School Workshop Series

From Tuesday, August 23 – Friday, August 26, 2011, the Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation will host a series of “Back-to-School” sessions on a range of teaching topics to help instructors get ready for the new school year.  These sessions are open to all new and returning instructors at the University of Toronto.

Here’s the schedule,

  • Tuesday, August 23
    • Setting the Tone for Success: The First Day and Beyond (9am – 12noon)
    • Supporting Student Learning: What Instructors Can Do and Who Else Can Help (1 – 4pm)
  • Wednesday, August 24
    • Building a Blackboard Course (9am – 12noon)
    • Small Group Instructional Approaches to Engage and Enthuse Learning (9am – 12noon)
  • Thursday, August 25
    • Assignment Design (9am – 12noon)
    • Formative Assessment: How to Keep Teaching and Learning on Track (1 – 4pm)
  • Friday, August 26
    • The Course Life Cycle: Managing Your Course (9am – 12noon)

You can register for these sessions online at:

http://www.teaching.utoronto.ca/about_ctsi/servicesexpertise/back-to-school.htm