Online and On Target for Deeper Learning

By Will Heikoop, Online Learning Coordinator

Professor Bill Ju has taught HMB300 Neurobiology of Behaviour numerous times since joining the University of Toronto in 2009. It’s an intermediate course in neuroscience that focuses on higher brain functions and mechanisms underlying human and animal behaviours. The course was taught in a familiar fashion: two hours of lecture, one hour of tutorials and one hour dedicated to office hours – all face-to-face (F2F). For his latest offering he tried something radically new. He incorporated a number of innovative approaches that transformed his teaching and enhanced student learning. The course was thoughtfully redesigned to include:

  • Online activities that reduced the need for F2F time in the classroom (a hybrid model).
  • An online student cohort that attended the live lectures Bill delivered to his F2F students at a distance using the Blackboard Collaborate Webinar tool.
  • Collaborative peer work and assessment using peerScholar, an online pedagogical tool that helps develop students’ critical- and creative-thinking skills to manage the workflow.

Bill Ju, Human Biology Program, Senior Lecturer

Sound intriguing? Let’s break down what it all means and what innovative approaches he brought to his teaching.

The hybrid portion of the course involved moving tutorials and office hours online. Normally held in person on campus, the move online reduced the need for direct F2F time. To ensure a sense of community and a virtual presence, the Blackboard Collaborate Webinar tool was used to support interactive work and conversation.

Turning to the lectures, Professor Ju had an in-class section of 70 students as well as an online section of 40 registered students attend together. Lectures were delivered synchronously using Blackboard Collaborate to online students while simultaneously providing the same lecture material to the students in-class using a streaming model.  Active learning was emphasized in both sections and Bill was careful to incorporate opportunities for both the F2F section and the online students to interact using Collaborate to answer specific questions during class. Additionally, his course re-design involved the development of a strategy for effective engagement of students through peer-based activities – specifically problem sets to be discussed in lectures that required students in-class to interact with their online cohorts.

Finally, his capstone writing assignment utilized peerScholar to encourage active learning between both the F2F and online student groups.  Students designed and peer reviewed infographics/online posters related to specific aspects of neurobiology, which were then made available in an online environment.

What did Professor Ju think of having a F2F cohort, an online cohort and general class activities moved online?

He admits,  “Running a 3 in one classroom was definitely a lot of fun – in person, streaming live and off-line self-paced study.”

For more on Professor Ju’s approach to teaching and learning take a look at this recent CTSI interview.

Happy New Year from Your CTSI Programming Team

2015 is off to a running start here, as we’ve kicked off our winter programming series and are looking forward to our summer offerings and beyond. The spring (if we may be so bold to dream of spring in January!) brings with it the chance to get a head start on thinking about your summer research projects or course design goals. Today we’re profiling two initiatives dedicated to teaching, learning and building a community around innovating in these fields: the Course Design Institute and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) Institute, open to faculty members.

Course Design Institute (CDI)
2015 marks the 5th anniversary of the CTSI Course Design Institute, running this year from May 20-21. This annual institute introduces the principles of course design to faculty members who are either developing a new course, or who would like to refresh courses they’ve already taught and refine their course design skills. Over two days of sessions, you will learn how to re-work or create your course in order to enrich students’ learning experiences. Through the knowledgeable guidance of CTSI and external facilitators and collaborators, you will explore the steps of the design process and leave with a useable framework for your own course, including an outline, an assessment scheme and a lesson plan. To get a taste of what the CDI can offer you, take a look at these comments from 2014 participants:

“I learned a lot and had a wonderful time learning in such a short time. Most importantly, I am able to apply (or at least consider applying) everything we have talked about in CDI. Very practical!”

“The material and information was great. I honestly loved talking to faculty from other departments. It is great to have an opportunity to share experiences and ideas with people who are not in your field, who have questions that you would never think about or who have tried some engagement activity and can let you know how it worked or did not work for them.”

2013 Course Design Institute

2013 Course Design Institute

Watch this space and the CTSI newsletter for more detailed information on this year’s iteration of the CDI, as registration will be open shortly. You can view more testimonials from past CDIs at the following links: 2013, 2012, and 2011.

Scholarship of Teaching & Learning (SoTL) Institute
The CTSI SoTL Institute is a June two-day intensive event (June 3-4) for faculty interested in innovating or studying effective teaching and assessment at the University of Toronto. This year’s institute marks the 3rd offering of this event, in which participants are introduced to the principles of designing, implementing and disseminating research studies focused on teaching in higher education. Guided by facilitators from CTSI, the Institute combines various presentations by University of Toronto SoTL researchers and Liaison Librarians with activities to support diverse SoTL interests.  As with many CTSI workshops and events, participants appreciate the multidisciplinary discussions and cross-pollination of pedagogical ideas, an inspiring way to kick off summer reading and perhaps to pursue research collaborations with colleagues:

“I really liked the group interaction. The most valuable thing overall was talking to other people working on SoTL projects. The content of the curriculum just gave a context to those conversations”

“This was a highlight of my professional development here at U of T. It was great to have two days to focus on pedagogical research, especially with colleagues from across the disciplines and across the university, many of whom are knowledgeable.”

CTSI scholarship of teaching and learning

Working together at the SoTL Institute

Participant feedback has been an integral component in our yearly Institute planning, and we have acted upon the myriad suggestions to increase opportunities for SoTL discussions at U of T. A key development has been the creation of the SoTL Network, a regular series of events that connect members of our teaching and learning community (http://www.teaching.utoronto.ca/teaching/sotl.htm). To receive email notices of these SoTL events at CTSI and within the broader U of T SoTL community, please subscribe to the SoTL list-serv by emailing Kathleen: k.olmstead@utoronto.ca. For more information on SoTL activities at U of T please contact Cora McCloy, PhD, Faculty Liaison and Research Officer, CTSI (cora.mccloy@utoronto.ca).

Registration for the Course Design and SoTL Institutes is announced via various CTSI communication channels, including our newsletter, list-serv and website. Registration for both institutes will open in the coming months. Consider joining us for these annual institutes, get a head start for your fall courses and think about your teaching process from an innovative perspective! Feel free to contact Erin Macnab, Programs Coordinator (erin.macnab@utoronto.ca) with any questions you might have.

NMC Horizon Report

by Ryan Green, Educational Technology Liaison, CTSI

The NMC Horizon Report: 2012 Higher Education Edition came out a few weeks ago, and I thought it would be a good idea to put together a quick run down of what it contains. The New Media Consortium and the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative identify six technologies they see as having a potential impact on higher education over the next five years. They are divided into three categories based on how long it will be before they could be widely adopted: near-term horizon, mid-term horizon, and far-term horizon. The team behind the report state that it is not a predictive tool, and is meant to highlight emerging technologies with considerable potential for areas of education.

Key Trends
The Horizon report also identifies key trends that they considered to be the drivers of educational technology adoptions over the period of the report. The six ranked trends are:

  1. People expect to be able to work, learn, and study whenever and wherever they want to.
  2. The technologies we use are increasingly cloud-based as notions of IT support are decentralized.
  3. The world of work is increasingly collaborative, driving changes in the way student projects are structured.
  4. The abundance of resources and relationships easily accessible via the internet increasingly challenges us to revisit our roles as educators.
  5. Education paradigms are shifting to include online learning, hybrid learning and collaborative models.
  6. There is a new emphasis in the classroom on more challenge-based and active learning.

Near-Term Horizon – One year or less:

Mobile Apps
The Horizon report identifies two key factors about mobile apps. There are many to choose from and they are inexpensive (compared to desktop software), which allows individuals to economically customize their device (whether smartphone or tablet) to their own interests. Numerous apps are available to support students inside and outside of the classroom. They provide resources for collaborating with other students or to engage with class materials. Many institutions have, or are in the process of developing, their own apps, ranging from communicating breaking campus news and accessing library material to creating custom apps for individual courses or programs. Continue reading

The Portal’s Wiki: a Quick Guide

The latest update to the Portal introduced a new Wiki tool.  A wiki is a collaborative tool that allows students to contribute and modify one or more pages of course related content. Members of a course can develop content on these shared pages using only a web browser.  Students can work together to create an assignment or build on a collection of ideas.  Instructors can create a single wiki for all members of the course or for specific groups. Student contributions to the Wiki tool in the Portal can be viewed and graded.

Getting Started
To create a course wiki, the instructor selects the Wiki tool option in a content area (e.g., Course Documents or Assignments) and enables the settings to make the wiki open for editing.  Grading options and rubrics can be applied to the wiki if applicable.
Continue reading

Entering the online classroom

Online courses are increasingly more commonplace (for distance education, continuing studies or as one way to deal with large classes and a rise in student population) but many of us are still wary. If you are heading into the virtual classroom this fall, and are a little concerned about how best to approach this new territory, there are many resources available. From simple helpful hints to the advent of Teaching Machines, there is a lot of information to sift through when it comes to online learning.

Online Learning at the University of Toronto
The CTSI web site offers information and resources (including accessibility guidelines and help with online course design) in the Online Instructor Toolkit. We also highlight Innovations at the University of Toronto – profiles of instructors and departments who have already made headway in working online and connecting with students.

Expert Advice
Not too surprisingly, there are a number of websites and blogs that discuss the ups and downs of leading an online course. An internet search will quickly turn up many examples but we’ve selected a few to look at:  Continue reading