Academic Toolbox Renewal Initiative

When you are thinking of using a new educational technology, do you ask
yourself, does the solution allow me (and my department) to take advantage
of international standards for interoperability and integration, or is it
a completely closed proprietary solution that can¹t connect to anything
else in our Toolbox?

When considering a new teaching tool, the tool should ideally let you
leverage international standards for the interoperability of teaching and
learning tools. Examples should include the Learning Tool Interoperability
(LTI) standard, the IMS Common Cartridge format, the Question and Test
Interoperability (QTI) standard, and the Sharable Content Object Reference
Model (SCORM), etc. In particular, software or solutions delivered through
a web browser should include something called an Application Programming
Interface (API), which would allow other University systems to interact
with the tool. Otherwise, you could end up using all kinds of tools that
don¹t work well together, and which detract from the teaching and learning

Also, many people at the University are particularly interested in
leveraging the benefits of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), and therefore,
the new tool should ideally be operating system-agnostic (i.e., work on
Windows, Apple and Linux computers at the very least), and where
applicable, they should work with all contemporary web browsers (Chrome,
Firefox, Safari, Explorer), and be designed for mobile access (either
through a responsive web interface or multiple-OS-specific apps).

For more on the Academic Toolbox Renewal Initiative, please visit

The Grade Center: Planning Ahead

Saira Mall, Manager of ACT Support, CTSI

Between course scheduling, assignment deadlines and mid-term exams, managing and entering grade data in the Portal’s Grade Center may be left to the last minute resulting in very late nights, usually just before grades are submitted.

If you are using the Grade Center in your Portal course, my advice is old and true: plan ahead of time.

About the Grade Center

The Grade Center is an online repository for course assessment data that allows for grades to be entered directly into their Portal course. Grade Center can be used in conjunction with other Portal tools (e.g., Tests, Discussion Board, Wikis, Blogs, Journals, Surveys and Rubrics) to develop an efficient grading and record keeping system.

Who Has Access to the Grade Center?
Those assigned with Portal course roles including Instructor, Teaching Assistant and Grader all have access to the Grade Center.  Students do not have access to the Grade Center. Students view their progress in My Grades.

Familiarize Yourself with the Policies of Use at U of T

Students should understand that My Grades allows them early access to preliminary grades, but does not represent their official final marks. The Repository of Student Information (ROSI) is the official system of record for the University of Toronto for student grades.  For more information on University of Toronto policies and guidelines regarding the posting and distribution of grades, please visit FIPPA, Q and A for Instructors on the website of the Vice-President and Provost.

Is There Grade Information I Should Not Display to Students?
Do not display the following to students in My Grades:

  • Final Exam marks
  • Final marks

Visit the Portal Information + Help web site for more information on how to Hide or Show Grade Columns to Students

Best Practices

  • Consult with your Registrar on recommended divisional or departmental procedures for displaying grades to students in My Grades.
  • Organize Grade Center columns and edit the Weighted Total and Total columns so that grade information in these columns is not displayed to students.  Note: Do not display Final Exam grades to students in My Grades.
  • Familiarize yourself with the Life Cycle of  Your Portal Course. Students automatically lose access to the course approximately 3 months following the class end date. After this date, student information and student grades will no longer appear in the Grade Center.
  • Download the Grade Center to your computer regularly throughout the course and once final marks have been submitted to the Registrar.
  • Notify students at the beginning of term if you plan to display their grade progress in My Grades.
  • Students should understand that My Grades allows them early access to preliminary grades, but does not represent their official final marks.

Portal (Blackboard) Training Sessions and Scheduled Drop-ins at CTSI

The Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation (CTSI) offers Portal training sessions. To view the current schedule and to register, please see:

These workshops are free of charge but registration is required.
Registration and questions about Portal workshops can be sent to

Portal Drop-ins:
One-on-one consultations are available for U of T instructors, TAs and staff who need help with their Portal course site. Someone will be available to review your course site with you and answer questions you may have.

Drop-in Hours: Tuesdays 1:00pm-3:00pm and Thursdays 9:00am-11:00am

CTSI is located on the 4th floor at Robarts Library.

Tales from the Grade Center

November draws to a close; the snow settles gently outside.  “Has it really been three months since this madness began?” you wonder.  Favourite hot beverage in hand, the Grade Center slowly blinks into being on the screen.

A sample Grade Center view

Figure 1 - A sample Grade Center view. The context menu of "Grade Column" has been opened.

By now you are likely reviewing your grade center and finalizing marks, or are working to get your affairs in order for the coming semester.  Here are a couple of reminders and pointers to help ease you into the Winter break.

Totally Weighted Weighted Totals

If you’re looking at the Grade Center and the numbers don’t look right, it’s often because of confusion about how the Weighted Total column interacts with the marks you’ve given in your Grade, Assignment or Quiz columns.

Grade Center weighted columns

Figure 2- Mr Weighted Total, a Calculated Column, and Mr Grade Column, made using “Create Column”


Keep it simple:

  • Create all of your Manual, Assignment and Quiz columns first.
  • As a general rule, keep the “primary display” of all your Grade columns as “Score” and set the points possible to the number an assignment is going to get marked out of, (e.g. If a perfect score is 20 out of 20, you set this as 20. Simple, right?).
  • When you’re done making your other columns, you can define their syllabus values in the Weighted Total.

What might happen if you’re marking an assignment that’s worth 20% of the final grade out of 20 points possible, you ask?  Nothing is wrong – provided you actually marked it out of 20.  If, for instance, you forgot and decide to give the students a mark out of 100 for that particular assignment, that student who got 90/20 is going to be having a much better day than originally intended.

If your numbers in the Weighted Total column look too high, check the grades given on an assignment against the points possible in the column’s “Edit Column Information” screen.


Grade Center context buttons

Figure 3: Each column has a context button which can provide you information and editing options.

Playing Hide and Seek With Your Columns

Were you setting things up for winter and have a column disappear on you?
Can your students see a grade that you can’t see?  There’s a difference between:

Show/Hide to Users:  Hides the grade data in the column to students.

Show/hide columns

Figure 4 - If a circle with a slash through it exists to the left of a columns name, it cannot be seen by students.


Hide Column – Hides the column from you, the instructor.

Enable and disable column with a click

Enable and disable column with a click

The former can be enabled or disabled  toggled from the column menu, or from “Edit Column Details.”
The latter is accessed from Grade Center >> Manage >> Column Organization.

If your students are seeing something you can’t, there’s a good chance this is part of the problem.

Still Confused?

If you need to get things cleared up before the break, remember to contact us at  There are Instructor/Staff drop-in hours on Tuesdays and Thursday’s 1-3pm at Robart’s Library in room 4034.  Portal Training sessions are available at the Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation (CTSI) throughout the year.  For more information, and to register for a training session, visit


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….



Using Learning Portal Organizations to Inform and Train Library Staff

by Susan Bond−Circulation Supervisor, John W. Graham Library, Trinity College

At John W. Graham Library we started a Blackboard organization  in U of T’s Learning Portal to help manage student staff at our campus library two years ago. Here’s a look at how and why we found the organization tool to be an effective means to communicate with and train our library staff.

The Problem
As a campus Library with two full-time staff and twenty-three student assistants, we have major communication needs. Most of our staff only work with a maximum of three other people, so in order for there to be any kind of consistent user experience, we need to have a good way of keeping each other informed about changes to policies and procedures, and the day-to-day state of the library.

Potential Solutions
We had previously used a variety of cumbersome paper-based solutions to organize our staff. When I initially made the transition to an electronic system, I was just looking for a discussion forum and a way to provide access to our employee manual. We tried a number of other electronic solutions before settling on the Portal. Google sites had all the functionality I was interested in, but we ultimately weren’t comfortable storing our proprietary information on servers outside of the university. Our administrative unit at the university has an intranet that we used in the library for two years, but it ultimately didn’t offer the flexibility we required. It was in frustration with this system that I lighted upon a better option: the Learning Portal (Blackboard). In addition to meeting all of my basic requirements, it was a system my student employees were already using as part of their studies, so I knew it would be relatively easy to incorporate it in one more place!

Why Blackboard? The Forum
What first drew me to the platform was the Discussion Board. It provided a great way for the staff to communicate with each other: both for me to send messages to the students, and for them to communicate about situations in the library with me and with each other. Also, it meant I could contribute to the conversation even when I wasn’t at the library or even in town!

Why Else? The Flexible Content Areas!
The other thing Blackboard allowed me to do was to build an html connected job manual. By separating different topics into different content areas, I was able to build a manual that was easier to use, and allowed my staff to easily find instructions and policies related to specific tasks.

Bonus: A Place for Us to Be Together
After we had been using Blackboard for a while, I started finding other features that could benefit our staff. Because we have so many part time staff who don’t interact with each other, I used the Contact Information area to post not only staff contact information, but also photos, so that staff would recognize each other even if they didn’t ever work together. Between this and the forum letting us communicate more effectively, Blackboard has actually become a site of community for our spread out staff!

Our Organization is (Slightly) Famous!
This past May, I gave a presentation at the Toronto Ryerson York Library conference about how we were using Blackboard, specifically as a tool for asynchronous communication. The audience was interested in my results, and several of them are now considering Blackboard organizations for their own libraries.

Plans for the Future
At the moment, I’m starting to develop Blackboard learning modules to help training my new staff, and we’re considering using the test tool both during training and for in service quizzes.

Blackboard Singing in the Dead of Night: Tools for Asynchronous Communication (Prezi presentation)

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

From our Educational Technologoy Experts:

From Ryan Green, Educational Technology Liaison, CTSI is a recently developed website that does just what its name implies; it allows anyone to record and distribute audio as an MP3.  What makes this tool interesting is that it is done entirely through your internet browser, and does away with the need to install any software.  Users just need to have a recent browser, an up-to-date version of Adobe Flash player, and of course a microphone.  Once a user has recorded their audio they have the choice of downloading and saving the MP3 file, or they can use a short URL to share it with anyone.  This ability to either download the file or share a link provide some interesting opportunities for engaging your students in recording their own snippets of audio.  The saved file could easily be submitted as part of an assessment or activity, and the link would allows students to share their recordings with each other, providing the opportunity to give feedback, potentially as its own recording.

I would definitely recommend experimenting and playing around with the tool. I would avoid long recordings, though. When I was using it a couple recordings never finished uploading. They were lost and had to be recorded (which is why I suggest shorter recordings). I would also advice restarting your browser before re-recording. So while there may be the occasional hiccup, the ease of use and sharing still make this a tool worth trying.

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.

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

Podcasts for the Holiday (and any other) Season

As we enter the final stretch for 2012—making our way through exam time, getting ready for the holidays (convincing ourselves that we will have a relaxing time with friends and family but knowing that holidays are often busier and more stressful than we like to admit)—we are setting our minds to pleasant distractions. We have compiled a list of favourite and (almost) never fail podcasts to amuse, bemuse and inform during long holiday drives, while cooking (or cleaning) for festivities, or when taking some personal time at the gym. (I much prefer podcasts to music while working out. It’s a great opportunity to catch up and as they require added concentration it’s easier to tune out the world around me. The only drawback is that I occasionally laugh out loud, or burst into tears, while on the treadmill. Thank you, Ed Gavagan!)
(on twitter @TheMoth)

This American Life
The godfather of all podcasts. The Mount Everest of radio documentaries. Produced by NPR and led by host Ira Glass, the This American Life team, including David Rakoff, Jonathon Goldstein, Starlee Kine, David Sedaris and Sarah Vowell, tells stories on a particular theme (usually in three parts) that examine the many facets of life, living, politics, culture, art and, well, just about everything under the sun. From the heart breaking to the hilarious, TAL presents stories that are unique and stirring. If you’re not already a fan of TAL, this is an opportunity to hear true stories about cloned pet white bulls, Jack Hitt’s building super who may or may not have been a hit man in South America and recovering from a break up by consulting Phil Collins. I fear that my description makes this podcast sound a bit flippant but the truth is that it is hard to capture and explain. It’s probably best to listen and make your own way through the episodes.
(on twitter @ThisAmerLife

Continue reading

Caption This!

Enter the 2011 Teaching & Learning Symposium Caption Contest for a chance to win a Dell Streak 7 Honeycomb Tablet.

This year’s Teaching & Learning Symposium, co-hosted by the Office of the Vice-President and Provost and CTSI, will focus on the theme of Cultivating Teaching, Cultivating Learning. The interactive sessions, roundtable discussions and poster displays are all presented by UofT instructors and staff. The Symposium is an opportunity to share research and experiences in the classroom with colleagues, to discuss teaching issues and to learn from each other. Attendees will also have the opportunity to hear from this year’s winners of the President’s Teaching Award and the keynote address by Roger Martin, Dean, Rotman School of Managment on Cultivating the Opposable Mind.

The day will conclude with our Caption Contest. The CTSI Caption Contest Team will select three captions from all the entries (you can enter HERE) and symposium attendees will vote for the winner. The winner will receive a Dell Streak 7 Honeycomb Tablet (and bragging rights, of course). You don’t have to be at the symposium to win (although we do encourage you to attend!) but you must be a UofT instructor or staff member.

The cartoon was drawn by Tom Gravestock, professional artist extraordinaire. We greatly appreciate his take on the steampunk teaching experience.