Recognizing and Valuing Teaching at UofT

By Pam Gravestock, PhD, Associate Director, CTSI

I recently had the pleasure of attending the inaugural Excellence in Teaching reception, honouring faculty who have received teaching awards over the past year.  Hosted by Vice-President and Provost, Cheryl Regehr, this event recognized the accomplishments of our great teachers – those who have received internal awards, such as the Faculty of Arts & Science Outstanding Teaching Award, the Early Career Teaching Award in the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, and the President’s Teaching Award, along with recipients of external awards such as the OCUFA Teaching Awardand the Alan Blizzard. As Provost Regehr noted in her opening remarks to those gathered, “Collectively, you exemplify ongoing innovation in knowledge building and sharing.  You exemplify a passion for helping students expand their horizons and discover new ways of thinking.”

This is something I know first hand. Each and every day, I have the opportunity to learn about the teaching excellence of our faculty and I am constantly amazed at the commitment, care and attention that faculty, at all levels of their careers, put into ensuring our students have meaningful and valuable learning experiences. One of the most enriching aspects of my portfolio involves a focus on teaching awards. For more than a decade, I have been engaged with preparing award nomination files for internal and external awards – giving me a window into the contributions our great teachers have made and continue to make.

At U o fT, our highest honour for teaching is the President’s Teaching Award (PTA). Established in 2006, it recognizes excellence in teaching and educational leadership. Recipients become Teaching Academy members and serve in an advisory capacity to the President, Provost and CTSI.  As of 2014, the Academy includes 35 members from both the tenure and teaching stream, representing a wide range of disciplines, including Chemistry, Computer Science, English, Engineering, History, Education, Pharmacy, Medicine, Women & Gender Studies, Geography, and so on.

Since the inception of the PTA, Academy members have been coming together to collaborate on initiatives such as Large Class Teaching modules, the Teaching Matters articles (published with U of T’s Bulletin), and on pedagogical and educational research.  They have served as ambassadors of great teaching within our institution and beyond – speaking at convocations, recruitment events, and at local, national and international conferences, including U of T’s Teaching & Learning Symposium.

While some have called into question the benefit of teaching awards (Aron, Aucott & Papp, 2000; Chism, 2006; Evans, 2005), arguing that they hinder academic careers, particularly in research-intensive universities, or that they are merely awarded based on popularity – I wholeheartedly disagree. I have seen the evidence from students who speak to the impact that faculty have had on their university experience – the passion that instructors bring to their discipline or the opportunities for engagement in research that has spurred an undergraduate to continue on to graduate school, the mentorship provided to graduate students as they move toward and eventually step into their own professional careers, or the integration of an inclusive teaching approach that helps a student meet their learning goals.

To dismiss the importance of teaching awards devalues the voices of our students who have been the beneficiary of great teaching. Moreover, the absence of such awards can signal that institutions don’t value teaching.  At U of T, we have a wealth of superb teachers and a multitude of ways to acknowledge the significant impact they have in the “classroom” (be it in a room on campus, in an online environment, in a lab, or in the field) and at the leadership level (through innovative course and curricular design, initiatives to support and enhance student learning, and so on).

For me, the existence of the PTA and the Academy signals that teaching is not only recognized at U of T but that it is truly valued at all levels.  As Don Boyes, 2014 PTA recipient notes, “The President’s Teaching Award is an incredible honour but, more than that, it shows just how much teaching is valued at the University of Toronto.  I know that the award gave me something to aspire to, and past winners were great role models and a real inspiration to me.  The Teaching Academy provides great leadership to the teaching community and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to contribute to the wonderful work done by its members”.

Don and his colleagues in the Academy work to further not only the conversations about teaching within our institution and beyond, but also actively lead and engage in initiatives that advance teaching at U of T.

Nominations for the 2015 President’s Teaching Award are now open – please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about the process or if you have a candidate in mind.


Teaching & Learning Symposium: reactions

The 2014 Teaching & Learning Symposium, held on November 3rd at Hart House, proved to be an inspiring day for the almost 300 attendees. Over the course of the day – and twenty-five sessions presented by U of T instructors, staff and librarians – teaching and learning in Canadian higher education was discussed, analyzed, and celebrated.

“This year’s symposium was a great success! I loved hearing about the many teaching innovations at our university,” said Don Boyes, Department of Geography.

In his Keynote Address, President Meric Gertler focused on a number of pressing concerns, including U of T’s three priorities: to leverage our local, and global, advantages, and emphasize undergraduate education. (You can read President Gertler’s keynote on the Office of the President website.)

President Gertler stated, “We need to reconsider our face-to-face time and how it differs from online – to emphasize the advantages and merits of both.”

Teaching & Learning Symposium 2014“It was so good to see how the Symposium program aligned “big picture” academic priorities with on-the-ground classroom solutions,” said Rita Vine, Head, Faculty and Student Engagement, University of Toronto Libraries.

Presenters put their own research, experiences, and questions on display through Nifty Assignments, Research on Teaching and Learning sessions, Teaching Dilemmas, and Teaching Strategies Workshops. It was an opportunity to showcase success stories but also open up the discussion to colleagues, and learn from one and another.

“I’ve been involved in the planning of the Symposium since its inaugural year,” said Pam Gravestock, Associate Director, Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation. “It’s always a real joy to witness the conversations, to learn how everyone works together to continually enhance the educational experiences of our students, and to see our community members sharing not only their ideas but the challenges they’ve faced with regard to teaching.”

According to Gravestock, “There is a great energy that the participants bring to this event each year that speaks to the level of commitment to teaching and learning that exists at our institution.”

Boyes, a recipient of a 2014 President’s Teaching Award, delivered a mock class as a special “Welcome to My Classroom” session. Participants has the chance to see first-hand the pedagogical style and approaches of an award-winning instructor.

“It was wonderful to share my teaching methods with such an engaged group of colleagues.” said Boyes.

In keeping with the spirit of sharing methods and ideas, end-of-day prizes offered a lunch with Sioban Nelson, Vice-President and Provost, Academic Programs, and another with Carol Rolheiser, Director, CTSI, and Pam Gravestock.

Vine was also impressed by the attendee’s engagement in sessions and discussions. “There is so much creative energy going into the teaching enterprise at the U of T,” she added. “And so many great ideas that you can incorporate into your own teaching.”

Teaching & Learning Symposium 2014

Considering the breadth of higher education

This year’s Teaching & Learning Symposium (held November 5th at Hart House) – “Higher Goals for Higher Learning” – was attended by 240 University of Toronto instructors, staff and librarians. This was the 7th year that U of T colleagues have gathered to present research, discuss ideas, share experiences and celebrate teaching through workshops, roundtable discussions and poster sessions. There was also a keynote address by Richard Wiggers (Executive Director, Research and Programs, Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario) and a featured discussion with the winners of the 2012 President’s Teaching Award.

One conversation that peaked my interest was on the merits and perceived detractions of breadth requirements. They exist for a reason (well, many reasons) – to ensure that a student experiences topics outside of their main area of study. This is meant to broaden a student’s horizon, to offer new perspectives and help to shape a more well-rounded person. However, is this how each student views this requirement?

Are breadth requirements an opportunity to experience something new and interact with peers they might not otherwise encounter? Or are they merely a distraction they are forced to endure? A classmate once told me that she was enrolled in the English Specialist Program because she didn’t want to take courses she didn’t care about. I’m sure that many have heard of (or actually participated in) English classes designed specifically for science students. They are less about the knowledge, skills and experience acquired as much as tick off the breadth requirement box and get back to what matters – fulfilling degree and faculty requirements.

Is this a question of liberal vs. professional education? Or is there more grey area here? (And, please note, I prefer the thousand shades of grey reference to the fifty.) I know that I always appreciated the opportunity to experience the new and unfamiliar that the breadth requirement allowed. Of course, I also finished my degree over a 24 year period so I might not be the best example. Is there a way that we can address this attitude or is it something that we will never be able to resolve. A university is not a homogenized unit and students arrive with different goals and intentions. Some will push to discover and experience as much variety as possible while others will pursue the straight path to graduation. Can we say that one is more valuable than the other? And is this something that we can examine beyond anecdotal evidence? If anyone can provide insiight on this topic, it would be appreciated. My guess is that there is more than one answer but I would be interested in hearing what people have to say.

Teaching & Learning Symposium 2012


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.

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.