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.


Ready-made lists of library resources for your course

Are your students having trouble finding scholarly sources for their assignments?  Not sure where they can turn for help with their research questions?

The library has designed ready-made pages of discipline-specific resources – recommended books & e-books, journals, databases, and other print and online resources – to help your students get started with their research.  If you see missing or incorrect items in the list, liaison librarians can customize these pages for your classes by adding links to specific items within the library catalogue, or external websites.

Screenshot of Library Resources page for INF2012 (Instructor's view)Screenshot of Library Resources page for INF2012 (Instructor’s view)
(Click on image for enlarged view)

The ‘Instructor Links’ section, only visible to instructors, includes additional information pertaining to copyright issues, and course reserve requests.

Library resource pages also include contact information for booking in-person research consultations with a librarian and for chatting virtually via the ‘Ask a Librarian’ IM service.

How to access library resource pages

Does your course have a Portal site?  Students can access the library resources page in the course menu, by clicking on the “Library Resources” link on the left hand side of the page.

Library resources location within the Portal
Library Resources location within the Portal
(Click on image for enlarged view)

If your course doesn’t have a Portal site, or you would like to share a direct link to the Library Resources page with your students, you can do so by searching for your course code using our look-up tool.

For more details, please contact your liaison librarian.

by Partnering for Academic Success (PASS): librarian secondees with CTSI
Rita Vine, Head, Faculty and Student Engagement, U of T Libraries
Mindy Thuna, Science Liaison Librarian, UTM
Monique Flaccavento, Faculty Liaison Library in Education, OISE
Heather Buchansky, Student Engagement Librarian, U of T Libraries

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

Setting the Tone NOW: Engaging Students in your Course Evaluations

By Cherie Werhun, PhD, Teaching Assessment & Course Evaluation Coordinator, CTSI

Let’s be honest: Course evaluations are the last thing on an instructor’s mind in early September. Rather, this is the time when last minute course reading selections are being made, TA assignments are being worked out, and drafts of multiple versions of a course syllabus are being reviewed and reviewed and…

Here’s the thing, though. Thinking about the role course evaluations – or more broadly, student feedback – plays in your course now can play a significant role in how students respond to your request for it later.

Instructors who set the tone early – or who create a learning environment that integrates the student perspective and experience into both course design and delivery — tend to benefit at the end of term from students who see the value of providing feedback to their instructors.

Why? By integrating regular feedback opportunities into your course, students have direct evidence that their instructor actually reads and applies the student perspective into their teaching. They witness the value and impact of providing their feedback.

So, how can you as an instructor set the feedback tone early?

Consider a few basic tips:

1.    During your first class, when reviewing the course syllabus with your students, try to highlight changes to your course content, new readings, or activities, for example, that have resulted from previous student feedback. Similarly, when reviewing your course content and schedule, highlight aspects that you have worked on to enhance student understanding of the overall course material. In other words, explicitly show your students how their process for learning the course material is just as important to you as the content of the course material.

2.    At the end of your first class, consider handing out a brief questionnaire, or assigning a one-minute paper, asking students to provide their immediate impressions of the course content, the layout of the course, and/or any areas that they feel apprehension/excitement. During subsequent classes, be sure to mention their feedback and then specify how you are responding to it within the context of a specific class or the overall course.

3.    Consider placing brief opportunities for subsequent feedback throughout your course. For example, you might wish to hear what students thought of a film, a discussion activity, or a problem set. Ask them! Alternatively, you might wish to include a short mid-course feedback, as well. This shows your students that you are interested in their learning experience throughout the course, which provides an opportunity for you to monitor and adjust what you do.

Providing opportunities for your students to provide feedback about their learning of the course material – and then demonstrating how you respond to this feedback – creates the space within your course for reciprocal communication that will set the tone for final feedback when students are invited to complete course evaluations. Investing early in this process will ensure that students see the value and impact of their feedback immediately and throughout your course.

If you would like to consider other strategies to talk to your students about the importance of their feedback in your course, CTSI has a resource document on the Course Evals tab within Portal. Also, if you would like additional guidance, please connect with the Course Evaluations Team at Have a great semester!

The Cheesy Smackdown

I am feeling very full right now. Full of cheesy, comfort food goodness thanks to the Mac’n’Cheese Smackdown. Organized by UeaTs (Food Services at U of T), the same folks who brought us Food Truck Fridays and co-sponsored World Food Day events on campus, the Smackdown brought 5 chefs (from New College, Victoria, St. Mike’s, Chestnut, and the Exchange) and 5 mac’n’cheese dishes together. Hungry participants paid $1 a bowl and voted for their favourite. The winner was Chef Jaco from Chestnut Residence.

All that remains....

In truth, Team CTSI was torn between St. Mike’s mom’s style mac’n’cheese (loved the veggies) and Victoria College’s beer, bacon and saltine concoction. It was a combination that we hadn’t encountered before and, as a colleague pointed out, ‘the saltines were the true innovation.’ It was also pretty clear to us that we were taking our voting very seriously. We talked it through, we discussed the pros about each selection (all options were tasty so it was really a struggle to decide which of the pros was the best – a hierarchy of pros, if you will), and we each had to make a tough decision at ballot time. As another colleague noted, “I was torn between ‘Mom’ and ‘Bacon’ until the moment I voted.” It was also the perfect day to sit in Willocks Common and discuss the important things in life. Today it was bacon.

The question now is….. what’s the next smackdown, @UeaToronto? Meatballs were at the top of our list. Or pie. Or apple crisp. Maybe soup? Ah, and now I’m hungry again.


Good advice for us all

I read the Life @ U of T blog regularly – interesting stories, great tips about campus life – but I found Sarah’s post this week particularly moving. It was a genuine “I’ve been there!” kind of feeling. Because yes, I’ve been there.

My undergraduate degree took a rather long time (I will, at long last, convocate this November) so I have experienced the university classroom from a number of vantage points. My first round (1988-1991), I barely, if ever, spoke in class or tutorial. I was terrified. Didn’t think I had anything of merit to offer, worried that I would say something so off-base that I would look ridiculous. When I returned as a mature student in 2008, I made a conscious effort to change this situation. I still wasn’t comfortable speaking (even if I was older than some instructors and most of my fellow students, I could still be intimidated) but I forced myself to and – as Sarah points out – it did get easier. And I did learn that I could survive any potential embarrassment.

More than just a survey: student learning experience is at the core of the new U of T course evaluation framework

In keeping with its commitment to excellence in teaching, the University of Toronto is pleased to announce the launch of a new course evaluation framework. This new framework is aimed at assessing factors that contribute to students’ overall learning experiences in their courses. At the heart of this new framework are new core institutional course evaluation questions, which stem from the University’s expectation that students have valuable learning experiences in their courses. Stated simply, the University of Toronto expects that its courses are intellectually stimulating, create environments conducive to real learning, and provide opportunity for students to demonstrate their knowledge.

The need for a new course evaluation framework has been on the minds of the academic administration for some time. Recognizing the importance of an institutional approach to the assessment of students’ learning experiences in their courses, in 2009 a working group chaired by Professor Jill Matus, Vice Provost – Students, and Professor Edith Hillan, Vice Provost – Academic and Faculty Life, and consisting of academic representation from divisions across the institution, was created. After 2 years of extensive consultation with students, faculty, and staff, a rigorous review of the empirical literature on the assessment of teaching, and an examination of practices at other institutions, the working group recommended a number of significant changes to current course evaluation practice at the University of Toronto. Briefly, the Working Group recommended the development of a new university policy regarding the evaluation of University of Toronto courses (passed at Governing Council in 2011), the complete redesign of course evaluation questions that stem directly from the institution’s teaching and learning goals for students, a centralized team of experts to manage and to evaluate the framework, a framework that provides both summative and formative student feedback to instructors, and a new online system to meet the university’s commitment to student needs and campus sustainability. To monitor the realization of these recommendations, a Course Evaluation Implementation Group was established as well. Co-chaired by Professor Cheryl Regehr, Vice Provost – Academic Programs, and Professor Carol Rolheiser, Director, Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation, this group has been and continues to be instrumental in monitoring and advising each stage of implementation.

The new course evaluation framework is innovative in its approach to the evaluation of teaching. It balances the need to assess broad institutional expectations for teaching and learning while recognizing that students’ learning experiences vary by specific pedagogical goals set out by an academic discipline. Thus, beyond the core institutional questions, course evaluations are customizable, providing divisions, departments, and instructors the option to select their own questions from a new course evaluation question bank. This multi-level assessment approach ensures that students’ learning experiences are assessed broadly and within learning contexts. Course evaluation questions are both quantitative and qualitative, providing faculty with extensive information to incorporate into future course design or redesign.

The University of Toronto’s new course evaluation framework is also innovative in its involvement with students in both design and administration. Not only did students from across the institution play a central role in the actual wording of core institutional questions, students’ concerns regarding the lack of opportunity to provide thoughtful feedback about their learning experiences during class time was recognized as a key priority. To meet this concern, the University of Toronto licensed an online course evaluation delivery tool from Canadian company, eXplorance. Within the new framework, students now have approximately 2 weeks during the end of their courses to provide feedback from their personal computers or electronic devices. Students’ responses to the new questions and the online system have been overwhelmingly positive. Of a sample of 10,000 students surveyed who have used the new framework and system to evaluate their courses, approximately 60% felt that completing an evaluation using the new system was better than completing evaluations on paper in class.

The University of Toronto has invested in a number of resources to ensure the innovative goals of the new course evaluation framework are met. As a new centralized service, the course evaluation framework is managed through the Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation, under the direction of the Associate Director, Dr. Pam Gravestock and a new Course Evaluation Support Officer, Dr. Cherie Werhun. In addition to managing the online system, course evaluation reports, and the course evaluation item bank, the Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation is responsible for ongoing analysis of the new framework and for working with divisions to create course evaluation divisional procedures, interpretation guidelines, and educational materials to assist academic administration, faculty, and students in their use of course evaluation data.

The implementation of the new course evaluation framework has expanded considerably since its inception in the Fall of 2011. To date, approximately 1000 courses have been evaluated, generating over 16,000 evaluations within Arts & Science, Nursing, UTM, and UTSC. This fall, 2012, Arts & Science and Social Work will be participating fully in the new framework, and other divisions are set to join in 2013. As additional faculties join the new course evaluation framework, the University of Toronto is committed to meeting this growth with new support. This fall, course evaluations will be integrated with Blackboard and in 2013, a new U of T course evaluation app will be released for use with students’ iPhones.

The implementation of the new course evaluation framework at the University of Toronto has been no small task, and has involved the coordinated investment of numerous resources, faculty, staff, and students. Overall, this campus-wide dedication to the new course evaluation framework at the University of Toronto suggests that the institution is committed not only to excellence in teaching but to excellence in the evaluation of teaching, as well.

It is indeed an exciting time for teaching at U of T!

For more information on the new course evaluation framework and online system, please visit: and

For instructors who are interested in promoting the new course evaluation initiative in their classroom, Just-in-Time Powerpoint slides are available from the CTSI website.

Putting YOU in EvalYOUation: video for U of T students

Grand Opening: CTSI, Robarts Library Reference Services and new student study areas

It started with a need for new student spaces. After conducting focus groups, surveys and consultations with students, we knew U of T students wanted study spaces with natural light, comfortable seating, access to computers and wireless networks, and conveniently located to other resources (e.g. books). Thanks to a generous donation by Russell and Katherine Morrison (who have already made significant contributions to St. George campus in the past decade – including Morrison Hall residence at University College), we now have a beautiful new space for study and collaboration for students – and for CTSI and Robarts Library Reference Services, too. On October 2nd, U of T Libraries and CTSI officially opened our newly renovated space that also includes study areas and a computer lab for students.

Mr. Russell Morrison

As the university has changed, Robarts Library has followed suit. Students’ needs change as the community diversifies, technologies evolve and academia grows to encompass more views, more areas of study and, quite simply, more students. These latest renovations reflect that need but as Cheryl Misak, Vice-President and Provost, said, “Of course, this new space is also about teaching.”

We now have two computer labs and the Blackburn Room for training, workshops and events (we included photos of these new spaces in a previous post). All of these rooms have been in full use since the end of August (when CTSI held their Back-to-School workshop series) and staff, instructors and students have all given them high marks. The spaces are flexible (easy to move furniture around to suit workshop needs) and technology is available and accessible (not to mention functional). On the CTSI side, we now have two new rooms for meetings and consultations and a collaboration space for staff to meet, schedule and plan upcoming events and projects.

The architect firm Gow Hastings – as well as everyone else involved in the design and coordination of these renovations – did a marvellous job listening to all our concerns, and our wish list, so that we can all – staff and students alike – enjoy a comfortable and welcoming work environment. And the sunlight, let’s not forget the sunlight! This new space also provides more opportunities for CTSI and Reference Services Librarians to cross paths. Not only is it nice to know your neighbours, we’ve already started a number of projects together simply because we run into each other in the hall and start a conversation. Let the collaborations continue!

The next step – hopefully not too far down the road – is the Robarts Common, a student centre scheduled to be built at the north-west end of the library. The hallway to the centre will extend right from our new space. According to Chief Librarian Larry Alford, “The new five-storey pavilion will become a new face of Robarts, opening up the west side of the building to the street, bring a flood of natural light to the lower floors and making the overall environment more inviting, accessible and productive for students.”

Phrase that describes your favourite learning space

Who supports your learning?This post also appears in the U of T Libraries’ Noteworthy magazine.

Life @ U of T and CTSI

We are excited to welcome Lori, the newest member of the CTSI family. Lori will be contributing regular posts to the Life @ U of T blog. I will let Lori introduce herself – her first post went up on Thursday and her second post appeared today – but we wanted to add that we’re looking forward to reading her insights and observations of the University of Toronto. The Student Life blog is a great resource for getting to know U of T students and learning what concerns and what drives them. It’s also a great way to find out about events, projects, classes and free stuff around campus. I am perfectly happy to follow the lead of Student Life bloggers – it often ends with cupcakes or an interesting lecture at Hart House.

This is our second year with our Student Life blogger. Last year, we were fortunate to have Erin post about her interactions with faculty and experiences inside and outside of the classroom as she navigated her final year as an undergrad. All of her posts can be found on the Life @ U of T blog.


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