Well, there’s a map for that….

We discovered this map (“Origins of First-Year Undergraduates at U of T”) on President Naylor’s blog. It is wonderfully addictive! There is one student from Iceland. 303 students from Vancouver. Two students from Senegal. Two students from Bermuda. Not only am I reminded of the diversity of people and cultures who attend the University of Toronto, I also get a quick refresher course on geography. Bermuda, for instance, is a lot farther north than I thought.

First-Year Students Map

Click on image to go to interactive map


Home, sweet home….

After 9 months in our temporary space, CTSI has finally returned to our (newly renovated) office on the 4th floor of Robarts! There are still some boxes to unpack and construction is still on-going but we are ready and open for business. We’ve already held workshops in the Blackburn Room and computer lab and welcomed instructors and graduate students into our new offices and meeting rooms. It didn’t take long to settle in – and we’re doing our best to keep out of the way of the construction crew finishing up the final details. We look forward to celebrating our new space with our colleagues!

Our new reception area...

Our new meeting rooms come with sunshine.






Blackburn Room

CTSI computer lab
CTSI computer lab

While, we are excited to set up shop in our bright and shiny new space, I will be sad to say goodbye to a few things from the 7th floor.

Ye Olde Card Catalogue
Our office is divided down a firm line: those of us who are nostalgic about library card catalogues and those who have never used one, never seen one before arriving on the 7th floor and have no idea how to use one. (I haven’t asked if this latter group is also unfamiliar with dot matrix printers and rotary dial phones because I’m not sure if I want to know the answer.) Apparently, the bank of cards were no longer used even before I arrived in the late 80s. (When I arrived at U of T to start my undergraduate degree, the catalogue was computerized. We searched for books using terminals in the library, which seemed very futuristic to me. You can imagine, then, how impressed I was when a housemate hooked his computer to the phone line and accessed the library catalogue from his room. We could research a topic from the comfort of his room! It felt very War Games and top secret.) I like to think that my father rooted through these cards when he was completing his undergraduate degree in the early 50s. They were a nice – and tangible – tie to U of T’s past. I liked flipping through the cards, hoping to finding a handwritten one or one with comments. It was comforting to think that many of the books could still be found in the stacks.

Does anyone even use index cards any more?

The Live Action Angry Birds Game
…. even though it never really got off the ground. We did our best to make use of ackwardly placed cubicles and masking tape, turning space (well, my cubicle to be exact) into a target zone for incoming stuffed birds. Points were awarded according to how close birds landed to the centre. We established a few rules – you had to be sitting in a chair, you had to be behind ‘the line’, you had to warn me with a call of ‘incoming!’ – and kept score on a white board. Unfortunately, the competition didn’t last much past our first few weeks in the space. I kept the tape on the floor, though, just in case there was a sudden need. My new space is more ‘put together’ so no more angry birds. We’re all fine with that, though. We’re busy personalizing our new spaces and getting ready for another fall of workshops (and workshops), the symposium and whatever else the new school year may bring.

My new 4x6 home....


Coming to a close…

Tonight, I will begin the final phase of my undergraduate career. I need two half credits (one 400-seminar course and the Digital Text) – which means night classes Monday through Thursday – to finish the degree that I began in 1988. It is my 24-year degree. The BA 2-4.

I wasn’t in school that entire time. I arrived as an eager student straight from high school but I’m an example of someone who should have taken a bit of time off in-between. It wasn’t necessarily about grades (at least not at first) but that I didn’t know how to ask for help. I’m sure the help was there; I just didn’t have the confidence to seek it out. And so I left mid-way through my third year (actually, I left for a variety of reasons. There is, of course, a much longer version of this story but probably more appropriate for another post…. and maybe some place other than the CTSI blog) in 1991 and returned in 2008 after I began working at U of T. I didn’t take the first class thinking that I would finish my degree. I just wanted to delve into a subject that interested me (history of science), stretch my skills and do something that scared me. It was a year or so later that I realized I could actually finish my degree. So, now, 4 years (24 in total), 10 courses and 9 credits later, I am nearing the end. A giant sigh of relief.

It wasn’t necessarily that I came from a small town and was overwhelmed by the big city. I was pretty happy in the city and living in residence those first two years. I met people who remain close friends today. The culture of houses must change through the years but back in 1988, Jeanneret (Sir Daniel Wilson’s, University College) seemed like a collection of oddities. We joked that if they didn’t know where else to put you, they assigned you to Jeanneret. This was all fine by us, of course. Somehow, all of our jagged pieces fit together and we were happy to find each other. We were the Island of Misfit Toys, except we didn’t really mind being stranded. And of that group, there is more than one professor, a geneticist, lawyers, teachers, writers, an editor, journalist and, well, me, who will soon be the proud recipient of an Honours BA. And, yes, there will be a party.

A photo of me a few years after leaving school….

This time around, I’ve been more willing to speak in class (which is still a bit frightening but I persevere) and I ask for help when I need it. Well, most of the time. For a final essay this past term, I let things get away from me. Too busy (full time work, 2 classes, freelance writing work that occupied whatever free time I had), trying to do a dozen things at once and I made a right mess of it. I should have asked for help but I didn’t. In fact, it was such a tumble that I wrote an apology to the professor.

And one of me today. Better hair, same blank stare.

I’m not surprised that there are some darn clever folks at U of T but I am often amazed at the insight and comments of fellow students. Yes, I am sometimes intimidated. It always feels like a risk when putting my hand up in class – don’t want to say the wrong thing, or if I know how to identify the right or wrong thing to say, or worry that I’ll speak too quickly. And there are times when I already feel like an odd duck in class. I stand out. I’m a woman in her forties. I have a student number that begins with 880…. I have to check myself sometimes so I don’t sound like a grandmother telling stories about the depression (“Now, let me tell you what it was like to live through the Reagan years!”, “In the years before the internet, we had to remember things all on our own!”). And, as a friend so helpfully pointed out, I could be the mother of many of my classmates and it wouldn’t have been a scandal. I can get past these fears (for the most part) because I recognize that few people are paying that much attention to me, at least not as someone who is old enough to be their mother (or a much older sister, or maybe a cool aunt?). Most people in the classroom are there to learn. Most are accepting and interested in comments and suggestions from classmates. My goal is to leave the classroom more informed, with a better grasp on the subject, than I when I walked in. I’m happy to report that I’ve met this mark over these last four years of my BA. Now, I just have to get through these last six weeks…..

STLHE 2012 – Montreal

Several members of the CTSI team attended the Society for Teaching & Learning in Higher Education conference in Montreal last week (June 19-22). It was an eventful and stimulating few days (although that also meant we didn’t have much time to explore the city). Pam Gravestock, Associate Director, presented a research paper, Does Teaching Matter? Assessing Teaching for Tenure at Canadian Universities, on Wednesday. Addressing the pervasive assumption that research activity trumps teaching contributions, Dr. Gravestock reported on her comprehensive review and analysis of tenure policies at 46 Canadian universities and reveals the common practices and differing policies throughout. It was a successful session – with more than 80 in attendance – and there was a lively Q&A period afterward.

Our second presentation was a half-day pre-conference session demonstrating our Exploring Large Classroom Teaching module. The theme of this year’s conference was “Learning without Boundaries?” and our module addressed this topic in a number of ways. First of all, the module is available to anyone with access to the internet. You do not need a University of Toronto login to view or participate. We designed the module so the user can forge their own path, decide what to view next and what resources will be most helpful. Also, we employed a simple platform to make the module accessible and as intuitive as possible (which isn’t an easy task but we’re pleased with the results).  By breaking the topic into four broad topics (Planning, Strategies, Assessment, Technology), we can dig deeper into each area without cluttering the web page with too much information. Our 3-hour workshop led the participants through our process in creating the module (it was a very iterative process) and the many ways we’ve used it since its launch.

Continue reading

2012 TATP Teaching Excellence Award Winners

Congratulations to the following U of T teaching assistants, winners of this year’s award:

Emily Holland, Department of Anthropology
Stefana Gargova, Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures
Sara Osenton, Department of East Asian Studies
Abdul Rahman Ayoub,
Department of Mathematics & Computational Sciences

Some nominees worked as a part of a teaching team in large lecture courses or science labs while others led small tutorials or language labs. The only common denominators: the nominees enthusiasm for teaching and the enthusiasm for learning they inspired in their students. Nominators were asked to comment on the TA’s communication and organizational skills, their feedback and knowledge of the course material. In each case, the candidate demonstrated dedication, insight and knowledge in the classroom. As always, the response was extraordinary as so many were willing (and often excited) to share their experiences with teaching assistants at U of T. Many students shared stories about TAs guiding them through difficult material, making the tutorial experience an enjoyable one and encouraging enthusiasm about the subject matter. A common theme we noticed this year, students nominate a TA when they feel their voice is being heard whether in tutorials, during office hours or email.

This year, we received 433 online nominations from students and 48 nominations from faculty. A total of 197 TAs were nominated (from more than 40 departments) with 63 TAs eligible for the short list. Thank you to everyone who took the time to nominate a TA this year. Winners receive a cash prize, certificate and award luncheon in their honour.

For more information on this award—and how you can nominate a TA for next year’s award—please visit www.uoft.me/taaward.

Shortlisted Candidates:
Keira Galway, Faculty of Music
Julia Su, Department of Linguistics
Helen Marshall, Department of English
Lauren Beard, Department of Comparative Literature
Robert Williamson, Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
Guillaume Barlet, Department of Geology
Sherry Esfahani, Materials Science & Engineering
Danielle DeSouza, Department of Occupational Therapy

TATP Teaching Excellence Award – the Shortlist

It is with great pleasure (and excitement) that we can announce this year’s short list candidates for the 2012 TATP Teaching Excellence Award:

Abdul Abyab, Department of Mathematics & Computational Sciences
Guillaume Barlet, Department of Geology
Lauren Beard, Department of Comparative Literature
Danielle DeSouza, Department of Occupational Therapy
Shaghayegh Esfahani, Materials Science & Engineering
Keira Galway, Faculty of Music
Stefana Gargova, Department of Germanic Languages
Emily Holland, Department of Anthropology
Helen Marshall, Department of English
Sara Osenton, Department of East Asian Studies
Julia Su, Department of Linguistics
Robertson Williamson, Department of Biology

This year, we received 433 online nominations from students and 48 nominations from faculty. A total of 197 TAs were nominated with 63 TAs eligible for the short list.

The TATP Teaching Excellence Award is in it’s 9th year (it was established in 2003 and the first awards were presented in 2004). Recipients of the award receive a certificate, an honorarium and a luncheon in their honour. They also sit on a panel during that year’s TA Day (held before fall term starts) and participate in a Q&A with new (and some returning) TAs at the university. I will admit that every year I worry that no one will have a question for the award winners (and I should admit that I have this fear every time I participate in a Q&A) but every year we have more than enough to fill the allotted time, and then some.

Winners will be announced on Monday, April 30, 2012.

Jen O’Leary, Molecular Genetics & Siyu Liu, Electrical & Computer Engineering
2011 TA Award winners


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.

Cut down on waste, not trees!

Submitted by Elah Feder – Project Coordinator, Sustainability Office, UofT

A few years ago, a student researcher calculated U of T uses about 10 million sheets of paper each year. That’s just in first and second year courses on St. George campus, and it doesn’t include all the textbooks we use each year, so the real total is much higher.

Paper has its place, and we’re not suggesting everyone needs to go electronic, but we do think there are some great opportunities to cut down on waste. The U of T Green Courses program recognizes those instructors who have made an effort to do so.

So far, over 100 courses have been recognized for choosing basic practices like double-siding, posting lecture slides in compact forms, and choosing environmentally-friendly paper for their course readers.

The Sustainability Office is now accepting applications for spring semester courses. Learn more about the program and download the self-assessment form at uoft.me/greencourses.

Breakdown of paper use in first and second year courses,
excluding textbooks, based on research by Yi-an Chen.

Open Doors on Teaching

Most of us are well aware that learning doesn’t end with a degree or when we have acquired a teaching position. We can learn from our students, our research and we can also learn from each other. Open Doors on Teaching is a University of Toronto initiative to get instructors back in the classroom – this time as an observer. Members of the Teaching Academy, winners of the President’s Teaching Award, are opening their classroom doors to colleagues. By booking an appointment through CTSI, you can visit a classroom, watch a colleague in action then engage in a post-class discussion.

Visit Open Doors on Teaching for more information about this initiative, including participating Teaching Academy members and the available lectures. If you have any questions or to schedule a visit to one of the lectures, please contact Thuy Huynh, Programs Coordinator, CTSI.


Coming Soon – Large Classroom Teaching

The Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation will soon launch an online module on Exploring Large Classroom Teaching. The University of Toronto’s faculty and graduate students have a fair bit of experience in this area (as you might imagine) and we have looked to them for insight and advice on this topic. We’ve divided this section into four areas (Planning, Strategies, Assessment and Technology) with videos, resources and tip sheets available.

We hope to launch in a few weeks. Please stay tuned!