Focus on Teaching: The Top 5 Things Your Syllabus Needs

Your syllabus is the roadmap for your course. Designing it carefully can help you to identify your teaching goals, and help your students plan their study schedule.  Check our Top 5 to make sure you’ve got the basics covered.

1.       Course evaluation scheme:  Include a breakdown of the work that your students are required to complete, and the weight of each piece in the final grade. Knowing this information early on helps students plan for the work that they will be required to complete, and understand what areas to prioritize.

2.       How your students can communicate with you: Your students will have questions throughout the term, so it is crucial to tell them how they can get in touch with you. You may also consider working with one of your TAs to manage communication, or look at other in-class or online alternatives. While e-mail and scheduled office hours are the most traditional methods, different approaches like digital office hours using online discussion boards, wikis, chat or instant messaging, social media, in-class question & answer sessions, and group office hours are all strategies that promote positive interaction with your students.

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More Grammar Matters

As we prepare for tonight’s Grammar Matters launch (Type Books, 883 Queen Street West, 6pm-8pm), our thoughts turn to–well, grammar matters. As Jila Ghomeshi demonstrates in her book, many people take the subjects of grammar and language very seriously. Ghomeshi’s analysis of language far exceeds the effects of a misplaced comma. She looks at the social and political implications of policing grammar and how the use and perceived abuse or misuse of language can be a contentious topic. A great many people have an opinion about grammar and just how it should be used. So, after reading Ghomeshi’s book, I’ve been thinking about the ways that we learn the rules of grammar and if that affects how we perceive it.

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Finding Your Place in a Large Classroom

As educators and advocates of higher education, we spend a lot of time discussing how to reach students in large classes (well, any class really) so it’s nice to be reminded what it’s like to be in the seats. A recent post in blogUT captures the life of a student in Convocation Hall (“Convocation Hall: Not Just a Place to Graduate”), providing helpful tips on making it through the year. This post, like many found on blogUT and other student blogs at the university, presents a mentor-like perspective for other students. There is nothing quite like the advice of a peer, especially someone who has already mastered the way.

The blogUT post provides important reminders (e.g. take advantage of your professor’s office hours) but also shines a light on some very practical points. Anyone heading into class at Con Hall should know that it isn’t equipped with desks so the blogger suggests using a binder or book to make note taking easier. She also offers suggestions on getting the better seats in the house and where you’ll find the best sound. For incoming students, this friendly advice must be enormously helpful and it’s equally enlightening to read student comments. There are some really interesting stories shared online and this is something that I would have found helpful in my first year at UofT.

Student voices are strong at UofT and are showcased at several blogs, including:
Hart House

p.s. My advice for first-year students enrolled in a Con Hall class is a warning about the added difficulties of winter classes. Fixed theatre style seating, filled seats, extra large winter coats and large book bags don’t mix very well.


Spotlight on Students: Supporting Student-Faculty Interaction at CTSI

Over the coming academic year, you’ll see a new “Spotlight on Students” feature in our CTSI: Focus blog, as well as in our online resources and faculty programming.  This feature is part of our efforts to enhance student-faculty interaction at the UofT. But what is this, and why is it important?

In looking at student-faculty interaction, we mean exploring the ways students can interact with their instructors both within and outside the classroom. Through positive interactions, instructors can influence students’ orientation to and investment in their university experience, as well as shape their future learning. Such interactions can positively affect course design, student satisfaction and engagement with course content, while also creating collaborative opportunities between faculty and students.

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Grammar Matters

“To use the language of rights, our right to comment on how others use language is as important as our right to choose how we speak in the first place.”

In certain circles, grammar is a hot topic, or even a hot button issue. Any perceived misuse or abuse of language can be the cause for a chuckle* or outrage or anything in between. The assumption is that grammar follows a logical and defined form. However, in Grammar Matters: the Social Significance of How We Use Language, Jila Ghomeshi, a professor of linguistics at the University of Manitoba, shows that this isn’t always the case. While “prescriptivists” might maintain that there is a right and a wrong way, Ghomeshi shows that language is far more personalized than a grammar textbook allows. She examines the fallacy of logic and precision in the English language and points out the hypocrisy and prejudice in claiming there is only one correct use of grammar. Her argument isn’t entirely against this prescriptive view but the belief that one form or use of language is better than another. It is a compelling and interesting argument and one that is sure to incite a reaction from grammar-snobs and grammar-phobes in equal measure.

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Five New Tools to Enhance Your Course Within the UofT Learning Portal

An update to the University of Toronto Learning Portal was performed at the start of the 2011 summer session.  This version introduces five new tools that can be used to enhance collaboration, content delivery and student evaluation within a course.

1. Wikis:  The Wiki tool allows students to create and edit web page content within a course.  Single or multiple wikis can be created for all members of the course or for specific groups.  Students can edit wiki content to work collaboratively on the development of documentation, assignments or projects.  Detailed version information and a history of student contributions to the wiki can be reviewed and graded by the instructor.

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Training for first-contract TAs

As you may know, the current CUPE 3902 Unit 1 collective agreement requires that all first-contract TAs receive 3 hours of paid pedagogical training.  However, did you know that the Teaching Assistants’ Training Program (TATP) can assist your department with this training?  You, the hiring department/unit, can 1) develop and deliver the training and request for a TATP staff member to attend to give a brief talk about TATP services 2) request for the TATP staff to design and deliver a portion or the full 3-hour training session (in consultation with your department/unit).

If your department/unit is only hiring a few TAs, or has TAs who will not be able to attend your department training, you can send your TAs to the TATP discipline-specific workshops for first-contract TAs (e.g. “First-Time TAs in the Humanities”) offered as part of the TATP Workshop Series in September and January on all three campuses.  These sessions are 3 hours and address a range of teaching-related issues for new TAs with a broad disciplinary focus.  The dates for these sessions will be posted on the TATP website later this summer.

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CTSI Back-to-School Workshop Series

From Tuesday, August 23 – Friday, August 26, 2011, the Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation will host a series of “Back-to-School” sessions on a range of teaching topics to help instructors get ready for the new school year.  These sessions are open to all new and returning instructors at the University of Toronto.

Here’s the schedule,

  • Tuesday, August 23
    • Setting the Tone for Success: The First Day and Beyond (9am – 12noon)
    • Supporting Student Learning: What Instructors Can Do and Who Else Can Help (1 – 4pm)
  • Wednesday, August 24
    • Building a Blackboard Course (9am – 12noon)
    • Small Group Instructional Approaches to Engage and Enthuse Learning (9am – 12noon)
  • Thursday, August 25
    • Assignment Design (9am – 12noon)
    • Formative Assessment: How to Keep Teaching and Learning on Track (1 – 4pm)
  • Friday, August 26
    • The Course Life Cycle: Managing Your Course (9am – 12noon)

You can register for these sessions online at:


Welcome to CTSI FOCUS

First of all, we realize that starting a blog is not exactly cutting edge. If we claimed that we were breaking new ground by launching our blog then it would be fair to ask what year we think this is. Blogs have been a mainstay of the Internet for more than a decade now. Universities and teaching & learning offices have made good use of them as a way to distill information, share ideas and encourage communication between educators, bloggers and readers. In starting CTSI Focus, we are not here to reinvent what is already done well—why fix something that isn’t broken?—but to join in on the conversation.

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