The Portal’s Wiki: a Quick Guide

The latest update to the Portal introduced a new Wiki tool.  A wiki is a collaborative tool that allows students to contribute and modify one or more pages of course related content. Members of a course can develop content on these shared pages using only a web browser.  Students can work together to create an assignment or build on a collection of ideas.  Instructors can create a single wiki for all members of the course or for specific groups. Student contributions to the Wiki tool in the Portal can be viewed and graded.

Getting Started
To create a course wiki, the instructor selects the Wiki tool option in a content area (e.g., Course Documents or Assignments) and enables the settings to make the wiki open for editing.  Grading options and rubrics can be applied to the wiki if applicable.
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Entering the online classroom

Online courses are increasingly more commonplace (for distance education, continuing studies or as one way to deal with large classes and a rise in student population) but many of us are still wary. If you are heading into the virtual classroom this fall, and are a little concerned about how best to approach this new territory, there are many resources available. From simple helpful hints to the advent of Teaching Machines, there is a lot of information to sift through when it comes to online learning.

Online Learning at the University of Toronto
The CTSI web site offers information and resources (including accessibility guidelines and help with online course design) in the Online Instructor Toolkit. We also highlight Innovations at the University of Toronto – profiles of instructors and departments who have already made headway in working online and connecting with students.

Expert Advice
Not too surprisingly, there are a number of websites and blogs that discuss the ups and downs of leading an online course. An internet search will quickly turn up many examples but we’ve selected a few to look at:  Continue reading

Spotlight on Students: Re-thinking Office Hours

Focus on Teaching: Re-thinking Office Hours

In our Back to School workshops this week, we’ve been talking about ways to meet with your students. Office hours are the traditional method: setting aside a dedicated one or two hours at the same time every week for students to ask question in person. However, some faculty find their office hours are not well attended, and are left to wonder why. Do students have no questions to ask? Are they simply not interested in coming?

The truth is there are many reasons, and they may have nothing to do with a lack of questions. Your students have full schedules and hectic commutes to campus, and may simply not be able to attend at the time you have set.  They also may feel shy about approaching you, simply not know how to approach an office hour appointment, or just not know the right questions to ask.

Exploring different options as alternatives to traditional office hours can give you different ways to meet with your students and improve your interaction with your students. Here are three strategies to try:

1.       Online office hours via discussion board.

Move your normal office hours to a virtual setting using the discussion board feature in Blackboard. Allocate a specific time of the day or week when you will be monitoring discussion board activity and answering questions.  This also helps students by serving as a reference they can check back with later. Signing on only during set times will help you maintain boundaries and keep the discussion focused.

2.       Online office hours via chat or instant messenger

Chat or Instant Message (IM) sessions can be useful for “just in time” questions before an assignment deadline.  Use the Collaboration Tools feature on Blackboard or set up a course account on a free client such as MSN Messenger or Meebo, and sign on during scheduled times. This helps students with last-minute questions that may not have emerged in the early stages of their assignment work. As with discussion board interactions, remember to use this environment to mimic the professional interaction you would have with students in office hours.

3.       Group office hours, Q&A or help sessions

Instead of inviting students to your office, use your weekly office hour to meet in a larger, approachable location such as a classroom, a bookable library space, or University common space such as a cafeteria.  In this setting, shy students can still benefit from listening to others’ questions, or work on questions at their own pace, and anyone can drop in as their schedule allows.

A note on boundaries: Remember that as with other online interactions such as email communication, it is important to set limits on availability and appropriate conduct. Do remain approachable without de-professionalizing your interactions with students. By modeling appropriate online interaction, you will create a positive and safe space for you and your class to connect over your interest in the course material.

For more ideas on how to improve student-faculty interaction in your courses, see our current list of effective practices.

Time management: it’s not just for students

We often encourage our students to focus on good time management, but finding ways to keep our lives in balance is a challenge that doesn’t stop after our undergrad years, or even after classes end.  Even the Chronicle’s Profhacker look back at summer showed gratitude for all the gadgets and tricks that help make life easier and more enjoyable. Don’t we always get excited about discovering those little time savers?

Whether it’s coaching students to meet deadlines or scheduling our own lives, here are a few basic principles to creating good time management:

1. Know Your Habits. It’s impossible to accurately estimate time without a realistic sense of the time you need to complete a task.

  • To get to know your habits better, take a week and track them. Divide your entire day into half-hour time units and write down everything that you do during the day. This means that if you lecture until 2:00pm, but you spend an extra 15 minutes answering questions from students, your lecture actually ends at 2:15pm.
  • Are you an early riser? Are you most focused in the evenings, or before lunch? Know your most productive times of day.

2. Conquer lateness.  Whether it’s in a professional or social setting, being punctual is always important.

  • Lateness usually arises from an expectation that everything in your day will go according to ideal conditions. The key is to be honest with yourself. If your TTC trip to campus should take 25 minutes but actually takes 35 because of streetcar delays, assume it will always take 35.
  • Remember that it takes anywhere from 3-6 weeks for a regular activity to become a habit. Take this time and challenge yourself to not be on time, but be early for your meetings and appointments. This will set ahead your natural scheduling more effectively than only setting your watch forward.

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Spotlight on Students: Study Now, Succeed Later

With August underway, you might think your students are focusing on enjoying those last precious days of summer vacation, but not everyone is waiting until September to think about studying – the folks at the Academic Success Centre  are only just getting started.

Hosted in the Koffler Building at 214 College St. (just next to the Career Centre and down the hall from the Bookstore), the Academic Success Centre offers counselling and advice to U of T students on study skills, test-taking and time management. Learning skills counsellors meet with students one-on-one in appointments and in drop-in sessions, and lead free workshops on topics like notetaking, making presentations, and improving concentration.

Students looking ahead to the fall term can get a jump on their schedule by signing up for one of the ASC summer mini courses  from August 23-25, on Time Management, Reading and Notetaking, Memory and Concentration, and Succeeding at U of T. There’s even a session just for parents of first-year students, to ask all those anxious questions of their own.

Faculty and students alike might find some helpful advice on their links pages.   I can already see some good reminders for myself about making a time plan. Hmm, I wonder if it’s too early in the year to learn how to stop procrastinating?

The Books of August

As summer winds down and many of us are preparing for the busy fall ahead, we are looking for reading suggestions for these last weeks of August. (Of course, I am in the midst of The Clash of Kings so that should keep me busy until September.) Summer never seems to live up to the promise of endless reading time and beach vacations so we thought we could use a little help from someone who spends most of her days with books. We’ve asked Deanna McFadden, Associate Director, Digital Content for HarperCollins Canada, for her picks.
Summer reading has always been a kind of an enigma for me. For most, a tasty beach read will do — something light and frothy that’s meant to entertain and not necessarily be too taxing. But I tend to go in the opposite direction for summer reading. This year, I’ve got a stack of books about as high as my cottage to get through by the end of the summer, and I’ve been determined to do a lot of “off the shelf reading” — getting through those books that have been collecting dust for two, three, ten, years. So, here are five really terrific reads that I’d consider perfect for the waning days of the season:

The Award Winner
A Visit From the Good Squad
Jennifer Egan’s novel remains a rare thing in the book world – a novel completely and utterly deserving of all its accolades and praise. It won the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction as well as the 2011 Pulitzer Prize (also for fiction, natch). It’s a multi-perspective novel that  circles around two or three main characters who are each either directly or indirectly (as in they are publicists etc.) involved in the music business. Let me just warn you — there’s an entire chapter that’s almost speculative in its nature, containing charts and graphs written by a pre-teen girl, and it was utterly charming. This in itself speaks to the power of Egan’s prose. It’s a marvellous novel.

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Meet the New TATP Staff

The Teaching Assistants’ Training Program welcomes its 2011-12 staff.





The TATP is a peer-training—teaching assistants offering training to other teaching assistants—program that is housed in the Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation.  For more than a decade, the TATP has helped train and offered workshops and consultations for graduate students and teaching assistants at the University of Toronto. The office started out quite small with only 3 staff members but has now grown to 14 (4 coordinators and 10 trainers, including one UTM and one at UTSC). If you are not already familiar with the work of the TATP, please visit their website for more information, including a list of this year’s staff. The TATP Certificate Programs, workshops, departmental training sessions, consultations and resources have made the TATP an indispensible service for UofT graduate students (and undergraduate students working as teaching assistants).

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