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.

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CTSI around campus and in the news

Over the past few months, CTSI has been involved in a number of events celebrating teaching and learning in higher education. These were opportunities to showcase U of T’s activities and initiatives and to learn from colleagues around the province, and around the world, about new and innovative practices.

In February, delegates from Ultrecht University in the Netherlands visited the University of Toronto. Carol Rolheiser, Director, CTSI was a part of the team (that included Anne-Marie Brousseau, Associate Dean, Undergraduate Academic Programs and Director, First-Year Learning Communities, Glen Jones, Associate Dean, OISE, and members of the Teaching Academy, among others) welcoming the delegation to the St. George campus. The visit was a part of a study tour on educational innovation and leadership for senior faculty at Ultrect. The all-day event featured sessions on Higher Education in Ontario, Small Group Engagement and Peer-to-Peer Learning in the First Year, Supporting Teachings and the Development of Community and more. While members of U of T’s community led these sessions, members of the Utrecht delegation had the opportunity to share experiences and research on teaching matters. According to Carol, “This was a great opportunity to strengthen connections with our international colleagues and to focus our discussion on key educational concepts.  Hearing from experts across our University also strengthens our internal links and opportunities to learn from one another.”

In April, Carol also attended the launch of Beyond the Sage on the Stage: Innovative and Effective Teaching and Learning at Ontario Universities presented by the Council of Ontario Universities (COU). The event, held at Queen’s Park, brought members of provincial government, university administrators, educators and media from across the province together. Led by the Teaching and Learning Task Force with the COU and chaired by Maureen Mancuso, Vice-President, Academic at the University of Guelph, the project highlights initiatives and innovations at Ontario universities that promote effective teaching and learning.

As enrollment numbers in higher education continue to rise, Ontario’s higher education institutions are working to meet this need and deliver beyond student expectations. The COU has selected effective practices from universities across the province, including U of T’s Foundational First-Year Program and the President’s Teaching Award. Other institutions are spotlighted for their use of webcams, clickers and professional development courses for faculty. The publication is divided into sections: Learning Technologies, Applied and Practical Learning, First-Year Programs, Professional Development for Faculty Members and Teaching Assistants, Student Learning Support and Assessment of Learning.

Beyond the Sage on the Stage looks at innovations on the institutional level but it also encompasses instructors’ personal stories. COU considers this an on-going conversation and educators are invited to contribute their own stories and experiences online.  If you would like to submit a story that focuses on teaching and learning at an Ontario university, please send it to

And in June, Carol visited the Centre for Faculty Development, Faculty of Medicine to deliver a workshop in the Best Practices in Education Rounds (BPER). “Building Teaching Capacity: a Multi-Year Professional Learning Partnership” was delivered on June 5th and video conferenced to various hospitals in the University Health Network. The session highlighted the importance of partnering with other educators in building capacity and noting the key challenges and outcomes achieved (using the Initial Teacher Education Program at OISE as a model). The session offered an opportunity for reflection on past experiences and how partnerships can be improved in the future.

My Life is Average (Part 2): Finding Harmony

by Tian-Yuan Zhao (Music & Electrical and Computer Engineering)

This year, CTSI has worked with students to explore their perspective on learning at UofT. This blog post is the second in a series showcasing a student’s view of UofT, continuing with how co-curricular activities have shaped his experience.

Ever since I started university, I knew I had to get involved in extra-curricular activities, for I wanted to gain an enriching, well-rounded, balanced, wholesome and holistic experience. But, I also wanted to differentiate myself, since I didn’t just want to be defined by my student number, rather my achievements, actions and activities. I’ve always had the philosophy that diversity only makes you stronger, but upon entering university, I made the mistake of being too extreme. I attended too many events, joined too many clubs (or rather, mailing lists) and made friends here and there. I was in a simple phrase – all over the place.

My first year was both full of much excitement and entropy (or chaos). It was both a terrible first year and a terrific one. I did things I never thought I would but at the same time, regretted not focusing too much on my studies. I lived in Chestnut for my first year and you would think living on residence would be a perfect place to make new friends, gain a support network and feel safe right? Well I had made the unfortunate mistake of not taking advantage of that opportunity; instead I ended up becoming quite the bitter person for my first year. I had no idea as to how that happened, but it just did. I even joined a Christian fellowship (UTMCCF) and still, it didn’t work. I soon learned the lesson the hard way and therefore ended up choosing to commit only to AIESEC. (mention of previous article)

Tales of Harmonia is a choir that I started last school year in April when I had concluded my choral experience with the Hart House Chorus. I founded it because I felt a pit of emptiness in my stomach at the end of performing Mozart’s Mass with the Hart House Orchestra and all the wonderful classical, folk, and less-than-contemporary music. It wasn’t that I detested that style of music, but rather, I felt it needed more variety. When I initially joined the Hart House Chorus, I had the expectation from the name, that the music would be quite general, but soon found myself singing many songs I had already sung back in high school and feeling this dread of deadness. As much as I enjoyed songs celebrating the coming spring, a trip to the Hart House Farm, and another trip to the University of Western Ontario to perform at the Intervarsity Choral Festival, I found myself wanting to showcase music in all its splendour, majesty, glory, grandeur and beauty.

Therefore, I ended up establishing Tales of Harmonia, the first ever all-inclusive choir on campus, where you’d find home to both sacred and secular, a cappella and accompanied, Occidental and Oriental music, amongst many others. And ever since its inception way back in April, it has been an upward climb that would eventually lead us from rehearsing at the Quiet Room of the Multifaith Centre (see the irony there?) to holding our world premiere and year end concert with much success at the Knox College Chapel.

The choir has been a huge blessing in my life for I’ve once again, met some of the most amazing people ever, people with an equal passion for music and its many potentials, learned much about my leadership, and gained/improved on skills that I never thought I had and could obtain so directly.

“My Life is Average”: A Student’s Perspective

“My Life is Average”
by Tian-Yuan Zhao (Music & Electrical and Computer Engineering)

This year, CTSI has worked with students to explore their perspective on learning at UofT. This blog post is the first in a series showcasing a student’s view of UofT, beginning with what brought him to study at UofT.

There exists an internet meme called MLIA which stands for My Life is Average, but if you were to have ever met me, you would know that my life is far from average.

I was born in Lanzhou, Gansu, China (People’s Republic of) in the fifth day of the fifth month – 1992, moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada when I was 5 years old with my parents, grew up there for most my life – having a forgettable elementary experience, forsaken junior high experience and an unforgettable high school experience, then arriving in Toronto, Ontario, Canada at the age of 18. Which, by the way, I must point out that I went to the same high school as Marshall McLuhan, a famous alumnus of the University of Toronto – “Boundless Vision: Media Prophet ”. Anyway, I’m currently here at the U of T majoring in electrical/computer engineering and minoring in music history and culture. I have an intense and immense love for the arts, as I started playing piano when I was 8 years old, around the same time; I also took up drawing lessons, wrote a lot of fanfiction (fictional stories based on a fandom or more), sang in many choirs in high school, and performed at talent shows, etc. But, equally, I have a deep appreciation for the sciences and mathematics, as I’ve proven to be quite proficient in both. And finally, at around 8 years old, I converted to Christianity.

I chose to attend the University of Toronto for the following reasons: 1) it’s ranked number 1 for Applied Science and Engineering in all of Canada, 2) it’s within the top 20 for the same subject in all of the world, 3) I’ve grown rather tiresome of living in Winnipeg for 14 years of my life consecutively, which leads me to say 4) Toronto’s an alpha global city, which makes it an extremely dynamic place to explore yourself, 5) I wanted a change of pace, scenery and life, 6) I wanted an adventure, 7) living by myself would have been both a challenge and a thrill, 6) the close proximity of Toronto to other major cities in Canada makes it a very transportation friendly place to be, 9) the University of Toronto has Industrial Engineering, whereas the University of Manitoba doesn’t, and 10) the University of Toronto would have been a great launching pad for me to pursue a career outside of not only Winnipeg but Canada.

Ever since my journey here in Toronto began, I can say with all honesty that I don’t regret this choice at all. The strong emphasis on leadership, hyper international atmosphere, and sheer depth and breadth of what this city and university can offer is in simply… Boundless!