New technologies on the horizon – an update from Academic & Collaborative Technologies

Ryan Green, Educational Technology Liaison, Academic & Collaborative Technologies

During the academic calendar year of 2014 Academic & Collaborative Technologies (ACT) and CTSI have been working with a number of development teams to bring some new technologies to our community through our Learning Portal.  A selection of some of our projects are below:

WeBWork is an open source online math homework solution, and currently being used successfully in a small number of courses as part of a closed pilot running both Fall and Winter terms. WeBWork users can author their own questions or choose from a large library with over 25,000 questions, developed by the community of over 800 schools and institutions.

WeBWork is integrated into our Learning Portal via a new (to U of T, at least) standard called Learning Tools Interoptibility (LTI), and is the first of a number of expected tools to use this method. The LTI standard provides for a much simpler process of integrating tools into any compliant Learning Management System (LMS).  Previous to the creation of LTI developers would need to create plugins or building blocks for each LMS, a considerable task especially considering the frequency of updates that LMSs are subject to.

The implementation of WeBWork provided our team with some interesting challenges, most notably, the LTI connection was not completely developed on the WeBWork side, an unfortunate outcome of being open source. Thankfully, the University of British Colombia was able to share a version with us that they had done a considerable amount of work on and thereby completing the LTI. Our amazing development team within ACT, aka Ahalya Rajkumar, was able to finalize the work and get everything up and running.

peerScholar is another tool that is currently being run in a closed pilot, through both Fall and Winter terms.  Developed by Professor Steve Joordens and his team at UTSC, peerScholar provides the ability to manage large scale peer and self assessment/feedback activities.

While peerScholar has been available to faculty at our institution for a short while now, our current pilot has peerScholar integrated into our Learning Portal via a building block. This block manages all enrollments and account management, allowing the instructor and students to focus on the activity. The peerScholar building block was developed through close collaboration between the ACT and peerScholar development teams.  The peerScholar team is also working on a media rich support site that will soon launch to provide all the instruction needed for both faculty and educational technology support staff.

Crowdmark is another tool that was initially developed by a University of Toronto faculty member, Professor James Colliander (now with the University of British Colombia).  Crowdmark was developed to help teaching teams mark tests and exams.  Exam booklets are created by the Crowdmark software with QR codes in the top right-hand corner of each page. Once scanned these exams can be graded online by any member of the teaching team, doing away with the hassle of managing paper exam booklets.

ACT is currently working with the Crowdmark development team to integrate their tool into our Learning Portal using the LTI standard.  Once integrated, instructors will be able to import their student lists from the Portal into Crowdmark, TAs and other marking staff will then be able to access the grading tools, and finally student marks can be exported back into the Portal Grade Center.

We are in place to have the integration ready for the Winter 2015 term. However, the license between Crowdmark and the University of Toronto is still underway. For updates, please visit:

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.


Researching the Inverted Classroom

Earlier this month, over 250 members of the University of Toronto teaching and learning community shared their commitment to developing and enhancing their knowledge of effective teaching practices. The 9th Annual Teaching & Learning Symposium at Hart House explored a wide range of ideas, issues and possibilities related to change.

I was fortunate to both participate and moderate presentations in the “Research on Teaching and Learning” sessions, a first for the Symposium, based in large part on the increased interest in scholarly analysis/enquiry into one’s own teaching. In one of these sessions, Micah Stickel (Electrical & Computer Engineering) and Qin Liu (OISE), disseminated results from their three-year study on students’ perceptions of the inverted classroom approach and the effects of this approach on student learning outcomes. The audience had opportunities to discuss the pros and cons of the inverted vs. the ‘traditional’ approach – our small group discussion, for example, highlighted concerns and questions about student buy-in and their commitment to a pre-lecture 30-minute task. But we also felt students benefitted in ‘learning how to learn’ and engaging in high levels of interactivity within class time. Among several lessons shared from this study, Stickel and Liu emphasized that the inverted classroom approach ultimately rests on strong fundamental educational principles and patience – this is a transition for both the instructor and the student.

In line with the views of several faculty presenters and participants I had discussions with during the Symposium, Stickel noted that “as in previous years, this event provided me with an excellent opportunity to gain valuable perspective on my research through formal and informal discussions with colleagues representing a wide array of programs and educational domains.  One of U of T’s great strengths is our breadth and quality of faculty, and this symposium has always been a wonderful way to connect with both.”

(You can view other presenters discussing the benefits of attending the Symposium.)

In the event you missed Micah and Qin’s presentation, their work will also be shared at the December 10th SoTL Network meeting.

These monthly SoTL events and other SoTL activities offered through CTSI (e.g., the SoTL Journal Club) offer a space for peer to peer discussions on myriad teaching and learning topics and issues similar to the research presented at the Symposium. To subscribe to our SoTL list-serv and learn about upcoming events please email Kathleen: If you would like to present your research ideas, ‘work in progress’ or findings to gain feedback from SoTL Network members, please contact me:

by Cora McCloy, Research Officer & Faculty Liaison, CTSI


Learn more about U of T’s Centre for Community Partnerships

Did you know that…

  • 94% of student respondents who have taken a community-engaged learning course at the University of Toronto want to take another community-engaged learning course?
  • Community-engaged learning courses have been offered in over 25 disciplines across all three campuses of the University of Toronto including political science, human biology, astronomy, sociology and women and gender studies?
  • University of Toronto faculty who teach community-engaged courses report that, because of their community-engaged approach, their students are more engaged in their learning, better able to understand someone else’s views and are demonstrating enhanced learning through integrating their community experiences with the course material

An Introduction to the Centre for Community Partnerships

If you are an instructor interested in community-engaged teaching and learning, the Centre for Community Partnerships at the University of Toronto can provide you with a wide variety of resources and support. From offering workshops on the fundamental pedagogies and practices of community-engaged learning, to one-on-one meetings focused on course, syllabus and assignment design, to facilitating gatherings of like-minded faculty members, to connecting you with community organizations that may partner with your course, the Centre for Community Partnerships can assist you with developing and running community-engaged courses.

You can read more about our services for instructors on the Centre for Community Partnerships website.

What is community-engaged learning?

The Centre for Community Partnerships understands course-based community-engaged learning as a credit-bearing form of experiential learning where, as part of their enrollment in a course, students are placed in community organizations to undertake work that meets community-identified needs. One goal of community-engaged learning experiences is to allow students to apply the content they are learning in their course, and their discipline-based skills, to practical community-defined projects and to make meaning of these learning experiences through reflective assignments and practices. The approach outlined here is rooted in the pedagogy of academic service-learning, which George Kuh (2008) has identified as a high-impact educational practice [link:]. You can read more about the service-learning approach and how it differs from other forms of experiential learning on the Centre for Community Partnerships’ website.

How can I learn more about community-engaged teaching and learning at the University of Toronto?

  1. Contact us at the Centre for Community Partnerships. We can meet with you to discuss your ideas and questions related to community-engaged learning and connect you with the resources you need to run a successful community-engaged learning course. See the full list of ways that the Centre can support your work on the website.
  2. Join the Centre for Community Partnerships’ newsletter list. The Centre sends out two newsletters each month featuring news and events related to community-engaged teaching and learning.
  3. Attend a faculty workshop or gathering to learn more about community-engaged learning and to meet colleagues interested in community-engaged teaching and learning. This year’s faculty events are available on the Centre for Community Partnerships’ website.

by Jennifer Esmail, Coordinator of Academic Service-Learning and Faculty Development, Centre for Community Partnerships

Tales from the Grade Center

November draws to a close; the snow settles gently outside.  “Has it really been three months since this madness began?” you wonder.  Favourite hot beverage in hand, the Grade Center slowly blinks into being on the screen.

A sample Grade Center view

Figure 1 - A sample Grade Center view. The context menu of "Grade Column" has been opened.

By now you are likely reviewing your grade center and finalizing marks, or are working to get your affairs in order for the coming semester.  Here are a couple of reminders and pointers to help ease you into the Winter break.

Totally Weighted Weighted Totals

If you’re looking at the Grade Center and the numbers don’t look right, it’s often because of confusion about how the Weighted Total column interacts with the marks you’ve given in your Grade, Assignment or Quiz columns.

Grade Center weighted columns

Figure 2- Mr Weighted Total, a Calculated Column, and Mr Grade Column, made using “Create Column”


Keep it simple:

  • Create all of your Manual, Assignment and Quiz columns first.
  • As a general rule, keep the “primary display” of all your Grade columns as “Score” and set the points possible to the number an assignment is going to get marked out of, (e.g. If a perfect score is 20 out of 20, you set this as 20. Simple, right?).
  • When you’re done making your other columns, you can define their syllabus values in the Weighted Total.

What might happen if you’re marking an assignment that’s worth 20% of the final grade out of 20 points possible, you ask?  Nothing is wrong – provided you actually marked it out of 20.  If, for instance, you forgot and decide to give the students a mark out of 100 for that particular assignment, that student who got 90/20 is going to be having a much better day than originally intended.

If your numbers in the Weighted Total column look too high, check the grades given on an assignment against the points possible in the column’s “Edit Column Information” screen.


Grade Center context buttons

Figure 3: Each column has a context button which can provide you information and editing options.

Playing Hide and Seek With Your Columns

Were you setting things up for winter and have a column disappear on you?
Can your students see a grade that you can’t see?  There’s a difference between:

Show/Hide to Users:  Hides the grade data in the column to students.

Show/hide columns

Figure 4 - If a circle with a slash through it exists to the left of a columns name, it cannot be seen by students.


Hide Column – Hides the column from you, the instructor.

Enable and disable column with a click

Enable and disable column with a click

The former can be enabled or disabled  toggled from the column menu, or from “Edit Column Details.”
The latter is accessed from Grade Center >> Manage >> Column Organization.

If your students are seeing something you can’t, there’s a good chance this is part of the problem.

Still Confused?

If you need to get things cleared up before the break, remember to contact us at  There are Instructor/Staff drop-in hours on Tuesdays and Thursday’s 1-3pm at Robart’s Library in room 4034.  Portal Training sessions are available at the Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation (CTSI) throughout the year.  For more information, and to register for a training session, visit