Academic Toolbox Renewal Spotlight

When you are thinking of using a new educational technology, do you ask
yourself, ­ “Does the tool (or company behind the tool), protect sensitive
information, such as student data or your intellectual property from being
put at risk and/or being used by others?”

When considering services and solutions for use with your students, it is
essential to understand the risk that such services and solutions may
present. Risk to you and/or the University through the use of information
services can occur for many reasons, including ­ threats to private or personally
identifiable and other sensitive information, or vulnerabilities in the
software, hardware, out-sourced or built-to-order components.

If you and your students need to log into the tool to use it, or if you
plan to upload content (or have your students upload content), it’s good
practice to use the Information Risk and Risk Management (IRRM) audit
processes to assess the viability of the solution before you use it. The
IRRM covers standards related to the protection of personally identifiable
information as per the Freedom of Information & Protection of Privacy Act,
information security practice, access control practices, business
continuity planning, capacity and scalability of architecture, and so on.

For more on the Academic Toolbox Renewal Initiative, please visit 

SoTL Skills Development Workshop: Searching the Higher Education Literature

Thinking of embarking on a SoTL study and/or seeking evidence-based pedagogical research to inform your teaching practices?  Consider registering for this upcoming workshop on May 11th.

SoTL Skills Development Workshop: Searching the Higher Education Literature
May 11th 2015

The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) engages instructors along a continuum of inquiry into their teaching. In all cases a reflective, scholarly instructor regularly consults the academic literature to utilize evidence to inform both their own practice and research.  At the University of Toronto we are fortunate to have liaison librarians to provide expert research services for faculty engaged in all areas of SoTL work.

Fiona Rawle, Senior Lecturer and recent recipient of the inaugural 2015 University of Toronto Early Career Teaching Award, has regularly incorporated librarian services into several of her SoTL projects. For example, Fiona and the UTM Science Education and Research group and their students studied assessment of the impact of a Biology course redesign on scientific thinking skills and worked closely with Mindy Thuna, Science liaison librarian to Biology at UTM (currently on secondment to the Gerstein Science Information Centre), to conduct research on this teaching practice. Studies such as this can have immediate and long-term impact both in the classroom and on the academic teaching and learning community. Fiona explains the team approach in this way:

“Support from the science liaison library has pushed the research of our Science Education and Research group forward because the librarian collaborates with each researcher in the group and fosters further connection and collaboration between group members.”

Librarians, faculty and students benefit from the collaborative work that is being undertaken on SoTL research projects. Mindy notes:

“This collaboration has enabled me to explore alongside them the educational literature that supports and expands on the work that they are already doing in their courses. This has been a wonderful opportunity for me to tweak my own skill set while helping them build their own beyond the traditional discipline specific knowledge base into the broader arena of the scholarship around teaching and learning.”

Liaison librarians offer a wide range of services to faculty, including literature searches both within specific disciplines as well as the broader higher education literature. Mindy will be co-facilitating the May 11th workshop with Monique Flaccavento, Education Liaison Librarian, and Heather Buchansky, Student Engagement Librarian. These librarians will share expert tips and tricks, for both the beginner and the seasoned researcher, for SoTL literature searches, as well as search strategies in the sciences, social sciences and humanities.

For further event details please visit:

To inquire more about the SoTL Network at UofT please email

Mindy Thuna
Monique Flaccavento
Heather Buchansky
Cora McCloy

Re/Design Your Course With CTSI: Join us for our Course Design/Redesign Institute This May

by Erin Macnab, Programs Coordinator, CTSI

As the semester wraps up, it’s time to look forward to the summer and start preparing for the fall semester. On May 20th and 21st, faculty members can get a head start on planning their courses when we host CTSI’s 5th annual Course Design/Redesign Institute (CDI). We invite faculty members looking to create a new course or redesign a course that they have already taught to join us for this valuable learning experience.

Dee Fink’s 2003 book, Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses provides the structure of the CDI. Participants will learn about the five phases of course design: situational factors, learning goals, feedback and assessment, and instruction and lesson planning, and focus on aligning and integrating these elements into their own courses.

The Institute emphasizes a backwards design model, encouraging participants to engage with student learning outcomes to develop the basis for their courses. The cross-disciplinary nature of this 2-day workshop, which invites faculty members from all career stages to join, allows for the sharing of pedagogical ideas and strategies among colleagues, and exposes participants to a wide variety of techniques and practices.

Led by an expert facilitation team (with members from CTSI, U of T Libraries, Online Learning Strategies, and ITS), participants will work collaboratively and individually on their own course, and will leave the Institute with a framework that includes a course outline, a sample lesson plan, and an assessment scheme. Individuals and teams are both welcome.

You can read more about Course Design on our website and access resources there, including further information about past Institutes, but for now I’ll leave you with a few remarks from our past participants across campuses, which highlight how the Institute helps faculty members rethink course design strategies while providing the tools to work within unique academic environments:

“I really appreciated the opportunity (fuelled by the workshop agenda) to think and work together with our group on course design and overall program design.  The exercises and tools got me thinking more creatively (making some of my work easier) and at the same time clarified our next steps (still a daunting task).”
Elaine Aimone, Medicine

“The CTSI Course Design Institute was a valuable experience for me…. I particularly appreciated that the Institute allowed participants to work through the ideas while designing one of their courses. I left the institute with a new plan for an upcoming fourth-year seminar course in Theatre Theory at UTSC, and I know that the course will be much stronger for having emerged from this experience.”
Barry Freeman, Theatre and Performance Studies (UTSC)

“One of the strengths of the CDI that I really enjoyed was that I came up with a specific, relevant road-map to design a course that will be a great learning experience for my students. There are so many elements of the CDI that I refer to again and again.”
Tanya Kirsch, Management (UTM)

“The course design institute has attuned me to the importance of ensuring skills and habits taught/practiced in lecture and tutorials are the same I ask students to demonstrate on exams and major projects.”
Jayson Parker, Biology

To join us on Wednesday, May 20th and Thursday, May 21st for two full days of intensive focus on creating or revamping your course, faculty members should register online before April 20th.



Preparing Your Teaching Dossier: Quick Tips From Our Guide

Erin Macnab, Programs Coordinator, CTSI

If you are a faculty member, instructor, or graduate student, chances are you have encountered the concept of a “teaching dossier.” Maybe you have heard the term but are not quite sure what the dossier is or why you need one, or maybe you are getting ready to develop your own dossier but are feeling lost in a sea of course evaluations, emails and other documents. Well, CTSI is here to help!

Basically, a teaching dossier is a portfolio of documents that paints a picture of your major strengths and accomplishments as a teacher. It is used in various performance reviews and can be requested as a part of academic job applications. It can also be a valuable personal tool for examining your own successes and challenges in the classroom. For these reasons and more, it is an extremely useful exercise for all those engaged in teaching at U of T to develop a personal teaching dossier.

If you are getting ready to prepare a dossier for career advancement purposes or to reflect on your development as a teacher, I encourage you to take advantage of the resources we offer at CTSI, starting with our comprehensive guide, Developing & Assessing Teaching Dossiers.

Drawn from this guide and our workshops, the three quick tips below are a great starting point as you begin the challenging yet incredibly rewarding process of documenting your major teaching accomplishments and strengths.  Each tip links directly to the section of the guide that addresses it in more detail. However, I do strongly encourage you to read the whole resource if you are undertaking this process.

1. Start Early & Save Everything
The first step in developing a teaching dossier is to become a collector. Save all your course materials, course evaluations and student comments. The earlier in your academic career you can start collecting material, the better, as making this a continuous process will allow you to show development and growth. Many people have an actual physical box they add material to, along with a folder on their desktop or in their email. Save everything! You will narrow down the materials later, and having a big pool to start with is always better. That nice email you got from a student in your first class? Perhaps it won’t appear directly in your dossier, but it can help shape the way you think about your teaching and your development, which brings us to…

2. Develop A Teaching Philosophy
What do I consider good teaching? What is my identity as a teacher? How have I developed as an instructor over my career? The Statement of Teaching Philosophy, a vital component of your teaching dossier, provides you with the opportunity to engage with these questions. Writing this one to two page narrative document is an important step in creating your teaching dossier, as it allows you to reflect on your pedagogical practice and gives shape to the evidence that follows. The linked guide gives key advice on drafting a clear, concise and meaningful Statement of Teaching Philosophy.

3. Take Advantage of Professional Development Opportunities – And Document Them!
So, you’ve thought about your teaching and have some documentation to show what you’ve done. Now you’re thinking of working on improving in certain areas and gaining overall competencies. When you prepare your teaching dossier, it is important to include a description of any professional development you’ve undertaken. In addition to showing an investment in improving your own skills, it allows you to directly demonstrate how you have addressed any issues or problems in your teaching. CTSI offers a range of workshops, institutes and resources for both instructors and graduate students. If you’ve ever taken advantage of professional development opportunities related to teaching in your department or in discipline more broadly, document those as well. You can also talk about mentorship that you have sought around your teaching, whether from colleagues in your department, discipline or from another source.

Hopefully, the tips above will provide you with an entry way into developing your teaching dossier. In addition to the extensive guide linked above, CTSI offers a number of other resources and services for faculty, course instructors, graduate students and teaching assistants who are developing their teaching dossier. These services include confidential individual consultations, in-class observations, assessment plans, workshops and clinics, and microteaching. A complete list of services and information on how to set up a consultation or observation is available online. Graduate students and teaching assistants should also take a look at the TATP Teaching Dossier resource.

3 Things You Should Know About Lecture Capture

Laure Perrier, Academic and Collaborative Technology Liaison, CTSI

Number 1
Lecture capture is an umbrella term describing any technology that lets instructors digitally record their classroom activity (using audio and/or video, screen capture, or PowerPoint slides) and make those recordings available to students. The University of Toronto has licensed two lecture capture products for use by faculty and staff. The two products are TechSmith Relay and Echo360. Wondering which product suits your needs? Read more here:

Number 2
Lecture capture systems include a suite of software applications that typically consist of items such as a camera and a microphone. Pushing a single button is enough to activate systems like TechSmith Relay or Echo360 Personal Capture. Both of these lecture capture products record audio and the screen on your computer using the webcam. Recordings can be viewed on the Web, or on MP3 players and portable video devices using compatible formats. Echo360 can also be found installed in classrooms on the University of Toronto campus (Echo360 on Teaching Stations) or purchased by individual Departments (Echo360 SafeCapture HD). Echo 360 on Teaching Stations provides the ability to pre-schedule automatic recording of lectures or presentations. Echo360 SafeCapture HD allows for in-class recording, as well as the ability to host live webcasts.

Number 3
Lecture capture systems offer important benefits including an alternative for when students miss class. It works well when demonstrating a difficult concept, explaining a complicated graph or chart, or providing a step-by-step guide of a complex procedure. How else can lecture capture benefit students? Students can re-examine materials at their own pace, review for exams, identify missed items in classroom notes, and learn at their own speed. By archiving course materials through lecture capture systems, it allows for repeated viewings, permits close examination of steps, and accommodates stopping and starting to ensure nothing is missed.

The Grade Center: Planning Ahead

Saira Mall, Manager of ACT Support, CTSI

Between course scheduling, assignment deadlines and mid-term exams, managing and entering grade data in the Portal’s Grade Center may be left to the last minute resulting in very late nights, usually just before grades are submitted.

If you are using the Grade Center in your Portal course, my advice is old and true: plan ahead of time.

About the Grade Center

The Grade Center is an online repository for course assessment data that allows for grades to be entered directly into their Portal course. Grade Center can be used in conjunction with other Portal tools (e.g., Tests, Discussion Board, Wikis, Blogs, Journals, Surveys and Rubrics) to develop an efficient grading and record keeping system.

Who Has Access to the Grade Center?
Those assigned with Portal course roles including Instructor, Teaching Assistant and Grader all have access to the Grade Center.  Students do not have access to the Grade Center. Students view their progress in My Grades.

Familiarize Yourself with the Policies of Use at U of T

Students should understand that My Grades allows them early access to preliminary grades, but does not represent their official final marks. The Repository of Student Information (ROSI) is the official system of record for the University of Toronto for student grades.  For more information on University of Toronto policies and guidelines regarding the posting and distribution of grades, please visit FIPPA, Q and A for Instructors on the website of the Vice-President and Provost.

Is There Grade Information I Should Not Display to Students?
Do not display the following to students in My Grades:

  • Final Exam marks
  • Final marks

Visit the Portal Information + Help web site for more information on how to Hide or Show Grade Columns to Students

Best Practices

  • Consult with your Registrar on recommended divisional or departmental procedures for displaying grades to students in My Grades.
  • Organize Grade Center columns and edit the Weighted Total and Total columns so that grade information in these columns is not displayed to students.  Note: Do not display Final Exam grades to students in My Grades.
  • Familiarize yourself with the Life Cycle of  Your Portal Course. Students automatically lose access to the course approximately 3 months following the class end date. After this date, student information and student grades will no longer appear in the Grade Center.
  • Download the Grade Center to your computer regularly throughout the course and once final marks have been submitted to the Registrar.
  • Notify students at the beginning of term if you plan to display their grade progress in My Grades.
  • Students should understand that My Grades allows them early access to preliminary grades, but does not represent their official final marks.

Portal (Blackboard) Training Sessions and Scheduled Drop-ins at CTSI

The Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation (CTSI) offers Portal training sessions. To view the current schedule and to register, please see:

These workshops are free of charge but registration is required.
Registration and questions about Portal workshops can be sent to

Portal Drop-ins:
One-on-one consultations are available for U of T instructors, TAs and staff who need help with their Portal course site. Someone will be available to review your course site with you and answer questions you may have.

Drop-in Hours: Tuesdays 1:00pm-3:00pm and Thursdays 9:00am-11:00am

CTSI is located on the 4th floor at Robarts Library.

Is the TATP a Learning Community? The Power of Working for the Teaching Assistants’ Training Program

By Megan Burnett, Assistant Director, CTSI/TATP

I recently blogged about a Special Issue of the Canadian Journal of Higher Education co-edited by current and former members of the CTSI staff (Bethany Osborne, Sara Carpenter, Carol Rolheiser, and me). The issue focused on “Preparing Graduate Students for the Changing World of Work”. Two things struck me in preparing this Special Issue that are directly related to the work we do here in CTSI and within the Teaching Assistants’ Training Program. One: graduate students want to develop their pedagogical skills and feel a lack of teaching experience negatively affects their ability to compete on the job market. They want to teach and they want to talk about their teaching (Sekuler, Crow, & Annan, 2013).  Two: most graduate students crave professional development beyond independent research, and studies suggest that such work does not delay a student’s time to completion – the ever-present argument against a graduate student pursuing professional development activities, or even taking on teaching roles. Graduate students want to be integrated into an academic community and participate in a social as well as professional network. Research shows that such support can actually help a graduate student complete. (Golde, 2000; Lovitts, 2001).

Such a social/professional network and teaching-focused community for graduate students exists within CTSI: the Teaching Assistants’ Training Program. The graduate students who work for TATP as peer-to-peer trainers learn a variety of skills and actively engage in mixing theory and praxis. They learn about pedagogy and effective instructional design that in turn helps them craft meaningful instructional materials and resources. They explore how and when student learning happens. They practice collaborating with others in disciplinary and inter-disciplinary teams to design and facilitate training experiences. They hone their communications skills when consulting with departments about training, and with other TAs about teaching. Most importantly, they learn from each other and develop a network of support focused on teaching. (On a side note: TATP staff finish their degrees. Every year I am sad – but very proud! – to lose another excellent staff member to the world beyond graduate school.)

Our experience co-editing the CJHE Special Issue led me and the former Acting Assistant Director of the TATP, Sara Carpenter, to undertake an examination of the kinds of professional and personal growth experienced by the graduate student peer trainers who make up the staff of the Teaching Assistants’ Training Program. For years I have heard anecdotally from TATP staff that their work leads to a profound conceptual shift in their understanding of student learning which in turn inspires them to take more risks in their teaching. They have communicated to me over and over again the joy they feel in sharing a space with other graduate students who also value teaching.  In essence, the TATP staff experience a shift in their identities as educators and scholars.

A review of some of the literature on graduate student development suggests that a program like the TATP, beyond offering a stimulating workplace environment, may in fact exhibit the characteristics of a learning community. Such characteristics include: the ability to set defined teaching goals, shared ownership and commitment, the ability to connect practice to theory, the willingness and ability to experiment and take risks, the sense of belonging to a community, mentorship and feedback (Brower, Carlson-Dakes & Shu Barger, 2007; Sweitzer, 2009).

At the beginning of February, we posted the TATP positions for the 2015-16 year. Applications are due March 16, 2015. If you know of an exceptional graduate student teacher who would thrive in such a community, please invite them to apply. If you are yourself a graduate student interested in teaching, and you would like to join such a network, please consider applying. Below are some testimonials from current TATP staff that speak to the qualities and benefits of the community in which they work and learn.

“Through TATP I’ve come to see the absolute dedication of the UofT teaching community’s ‘first responders.’ TA’s are on the front lines of student contact. They are often the most approached body in a teaching team, yet they are likely the most alienated from a larger teaching community. Watching TA’s come together at TATP events has made me realize the immense necessity of peer-networks and peer-discussion. These TA’s light up with the realization that their teaching challenges are shared. “
–    Sasha Kovacs, TATP Trainer
PhD Candidate, Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies

“Through my association with TATP, I have come to understand the thought, skill and PASSION behind developing as an educator. Through my work with TATP my confidence and abilities have grown through the incredible support of people truly thrilled to talk about teaching.  As often said among staff…”it’s the best TA gig there is!”.  Surrounding yourself with people who LOVE to teach has definitely improved my teaching!”
–    Sandy Romain, TATP Coordinator
PhD Candidate, Department of Anthropology

“Working for the TATP has taught me as much about myself and my potential, as it has about higher education and teaching. The transferable skills I continue to gain from a unique peer training teaching model have shaped me as a leader, decision maker and strategist inside and outside the classroom.”
–    Leanne DeSouza, TATP Trainer
PhD Candidate, Institute for Medical Sciences

“When I first started work at TATP, my approach to teaching and learning was very much oriented around content mastery first and foremost. I felt that my job as a teacher was to introduce students to new knowledge and guide them through the process of grappling with it, and I also felt that my ability to do this effectively was, to some extent, predetermined: great teachers are born, not made. I would say that the most profound and far-reaching impact of working at TATP has been to completely undermine both these assumptions. After being exposed to fellow TATP trainers and TAs from across the university, all of whom struggle with remarkably similar problems in undergraduate classrooms, and having had the opportunity to delve more deeply into pedagogical research and theory, I now feel that much of what our students need from us is support in developing the kind of long-term skills that will allow them to seek out their own knowledge and master it independently. I also now believe that great teaching is never fixed, static, or an inherent personality trait, but is something that changes each time you step into a classroom and that rests on a set of skills that can be learned and strengthened over time. This is fundamentally a much more hopeful vision of what it means to be a teacher!”
–    Robin Sutherland-Harris, TATP Coordinator
PhD Candidate, Centre for Medieval Studies


Brower, A. M., Carlson-Dakes, C. G., & Shu Barger, S. (2007). WP101: A learning community model of graduate student professional development for teaching excellence. Working Paper Series, Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education (WISCAPE). Retrieved from:

Golde, C. M. (2000). Should I stay or should I go? Student descriptions of the doctoral
attrition process. The Review of Higher Education, 23(2), 199–227.

Lovitts, B. E. (2001). Leaving the ivory tower: The causes and consequences of
departure from doctoral study. New York, NY: Rowman and Littlefield.

Sekuler, A. B., Crow, B., & Annan, R. B. (2013). Beyond labs and libraries: Career
pathways for doctoral students. Toronto, ON: Higher Education Quality Council of

Sweitzer, V.B. (2009). Towards a theory of graduate student professional identity development: a developmental network approach. The Journal of Higher Education, 80(1), 1-33.

Preparing Graduate Students for a Changing World of Work

By Megan Burnett, Assistant Director, CTSI/TATP

If you are a graduate student, or know a graduate student, these questions may have come up in conversation:

  • Will I get an academic position once I finish my degree?
  • What kind of position will I be able to obtain?
  • What can I do now during my graduate program to be more successful on the job market?

In my role as Assistant Director with CTSI and TATP, I interact with graduate students every day who are seeking clarity around these questions. In fact, for the past few years these questions have been driving a broader conversation in Canada around the purpose and focus of graduate education, including graduate student professional development. (Boman, 2013; Bilodeau, 2007; Rose, 2012) What, exactly, are we preparing our graduate students to do? How are we enabling their success when they leave graduate school? What can they expect when they exit their degree?

With these questions in mind, CTSI hosted an international SSHRC-funded conference back in May 2011 on graduate student professional development. The conference addressed four possible pathways to personal development within a graduate student’s degree program: professional, academic, teaching, and holistic (or, PATH). The goal was to highlight programming, courses, learning supports and networks at institutions from across North America that seek to prepare graduate students for the changing labour landscape by providing a broader range of skill development – not just a focus on disciplinary research expertise.

The PATH conference demonstrated the need for a deeper discussion of the purpose of graduate education and a re-definition of what success both during and after graduate school might entail. Building on the conversations started at the PATH conference, I recently worked with colleagues here in CTSI to further this debate (Professor Carol Rolheiser, Bethany Osborne, Sara Carpenter). In collaboration with another colleague at the University of Victoria we co-edited a Special Issue of the Canadian Journal of Higher Education (Volume 44, No. 3, 2014). Drawing on studies or projects discussed at the PATH conference, and incorporating new research and new initiatives related to graduate student development, the issue highlights emerging trends in graduate student development and explores successful strategies that could point the way to a re-thinking of graduate education.

The issue includes:

  • a scan of graduate student teaching certificate programs across Canada,
  • a case study of a graduate student professional skills program at a major university in Quebec,
  • an examination of the impact of service learning in a graduate level course at a research-intensive university,
  • a discourse analysis of how Canadian institutions and media talk about teaching in higher education,
  • an examination of how a graduate student teaching development program can foster intercultural competence, and
  • a critique of the debate around graduate student competencies that focus on “transferable skills”.

Together, the six papers reinforce the notion that the changing landscape within academia and for graduate student employment following graduation, necessitates a reform in the way that graduate students are prepared for the labour market and a shift in the perception both within and outside the academy, of what success after gradu­ate school would look like. (Osborne, Carpenter, Burnett, Rolheiser & Korpan, 2014)

This latest issue of the CJHE emphasizes that we are at a pivotal point in Canadian graduate education. The questions that graduate students ask themselves and that others are starting to raise about the graduate student experience should stimulate an examination of our own support of University of Toronto graduate students. Given the success of our Graduate Professional Skills program (coordinated by the School of Graduate Studies) and the development of the co-curricular record for graduate students, and in light of the expansion in graduate education currently being experienced across Ontario and in many U of T units…what do we want from our graduate education programs and from our graduates? What is the world we are preparing them for, and how can we give them the tools to make that world better? What is the role of teaching development programs, leadership programs, research skills programs, community-based or service learning curricula, writing programs, etc. in preparing graduate students for a changing world of work?


Austin, A. E. (2002). Preparing the next generation of faculty: Graduate school as socialization to the academic career. The Journal of Higher Education, 73(1), 94–122.

Boman, J. S. (2013). Graduate student teaching development: Evaluating the effectiveness of training in relation to graduate student characteristics. Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 43(1), 100–114.

Bilodeau, P. (2007). Professional skills development: From ideas to action. Ottawa, ON: Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

Fullick, M. (2014, January 10). Thinking beyond ourselves: The ‘crisis’ in academic work. University Affairs. Retrieved from:

Goldstene, C. (2014). The Politics of Contingent Academic Labor. National Education Association website. Retrieved from

Marincovich, M., Prostko, J., & Stout, F. (Eds.) (1998). The professional development of graduate teaching assistants. Bolton, MA: Anker.

Nyquist, J. D., Manning, L., Wulff, D. H., Austin, A. E., Sprague, J., Fraser, P. K., Woodford, B. (1999). On the road to becoming a professor: The graduate student experience. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 31(3), 18–27.

Osborne, B., Carpenter, S., Burnett, M., Rolheiser, C., Korpan, C. (2014) Preparing graduate students for a changing world of work: Editors’ introduction. Canadian Journal of Higher Education. 44(3), i–ix.

Rose, M. (2012). Graduate student professional development: A survey with recommendations. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Association for Graduate Studies.

Schönwetter, D., & Ellis, D. (2011). Taking stock: Contemplating North American graduate student professional development programs and developers. In J. E. Miller & J. E. Groccia (Eds.), To improve the academy: Resources for faculty, instructional, and organizational development, Volume 29(pp. 3–17). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Online and On Target for Deeper Learning

By Will Heikoop, Online Learning Coordinator

Professor Bill Ju has taught HMB300 Neurobiology of Behaviour numerous times since joining the University of Toronto in 2009. It’s an intermediate course in neuroscience that focuses on higher brain functions and mechanisms underlying human and animal behaviours. The course was taught in a familiar fashion: two hours of lecture, one hour of tutorials and one hour dedicated to office hours – all face-to-face (F2F). For his latest offering he tried something radically new. He incorporated a number of innovative approaches that transformed his teaching and enhanced student learning. The course was thoughtfully redesigned to include:

  • Online activities that reduced the need for F2F time in the classroom (a hybrid model).
  • An online student cohort that attended the live lectures Bill delivered to his F2F students at a distance using the Blackboard Collaborate Webinar tool.
  • Collaborative peer work and assessment using peerScholar, an online pedagogical tool that helps develop students’ critical- and creative-thinking skills to manage the workflow.

Bill Ju, Human Biology Program, Senior Lecturer

Sound intriguing? Let’s break down what it all means and what innovative approaches he brought to his teaching.

The hybrid portion of the course involved moving tutorials and office hours online. Normally held in person on campus, the move online reduced the need for direct F2F time. To ensure a sense of community and a virtual presence, the Blackboard Collaborate Webinar tool was used to support interactive work and conversation.

Turning to the lectures, Professor Ju had an in-class section of 70 students as well as an online section of 40 registered students attend together. Lectures were delivered synchronously using Blackboard Collaborate to online students while simultaneously providing the same lecture material to the students in-class using a streaming model.  Active learning was emphasized in both sections and Bill was careful to incorporate opportunities for both the F2F section and the online students to interact using Collaborate to answer specific questions during class. Additionally, his course re-design involved the development of a strategy for effective engagement of students through peer-based activities – specifically problem sets to be discussed in lectures that required students in-class to interact with their online cohorts.

Finally, his capstone writing assignment utilized peerScholar to encourage active learning between both the F2F and online student groups.  Students designed and peer reviewed infographics/online posters related to specific aspects of neurobiology, which were then made available in an online environment.

What did Professor Ju think of having a F2F cohort, an online cohort and general class activities moved online?

He admits,  “Running a 3 in one classroom was definitely a lot of fun – in person, streaming live and off-line self-paced study.”

For more on Professor Ju’s approach to teaching and learning take a look at this recent CTSI interview.