Academic Toolbox Renewal Initiative

When you are thinking of using a new educational technology, do you ask
yourself, does the solution allow me (and my department) to take advantage
of international standards for interoperability and integration, or is it
a completely closed proprietary solution that can¹t connect to anything
else in our Toolbox?

When considering a new teaching tool, the tool should ideally let you
leverage international standards for the interoperability of teaching and
learning tools. Examples should include the Learning Tool Interoperability
(LTI) standard, the IMS Common Cartridge format, the Question and Test
Interoperability (QTI) standard, and the Sharable Content Object Reference
Model (SCORM), etc. In particular, software or solutions delivered through
a web browser should include something called an Application Programming
Interface (API), which would allow other University systems to interact
with the tool. Otherwise, you could end up using all kinds of tools that
don¹t work well together, and which detract from the teaching and learning

Also, many people at the University are particularly interested in
leveraging the benefits of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), and therefore,
the new tool should ideally be operating system-agnostic (i.e., work on
Windows, Apple and Linux computers at the very least), and where
applicable, they should work with all contemporary web browsers (Chrome,
Firefox, Safari, Explorer), and be designed for mobile access (either
through a responsive web interface or multiple-OS-specific apps).

For more on the Academic Toolbox Renewal Initiative, please visit

Group work By Design – Graduating my group work grump

By Kelly Gordon, Assistant to the Directors, CTSI

This past fall I became a student again. After 7 years of “real life”, I slid back into the murky world of choosing courses, writing papers, getting grades, and the one thing I was dreading above all others, doing group work.

Some context – during my undergraduate career I did not raise my hand once to participate in a class discussion. I maxed out the number of correspondence classes I could take while living on-campus (a means to avoid having to do work with anyone else). I avoided taking courses with mandatory tutorials. My reticence stemmed from real life experiences of awkwardly trying to assemble a group, uneven instances of work division and a general feeling of nervousness, anxiety and discomfort.

Even though I could recite the pedagogical benefits of group work, or “cooperative learning” (working at CTSI will do that), I planned to continue my NO group work policy in grad school. The real life positive points to group work remained the Polkaroo of instructional strategies – something I heard people talk about, but never saw manifest in real life.

Three weeks into my first course – I knew something was different. I found myself in a group, and I was excited about our work. My inner design nerd wanted to know why this time felt different and so I uncovered my “group work game changers”:

  1. Having time in class to work with the group! Not only did this give us, a group of busy adults, a chance to work together, but it also gave us time to get to know each other face-to-face.
  2. Learning from other groups through class status reports and check-ins.
  3. Dividing up an assignment already organized into parts. Built in assessment checkpoints, allowed our group to easily balance the division of work and stay on track!
  4. New tools– use of online collaboration tools to reshape how we work together.

It turns out there is design behind group work! Carnegie Mellon’s Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation breaks down the design of successful group projects using the work of Johnson, Johnson & Smith, 1991 to offer practical strategies to architect a group-project built on a foundation of best practices. They offer three main practices: creating interdependence, devoting time to team work skills and building in individual accountability to guide the design of a positive group assignment.

The University of Waterloo’s Centre for Teaching Excellence takes the design of group assignments one step further and details roles and responsibilities beyond the initial design phase. They deconstruct a group assignment into five stages (preparing, designing, introducing, monitoring and closing the assignment). This framework is helpful as it allows the instructor (designer) to walk through their assignment (design) as the student (user) would experience it. I’m sure we can all recollect a start to a group project that began with an awkward moment of trying to form a group out of a class of strangers. Designing a group selection process is just one of the strategies offered in the Waterloo’s Centre’s phased approach to design.

Finally, while the work of the instructor/designer is essential in creating a positive group project experience, true excellence requires some responsibility and ownership on the student side as well. Charles, our wise beyond years student blogger wrote his own post about group work and spells out 6 practical tips to help you as an individual work better “ensemble”.

As I gear up for another year of course selection, I no longer have the urge to comb through the layers of a course syllabus, scouring the assessments for avoidable group projects. Now, I look for elements of design.  If you think about a course as a road trip, assessments are the planned pit stops on the way. And while a perfect group is never guaranteed, like a well curated playlist, the effort you put in at the start, allows for smooth cruising along the way.


What’s New for U of T Portal?

Now that the May upgrade is complete, we can all enjoy the enhanced features and new tools of the U of T’s Learning Portal. Highlights include My Grade Student View, Teaching Assistants and Graders Assigned as Delegated Graders, and Reconciling Grades. The Anonymous and Delegated Grading function in the Assignment tool allows greater flexibility in assigning roles and responsibilities to teaching assistants or graders. This is also a good opportunity to explore the new and improved Portfolio Tool.

You can read more about What’s New for U of T Portal on the portalinfo site.




Have you met this year’s award recipients?

We are pleased to announce the 2015 recipients for the Teaching Assistants’ Training Program Teaching Excellence Awards. This is the inaugural year for the CI award, honoring graduate student Course Instructors at the University of Toronto.


2015 TA Teaching Excellence Awards
Mario Badr (Electrical and Computer Engineering)
Kris (Sanghyun) Kim (Chemistry)
Darius Rackus (Chemistry)
Sean Smith (Philosophy)

More information about this award, including a complete list of shortlisted candidates, is available on the TA Teaching Excellence Award page.

You can read more about Mario Badr on U of T Engineering News.

2015 CI Teaching Excellence Awards
Letitia Henville (English, UTSC)

More information about this award, including a complete list of shortlisted candidates, is available on the CI Teaching Award page.

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.