A few reasons to attend the 2014 Teaching & Learning Symposium

We’ll let your U of T colleagues tell you the benefits of attending the Teaching & Learning Symposium:

This all day event, featuring Teaching Strategies Workshops, Research on Teaching and Learning, Teaching Dilemma Sessions, and Nifty Assignments, is open to all U of T instructors, staff and librarians.

University of Toronto’s 9th Annual Teaching and Learning Symposium
Planning for Change – Responding to Change
November 3, 2014
Hart House

Keynote Address by President Meric Gertler

Lunch is provided.

Register today: http://www.uoft.me/tls

If you have any questions regarding this year’s Symposium, please contact alli.diskin@utoronto.ca.


The blog about blogs….

Now that some of the dust has settled—and before the next round swells up—we thought it might be time pause and listen to the many (online) voices around U of T. This is, of course, only a small sampling of what is available but will hopefully get you started and move beyond the President’s Blog (as informative, as it is).

The Life@UofT blog, courtesy of Student Life, features a number of student bloggers discussing their lives (the ups, the downs, the caffeine excess) in-and-after class. Student Life partners with a number of departments and offices across campus, including First Nations House, the Faculty of Arts and Science, and the Health and Wellness office. CTSI is also a proud partner in the program. Charles, our blogger this year, has already discussed the return to classes, navigating life at U of T, and tutorials. Charles is in his fifth and final year, with a keen interest in philosophy, pedagogy, and Pooh (as in Winnie-the)*, and brings his unique voice to the topic of faculty-TA-student engagement and interaction. I don’t want to give too much away but he has some exciting (okay, interesting and fun) upcoming posts planned.

The various student newspapers regularly feature opinion pieces and editorials—providing a large cross section of what students are thinking about these days. The Varsity, The Underground (UTSC), and The Medium (UTM), may not always post (The Varsity still produces a print version—the other two are only online) what instructors and staff want to hear but reading about the varied and alternate perspectives on academic and campus life can be invaluable.

For the graduate student perspective, visit the Grad Life blog. Their regular and guest bloggers focus on engagement—events, workshops, dilemmas, concerns, and favourite campus spots—and encourage online discussion among the U of T graduate student community.

This barely scratches the surface of online posts and opinions, and doesn’t come close to capturing all the departmental, personal, and administrative blogs and news sites available. Because, of course, if you are keen on hearing what is new at the university, the U of T News and U of T Magazine sites is still one of your best bets.

CTSI is always happy to promote sites and blogs that concern teaching and learning so please feel free to pass on any tips or favourites.

* In truth, Charles’ interest and enthusiasm for Pooh is probably more Milne based, and probably not as upfront as I made it sound. I couldn’t resist the alliteration. So many half-truths and exaggerations are based on, “Well, it was a funny thing to say at the time.”

Setting the Tone NOW: Engaging Students in your Course Evaluations

By Cherie Werhun, PhD, Teaching Assessment & Course Evaluation Coordinator, CTSI

Let’s be honest: Course evaluations are the last thing on an instructor’s mind in early September. Rather, this is the time when last minute course reading selections are being made, TA assignments are being worked out, and drafts of multiple versions of a course syllabus are being reviewed and reviewed and…

Here’s the thing, though. Thinking about the role course evaluations – or more broadly, student feedback – plays in your course now can play a significant role in how students respond to your request for it later.

Instructors who set the tone early – or who create a learning environment that integrates the student perspective and experience into both course design and delivery — tend to benefit at the end of term from students who see the value of providing feedback to their instructors.

Why? By integrating regular feedback opportunities into your course, students have direct evidence that their instructor actually reads and applies the student perspective into their teaching. They witness the value and impact of providing their feedback.

So, how can you as an instructor set the feedback tone early?

Consider a few basic tips:

1.    During your first class, when reviewing the course syllabus with your students, try to highlight changes to your course content, new readings, or activities, for example, that have resulted from previous student feedback. Similarly, when reviewing your course content and schedule, highlight aspects that you have worked on to enhance student understanding of the overall course material. In other words, explicitly show your students how their process for learning the course material is just as important to you as the content of the course material.

2.    At the end of your first class, consider handing out a brief questionnaire, or assigning a one-minute paper, asking students to provide their immediate impressions of the course content, the layout of the course, and/or any areas that they feel apprehension/excitement. During subsequent classes, be sure to mention their feedback and then specify how you are responding to it within the context of a specific class or the overall course.

3.    Consider placing brief opportunities for subsequent feedback throughout your course. For example, you might wish to hear what students thought of a film, a discussion activity, or a problem set. Ask them! Alternatively, you might wish to include a short mid-course feedback, as well. This shows your students that you are interested in their learning experience throughout the course, which provides an opportunity for you to monitor and adjust what you do.

Providing opportunities for your students to provide feedback about their learning of the course material – and then demonstrating how you respond to this feedback – creates the space within your course for reciprocal communication that will set the tone for final feedback when students are invited to complete course evaluations. Investing early in this process will ensure that students see the value and impact of their feedback immediately and throughout your course.

If you would like to consider other strategies to talk to your students about the importance of their feedback in your course, CTSI has a resource document on the Course Evals tab within Portal. Also, if you would like additional guidance, please connect with the Course Evaluations Team at course.evaluations@utoronto.ca. Have a great semester!

McMaster University Symposium on Education & Cognition

By Kristie Dukewich, Department of Psychology, University of Toronto

More and more cognitive researchers are directing their research to develop evidence-based applications for educational interventions, and I have to say, it seems like a natural union. I attended the McMaster Symposium on Education & Cognition, August 12th-14th, 2014 and this meeting was particularly interesting because it brings together researchers who study attention, learning and memory in lab experiments and researchers who study the same processes in a classroom-based setting. There were several really great presentations, including a talk by Dr. Dan Schacter, a veritable giant in the memory literature, and two talks by graduate students in McMaster’s Department of Psychology, Barb Fenesi and Faria Sana, who are focusing their studies on best practices for instructional design. But there were two talks that I have really been thinking about since I left the meeting.

Dr. Katherine Rawson presented a particularly potent slide (below, including with kind permission from Dr. Rawson) that illustrated study techniques as a function of both efficacy and actual use. It turns out that the two least effective methods – rereading and highlighting ¬– are the two methods students report using most (Dunlosky, Rawson, Marsh, Nathan & Willingham, 2013). Rawson and her colleagues recognized that the two most effective methods of studying, spaced practice and retrieval practice, were actually already combined in a potent study technique called successive relearning. Successive relearning involves having students practice successful retrieval multiple times, in multiple study sessions spaced across several days. Rawson and her colleagues have found this technique substantially improves long-term recall of course concepts, allowing students to retain information as they move into high-level courses that build on previous learning.

Photo of power point slide from what students could do seminarI have a fantasy about starting an undergraduate TA program in my department, where the undergraduate TAs would organize study groups in which the participants bring questions for each other. This kind of platform would be a great opportunity for students to engage in successive relearning, and it would give more undergraduates an opportunity to explore leadership roles during their degree. I think that would be a phenomenal experience for everyone involved… Now just to find some extra time!

There was also a really intriguing talk on mind-wandering in lectures by Dr. Karl Szpunar (delightfully pronounced, “spooner”), Dr. Schacter’s post-doctoral fellow. When he was introducing his talk, Szpunar said something like, “We regularly expect students to attend to lectures that are 50, 60, or even 90 minutes long.” I actually shrunk in my seat a bit. At U of T, many departments regularly offer courses that are a whopping 180 mins in duration, and the Psychology Department in particular offers all of its courses in this format. So I am very familiar with the problems associated with students’ mind-wandering during lectures. However, I was dismayed to find out how little students learn in lecture, even when the lectures are less than 3 hours. If you probe students during a lecture by suddenly asking, “Were you just mind-wandering?” somewhere between 30% and 50% of students are not paying attention at any given moment (Szpunar, Moulton & Schacter, 2013). If you surprise-test students immediately after a lecture on the material just presented, the average student score is somewhere around 25% (!!!!!!!). Yikes.

Szpunar went on to explain one antidote: frequent testing. In one study, they found that punctuating lecture segments with short quizzes substantially reduced mind-wandering and increased note-taking (Szpunar, Khan & Schacter, 2013). Comparing students who were tested after every 5-minute segment and students who were only tested on the last of 4 segments, Szpunar and his colleagues found that the group who had be tested frequently during the lecture substantially outperformed the group that was only tested once. Keep in mind that the frequently-tested group was not being re-tested on previously learned material – the groups were only compared on how they answered questions from the last quarter of the lecture. The frequent testing appears to affect students’ overall arousal levels, such that they are better able to pay attention throughout the lecture.

I am acutely aware that students in my lectures engage in mind-wandering regularly. I try to combat mind-wandering in a number of ways – slightly obnoxious transition slides when I’m changing topics, multimedia presentations, discussion activities, and iClicker questions. I’m not sure I have the resources to test students 10-20 times per lecture (actually, I’m sure I don’t), but Szpunar’s talk has inspired me to add pop-quizzes to the arsenal – quizzes that aren’t for marks, but that might be surprising enough to bring students back to the lecture, and potentially, keep them there longer.

Dr. Dan Schacter: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Schacter
Barb Fenesi: http://www.science.mcmaster.ca/acelab/index.php/people/11-people/49-barbara-fenesi
Faria Sana: http://www.science.mcmaster.ca/acelab/index.php/people/11-people/40-faria-sana
Best practices for instructional design: http://www.science.mcmaster.ca/acelab/index.php/people
Dr. Katherine Rawson: http://www2.kent.edu/cas/psychology/people/~krawson1/
Dr. Karl Szpunar: http://karlszpunar.com/Karl_Szpunar_Webpage/Karl_Szpunars_homepage.html

Totally, nailed it!

Ignore the New Year and springtime propaganda. Autumn is the best time to hit the restart button. Even though I am no longer in school, my body and mind process fall as a time for new beginnings. Thankfully, I’ve evolved past the return from summer determined to make this the-best-year-ever feeling (though, if I could put together an outfit of knee socks, pedal pushers and a k-way jacket, I would) and recognize the school school as an opportunity to retackle list(s) and start new projects; set the schedule, and make long term plans.

It’s also the time when I move items from last year’s list to this one. These are projects planned but never started. Or projects started but not finished. Or finished but require another try. Or two. Or six. During his Keynote Address at this year’s Teaching & Learning Symposium, Prof. Joseph Wong said that we, as an institution, need to facilitate audacity. We need to ask ourselves how we positively value failure? It’s all fine and easy to claim that we desire innovation but how do we encourage and facilitate it? And if we are asking this for and from our students, shouldn’t we be asking the same of ourselves?

Finding new ways to acquire and share information, experiences and research by and about our community can be sometimes daunting. There are the usual obstacles of available time and budget that can work as roadblocks but most of us (certainly the CTSI crew) find ways to circumvent and sometimes reinvent. This also means that projects and initiatives might also go through the “Saw it on Pinterest. Totally, nailed it!” phase.

It’s a good feeling when we don’t know what will come next. Anything can happen.

Fall seven times, stand up eight.






Canadian Journal of Higher Education – Call for Papers

Special Issue: Preparing Graduate Students for a Changing World of Work

Background: Geographer Andrew Ross described today’s ‘geographies of livelihood’ in terms of the changing demands of work and employment in a globalized knowledge economy:

Today’s livelihoods are pursued on economic ground that shifts rapidly underfoot, and many of our old assumptions about how people can make a living are outdated pieties. No one, not even those in the traditional professions, can any longer expect a fixed pattern of employment in the course of their lifetime, and they are under more and more pressure to anticipate, and prepare for, a future in which they still will be able to compete in a changing marketplace.1

These changing conditions of work are also true for doctoral students, many of whom pursue an advanced degree in hopes of obtaining a position as a faculty member in higher education. Many of our students, however, find that journey is difficult and long, with side trips into contingent employment or explorations of alternative career options. The question of how universities prepare their doctoral students for these shifting career trajectories is a timely and pressing challenge.

This special issue represents the growing interest in the support and development of professional knowledge and skills in graduate students. Over the past decade, interest in this topic has been building at both the national and regional levels. The Canadian Association for Graduate Studies (CAGS) supported a conference on innovation in graduate education in 2005 and the Tri-Council national research agencies (NSERC, SSHRC, CIHR) together with CAGS and the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE) sponsored a gathering of academics and professionals in Ottawa in 2007 to discuss the development of professional skills in graduate students. In 2011, an international conference on graduate student professional development funded by SSHRC was held at the University of Toronto and in 2012, the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario hosted a symposium on graduate students entering the workforce (academic or otherwise).

The chief aim of this special issue is to provide a space for discussion and debate concerning graduate student development, with the goal of publishing a selection of papers that highlight emerging issues in graduate education and successful strategies that can inform support for students within the Canadian higher education system. This publication will serve to broaden the conversation around graduate student development at a national and international level.

Focus: The need to prepare graduate students for a dynamic and changing labour market is an issue of international concern. This is of course a reflection of larger national questions around postsecondary education, skills development, and the labour market. We seek contributions that theorize the problem of graduate student development, report on empirical research, and/or illuminate comparative models for work in the Canadian context and that will inform the growing field of graduate student support in Canada.

This issue will bring together faculty members, administrators, educational developers, librarians, student support staff, professionals, and most importantly, students to examine the latest research and practices in graduate student development. We also aim to identify paths for administrators seeking to better support their graduate students.

Possible themes for consideration include:

  • Transferring teaching and research expertise outside the academy
  • Labour market conditions for advanced degree holders
  • Institutional collaborations or partnerships to support graduate student development
  • Certificate and co/extra-curricular programming models
  • Administrative or policy models for university responses to changing work conditions
  • Student support and mentoring
  • Cross-sectoral partnerships

Call for Abstracts: You are invited to submit an abstract (500 words) together with short biographical details by October 15, 2013. You will receive a response to your abstract by October 31, 2013. Completed articles (5,000 words excluding graphics, title page, & bibliography) are due by April 1, 2014, and will be subject to peer review with final submissions following revisions expected in September 2014.

For further information, or to submit an abstract, please contact the editorial assistant of the special issue via email at the following address: gradstudentscjhe@gmail.com

Special Issue Editors:
Megan Burnett, Acting Associate Director, Center for Teaching Support & Innovation, University of Toronto
Sara Carpenter, Acting Assistant Director, Center for Teaching Support & Innovation, University of Toronto
Cynthia Korpan, TA Training Program Manager, Learning & Teaching Centre, University of Victoria
Carol Rolheiser, Professor, Department of Curriculum, Teaching, & Learning (OISE) and Director, Center for Teaching Support & Innovation, University of Toronto

1 Ross, A. (2009). Nice work if you can get it: Life and labor in precarious times. New York: NYU Press, pg. 2.

Ramping up for the new school year

Image: Walking on St George StreetRegistration for this year’s Back-to-School Series is now open. A complete list of workshop titles and descriptions is available online. This year, we have a new featured event – a Teaching with Technology Fair on Wednesday, August 28th. This all-day event, hosted by CTSI and Academic & Collaborative Technologies (ACT), is an opportunity for the U of T community to meet with educational technology specialists to learn about available free tools (and to discuss how these tools can be used in the classroom and online). You can read more about (and register for) this event online – information about visiting specialists will be added soon.

These sessions are for new and returning University of Toronto faculty. All sessions are free but registration is required.

For those of you who really like to plan ahead, the Call for Proposals for the 8th Annual Teaching & Learning Symposium is available. This year’s theme is Learning Across & Beyond Borders. As always, the symposium offers the opportunity for U of T faculty, staff and librarians to share research, experience and ideas about teaching, hear from the 2013 President’s Teaching Award winners, participate in workshops and enjoy a day together in Hart House. New sessions have been added this year – Lightning Talks and Nifty Assignments. You can ream more about them online. The deadline for proposal submission is September 16th.

On the graduate student side, the Teaching Assistants’ Training Program (TATP) has just completed a week of training for its new staff. Each year, the TATP hires 15 senior graduate students as peer trainers. They lead mandatory departmental training for new teaching assistants and course instructors (in CUPE 3902, unit 1), microteaching sessions, workshops and offer consultations on teaching dossiers and in-class observations. We’ll be posting more information about this new team shortly.

It is a bit surprising that we are almost half way through the summer months but it does feel good to have the jump on fall. Because it’s always a little closer than you think….



The new Community Crew is ready to go

If you aren’t family with the Community Crew – Student Life’s team of bloggers and twitterers (that doesn’t roll of the tongue) – then here’s your chance to start fresh.

Over the next year, these five students will post on the Life@UofT blog and tweet about life on campus, in and out of class, studying, not studying and the many joys and struggles of navigating the life of a UofT student. We’ve linked to a number of the posts before, especially on the CTSI website Student+Faculty section. I look forward to reading posts foro the upcoming year. I always learn something new about the campus.


Recommended Reading v.2

John Percy, Professor Emeritus, Astronomy and Astrophysics, and Teaching Academy member, has a recommendation for instructors leading Astronomy courses. Just in time for summer course design!

Learner-Centered Astronomy Teaching: Strategies for Astro 101
Timothy Slater and Jeffrey Adams

Slater and Adams are leaders in astronomy education research.  Prentice-Hall made this short paperback available at low cost.  In 167 pages, it contains everything that an instructor needs, from background research, to course design, lecturing for active participation, small-group collaborative learning, writing effective multiple-choice items (and alternatives thereto), course evaluations — even tips on creating a teaching portfolio.  It has many useful appendices, including sample questions and tasks and learning objectives, and the well-tested Astronomy Diagnostic Test.  A model for how to provide instructors with practical, research-supported material!

Astro 101 book cover imageSlater, Timothy, and Adams, Jeffrey (2003), “Learner-Centered Astronomy
Teaching: Strategies for Astro 101″, Prentice-Hall, Upper Saddle River NJ, pp. 167, paperback ($4.80 on eBay).