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.

Happy New Year from Your CTSI Programming Team

2015 is off to a running start here, as we’ve kicked off our winter programming series and are looking forward to our summer offerings and beyond. The spring (if we may be so bold to dream of spring in January!) brings with it the chance to get a head start on thinking about your summer research projects or course design goals. Today we’re profiling two initiatives dedicated to teaching, learning and building a community around innovating in these fields: the Course Design Institute and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) Institute, open to faculty members.

Course Design Institute (CDI)
2015 marks the 5th anniversary of the CTSI Course Design Institute, running this year from May 20-21. This annual institute introduces the principles of course design to faculty members who are either developing a new course, or who would like to refresh courses they’ve already taught and refine their course design skills. Over two days of sessions, you will learn how to re-work or create your course in order to enrich students’ learning experiences. Through the knowledgeable guidance of CTSI and external facilitators and collaborators, you will explore the steps of the design process and leave with a useable framework for your own course, including an outline, an assessment scheme and a lesson plan. To get a taste of what the CDI can offer you, take a look at these comments from 2014 participants:

“I learned a lot and had a wonderful time learning in such a short time. Most importantly, I am able to apply (or at least consider applying) everything we have talked about in CDI. Very practical!”

“The material and information was great. I honestly loved talking to faculty from other departments. It is great to have an opportunity to share experiences and ideas with people who are not in your field, who have questions that you would never think about or who have tried some engagement activity and can let you know how it worked or did not work for them.”

2013 Course Design Institute

2013 Course Design Institute

Watch this space and the CTSI newsletter for more detailed information on this year’s iteration of the CDI, as registration will be open shortly. You can view more testimonials from past CDIs at the following links: 2013, 2012, and 2011.

Scholarship of Teaching & Learning (SoTL) Institute
The CTSI SoTL Institute is a June two-day intensive event (June 3-4) for faculty interested in innovating or studying effective teaching and assessment at the University of Toronto. This year’s institute marks the 3rd offering of this event, in which participants are introduced to the principles of designing, implementing and disseminating research studies focused on teaching in higher education. Guided by facilitators from CTSI, the Institute combines various presentations by University of Toronto SoTL researchers and Liaison Librarians with activities to support diverse SoTL interests.  As with many CTSI workshops and events, participants appreciate the multidisciplinary discussions and cross-pollination of pedagogical ideas, an inspiring way to kick off summer reading and perhaps to pursue research collaborations with colleagues:

“I really liked the group interaction. The most valuable thing overall was talking to other people working on SoTL projects. The content of the curriculum just gave a context to those conversations”

“This was a highlight of my professional development here at U of T. It was great to have two days to focus on pedagogical research, especially with colleagues from across the disciplines and across the university, many of whom are knowledgeable.”

CTSI scholarship of teaching and learning

Working together at the SoTL Institute

Participant feedback has been an integral component in our yearly Institute planning, and we have acted upon the myriad suggestions to increase opportunities for SoTL discussions at U of T. A key development has been the creation of the SoTL Network, a regular series of events that connect members of our teaching and learning community ( To receive email notices of these SoTL events at CTSI and within the broader U of T SoTL community, please subscribe to the SoTL list-serv by emailing Kathleen: For more information on SoTL activities at U of T please contact Cora McCloy, PhD, Faculty Liaison and Research Officer, CTSI (

Registration for the Course Design and SoTL Institutes is announced via various CTSI communication channels, including our newsletter, list-serv and website. Registration for both institutes will open in the coming months. Consider joining us for these annual institutes, get a head start for your fall courses and think about your teaching process from an innovative perspective! Feel free to contact Erin Macnab, Programs Coordinator ( with any questions you might have.

How to make instructional videos

By Maryam Shafiei, ACT Support Assistant

You have probably heard the mantras, “Show, don’t tell” or “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember”. Visually illustrating a new skill is now a significant element of multi-modal instruction and a frequently used tool in instructional design. You can find training videos everywhere – from how to bake a cake to how to use a computer application or how to use an online service. Users can watch videos/tutorials over again, if needed, and work at their own pace. This post will focus on some strategies for using a computer screen recording application to create instructional videos. If you would like to make videos an important component of your teaching, here are a few tips on how to make them engaging for your students.

The first step in creating videos is to answer the following questions:

  • What is the purpose of your video? Try to have a clear, SMART goal for your video.
  • Who is your audience? Ask yourself these questions: Who are they? What do they need to learn? How can this be delivered? What are their skill levels?
  • What is the action you want the learners to take? Think about your message and your goals.

Before recording:
1. Organize your content.

  • Lay out your content in sequential order.  This will help the learners organize incoming information and remember the information you provide.
  • Provide an outline of your content. Introduce the subject and tell your audience what they are going to learn. If your video has different sections, provide a title for each section so your audience will be prepared for what they are about to learn.
  • Break up the content of your video into smaller pieces. It will help the learners to quickly find the part they are looking for.
  • Shorter is better. One of the ways to keep learners engaged is to be mindful of video length. Due to limited attention spans, you will need to keep your video short, 2 to 6 minutes if possible. If you need more time to deliver the content, try to break your video into segments or separate videos.
  • Include interactive components in your videos, such as questions, quizzes and customized examples and exercises. It will keep your audience engaged with the video and will reinforce learned concepts.

2. Use a script. Writing out a script in advance, even if it’s just a bullet point list of steps, will help keep your video concise and focused.

  • Keep the steps simple and short so you read the script while also looking at the monitor.
  • Try to keep your narration informal and spontaneous. Use a conversational tone when writing your script.
  • Read it out loud a few times before recording. Ask someone to read it to you so you can can hear how the script flows.

3. Clean up your computer desktop.  Make sure to hide or minimize any distracting items on your desktop, close unused programs and ensure your email notifications are turned off.

Record your video:

  • Record the full screen. Some instructors like to look right at their learners when they are talking. If you would like to create such a connected bond while teaching or if you need to show your audience something other than your computer screen you can always use a webcam or  a camcorder to record videos and integrate them with your screen video later, but for those who are new to recording video an easy route to take is just to record the full screen using a screen recorder application. This ensures you capture everything on screen, which you can edit later if you want. You can scale and crop your video to smaller dimensions, but making it larger later on will cause it to blur.
  • Use a decent microphone. Good audio is a key element for any type of video sharing. If you are using a laptop, please do not use the built-in microphone which picks up a lot of extra noise. You can simply use an inexpensive USB microphone instead.
  • Slow down. Try not to put too many concepts into one video. If your audience is unfamiliar with your video content, take it slow.
  • Control your mouse. When recording, try not to move the mouse around while you talk. Never wiggle your mouse to emphasize a point.

After you record:

  • Choose an editing application. Review the range of free or inexpensive online editing platforms and have a look at their simple guides to start editing.
  • Use callouts. Add callouts where necessary, like when you want to draw attention to some object on the screen. Depending on the program you are using to edit your video there might be different options for callouts to choose from, including arrows to point directly to something specific in your video, spotlight which darkens everything on the screen except for the area you want to focus on, or a blurcallout to hide certain areas of your recording that you do not want everyone to see like login information. (Please see examples below.) Try to keep the callouts, annotations or animations as simple as possible and avoid adding too many callouts because they will increase your video file size.
    Callout - arrow

    Callout - arrow

    Callout - spotlight

    Callout - spotlight

    Callout - blur

    Callout - blur

  • Add a title to your video. Add a title slide to describe the purpose of the video. Fade it out as you fade in the recording.
  • Control the audio. Check the audio levels through both speakers and headphones and adjust the levels if needed. If you are using music, make sure it is just loud enough to be heard but not so loud that it interferes with the narration.
  • Determine the next step. At the end of the video include a specific call to action. Ask yourself what you want your viewers to do when they have finished the video: watch another video? Take a quiz? Go to your website or email you their questions?
  • Share your video. Finally, share your video and make it easily accessible for your viewers so they will be encouraged to use it. Making content available on an online video hosting site or an LMS is an efficient way of increasing accessibility. Provide your learners with the information on how to access your video.

Question: What do Mark Zukerberg, Oprah Winfrey and the Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation (CTSI) have in common?

By Professor Carol Rolheiser, Director, CTSI

Answer: All have established book clubs; mind you, not your average book clubs!

All of us are pretty familiar with Oprah Winfrey’s launching of her book club that was active between 1996 and 2011. Through this club she not only propelled many authors works to bestseller lists, she also succeeded in encouraging large numbers of people to read more literature. Her online version, Oprah’s Book Club 2.0, was launched in 2012 and uses social media to once again engage people in discussing books. In a January 6, 2015 Globe and Mail article by their Book Editor Mark Medley, entitled “Mark Zukerberg on books: Oprah II?”, he noted that Mr. Zukerberg took to his Facebook page early in January 2015 to announce that he will read a new book every other week!  As a result, Facebook has already created a hub, “A Year of Books”, which already has over 253, 000 Likes.

While CTSI cannot boast the reach of Oprah’s or Zukerberg’s book clubs, we are proud of having just completed our second offering of CTSI Page Turners, a four-session book club series.

Book clubs are becoming increasingly popular not only for recreational reading, but also in K-12 and higher education sectors to support educational development (Kooy, 2009), and as a means for teachers “tuning into practice”. Online, hybrid and face-to-face clubs are being initiated in colleges and universities for instructors as a means of enhancing community, reflecting on practice, and inspiring cross-disciplinary discussions and networks.

The model our CTSI team developed is based on the concept of student literature circles (Daniels, 2002; Lin, 2002). While participants in our book club are in charge of their own learning, they are supported by a facilitator who helps establish group norms, and sets the stage to maximize individual accountability and the development of positive interdependence within the group.

Saira Mall, Carol Rolheiser, Cora McCloy

CTSI Book Club Team - Saira Mall, Carol Rolheiser, Cora McCloy

Some of the goals of the CTSI Page Turners include: supporting pedagogical professional development through the examination of educational ideas; reflection on practice; exploration of innovation in teaching; and, discussion of aspirations for student learning.  The structure used for the CTSI book club includes evidence-based design features, such as: 1) the optimal number of participants (e.g., Brabham & Villaume, 2000, suggest that 4-8 participants is an ideal number for a literature circle); 2) determining group norms (e.g., participation and interaction to maximize learning together); 3) building inclusion (e.g., through community-building activities that provide context for each participant’s goals and motivation); and 4) establishing the roles and responsibilities of both participants and facilitator.

The first two offerings of CTSI Page Turners series focused on the book, Student Engagement Techniques by Elizabeth Barkley (2010). The four 2-hour sessions provided an opportunity to explore a conceptual framework for understanding student engagement, while also examining tips and strategies for influencing motivation, promoting active learning, building community, ensuring students are appropriately challenged and promoting holistic learning. As well, instructors analyzed practical student engagement techniques focused on learning outcomes that included knowledge and skills, learner attitudes, values, and self-awareness. While the culminating activity involved each instructor participant sharing a concrete plan for “putting print into practice” in their next course, most of the participants began implementing ideas right away in the courses they were currently teaching!

Book Club Participant Poster

Book Club Participant Poster

Each of the four book club sessions was facilitated through the use of text protocols and other reading/discussion formats (Bennett & Rolheiser, 2001; Lipton & Wellman, 2003). The value of the protocols was expressed often by participants, in terms of how such protocols supported their exploration of the book being studied, but also their use and adaptation of these protocols with their own students. For example, one of the protocols was entitled “The 4 A’s” (adapted from Judith Gray, 2005, National School Reform Faculty,  As participants pre-read the selected chapter they chose an excerpt related to each of the following four A’s, and the subsequent book club session focused on discussing these with their colleagues:

  1. What Assumptions does the author of the text hold?
  2. What do you Agree with in the text?
  3. What parts do you want to Argue with in the text?
  4. What parts of the text do you want to Aspire to?

In the final assessment of the book club one of the participants commented specifically on the value of experiencing the protocols, stating, “I really enjoyed the use of protocols to guide the sessions. It was great to see how these would work in practice.”

Another one of our book club members wrote, “I keep coming back [to CTSI] because I am finding that teaching is a process that requires constant reflection and consideration of the back and forth between talking about how to teach and implementing teaching ideas”.  CTSI Page Turners has been an exciting way to encourage the exploration of teaching research and practical ideas, to reflect on one’s practice, and to work with colleagues in other departments to try out new practices. We are looking forward to our next book club series and the examination of another book –stay tuned to our CTSI newsletter for the announcement of our next Page Turners series.

If you would like to set up your own instructor book club in your department or unit, please feel free to contact us and request a consultation to support you in getting this launched.

Happy reading!

Emanuel Istrate, Institute for Optical Science

Emanuel Istrate, Institute for Optical Science

Heather Buchansky, Student Engagement Librarian, U of T Libraries



Barkley, E.F. (2010). Student engagement techniques. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Bennett, B. & Rolheiser, C. (2001).  Beyond Monet: The artful science of instructional integration.  Toronto, ON: Bookation.

Brabham, E.G., & Villaume, S.K. (2000). Questions and answers: Continuing conversations about literature circles. The Reading Teacher, 54(3), 278-280.

Daniels, H. (2002). Literature circles: Voice and choice in book clubs and reading groups (2nd ed.). Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Lin, C-H. (2002). Literature circles. Eric Digest.
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Lipton, L. & Wellman, B. (2003). Mentoring matters: A practical guide to learning-focused relationships (2nd Ed). Sherman, CT: Mira Via.

Kooy, M. (2009). Collaborations and conversations in communities of learning: Professional development that matters. In C.C. Craig (Ed.),  The Association of Teacher Educators’ Teacher Education Yearbook XVII: Teacher Learning in Small Group Settings (pp. 5-22). Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Publication/Rowan & Littlefield.