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economic ground that shifts rapidly underfoot, and many of our old assumptions about how people can make a living are outdated pieties.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:

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).

Blackboard Collaborate: a new web conferencing tool to support online teaching and learning at U of T

by Marco Di Vittorio, Courseware Support Supervisor & Saira Mall, Educational Technology Liaison

The teaching and learning landscape has expanded to include online learning environments. An institutional web conferencing tool is now available to U of T instructors to further the ways in which faculty can engage and interact with students online.

What is it?
Blackboard Collaborate is a web conferencing/webinar platform designed for use in online teaching. Instructors can create virtual classroom and online meeting spaces to share presentation material and communicate with students via synchronous audio, video and chat tools. Webinar rooms include a collaborative whiteboard tool that allows students to interact with peers and faculty in real time. Instructors can make use of polls directly within a session for immediate feedback and to check for understanding. Students can also be divided into break out rooms to facilitate active and collaborative online group work and assignments. Desktop applications and web resources such as multimedia hosted on the U of T Libraries MyMedia website can be displayed directly within the web conference room. An interactive recording can be created for each session allowing students the opportunity to review material following the live online lecture. Participation points can also be automatically awarded for joining or reviewing session recordings.

Where do I find it?
Webinar sessions can be created and joined directly from courses within the U of T Learning Portal. Mobile apps are also available for participants to join Collaborate sessions from Android and iOS portable devices. To begin, contact staff providing educational technology support within your department or e-mail to enable the tool in your course.

Who can use it?
Instructors and course staff have the ability to create and moderate webinar sessions. Participant links for students are displayed directly within the course. Moderator and participant roles can be set ahead of time or directly within a live session. Guest links can also be made available to individuals outside of the U of T community.

When do I use it?

  • Live lectures and tutorials for fully online and hybrid courses
  • Virtual office hours
  • Online student collaboration and group projects
  • Graduate seminars and student presentations
  • Distance learning courses
  • Online training, presentations and information sessions

Recommended Practices

  • Visit the First Time Use page before joining a session to check system requirements and configure audio devices.
  • Review training material and practice using the tool before conducting the first live class.
  • Use a wired or stable wireless internet connection.
  • Select the correct connection speed when joining a session to set the appropriate audio and video transmission rates.
  • Run the Audio Setup Wizard after entering a session to test and set audio input and output devices. Use a headset microphone for best results.
  • Existing presentation content may need to be modified for use in a webinar session. Prepare and upload presentation material ahead of time to preview content and make any necessary changes. Avoid use of slide animations and transitions.
  • To share videos, use the Web Tour or multimedia library instead of embedding media in presentation slides.
  • Provide online help resources for students.

Please visit the portalinfo site to review additional techniques for effectively managing a webinar session.

Training & Support

Please register to participate in an upcoming Blackboard Collaborate training session.

Additional support resources and best practice information can be found on the Portal Information & Help website.


The Teaching Collaboratory

The Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation, in collaboration with the
University’s Information + Technology Services, has launched a new
experiment in support of teaching with technology – the Teaching

“The goal of the Collaboratory is to provide UofT instructors with access to
new technologies they might like to use for their teaching,” said Avi Hyman,
Director of Academic & Collaborative Technology.

“We wanted to establish a place where our instructors could interact with
things in a safe environment, where help would be available, and long before
taking it into the classroom,” Hyman added.

“And we are not taking about radical technologies – there are other places
on campus for that – we are talking about consumer-level, affordable
technologies that an instructor may not yet have, and we hope the
Collaboratory will provide them with an opportunity to test-drive something
without having to make a purchase or commitment.”

To get started, the Collaboratory has been given a generous donation of five
pieces of technology on long term loan from Dell Computers. These include an
interactive projector, two large screen Windows 8 touch screen computers, a
Windows 8 laptop that can convert to a tablet, and a smaller Windows 8
tablet with stylus writing capabilities.

“Dell believes that technology can play an important role in both student
engagement and to help prepare students to work in a more connected, digital
world,” said Dennis Hofmann, Dell’s Senior Account Executive for UofT.

“These students are ‘connected’ in all aspects of their lives outside of the
classroom, so bringing the technology into the classroom delivers that same
level of engagement thereby fostering the learning outcomes that educators
are working towards.  We are excited to work with the University of Toronto
to further explore how technology can benefit instructors and students,”
Hofmann added.

“In addition to the wonderful donations from Dell that has helped kick this
off, we also have an Echo360 appliance, and we can demonstrate some of
UofT’s standard applications, such as Collaborate and Jabber,” added Hyman.
“The plan, of course, is to continue adding resources.”

The eventual goal is for the Collaboratory to be a drop-in-any-time facility
with staff on hand, but for now, the equipment and software is available for
test driving by appointment; please write to to arrange a
visit. The main location for the Collaboratory is at the Centre for Teaching
Support & Innovation in Robarts Library, but we are looking at making the
equipment available to other locations by request.

Sketchy Students?

Visual-OompfIn a recent search for information on concept maps I came across fellow blogger Martha’s 2011 post Concept Maps, and Notetaking. Reading the post and watching the videos illustrating the topic, I found myself making a connection to some Twitter posts I’d seen from the SXSW conference. Several SXSW participants posted a synopsis of the workshops and panels they attended though a visual note taking technique called Sketchnotes.

SXSW Sketchnote

Mike Rohde, Photo courtesy of Flickr

Sketchnotes are exactly what they sound like – notes that are sketched (obviously, someone has created a sketchnote for the description of sketchnotes).  This process of note taking has been used in creative circles for several years, but recently it seems to have invaded all realms of popular culture. Many high profile events and conferences have even started to hire live Sketchnote-takers to document key ideas and information takeaways. This past year, celebrated designer and sketchmaster Mike Rohde even penned his first “how-to” book entitled, ”The Sketchnote Handbook”.

Re-reading Martha’s post, I began to think that perhaps educational theory was ahead of its time. Could concept maps be considered the forefathers of today’s Sketchnotes? To me Sketchnotes are at their bones just fancy concept maps- structuring, relating and developing a hierarchy of information all connected to a broader topic or idea. The hype around Sketchnotes as a rich (and lets face it cool) vehicle for information makes me also ponder – is the university lecture hall is ready for these renegade note takers?

For some students, the answer is a resounding yes! Students and learners across the globe are pushing the boundaries of note taking and are using Sketchnotes to rethink their lectures. Renate Martin, a medical student from South Africa uses Sketchnotes in her neurology class and reflects on the blog Sketchnote Army that, “in general I have noticed that I remember more from class than I used to… I am also much more enthusiastic about going to class than I used to be!”

Renate Martin Sketchnote

Renate Martin photo courtesy of

Think about it, for today’s multitasking student there may be some pay-off in this nonlinear form of note taking. Satisfying the need to participate beyond passively recording information, making a Sketchnote provides students a way to connect with the material on a more creative and personal level.

Application wise, some subject matters appear naturally better suited to Sketchnote-taking than others. For example, lectures that are more narrative in structure would lend themselves well to this visual depiction of text and ideas. There is also the challenge (that I quickly encountered upon experimenting with Sketchnotes) that creative doodling is not a talent possessed by all. Not to be deterred, Mike Rhode argues in his book that visual note taking is not just for the artistically inclined student, and explains that the Sketchnote-taking technique can be adapted by drawers and non-drawers alike! Regardless of skill, learning to Sketchnote takes some time and practice, so perhaps a mathematical physics course is not the best environment to hone your typographic and caricature skills.

While there may be some speed bumps slowing down the uptake of Sketchnote-taking, I believe there is enough to gain from rethinking the process of note taking that these funky notes should be given a second look. Having a set of notes, which one would actually want to look at, would (for me at least) be a scholarly boon. For the doodle nerds among us, it would make the whole process of note taking more enjoyable. Finally, there is the subtle benefit Sketchnotes possess in their innate ability to connect people. Even if one does not engage in the Sketchnote-taking process, the final product is a something that is easy to relate to, share and connect over.

Kelly Sketchnote

My first sketch "quote" attempt


Recommended Reading

Welcome  to CTSI’s feature on recommended reading. Once a month, a U of T faculty or staff member will suggest books or articles on teaching, learning and higher education.

Our inaugural recommendation comes courtesy of John Percy, Professor Emeritus, Astronomy & Astrophysics, and Teaching Academy member:

Tobias, Sheila (1990), “They’re Not Dumb, They’re Different”, Research Corporation, Tucson AZ, pp. 94, paperback, ($3.99 on Amazon)

Sheila Tobias is a social scientist who has made deep and constructive studies of the teaching and learning of science and mathematics, and written many books and articles on these topics.  Research Corporation is a non-profit foundation which, through its support of this work, made it available at a very low cost. This book is “a study of why students abandon science for other disciplines”. The core message is the following: especially in introductory courses, the students are not “like us”; they are unlikely to do graduate work and eventually become a professor in our discipline. They don’t necessarily want the course content to be dumbed-down, but they do want to see its connections and applications to society and to other disciplines.  This is a special problem in physics, which is too often taught in a narrow, analytical way.  No wonder physics enrolments are going down across the continent!

Sheila Tobias book cover


The Future of Canadian Universities Panel – March 28th

The landscape of Canadian higher education is changing. Provincial government mandates are calling for increased opportunities for online learning, stronger transfer opportunities between colleges and universities, and there is a move toward a new kind of teaching-only institution.

The Canadian Studies program and instructors from the course, The University in Canada (UNI305) will bring together members of Ontario’s higher education community to address these timely topics and their impact for a panel discussion entitled, The Future of Canadian Universities.

Panelists for this March 28 event are: Harvey Weingarten, President and CEO of the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO), Professor Ian Clark from U of T’s School of Public Policy and Governance, Melonie Fullick, a PhD Candidate at York University and Professor Suzanne Stephenson, Vice-Dean of Teaching and Learning at U of T’s Faculty of Arts & Science.

“Higher education is the public sector most critical to Canada’s future social and economic health and competitiveness,” Weingarten said.

“It is important that we get this sector right,” he added. “We are not there yet but the will and courage to make the tough decisions to reform higher education could get us there and, if we do, Canada will prosper.”

The Future of Canadian Universities panel is one of the final sessions of the University in Canada course, offered through the Canadian Studies Program. “One of the goals of the course is to provide students, as future leaders and voters in a range of sectors and jurisdictions, with the ability to critically assess information and proposals about the university,” said Pamela Gravestock, a co-instructor of UNI305 and panel co-moderator.

Students attending this panel will see the issues they have been discussing throughout the semester in the broader context and how the proposed mandates could affect universities in the future.

“[This panel] will help students consider how universities might change in the years to come,” said Emily Greenleaf, a co-instructor of UNI305 and panel moderator.

It will also address issues such as the government’s goal to move toward a skills-focused curriculum, interactive learning and providing more flexible ways of earning credit and progressing through a degree.  “These proposed changes may lead to the emergence of more diverse and specialized institution than what we currently see,” said Gravestock. ”All universities face a future of potential substantial change.”

Attendees can also expect to hear about the forces that will be driving these changes over the next decade and how governments and university leaders are likely to respond.
“The combination of rising university costs, tightening government budgets and revolutionary new technologies has made higher education a hot public policy topic,” said Clark.

The Future of Canadian Universities
28 March 2013

2pm – 4pm
University College, Room 140
15 King’s College Circle

If you have any questions about this panel presentation, please contact Dr. Gravestock at or 416-946-8585.

Future of Canadian Universities Panel poster