Traditional lectures sent to the back of the class

Universities keen to please their young and wired students by steering them to the Internet for everything from course selections to online lectures could take a lesson from York student Michelle Buscemi: she just wants some human contact, reported the National Post Sept. 20. “What’s happening now is we’re really losing the sense of the human touch,” Buscemi says. “We’re losing our choice as students at universities to get to speak to professors.”

The 22yearold, who has just begun the teachertraining program at York University after earning her undergraduate degree at the Toronto school last spring, must confound university administrators. They know students are more likely to surf the Internet than watch television and textmessage friends than chat with them on the phone, so they have tailored their programming to feed these habits. Any student backlash against academia’s fascination with all things online could come as a relief for many professors who loathe email and online chat groups in favour of oldfashioned office hours and traditional class discussions. But it would also present a challenge to institutions that have invested time and money to meet the new generation on its terms.

The new 2006 Technology and Student Success Survey, commissioned by education publisher McGrawHill Ryerson, found that hybrid learning – a combination of traditional lectures with online learning features – is now the norm on campuses. In 2003, 59% of faculty taught exclusively face to face. This year, that number has dropped to 31%, the national survey of Canadian universities shows.

The Post said York University has introduced wikis, a Webbased tool for collaborative writing that allows multiple people to work together to write a paper or produce a group project, for the fall term. A course director at York has also started using the Video iPod to deliver lectures and learning materials to firstyear students in her philosophy course. This is believed to be the second course in Canada to provide lectures via video podcast (or vodcast), but the York instructor has taken the concept one step further with the introduction of digitized lecture materials viewable on the iPod.

For Buscemi, the overall effect of these developments has not been positive. During her four years as an undergraduate, she says there was only one professor with whom she communicated on the phone and in person. “If I had a question, it was always via email. Sometimes you need a voice, not a typed letter, some compassion through a voice. You can’t get that on email.”

Rhombus founders ‘at the end of the road’, says Weinstein

For more than 25 years, Rhombus Media has been synonymous with prizewinning films about the arts – it’s known in Canada as the little company that could, and acclaimed at festivals around the world, reported the Toronto Star Sept. 20. But during this month’s 31st edition of the Toronto International Film Festival, it became apparent that Rhombus is unravelling, and its four founding partners – who have been together since they were students at York University’s Department of Film in the 1970s – are on the verge of divorce. “We’ve been openly telling people in the business that we’re at the end of the road, even though we haven’t sat down to figure out exactly how it will happen,” said Larry Weinstein (BFA ’80). [The partners were also awarded honorary doctorates by York in 1998.]

“My comment is that I have no comment,” said Niv Fichman, the flamboyant jetsetting producer who runs the company. But within the Toronto film community, it’s no secret that problems have been festering for more than a year. One big reason: Fichman’s preoccupation with producing bigbudget international epic movies is at odds with the interests of his partners: Weinstein, Sheena MacDonald (BA ‘77) and Barbara Willis Sweete.

Formed in 1979, Rhombus celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2004 with the mandate to make films that put a human face on classical music, dance and the other arts while bringing them to a wider audience. Fichman will be moving on without the old gang from York U. What happens to the Rhombus name and infrastructure, and its film library, remains to be sorted out. But Weinstein, Sweete and MacDonald are braced to reinvent themselves as independent operators. And an important chapter in Canadian film history is coming to a close.

Justice Taylor returns to Kitchener

A face already familiar in Kitchener courtrooms will soon be presiding over them, reported The Record (Kitchener, Cambridge and Waterloo) Sept. 20. York alumnus Justice Gerry Taylor is moving to the Kitchener Superior Court of Justice, less than a year after his first appointment as a judge, in London. It’s a homecoming for Taylor, who spent 18 years as a federal drug prosecutor in Kitchener. Taylor was appointed a judge of the Ontario Superior Court last December, at the age of 54. He graduated from York’s Osgoode Hall Law School in 1975 and was admitted to the bar in 1977.

York student introduces Mayor dad at campaign speech

Former Stoney Creek councillor and retired school principal Mayor Larry Di Ianni is running for a second term as mayor of the amalgamated Hamilton, reported the Hamilton Spectator Sept. 20. At a recent campaign speech, he was introduced as “my daddy” by daughter Stephanie Di Ianni, a York University student, while his wife Janet, and sons Robert and Paul faced a crowd of several dozen supporters.

On air

  • Saeed Rahnema, political science professor in York’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies and the Faculty of Arts, spoke about President George W. Bush’s speech to the UN about Iran, on CBC Newsworld, Sept. 19.

  • Marshall McCall, Chair of York’s Department of Astronomy & Physics, Faculty of Science & Engineering, spoke about the delayed landing of the space shuttle Atlantis, on CBC Newsworld, Sept. 19.