If you’re feeling a little obsolete, it’s probably time for an avatar

York Professor Lois King has an avatar, wrote Margaret Wente in The Globe and Mail Aug. 15. Her avatar is a tall, shapely blond who lives in a virtual world called Second Life. She wears a snappy business suit, which is appropriate because she teaches serious courses in finance in York’s School of Administrative Studies in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. She teaches traditional classroom courses, as well as distance courses on the Internet.

“I think this technology has amazing implications,” King says. She plans to use her avatar to conduct virtual meetings and tutorials with her students, who’ll be able to send their own avatars to her virtual office in cyberspace. It’s a practical way to meet if face-to-face is impossible or inconvenient. “My students will love it.” She even has a virtual lecture hall, which is designed to look like her real one. One day, she might use it to give lectures without ever leaving home.

Like other universities, York has acquired a piece of real estate on Second Life, where it has started to build a virtual campus. Second Life is a virtual Internet world with 3-D environments, where people interact through online characters they create called avatars. They communicate with each other in real time using either text or voice.

Second Life is mainly used for recreation (virtual sex is quite popular) but people have begun to experiment with it for education and even business. York Professor Ali Asgary, who also teaches in the School of Administrative Studies and created York’s site, uses it for his courses in emergency management because he can simulate real disasters in real time as his students role-play and problem-solve. One scenario he’s used is last year’s massive propane explosion in Toronto. In another exercise, he brought together an international group of experts to tackle a simulated swine-flu epidemic. “In the real world, it would take six months to organize. We did it in one.”

Is traditional teaching on the way out? Asgary thinks so. “It has to change because new generations are coming in with a different system of learning.” They’re collaborative and hyper-interactive. They’re more attached to their cellphones than to their arms. They text each other a thousand times a week.

If you’re a serious futurist, it’s not hard to imagine a time when universities (and even newsrooms, if they still exist) will be mostly virtual. After all, real estate is cheaper in cyberspace. “It’s very cost-effective,” says King.

Meantime, King admits she’s still struggling to find her way around on Second Life. She hasn’t mastered the controls quite yet and her avatar often walks into walls or falls out of the sky. (Avatars can fly.) “It’s going to take a few more weeks before I really get the hang of it,” she says. Splat! Her avatar bites the dust.

Who stands on guard for citizens?

“Canadians who were not born here and have accents or are visible for their skin colour are subject to more scrutiny when they enter,” said Obiora Okafor, a professor of law at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, in the Toronto Star Aug. 15 in an article about Canadian passports. “That’s beyond question.”

There’s no indication that Canadian officials felt any sense of urgency to repair the damage, especially after it was clear mistakes had been made, wrote the Star. “This should have been handled in a day,” said Okafor.

Schulich compares well in Forbes study

A recent study by Forbes Magazine says graduates from the Schulich School of Business at York University are seeing a world-class return on their tuition dollars, wrote the North York Mirror Aug. 14.

In a survey of 17,000 MBA graduates from more than 100 schools around the world, Schulich ranked first in Canada in best return on investment, a measure of average compensation minus tuition costs in the first five years after graduation.

Earning top-dollar returns in Canada, Schulich’s class of 2004 also did well internationally. Ranking sixth outside the US and 10th overall in the world, the business school has won many accolades and top rankings in past years.

Among these is a number one global ranking by The Wall Street Journal for the Kellogg-Schulich Executive MBA program.

Another appealing statistic for young professionals is Schulich graduates from 2004 tied for a third-place ranking with the prestigious London Business School for least amount of time to pay back their investment in education.

York bird study’s findings shock Stratford writer

It was nothing new to read that birds are in trouble, wrote columnist Tamara Harbar in the Stratford City Gazette Aug. 14. But it was a shock to discover just how much.

A York biologist, Bridget Stutchbury, professor in the Faculty of Science & Engineering, tracks migrating birds. Some songbirds aren’t making it back from their winter homes in Latin America.

Although I’ve never even heard of these birds, it unsettled me to know recent surveys show 30 per cent fewer wood thrushes and 75 per cent fewer olive-sided flycatchers and loggerhead shrikes than surveys from 1965. A total of three dozen songbird species are in “significant decline”.

The question is why. Of course, rainforest habitat continues to be cleared. But Stutchbury mentions that pesticides banned here in North America, such as monochrotophos, are heavily used in Latin America.

Stutchbury is quoted saying “that birds are an indicator of a healthy environment” and when so many bird species are failing, “it’s time for humans to sit up and take note. It means there is something terrible out there.”

Goalie faces York’s player of the year

Kingston Football Club goalkeeper Laura Dalton made several marvellous saves, including a leaping beauty on reigning Canadian Interuniversity Sport player-of-the-year Stefania Morra, to preserve a 1-1 tie against the North York Panthers at St. Lawrence College, wrote The Kingston Whig-Standard Aug. 17.

Dalton hopes to make a strong bid for a key role on the Waterloo Warriors after having a short stint with the team in her first year (2007). She won’t face a tougher shooter than Morra, a deadly striker at York University.

Magazine’s Hall of Fame includes Osgoode grad Ted Rogers

Vision, hard work and attention to The Deal sums up the late Ted Rogers and his lifelong quest to build a Canadian media empire, wrote Playback Aug. 17 in a story about Osgsoode grad Ted Rogers (LLB ’60), a member of the magazine’s Canadian Film & Television Hall Of Fame. Rogers was also awarded an honorary doctorate by York in 1994.

Turning a tiny radio station into a cable and wireless phone giant over five decades required the industry pioneer to be as much salesperson as strategist as he ran countless business deals across the goal line.

  • It is no easy feat to sum up Maria Topalovich, but her friend, colleague and Hall of Fame alum, Trina McQueen, adjunct professor in the MBA Program in Arts & Media Administration in the Schulich School of Business at York University, does it best, wrote Playback in an item on another Hall of Fame member.

“Like the operatic heroine Tosca, Maria has lived for art,” says McQueen. “Unlike Tosca, she never had to stab a policeman or even a broadcast executive, to achieve her objectives.

Topalovich was a board member of York’s CulTech Research Centre in 1994.

Cellist works with fellow York student

Cory Latkovich is somewhat of a “cellist-about-town”, wrote Torontoist Aug. 11. He’s played in several local bands, including The Owle Bird, Jordaan Mason and the Horse Museum, and Miss Scarlett. Tonight he’s performing some of his own compositions at The Music Gallery. These Black Spaces is an avant-garde composition using piano, cello, violin, viola, and spoken word. He will present three other pieces (including two improvisations), with the whole night dubbed as his “experimentations in whisper melody, improvisation and pointilistic music.”

The York University student will present his pieces with the aid of other players, including Clara Engel and fellow York student Mark Nimeroski, who together penned the words that go with These Black Spaces. The concert will be held at St. George the Martyr Anglican Church, The Music Gallery (197 John St.) Doors open at 7pm, the concert is at 8pm and admission is pay-what-you-can ($8 suggested).

CFL’s lone aboriginal is the son of an Osgoode grad

Defensive end Nautyn McKay-Loescher is in his second tour of duty with the Canadian Football League’s BC Lions, wrote the Canwest News Service Aug. 15. McKay-Loescher describes his parents – Alex McKay, from a reserve in northern Ontario, and Virginia Loescher (LLB ’98), from White Plains, NY – as “real flower children, liberals, hippies.” His mother’s social activism later prompted her to get a law degree from York’s Osgoode Hall Law School.

Osgoode grad receives Law Society Medal

Earl Cherniak (LLB ’60) of Lerners LLP has won some important lawsuits over his long career, wrote The London Free Press Aug. 17. Recently he received the Law Society Medal, the highest honour bestowed by the Law Society of Upper Canada.

Cherniak was first called to the Ontario bar in 1960 and was the gold medallist at Osgoode Hall Law School. He was one of only eight lawyers in the province to receive the Law Society Medal.

Raitt heads to Guelph for a barbecue

Natural Resources Minister and Osgoode grad Lisa Raitt (LLB ’96) will be in Guelph on Thursday, Aug. 20, for the local Conservative Party’s annual barbecue, wrote the Guelph Tribune Aug. 14. The Halton MP has a master’s degree in chemistry from the University of Guelph. She also studied law at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School and trained in London, said a news release.

On air

  • Bernie Wolf, economics professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, spoke about General Motors and its new electric vehicle, the Volt, on CBC Radio’s “Crosscountry Checkup” Aug. 16.
  • Rob Bowman, professor of ethnomusicology in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, spoke about the 40th anniversary of Woodstock on CBC Radio’s “Morning Weekend” Aug. 15.