New online tool SPARKs students and empowers their writing and research

2SPARKYFileYork students can now ignite their research and writing powers, online, anytime. Launching on Oct. 16, the Student Papers and Academic Research Kit (SPARK) – a modular, online tool that can be accessed from any computer or mobile device – will provide students with the assistance they need to complete any aspect of an academic assignment.

Over the past three years project leads, Mark Robertson, associate university librarian, information services, Sarah Coysh, head, Frost Library, and Adam Taves, reference and instruction librarian, along with a steering committee and advisory board comprised of the Libraries, Learning Skills Services and the Writing Department, have developed SPARK’s 12 online modules.

“We actually started considering the concept of a virtual learning commons, that could be accessed anytime and anywhere, more than five years ago,” explains Robertson. “We had the Learning Commons at Scott Library but we wanted to recreate that ‘space’ online knowing that many York students study at home, or while commuting to and from campus.”

“We had the idea – the framework for SPARK – but we didn’t have the funding until the Academic Innovation Fund was created three years ago,” Coysh continues. “SPARK is an initiative that we’re very passionate about and have spent years developing. Launching SPARK, and evaluating the effect the modules have on further developing students’ academic literacy competencies, will be extremely rewarding for us.”

Capturing the recursive nature of research and writing, and how various aspects of these activities are intimately tied together, was one of the team’s top priorities.

The SPARK modules are organized into three categories, “Getting Started,” “Exploring” and “Pulling it Together,” and focus on key academic literacy skills such as: time management, research strategies, essay structure, essay editing and creating bibliographies. The SPARK modules consist of interactive components including test-your-knowledge quizzes, videos, and printable worksheets that are designed to enhance academic literacies while empowering students to take greater ownership in developing these skills.

It was that theme of empowerment that became the foundation of the SPARK awareness campaign, which was developed by the steering committee in partnership with the communications and design agency, 12Thirteen.

“The students that we spoke to both in focus groups and through concept testing revealed that they appreciated that SPARK allowed them to choose when, and how, they wanted to learn. From those consultations the theme of empowerment emerged,” explains Taves.


Sobia Ali, a second-year student in the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies, had an early introduction to SPARK as a focus group participant. “All the students in the focus group noted that SPARK will make a significant difference in their academic careers.  The modules are intuitive, helpful, and easy to navigate,” explains Ali. “Perhaps best of all, the modules encouraged me to be reflective and ask myself different, more deductive questions.”

The focus group participants’ feedback became the basis of, “The power of SPARK” awareness campaign, which illustrates how SPARK can transform any student into an empowered “super-student.” Featured in the campaign are Ali, along with Drew Pinkerton, a fourth-year student at Glendon, and Tristian Reid, a recent graduate (’13) from the Faculty of Health.

To celebrate the official launch of SPARK today (Oct. 16) students, faculty and staff are encouraged to come by the atrium in Scott Library from 11am to 3pm for SPARK demonstrations and giveaways.

Similar launch events will occur at the Bronfman Business Library on Oct. 17 from 11am to 1pm, the Steacie Science and Engineering Library on Oct. 18 from 11am to 1pm and the Frost Library at Glendon Campus on Oct. 21 from 1pm to 3pm.

For more information about SPARK, questions about integrating specific modules into courses, or to provide general feedback, please contact

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