Playing in Sandbox option for York faculty

a bucket in a sandbox

York University’s participation in “Sandbox” doesn’t mean you’ll see professors sitting outdoors with pails and shovels, building sandcastles.

The EdTech Sandbox, along with Open Textbook, are eCampus Ontario initiatives that advance educational technology and postsecondary learning. Seven York professors have been awarded projects under the eCampus Ontario umbrella for the coming year, allowing them to experiment with new online technologies or create online textbooks that are available to any Ontarian with an interest in the subjects covered.

Will Gage

“Like eCampus Ontario, York University is committed to the evolution of teaching and learning, and these digital learning initiatives provide us with excellent opportunities to move pedagogy in new and interesting directions,” said York University’s Associate Vice-President of Teaching and Learning Will Gage.

The EdTech Sandbox provides faculty with the opportunity to test online educational technologies that eCampus Ontario is considering introducing into their arsenal of shared tools. A number of post-secondary faculty members test each tool, and two York faculty members are among those “playing in the sand.” They have access to new technologies to use in their classrooms, with the proviso that they must evaluate their experiences with these products.

Tanya Da Sylva, a sessional lecturer for the Faculty of Science, will be using Labster, a virtual simulation tool, in an introductory biology course for bridging students. The course currently doesn’t include a lab component, so Da Silva considers Labster a good replacement. Her students have received other web-enhanced portions of the course with enthusiasm.

“Labster would provide a unique opportunity for experiential learning,” wrote Da Sylva in her successful application, “allowing students to experience the process of scientific investigation in a hands-on fashion, and gain core lab competencies that would help them succeed in future life science coursework and professional opportunities.”

Andrew Maxwell
Andrew Maxwell

Andrew Maxwell, director of the Bergeron Entrepreneurs in Science & Technology and an associate professor of entrepreneurial engineering at Lassonde School of Engineering, will also be dipping his toe into the EdTech Sandbox. He will be trying out a program of digital badging, online incentive badges awarded to mark the successful completion of tasks or participation in activities. They will be available to more than 1,000 engineering students.

“Badges will be awarded to students who demonstrate innovation, creativity and entrepreneurial skills, attendance at entrepreneurial workshops and boot camps and participation in the BEST entrepreneurship lab, co-ops and international experience programs,” Maxwell noted in his application. “Digital badges will also be use to recognize participation (required in some academic courses) or to recognize skills and achievements prior to York.”

Five York professors receive funding to write or adapt textbooks for the Open Textbook Library

Meanwhile, five York professors have received funding to write or adapt textbooks for the Open Textbook Library. The library, created in partnership with the BCcampus, offers anyone in Ontario digital access to post-secondary textbooks. Their work will add new volumes to the more than 180 textbooks already available online.

Sylvie Clamageran and Henriette Gezundhajt, French language faculty from Glendon College, are engaged in writing Résumer, Synthétiser, Argumenter: Pratiques d’écriture académique et fonctionnelle, a textbook for students learning French as a second language to use in writing academic and functional summaries/syntheses and argumentative texts in French. To heighten its appeal to students in the digital age, the textbook will be fully multimedia, with animated (audio/video) texts and graphics, interactive exercises and quizzes.

Their colleague, Professor Usha Viswanathan at the Centre de formation linguistiques pour les études en français at Glendon College, has received funding to write a basic textbook for students learning French as a second language. Apprendre le français à travers les genres: le fait divers passé et le compte-rendu, will employ a combination of text, audio and video to teach students to summarize past events that emphasize French life and culture.

Professor Michael De Robertis and his York colleague, astronomy Professor Paul Delaney, from the Faculty of Science, are collaborating with a colleague at Trent University to adapt an existing first-year astronomy textbook for use in large classes, helping students to comprehend basic astronomy principles better through inquiry and discovery. The existing textbook is currently used by numerous universities throughout North America.

“I am delighted that our faculty members are helping to expand the boundaries of eLearning in Ontario,” said Gage.

By Elaine Smith, special contributing writer to Innovatus