Technology, eLearning, internationalization, hallmarks of newest AIF projects

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AIF bannerImagine putting on a virtual reality (VR) headset and being immersed in the daily life at a refugee camp located across the ocean or using your smartphone to record your skill in administering an injection and emailing it to your instructor for feedback.

Thanks to the 2019-20 round of grants from York University’s Academic Innovation Fund (AIF), these opportunities and many others will be possible.

Will Gage

Professor Will Gage, associate vice-president teaching and learning, announced today the roster of approved projects comprising the second year of Phase 3 of the AIF program. (View the full list here.)

“AIF grants provide faculty members with the resources to address projects important to both them and the University,” Gage said. “The program as a whole is having a definite impact on teaching, learning and innovation across the University.

“As a whole, the bar for these projects keeps being raised.”

This year’s new crop of projects will receive more than $1.5 million in funding, bringing the total funds disbursed by the program to about $12 million since its inception in 2010. Eleven new projects will receive funds for the coming academic year under Category 1 of the program, which focuses on academic innovation endeavours. Six current projects are ongoing. In addition, six new Category 2 projects, focused on the scholarship of teaching and learning, have been approved. Those undertaking academic innovation projects are eligible for up to $100,000 in funding, with potential for renewal if they meet their first-year deliverables. Category 2 grants for the scholarship of teaching and learning provide $5,000 in one-time funding.

The 2019-20 AIF grants prioritize four specific areas of endeavour, consistent with the goals of the current Academic Plan, the Strategic Mandate Agreement and the Institutional Integrated Resource Plan. The focus is on:

  • embedding eLearning within undergraduate or graduate degree programs using blended or fully online strategies;
  • embedding experiential education (EE) within undergraduate or graduate degree programs through community-focused and/or work-focused EE strategies;
  • embedding student success and retention strategies within the curriculum in undergraduate degree programs; and
  • embedding internationalization within undergraduate or graduate degree programs.

“I am delighted that we at York University are able to support people who are passionate about academic innovation,” Gage said. “The grants are an excellent use of resources because they put our faculty, staff and students first.”

The recipients of the 2019-20 AIF grants come from two campuses and eight different Faculties, including the Schulich School of Business, the Faculty of Environmental Studies and the University Libraries.

“There has been interest in AIF grants across every Faculty during the lifetime of the program,” Gage said. “Staff and students get involved, as well.”

For example, Eva Peisachovich, an assistant professor of nursing at the Faculty of Health, and her co-principal investigator, Lora Appel, an assistant professor at the School of Health Policy & Management, have been approved for a new grant titled “The diVRsity program: embedding virtual reality as an experiential education medium to teach empathy.” The diVRsity program focuses on building essential human skills, such as empathy, by raising awareness about important diversity issues, like accessibility. This human-powered, technology-enabled program equips students and educators with the tools they need to recognize universal design issues across campus and capture these environments in 360 virtual reality (VR). Part of the process will be recruiting faculty members and students to create videos for use in virtual reality headsets. The videos will offer viewers experiences that teach them to be more empathetic.

“This opportunity has provided me with developing my vision of humanizing the curriculum by providing experiential education tools that meet people’s needs,” she said. “This project will provide students with the tools to enhance their professional competence in emotional intelligence.”

Peisachovich had a previous AIF grant and believes strongly in the value of the fund, as it allowed her to grow as an educator and researcher.

“These grants become stepping stones,” she said. “They help develop collaborations and partnerships, both on campus and off, and allow for cross-pollination of knowledge. They can also lead to external funding opportunities.

“In addition, my previous AIF grant strengthened my relationship with staff at Teaching Commons and people at the Faculty of Education, because my projects deal with experiential education and these are the experts.”

Franz Newland, an assistant professor and UPD in the Department of Earth & Space Science & Engineering, has had two previous AIF grants focusing on the scholarship of teaching and learning. This coming year, he and Danielle Robinson, an associate professor in the Department of Dance, have an AIF grant for an academic innovation project: Building a York Capstone Network, an endeavour designed to bring together all of the programs with capstone courses to share experiences and determine where project collaboration is feasible.

“Having an AIF grant opens doors so you can have conversations with people at various levels,” he said. “They also provide seed money that can be useful in convincing other funders to provide monies to sustain the projects. In addition, when there is money invested in one of your endeavours, you make a point of finding space for it in your life.”

Iris Epstein, also an assistant professor of nursing, is in the midst of a multi-year AIF grant titled “SmART (Smartphone Accommodation Resource Toolbox).” It revolves around supporting students and faculty in creating cost-effective smartphone skill videos as memory learning aids and as a way of remotely giving feedback on skills. The grant is collaborative, involving faculty and students from both nursing, education and engineering in the design and execution of the SmART toolbox.

“Having an AIF grant is a great opportunity to be innovative,” Epstein said. “Not only does it kick-start your research program, but you get to know faculty, students, departments and systems throughout the University. It also connects you with people from other disciplines who are doing innovative research.

“For example, I wouldn’t have known about Teaching Commons otherwise and the staff there provided me with their undivided attention and their ideas. The grants allow you to be creative and work with eLearning experts. It’s a great journey.”