A letter of thanks and a view to the future

Drone image shows Vari Hall and the Ross Building on Keele Campus

As I write this, many of you have already started your teaching for this semester. It is just past noon on Sept. 8 as I write this message. Welcome back! It’s a little bit weird to write those words at this moment. The vast majority of everyone reading this has remained at home or wherever you’ve been spending your time over these past several months. Nevertheless, welcome back!

Will Gage

There is no denying that this is already a strange year. Our world has been turned upside down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our students’ world has also been turned upside down, to the same extent as ours, and more. It has been truly incredible to watch as each of you have adapted to our current context in teaching and how you engage with your students. I know that the demands on you as we start this new semester are tremendous, and I also know that you and I are ready and willing to meet these demands and surpass them. Our students are counting on us.

I want to take a moment and share the things that are on my mind and my priorities for this year. In light of our new University Academic Plan (UAP), there is no better time to review and reconceptualize what we can accomplish in service to our students and our community.

A new University Academic Plan

One of the most significant aspects of the UAP that the Office of the Associate Vice-President of Teaching and Learning is focused on is “21st Century Learning.” The pandemic forced us to go home and head online to deliver our teaching; it forced our students to go online for their learning. Everyone rallied to meet this challenge for the last half of the spring term and throughout the summer. We’re carrying on now into the fall term, and many of you have engaged with and been supported through the Teaching Commons. Geneviève Maheux-Pelletier and the Teaching Commons team developed new programming and resources to help us as we transitioned to online teaching and continue to support us now as we explore new ways of engaging online with our students. We are continuing to build our Blended and Online Learning (BOLD) program and website to support our instructors and our Faculties as everyone searches for new and exciting ways to connect with our students.

A new campus for Markham and York Region

Of course, the new Markham Centre Campus is moving forward. We are also working hard and, indeed, ramping up efforts to expand experiential education opportunities for our students and our partners in the community. As a University, we are committed to experiential education for every student, and to support this ambition, we are exploring and implementing software platforms to better link our programs and students with experiential opportunities, whether in terms of community-based research, practicums, internships or co-op. The YU Experience Hub is integral to this process. And, in support of yet another form of experiential education, the capstone course, the award-winning Cross-Campus Capstone Classroom (C4) program, has expanded again, setting a new record for the number of students and Faculties engaged. In fact, just a few minutes ago, I recorded a welcome video for the incoming C4 students (and I have a C4 project, too, with Garrett Melenka and Gerd Grau in the Lassonde School of Engineering).

The Academic Innovation Fund returns for another year

Please watch for this year’s call for Academic Innovation Fund (AIF) proposals coming very soon! And considering the new UAP and the University’s commitment to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (or SDGs), we are building opportunities to align AIF projects with the SDGs. We must be genuinely living up to the commitments we have made with integrity. I hope and trust that you will envision amazing, world-changing ideas in your AIF proposals that help everyone realize sustainability in the ways we all do our work.

York Change Leadership

I am very excited to continue working with Ellen Auster, the executive director of York Change Leadership (YCL), this year. We formally initiated YCL two years ago through the Office of the AVP Teaching and Learning, and since that time YCL has worked with many teams and groups across the University to support the development of institutional capacity in terms of strategic leadership skill building. YCL will continue working with our executive officers across the University and many academic programs, and I am particularly excited that YCL will again be facilitating the delivery of our leadership development programs for our program Chairs and our associate deans.

The exciting possibilities offered by micro-credentials

I have just one more very brief point to make, and then I’ll let you get back to your day with my thanks that you’ve taken the time to read this far. There is rapidly growing interest across the University and, indeed, at universities around the world, in micro-credentials. I am committed to working with my colleagues across York University to develop the tools and facilities we need to create and implement micro-credential programs in both the credit-bearing and non-credit worlds. In keeping with our values related to access and equity, micro-credentials can help us create new and exciting opportunities for students to engage with York University in ways that they can’t right now.

There is a lot for all of us to do this year. And as I’ve been typing this past half hour, I have received at least one online notification saying that Ontario is slowing down the reopening of the province out of concern for the risk of a sudden increase in the number of cases of COVID-19. I mention this to note that the world we are living in and working in remains fluid. We must remain flexible and adaptive to this shifting landscape as we engage in our teaching and learning. Our work isn’t easy, but if I’ve been wildly impressed by anything in the past six months, it has been with my colleagues’ resilience, ingenuity and imagination.

I wish you the best of luck with this semester and with this year and invite you to reach out if there is anything with which you feel I can support you.


Will Gage
Associate Vice-President Teaching and Learning