AIF funds a wide range of teaching and learning projects

Hand holding light bulb with illustration on blurred background

By Elaine Smith

Over the years, York University’s Academic Innovation Fund (AIF) has promoted an inspired shift in teaching, learning, the student experience and internationalization of the curriculum. With the deadline approaching for applications to this year’s AIF, here is an overview of some of the examples of the past projects that received funding.

Will Gage
Will Gage

For Will Gage, York University’s associate vice-president, teaching & learning, the start of the winter term is a sign that it’s time to remind faculty members to submit their applications for Academic Innovation Fund (AIF) grants. And what better way to do so than to share some examples of projects that received grants in the past?

“For more than a decade, the AIF has provided faculty with funding to pilot, develop and test their innovative curricular and pedagogical ideas,” said Gage. “We are proud of the diverse, useful, practical output that has resulted, many of which have been incorporated into the classroom or the student experience.”

For example, an AIF grant is supporting a project related to a topic that is crucial to the University Academic Plan: the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The ‘SDGs-in-the-Classroom” Curricular Innovation Hub is a pan-University, interdisciplinary, scaffolded strategy that aims to infuse the SDGs into more York classrooms more quickly.

Nitima Bhatia and Tracy Bhoola, members of the SDGs-in-the-Classroom Community of Practice, are working under the oversight of Sandra (Skerratt) Peniston, an assistant professor of nursing, to bring this effort to life, thanks to an AIF grant. They led the team that created an SDGs toolkit to make it simple to integrate the SDGs into courses on any subject.

“SDGs do touch on every single discipline, but many people may not realize that, so we want to spread the word across campus,” said Bhoola.

Added Bhatia, “The toolkit has launched, but we are adding resources every day, so it’s a living, breathing resource.”

In time, the toolkit will be located on the hub, which will be home to resources about SDGs, collaboration opportunities and videos created by SDG Curricular Champions. Bhatia and Bhoola are also involved in five workshops being held in conjunction with the Teaching Commons to train faculty to incorporate SDGs into their curricula, and they will be making presentations to the faculty councils about the accessibility and relevance of the tools.

“We really want to get the SDGs into York’s DNA,” said Bhoola.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals

Robin Sutherland-Harris, an educational developer at the Teaching Commons, has used an AIF grant to develop a speakers’ program for the community of practice that is dedicated to equity, diversity, decolonization and inclusion in teaching and learning. Sutherland-Harris, the project lead, works with co-leads Ameera Ali, another educational developer, and Jessica Vorstermans, an assistant professor of critical disability studies, health policy and equity, to line up speakers for their monthly meetings and set the group’s agenda.

“We launched the community of practice in Fall 2021,” said Sutherland-Harris. “It’s for anyone who deals with teaching and learning at York and we’re always accepting members. We started with 40 people and now have more than 70.

“During our first year, our monthly sessions largely featured members of our community sharing topics of interest or expertise. However, we felt that especially those who are less established or not in the tenure stream were devoting a significant chunk of work to preparing presentations. We wanted to have funding to help support and recognize their labour, and that got us talking about applying for an AIF grant.”

The team plans to apply for a second year of AIF funding to support their monthly lectures and plan for their upcoming May conference.

A partnership between the Schulich School of Business and YSpace is preserving guidance and insights gleaned from York and Schulich alumni in a video database that any faculty member can access. Based on lectures given by these visiting experts, The Entrepreneurial Mindset/Skillset eLearning and Video Database Initiative, offers faculty short clips on myriad topics, such as venture capital and protecting intellectual property, said Chris Carder, executive director of Schulich’s Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

“Normally, when professors want to use video content for a class, they need to go out and find relevant stories,” said Carder. “Often, however, they are coming from American sources. At Schulich there are so many interviews done and appearances made by York and Schulich alumni and we’re saving it all.

“This program wouldn’t be possible without the AIF grant. I’m grateful that York has such a program that encourages us to push the envelope.”

Another current project, EE With, Not In, focuses on experiential education (EE). Led by Natalie Coulter, director of the Institute for Digital Literacies, and Byron Gray, manager of the TD Community Engagement Centre, this collaborative project supports students in their EE experiences in the Jane and Finch community. It uses a reciprocal approach that is respectful of community knowledge and expertise in the community, rather than being grounded in assumptions and stigmatizations.

Meanwhile, the Collective Inclusive Pathways to Access (CIPA) project is working to increase the success of students with disabilities in work placements. Currently, their access is heavily reliant on an accommodations model predicated on disclosure of a medical diagnosis. Led by nursing professor Iris Epstein, the project will develop a CIPA resource for professionals and those responsible for creating accessible EE. 

The AIF fund allows faculty to exercise their pedagogical creativity. Don’t miss out on this year’s call for applications – check your Faculty’s fast-approaching deadline for submission.