Using a virtual reality sandbox as a teaching tool 

Interplay of abstract geometry structure and numbers on subject of computing, virtual reality and education.

By Elaine Smith 

By the time students enter York’s Lassonde School of Engineering, they’re long past the age of playing in sandboxes – or so they believe. Mojgan Jadidi and her colleagues have turned that assumption on its head.

Mojgan Jadidi
Mojgan Jadidi

Jadidi, an associate professor in the Department of Earth & Space Science & Engineering, has created a virtual reality sandbox (XR Sandbox) teaching tool that builds on an augmented reality physical sandbox (AR Sandbox) devised by faculty at the University of California Davis (UCD).  

“I was thinking about the first-year LE/ESSE1012 Earth and Environment course that I was teaching to the engineering students from all civil, geomatics, mechanical and space engineering programs,” Jadidi said. “It’s a very dry and heavy theory course and I have always wanted to provide the students with something cool and fun to experience and learn.” 

Using the UCD AR sandbox students can sculpt terrain in a physical sandbox and, in real time, generate and project a topographical map onto it to replicate the landscape of a specific area. Since it is an open-source product, Jadidi built the system at Lassonde machine shop and tailored it as her own version.  

She discovered that there were additional features she wanted to include, such as adding artifacts (e.g., logo blocks), detecting man-made objects on the AR sandbox, exporting the 3D scene that students build as 3D mesh, and many more functionalities. In addition, Jadidi was eager to expand the use of AR Sandbox beyond the first-year classroom to all Lassonde programs. She reached out to colleagues Melanie Baljko, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering; Usman Khan, an associate professor of civil engineering; and Matthew Perras, an associate professor of civil engineering, to join the project and received an Academic Innovation Fund (AIF) grant to improve the tool. Their goal was to add other functions so the tool was useful to students in a variety of courses and engineering disciplines, providing for real-time, 3D geo-mapping. 

Then came the pandemic. 

“Disruption equals opportunity,” Jadidi said. “We decided to re-create the sandbox in a virtual/gaming environment. Now, using the virtual game sandbox, the tool is accessible to all students via web browser. They can mimic water simulation and flooding, for example. I’ve also tried it using a virtual reality headset, and that gives us endless opportunities. We can go to different locales, such as the Grand Canyon to look at the layers of soil and rock.

Lassonde Sandbox
XR Sandbox is an inclusive, diverse learning environment that helps students to retain information. Here it is used to create a topographical map that replicates the landscape of a specific area

“There are applications for civil engineering, but for other engineering disciplines as well. Electrical engineers can create a circuit network, for instance, play with the components and see their design in a more immersive way. Mechanical and space engineering students can assemble a drone and fly it – and there are many more options.” 

Jadidi has applied for another AIF grant to expand the project to all Lassonde programs and refers to it as the Augmented and Virtual Reality (XR) Sandbox. 

“The XR Sandbox is an inclusive, diverse learning environment that helps students to retain information,” she said. “I want students to be able to use all three versions of the XR sandbox: augmented, virtual game and virtual reality. The physical sandbox is ideal for learning tangibly; the gaming version is good for remote learning and for redoing an experiment without time constraints to allow students to learn from mistakes; and the virtual reality version gives more immersive information to students so they can experience things they can’t always access in the physical world.  

“For example, they can simulate flooding in the Toronto downtown core (an application is under development) or simulate an earthquake at the Grand Canyon and see how the different geological layers respond. It allows them to think about the future and see the implications of their designs or decisions.” 

Jadidi, whose own research focuses on 3D data integration, analytics and digital twins, has had success using the XR Sandbox in her courses. She has also created a 3D game to teach land surveying. She created it early in the pandemic in response to the need to avoid field-based class cancellations. 

“The surveying gaming environment helps students to be prepared for physical tasks while they were on the field for surveying,” Jadidi said. “This generation is comfortable with the technology, digital world and gaming environment, so we are talking the same language as they are.” 

Perras, too, has incorporated the XR Sandbox into his geological processes course, LE/CIVL 2160, taken by second-year civil engineering students. 

“Civil engineers need an understanding of the environment in which we build things, and we can’t always go out into the field to show them everything,” Perras said. “With virtual reality, there is an opportunity to create landscapes and project different geological features onto the terrain, which helps bring things together for the students.” 

His first opportunity to use the XR Sandbox in class came last term when Perras was able to use it to replace a problem his students tackled on paper prior to the pandemic. The problem required them to look at a site that needed to be excavated for a building and determine the type and volume of material involved.  

“It was hard for students to use a topographical map with geological observation points to visualize a three-dimensional site, but now, the sandbox allows them to do the problem in 3D,” Perras said. “The system helps quite a lot with complex problems, although there’s still a learning curve for both the students and me in using it.” 

Jadidi continues to share the XR Sandbox developments with the engineering world, presenting its innovations at national and international engineering education conferences. The XR Sandbox earned a best poster award at the 2022 American Society of Engineering Education Saint Lawrence Conference. This year, she will be speaking at the American Society for Engineering Education and the Canadian Association of Engineering Education’s annual conference, showcasing her recent developments.  

The XR Sandbox and associated applications are examples of how Lassonde is empowering its students by familiarizing them with creative learning tools.  

Welcome to the January 2023 issue of ‘Innovatus’

Header banner for INNOVATUS

Happy New Year! Welcome to the January 2023 issue of “Innovatus,” a special issue of YFile dedicated to teaching and learning innovation at York University.

This month, we offer an overview of the Academic Innovation Fund, a unique experiential learning initiative coming out of the Glendon campus, two unique forms of professional development and ChatGPT.

Will Gage
Will Gage

This issue offers a digest of sorts in that it does not have a specific Faculty in the spotlight. Instead, we opted to provide a wide array of interesting stories. The lead story focuses on the Academic Innovation Fund. The deadline for submissions is approaching and we thought you would find an overview of some of the past projects that received funding. It is interesting to see how the innovations arising out of the projects are now part of the fabric of the teaching and learning tapestry at York University.

There are also two interesting stories on professional development. One focuses on a reading group and the other on how a development tool known as Sandbox is inspiring new forms of professional development.

As well, Glendon, through its work with the Toronto French School, is deepening the experiential education for students who are studying French language with a view of a possible teaching career.

And finally, ChatGPT, a new artificial intelligence platform, has dominated the news of late. This story explores how York University is harnessing the power and potential of this new technology.

I hope the ideas presented in this issue are both informative and inspiring.


Will Gage
Associate Vice-President, Teaching and Learning

Faculty, course directors and staff are invited to share their experiences in teaching, learning, internationalization and the student experience through the “Innovatus” story form, which is available at

In this issue:

AIF funds a wide range of teaching and learning projects
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.

Glendon’s partnership with Toronto French School is an EE success
The partnership offers a win-win for students at Glendon and the Toronto French School. The collaboration between the two institutions has led to a full-year experiential education opportunity in the form of a professional work placement course.

Reading for teaching offers new perspectives and connections
The new Reading for Teaching program offers an informal, collegial space to engage with colleagues from across York University and it is the result of an inspired collaboration between an educational developer and a teaching and learning librarian.

Coming soon: Innovative professional development online
Although she realizes that faculty members across Ontario may never binge-watch professional development videos focused on learning innovations, Michelle Sengara hopes the learning modules being created will still be a hit with dedicated teachers.

How will AI tools such as ChatGPT shape teaching and learning? 
ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence (AI) tool that has dominated the headlines of late, has been labelled as a transformational force in academia. How are York faculty harnessing this powerful tool?

Workshop series brings SDGs to forefront of teaching and learning

Featured image for stories related to sustainability

A series of one-hour workshops at York University will launch in the new year and share ways in which educators can infuse the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SGDs) into teaching and learning.

Co-developed by York’s Teaching Commons and SDGs-in-the-Classroom Curricular Innovation Hub, The Sustainable Development Goals in Teaching and Learning series launches Jan. 25, 2023 and presents five online workshops.

UN SDG wheel with the 17 SDGs

The series explores how educators might speak to the SDGs through curriculum, teaching practices, course design and assessments. The outcomes are developed to raise awareness of the importance of sustainable development and prepare students with the knowledge, skills and attributes to tackle the world’s greatest challenges.

The workshops, which run from 10 to 11 a.m., are:

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)-in-the-Classroom Curricular Innovation Hub is part of the SDG Teach In, a campaign to put the SDGs at the centre of all stages of education, and across all disciplines. The SDG Teach In, hosted by Students Organizing for Sustainability United Kingdom (SOS-UK), is a student-led education charity focusing on sustainability with a belief that change is urgently needed to tackle the injustices and unsustainability in our world.

The 2023 campaign will run from March 1 to 31, 2023, and encourages educators to pledge to include the SDGs within their teaching, learning and assessment during the campaign and beyond. Educators can pledge to take part now via the SDG Teach in pledge form

Put your creativity to work in the classroom, scholarship

Featured image for the Academic Innovation Fund call

By Elaine Smith

York University’s Academic Innovation Fund (AIF) is now accepting 2023 grant applications and Will Gage, associate vice-president, teaching and learning, encourages faculty to put their creative ideas to work.

Will Gage
Will Gage

The Academic Innovation Fund, which first awarded grants in 2011, supports projects that advance York University’s priorities in terms of teaching, learning and the student experience. It offers opportunities to pilot, develop and test curricular or pedagogical innovations that support eLearning, experiential education (EE), student success and retention strategies and internationalization within the curriculum. Grants also support the scholarship of teaching and learning.

This year, once again, it will give priority to projects that support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a way of reflecting York’s longstanding commitment to building a more sustainable and just future, as noted in the University Academic Plan.

“For 2022, we set the expectation that 30 per cent of our funding would go toward projects that reflected the SDGs, but, in fact, 100 per cent of our Category I applications related to at least one SDG, while 92 per cent touched on two or more and 75 per cent addressed three or more,” says Gage. “People see the value of building the SDGs into their projects.”

Phase IV of AIF funding offers three categories of grants:

  • Category I funding will support initiatives of schools, departments and/or Faculties to strategically embed one or more of the four indicated institutional priorities – eLearning, experiential education (EE), student success and retention strategies and internationalization within the curriculum – in undergraduate or graduate degrees; 
  • Category II A funding will support curricular innovation projects;
  • Category II B will support curricular innovation – innovative course prototyping; and 
  • Category III funding will support scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) projects focused on 21st century learning.

Gage anticipates seeing projects that take equity and decolonization into consideration, as well as those providing opportunities for globally networked learning, which was first introduced as a result of a 2015-16 AIF grant.

“GNL is a good mechanism to support internationalization without the extra costs of studying abroad,” he said.

He also expects to receive applications that reflect technologically enhanced or “entangled” learning. (Learn more about entangled pedagogy.)

“Pedagogy always comes first in considering how to teach, but the role of technology today is not just to enhance, but to enable certain aspects of teaching,” Gage said. “We are now at the point where newer technologies enable you to teach differently, whether that’s by using peer assessment using a tech platform such as KRITIK or using augmented or virtual reality to do a simulation. You are able to connect people in ways that couldn’t happen without technology.”

AIF proposals must be submitted to the dean of your Faculty for review and ranking. Each Faculty has its own deadlines, but the ranked packages will be forwarded to the AVP, Teaching & Learning on Feb. 17, 2023. To assist interested faculty, the Office of the AVP, Teaching and Learning and the Teaching Commons will be offering a series of workshops to help develop AIF applications. Stay tuned to the AIF website.

“AIF continues to be a demonstration of the commitment York University has to teaching and learning and to enhancing the experiences of our students and faculty,” said Gage.

An Open Educational Resources mini-course offers innovative options for York instructors

Two people sitting in front of computers discuss what they are seeing

By Elaine Smith

The Open Educational Resources mini-course provides instructors with the necessary background knowledge and skills to engage with innovative, open pedagogical tools.

Stephanie Quail
Stephanie Quail

As busy as York University instructors are, it’s worth carving out the time for a new four-week mini-course as it provides the necessary tools to create or incorporate OER into courses, says Stephanie Quail, scholarly communications librarian.

“OER can save you time,” said Quail. “There are OER repositories that include high-quality teaching and learning resources. Instructors can either use the materials as is, or depending on the open license, they can revise and remix the content.”

Quail and colleague, Sarah Coysh, director of the Libraries’ Digital Scholarship Infrastructure Department, developed the course in 2020 at the behest of the Academic Innovation Fund (AIF) steering committee. Any faculty member who receives an AIF grant is now encouraged to take the course and starting this fall, the course will be open to all instructors at York University.

OER are openly licensed, freely available educational materials that can be used, accessed, adapted and redistributed with no or limited restrictions. The online OER course, which will start in late November, will be offered by York University Libraries both synchronously and asynchronously. The four module mini-course covers a variety of valuable topics:

  1. OER 101: What is OER? Including examples of OER and how they benefit students and faculty. 
  2. Copyright & Creative Commons licenses: An exploration of the range of open licenses available to creators and how to choose a licence that makes the most sense for their project.
  3. Finding and evaluating OER: How to find OER for your subject areas and evaluate them.
  4. Create or adapt pre-existing OER: Learn how to create your own OER or adapt those already online.

Quail says the course is designed to not be onerous, given the other demands on instructors’ time. Completing assignments is optional and assignments are structured to help faculty walk away from the course with a game plan for creating or using OER in their courses.

Sarah Coysh
Sarah Coysh

The York University Libraries website also has a resource available that explains the procedure for depositing your OER into YorkSpace, York’s own institutional repository. Lukas Arnason, assistant professor of French studies in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional studies (LA&PS), took the OER training and said it was “the best professional training I’ve received at York. It was a cut above. I came out of it feeling that I had a handle on something that had been a complete mystery to me before. It was really empowering.

“I loved the way the course was organized. The separate modules were nicely self-contained and they built on one another.”

He was pleased to have the chance to work with H5P, a platform for building resources and something to which he hadn’t been exposed previously. “Rather than hand students a massive textbook, you can offer them a mix of resources and make lessons interactive,” Arnason said. “It’s especially useful for language professors, because you can build electronic components for practise and reinforcement outside the classroom.”

Sophie Bury, director of Learning Commons and Reference Services in the York University Libraries, took the training as part of a 2020 AIF grant to develop the Student Guide to Group Work.

“The excellent OER training program … formed the backbone behind this project and enabled us to take this guide to a new level by equipping our team with the skills needed to make this a true OER, featuring original content, the adaptation of existing OER, and best of all, by moving us beyond an initial conception of an exclusive focus on the York community, to ensure academic colleagues internationally can share or adapt this resource in line with the terms of our creative commons license,” Bury said.

Mary-Helen Armour
Mary-Helen Armour

Mary-Helen Armour, an associate professor who teaches planetary science courses in the Faculty of Science, has been using OER for years and finds them an invaluable tool. She learned by doing, working with colleagues in professional associations in workshops and at conferences to test them and adjust them to her needs.

“In recent years, eCampusOntario has started supporting the development of OER, but they don’t have a discipline-specific focus,” she said. “The OER I use are ways to give students a different experience beyond multiple choice tests in the areas I teach. The OER also allow you to use current scientific data in some fairly simple ways, so students feel connected with how scientists actually do things.

“For instance, I can try to tie assignments into recent satellite space missions to show students how scientists use the data, or to slides created by mission experts where we can talk about the mission’s impact. OER slide sets from groups like NASA are great for those of us who don’t have time to assemble slick graphics. They make for a much richer student experience.”

Register here for the upcoming OER course.

York students EXPLORE dark matter in Germany

York students in Frankfurt Germany

In late August, nine undergraduate students from York University packed their bags and flew across the pond to join students at Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany for the “Astrophysical Laboratories of Fundamental Physics” summer school.

The summer school was the culmination of a larger initiative called EXPLORE: EXPeriential Learning Opportunity through Research and Exchange, which enables students to learn about astrophysics hands on while also experiencing modern international research collaborations. EXPLORE includes students from York University, University of Toronto and Goethe University.

Sean Tulin
Sean Tulin

The students who attended the summer school at Goethe University had already been working together virtually during Summer 2021 or Winter 2022 semesters on small teams, tackling research questions related to dark matter. They were mentored by Professors Sean Tulin in York’s Faculty of Science; Nassim Bozorgnia and Saeed Rastgoo, who helped launch the program from York University but are now at the University of Alberta; and Laura Sagunski and Jürgen Schaffner-Bielich at Goethe University.

Tarnem Afify
Tarnem Afify

“After many hours of working and meeting online, it was nice to finally meet everyone in person,” said summer school attendee Tarnem Afify, who graduated from the York Biophysics Program. “I find EXPLORE to be a unique student-research program, since it truly gives you a taste of all the bits and pieces that go into a scientific research process. Getting a chance to visit Goethe University and meet everyone at the end of the program was the cherry on top to my experience. The summer school not only gave me the opportunity to attend thought-provoking lectures and tutorials given by great scientists, but also allowed me to learn about Frankfurt’s culture and traditions.”

Over the five days of summer school from Aug. 21 to 26, the students attended talks and lectures by renowned researchers on hot topics in theoretical and observational astrophysics. They participated in collaborative sessions and tutorials that involved analyzing data and hands-on research, as well as in cultural and social events like a stand-up paddling tour on the river Main. They also met the mayor of Frankfurt Nargess Eskandari-Grünberg, who welcomed them on their first day.

Dhyan Thakkar
Dhyan Thakkar

“The entire summer school was devoted to our knowledge and they also ensured we enjoyed our time there,” said York physics student Dhyan Thakkar. “My favorite was the lecture on relativistic gamma ray burst jets, we did computations regarding the physics of the jet itself after the lectures and I found that really interesting. Overall, I had a great time there, and this project in general gave me a new passion for coding and computational research.”

Megan Gran
Megan Gran

The creation of EXPLORE was sparked by Sagunski, who completed her postdoctoral fellowship at York in 2019 under the supervision of Tulin. After landing a faculty position at Goethe University, she wanted to create an innovative teaching and learning experience for students in astrophysics and reached out to Tulin to collaborate on transforming the idea into a real program. “The program allows students to explore their interests; for instance, we see some students discover that they enjoy the theoretical aspects of research the most, while others find that they prefer coding,” said Sagunski. “The experience also shows students how amazing it is to be a researcher working on an international team, going back and forth on how to answer a question.”

“As an engineering student with a passion for space, being able to participate in a research project like EXPLORE really gave me insight on how data is used and interpreted within the science field,” said Megan Gran, a York space engineering student. “From an engineering perspective, I can now visualize how to engineer space instruments for scientific use.”

EXPLORE is supported by the Academic Innovation Fund at York University, the DFG Collaborative Research Center CRC-TR 211 “Strong-interaction matter under extreme conditions” and the State of Hesse through the Research Cluster ELEMENTS. The summer school was also supported by the city of Frankfurt am Main via its city partnership with Toronto.

AMPD professor loves teaching, the classroom, virtual or not

People at theatre

Ian Garrett, a theatre professor in the School of the Arts, Media, Performance and Design (AMPD), considers the impact of technology and its role in driving positive change in post-secondary education.

By Elaine Smith

Ian Garrett finds teaching to be as inspiring to him as learning is to his students.

“I love being challenged and working through ideas with students,” said Garrett, an associate professor of ecological design for performance in the School of the Arts, Media, Performance and Design. “I have no interest in being an island. I get lots of viewpoints and perspectives.”

Ian Garrett
Ian Garrett.

Throughout his tenure at York University, Garrett has seen teaching evolve. He remembers when he was the only faculty member in the Theatre School at California Institute of the Arts with a course website, since he knew how to design and build one. Today, it’s a given.

“Technology has exploded,” he said. “I built one of my large courses as an online class and it has informed a lot of my in-person teaching. I’ve had the opportunity to invest time in elearning and think about it. It has caused me to rethink my priorities and my methods of assessment, which is reflected back in my other courses.”

In considering assessment, Garrett has looked at his goals and at the purpose of grading.

“I think that earlier in my career in teaching I believed you had to earn your grade and it was a chance to see if students could rise to the occasion,” he said. “Now, a lot of my teaching is about driving student success. My goal is to get my students to do well. My assessment is guided toward their literacy and mastery of the topic. I do give quizzes, but my courses are project-oriented. I’ve discovered more engaging ways of seeing if the students can process the necessary information.”

An Academic Innovation Fund grant initially helped him move his course online and as he did so, plagiarism was a concern. He has learned to ensure that the outcomes from his design assignments are unique so he gets a better sense of what a student can actually do; the outcomes are more personal to each individual.

Garrett believes strongly that technology drives change. A lot of the work he does in design requires hands-on skills with technology and he was also an early adopter of putting course materials online. He wants students to be conversant with technology.

“The integration of technology creates a more holistic learning experience,” Garrett said. “For instance, I can direct them to other resources such as the library electronically. Before Zoom, I would have guest speakers regularly using video conferencing. It brings in other expertise and promotes the ability to look outside the classroom. It expands the classroom and helps the students feel like they are part of a larger experience.”

Garrett is an advocate for globally networked learning (GNL) and believes internationalization broadens the student’s experience. During the pandemic, he worked in collaboration with students enrolled in his Ecoscenography course and with students from two Australian universities to design sets for the Climate Change Theatre Action Festival, held in Calgary this past summer. Despite the 14-hour time difference, they found a way to create designs together online.

“We can have global classrooms and are able to interact with people across the globe in real time,” Garrett said.

He also supports experiential education and expects it to remain a valuable addition to the classroom experience.

“I’m always looking for ways to get students out of the space we’re in, whether that’s through a field trip or a placement,” Garrett said. “I want to get them into an environment where the work [of making theatre] is happening.

“For instance, in my Sustainable Staging Techniques course, I asked the students to create proposals for change on campus that required them to learn about how the campus works in ways they hadn’t though about. They were busy talking to people from Facilities & Services, for example, and they could see their work in action. Our theatre work isn’t separate from the rest of society, so it’s really valuable to connect with other systems.”

Garrett agrees that students want more agency and says AMPD’s theatre program is headed in that direction.

“There are so many options for what students can do, so we’re trying to break down the rigid structures of the past and make the program less prescriptive,” Garrett said. “Students want to make things to tell stories and to explore all the different ways they can express their ideas. There are so many different outlets and modalities for their creativity and technology is less expensive than ever. There are podcasts, short-form videos … the challenge is how do we support students so they have the common skills initially and allow them to specialize.

“They may not know what all the options are, but it’s part of our job as faculty members to help them find what their passions are. AMPD is so diverse; it can be overwhelming in terms of choices. I like the excitement of students making connections among the options.”

In preparing students for the future, Garrett believes that “the most important thing we can do is to help students learn how to learn. There will always be new technologies and new subject fields, but we can help students to learn how to solve problems, how to learn new tools and skills, how to decide which ones are important and how to apply them to their own work. We can teach them critical thinking and how to come into a new environment and cultivate the new skills they need.”

In looking toward the classes of the future, “I’m excited about exploring mixed reality technology and its ability to affect the way we deliver courses. Research into virtual reality and live performance may allow us to have the same in-person experience simultaneously. Being in a classroom will mean sharing either time or space together.”

York’s first Provostial Fellows lead on sustainability

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

In 2021, the inaugural cohort of Provostial Fellows began a series of year-long projects that would take meaningful action on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The SDGs play a central role in the University Academic Plan, which includes a call for the community to create positive change through the goals.  Now that their terms have ended, here is a look back at what the Fellows have achieved.

Reducing York’s carbon footprint
Burkard Eberlein
Professor of Public Policy and Sustainability, Schulich School of Business

Burkhard Eberlein
Burkhard Eberlein

Burkard Eberlein’s project, “Advancing Carbon Neutrality at York: Reimagining Mobility,” will continue to target York’s carbon emissions from commuting and travel, with a special focus on air travel related to studying, research or University business activities.  

The first phase of this project included a scan of actions taken by universities across North America and globally to identify some best practices and how they reduce carbon emissions. Carbon reduction potential, ease of implementation and impacts on equity, diversity and inclusion were just some of the criteria developed when considering the best practices that could be adopted at York. 

Schulich students were also engaged on the project and analyzed data from York’s carbon inventory. The carbon inventory reveals the areas where the University’s carbon impact is most substantial, including mobility. A key area of interest is reducing single-occupancy vehicle commutes to York’s campuses. Overall, the goal is to match global best practices with York’s specific emissions profile so that proposals for action can target relevant areas that achieve the most impact. 

In the project’s next phase involves a community-wide survey to gauge support for initiatives to reduce mobility-related emissions. Results are expected to inform recommendations to the University community and leadership. The University has stated a commitment to achieving carbon neutrality by 2049 and the project promises to propose concrete actions to make tangible progress in a key area of indirect carbon emissions at York.

Mobilizing a community to improve access to clean freshwater
Sapna Sharma
Associate Professor in the Department of Biology, Faculty of Science

Sapna Sharma
Sapna Sharma

For the past year, Sapna Sharma focused on raising awareness and building networks of scholars whose work examines freshwater access and managing climate change risks.

Her Toronto Star op-ed “Toward a more equitable water future for Canada” shone a spotlight on how two-thirds of long-term water advisories in Canada affect Indigenous communities.

“I think it is really important that we improve awareness about the inequalities in freshwater access in Canada and around the world. For example, although Canada has over nine million lakes and 20 per cent of the world’s freshwater supply, there are still 29 communities that do not have reliable access to clean drinking water – this isn’t acceptable,” says Sharma.

Sharma contributed to pieces published in Excalibur, The Narwhal, Bridge Michigan and Cottage Life, focusing on the history of drinking water advisories in Canada, the need to prepare for climate change and what shrinking lake ice coverage is doing to the quality and quantity of fresh water supply. She also highlighted the importance of inclusion when it comes to identifying solutions to the freshwater and climate crisis.

On World Water Day, Sharma brought together more than 100 local and international participants for a solutions-driven workshop on the impacts of climate change on freshwater. She also joined more than 40 students for a career networking event with water professionals that same week. On July 12, she hosted a rooftop networking event at Malaparte TIFF Bell Lightbox, bringing together water, climate and sustainability researchers and industry partners to support collaboration across disciplines.

Sharma plans to continue organizing regular water research seminars and networking sessions for the York community. Partnering with CIFAL York, the Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health and two Organized Research Units – One Water and the Risk and Insurance Studies Centre – her goal is to grow networks and partnerships that advance the SDGs at York.

Embedding the SDGs in York curriculum
Cheryl van Daalen-Smith
Associate Professor in the School of Nursing, Faculty of Health
Associate Professor in the School of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies and the Childhood and Youth Studies Program, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies

Cheryl van Daalen Smith
Cheryl van Daalen Smith

Cheryl van Daalen-Smith’s vision was to collaboratively seek ways to infuse the UN SDGs into interdisciplinary classrooms across the University. Her project “More than Bees and Trees” sought to inspire and amplify curricular SDG initiatives and advance York University’s commitment to interdisciplinarity. Through a community development approach, this Fellowship spawned an SDGs in the Classroom Community of Practice, which continues to grow and add to the more than 60 educators who are involved from across the University.

Members of the community of practice thought that a toolkit would help further realize van Daalen-Smith’s vision. Two community members, Tracy Bhoola, an instructor at YUELI, and Nitima Bhatia, a PhD student and research assistant, took the lead in creating content for the SDGs-in-the-Classroom Toolkit website. Through diligent leadership, this interdisciplinary resource is now available to educators both within York University and around the world, further supporting the University’s commitment to open access.

The SDGs-in-the-Classroom Community of Practice also brought together University partners and stakeholders who were engaged on the UN SDGs. The group listened to members who had already found some success with integrating the SDGs in classrooms and to students who shared who would share their learning experiences and recommendations. York’s list of UN SDG Curricular Champions were identified among instructors who had found innovative ways of connecting the SDGs to diverse interdisciplinary topics, concepts and disciplines. 

Finally, the first-ever SDGs in the Classroom Teach-In was hosted in conjunction with the Teaching Common’s Annual Teaching in Focus conference, on May 10, drawing together 90 national and global registrants. The session hosted panel discussions, drop-in live coaching sessions and interactions with curricular champions and toolkit creators. With a vibrant, three-year Academic Innovation Fund grant now underway, the work of this Fellowship will continue to be led by School of Nursing Assistant Professor Sandra Peniston, with a myriad of interdisciplinary instructors guiding the development of simulations, apps, games, and other ways to continue to bring the “wicked problems” addressed by the SDGs into York’s classrooms.

Building global competences at York
Qiang Zha, Associate Professor, Faculty of Education

Qiang Zha
Qiang Zha

Qiang Zha focused on how a liberal arts education could be reimagined and reinvented for the 21st century. He developed a framework for this purpose, organizing curriculum around intellectual, intelligent and global core competences. Zha’s framework also looked at ways to boost the relevance and benefits of a liberal arts education for more students.

In Canada, the Council of Ministers of Education have endorsed six pan-Canadian global competencies to help students meet the “shifting and ongoing demands of life, work and learning.” These include critical thinking and problem solving, innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship and collaboration.

Zha maintains that York University is well positioned to practice and champion global competence education, a belief supported through a comprehensive analysis of both course resources and curricular strengths at York.

“I think that the SDGs provide us with a unique opportunity to shape a transformative curriculum and teach global competence,” says Zha. He is currently creating a list of courses that build global competences, so that they may be organized into a certificate program for students. Over the course of the fellowship, Zha also led a partnership with 21 partner organizations across North America, East Asia and Western Europe in a proposal to fund a project titled, “Reimagining Liberal Arts Education with a Transcontinental Partnership.” The project received development funding and has been invited to compete for more support.

York invests in Indigenous experiential education curriculum

Indigenous feathers

York University’s Academic Innovation Fund (AIF) has invested in Biskaabiiyaang: The Indigenous Metaverse to develop its Indigenized curriculum and create experiential education opportunities.

Biskaabiiyaang announced an investment of $40,000 from York University to support the design of an Indigenous-led metaverse delivering Anishinaabe language and First Nation cultural competency programs within a virtual world. Using immersive quests, activities and learning games, Biskaabiiyaang aims to increase the number of Anishinaabemowin second-language speakers over the next decade. It will also become a living archive safeguarding the heritage of Indigenous Peoples.

Maya Chacaby

The AIF supports projects that advance York University’s priorities in terms of teaching, learning and student experience. Biskaabiiyaang’s priority is advancing the University’s e-learning and experiential education programs. Professor Maya Chacaby, a Sociology Department faculty member at Glendon Campus, is the project lead and Biskaabiiyaang’s chief visionary.

York University’s support of the project will help design the virtual world and develop its Indigenized curriculum.

“It is exciting to see how Biskaabiiyaang is embracing new forms of virtual learning to engage learners in unique ways to preserve Indigenous languages, traditional knowledge and culture. It’s a wonderful and important reflection of the values of our University Academic Plan, York’s Indigenous Framework and overarching commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals,” says Lyndon Martin, acting provost and vice-president academic.

“Biskaabiiyaang is an exceptional example of the innovative work our faculty are undertaking to provide students with a high-quality learning experience. This project particularly enriches pedagogy by exploring Indigenous stories through immersive, gamified learning that both preserves and sparks interest in Anishinaabemowin,” says Will Gage, associate vice-president, teaching and learning.

Since the project’s conception in 2021, Chacaby has worked with project partners York University, the Nokiiwin Tribal Council, and UniVirtual (formerly known as CNDG) to design the Indigenous metaverse both in terms of visual and educational content. Contributors include Anishinaabe Elders, the Indigenous Youth Council and Chacaby’s students.

Chacaby describes Biskaabiiyaang as, “A virtual world where Anishinaabe culture thrives, where even the trees, plants, fish and birds all have something to teach through quests, stories, and the language itself; a place where you can connect with others and learn how to be well in the world.”

About Biskaabiiyaang

Biskaabiiyaang is an Indigenous-led metaverse that delivers Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) language and First Nation cultural competency programs. Through partnerships with the Nokiiwin Tribal Council, York University, and metaverse builders UniVirtual, Biskaabiiyaang archives and safeguards the living heritage of Indigenous Peoples.

The project runs in tandem with the UN Decade of Indigenous Language and aims to support Anishinaabe resurgence by delivering Indigenous knowledge, histories, language, sciences and philosophies in a unique, immersive environment. Through experiential education, learners explore and engage with an Indigenized curriculum and connect with community Elders during social, real-time events. Biskaabiiyaang is a safe space to learn, collaborate, and adventure together, regardless of geographical location.

To learn more, visit the website.

New centralized academic integrity website

Laptop with York U webpage

A new centralized academic integrity website has been created to serve as a hub of academic integrity information across York.

Specifically, it aims to help students gain awareness of academic integrity and understand how to uphold its values, and it also aims to help faculty members promote academic integrity in their learning environments.

The website includes:  

  • five interactive academic honesty modules for students that present ways to make academically honest choices (produced as a collaboration between York Libraries and the Office of the Vice-Provost Academic with funding provided by York’s Academic Innovation Fund);
  • a collection of student resources to help students learn how to avoid breaches and succeed academically;
  • a collection of faculty resources that support an environment where learning with integrity is emphasized; and
  • collection of links to Faculty-specific academic integrity information across York. 

The website is a work in progress. Suggestions for any further academic integrity resources for this site, or any feedback, can be shared by completing this form.