Faculty of Science innovates with assist from AIF

Concept of idea and innovation with paper ball

By Elaine Smith

Making chemistry courses and labs more engaging and accessing science lab spaces – regardless of physical ability – are becoming easier to accomplish, thanks to Faculty of Science initiatives sponsored by Academic Innovation Fund (AIF) grants.

In the Department of Chemistry, Tihana Mirkovic, an assistant professor, and Hovig Kouyoumdjian, an associate professor who is also the associate dean of curriculum and pedagogy, are developing modules using e-learning tool Adobe Captivate to improve students’ learning experiences. Meanwhile, biology professors Tamara Kelly and Paula Wilson and their colleagues – project manager Jessi Nelson, accessibility expert Ainsley Latour and educational development specialist Ashley Nahornick – are identifying and supporting improvements that make labs more accessible.

Kouyoumdjian first identified the potential of Adobe Captivate as a tool for the generation of an interactive learning environment in chemistry classes. Together with Mirkovic, the pair recognized that the laboratory experience through pre-laboratory activities in undergraduate classes could be substantially improved by leveraging the multimedia learning process that could be incorporated into modules generated in Adobe Captivate.

“Our goal is to allow students to integrate their conceptual and procedural understanding of their labs through active learning opportunities. We hope that the newly developed modules, featuring slides, videos, hotspots, 360-degree navigation, software simulations and knowledge check assessments, will provide a learning environment that motivates our students and maximizes their learning potential,” Mirkovic said.

“We aim for students to stay engaged, even when the material is presented virtually,” said Kouyoumdjian. “Now, we possess an e-learning tool with an interactive component that complements the static elements of the course. It is applicable for both blended and online courses.”

The pair also collaborated with an instructional designer to craft customizable templates to help with the process of repurposing and reusing the modules across various courses.”

Tihana Mirkovic
Tihana Mirkovic

The professors have has initiated a pilot in the courses CHEM 2020 (Introductory Organic Chemistry I) and CHEM 3001 (Experimental Chemistry II) this term. “We hope to gather valuable information from the initial student experience and feedback collected from Adobe Captivate activities and linked self-reflection surveys,” Mirkovic said. During the summer, they will reflect on the pilot’s successes and explore the reusability of the created templates.

They are optimistic that the new software will contribute to student engagement, leading to increased student motivation and greater retention.

Meanwhile, the accessibility team is moving forward with its own initiative to improve – in a different way – the accessibility of biology, chemistry and physics labs for students in the Faculty.

Paula Wilson
Paula Wilson

“Paula and I have directed labs, and something we come up against regularly is accommodation,” said Kelly, the project lead and the Pedagogical Innovation Chair, Science Education. “Student Accessibility Services typically addresses lectures, but has limited expertise to support providing clear accommodations for labs.”

Added Wilson: “Students with accessibility issues have the burden of negotiating with their professors for every lab, and it’s exhausting. Also, even if professors are eager to assist, they aren’t experts in accommodation.

“In addition, by the time faculty members get a letter about accommodating a student, it may be the second or third week of the term, which leaves no time for finding and arranging creative solutions.”

Ainsley Latour
Ainsley Latour

The group plans to survey Faculty of Science students and faculty to learn more about needs and accommodations that work. Latour and Nelson developed a checklist of barriers to accessibility in labs and then, with Nahornick, toured first-year science laboratories with the technicians who run the labs. They looked for barriers and what was missing to make accommodation easier.

“There were a lot of things that were quick fixes, so Ashley emailed the lab managers to suggest changes to make before the start of the term,” said Kelly. “These included the readability of signage, repairs to broken automatic doors, among other things.”

Ashley Nahornick
Ashley Nahornick

The team also brought in Pamela Millett, an audiologist from the Faculty of Education, to determine what the sound issues might be for those with hearing concerns.

“There is a lot of ambient sound in labs, from fans and other equipment, that make it hard for students to hear instructions,” said Nahornick. “Repairing or using their microphones is an easy fix.”

The next step will be to create professional development support for instructors, technicians and teaching assistants, so they understand how to best support accessibility in labs.

Wilson said they would also like to prepare a series of recommendations for the Faculty. “Some issues may require infrastructure changes that will require additional funding. We want to take away the pressure on instructors to handle this on their own by making changes where we can and sharing best practices,” she explained. “Our aim is to make it easier for all students to have valuable lab experiences that meet course outcomes.”

Kelly added, “If we have a clear understanding in advance about what is needed, that’s a big step. Some things must be personalized, but there are some general things we can implement for our students. Students with disabilities are often driven away from science in high school because of barriers, and we don’t want to be part of that cycle. We want to enable people.

“For a lot of students, their first experience in a lab turns them onto science. We’ll lose talent if they don’t feel as if they can function in this setting.”

FGS enhances graduate supervision experience with support hub

Three women sitting and talking

York University’s Faculty of Graduate Studies (FGS) is celebrating 60 years of knowledge creation and marking the milestone by creating a Graduate Supervision Support Hub (GSSHub) – a place where supervisors, committee members and students can gather to collaborate and build mutually beneficial relationships drawing on graduate supervisory pedagogy and capacity-building principles that acknowledge the pivotal role of effective supervision.

York University Faculty of Graduate Studies 60th anniversary banner

Established with the help of a three-year grant from York’s Academic Innovation Fund, the GSSHub will be rooted in principles of dignity, mutuality and effective supervisory practices. It will aim to enhance the graduate supervision process with effective practices, capacity building, a centralized platform for support and guidance, and a toolkit of resources to help foster a culture of collaboration and continuous improvement in supervision methods.

“Graduate education stands as a cornerstone in the academic landscape and the quality of the graduate supervisory experience plays a pivotal role in shaping the academic and professional trajectories of students,” said Tracy Bhoola, program manager of the GSSHub. “The dynamics of this relationship profoundly impact the quality of research, the development of professional skills and the overall academic experience.”

The approach of this new hub, explained Bhoola, acknowledges that good supervision is not innate, nor solely about overseeing research projects, but is a relationship that requires mentorship, guidance, ethics, mutual respect, collaborative goal setting and skill development.

At the core of the envisioned GSSHub is the promotion of supervisory relationships enveloped in mutuality. “Acknowledging the diverse needs and expectations of supervisors and students, we want to keep relationships at the centre, with an ethos of dignity folded into every aspect and an explicit regard for the inherent value of both the supervisor and the student,” said Cheryl van Daalen-Smith, FGS associate dean, academic. “By fostering a culture of trust and collaboration, the GSSHub will aim to enhance the overall graduate supervisory experience for everyone involved.”

To ensure the pan-university GSSHub aligns with the diverse needs of the academic community, FGS is extending a call to ­­graduate students and faculty members­ to actively engage in the development process by providing input and guidance.

“By participating in consultations and sharing invaluable experiences and insights,” said Wesley Moir, FGS associate director of graduate academic affairs, “the community can help shape the development, initiatives and effectiveness of the proposed GSSHub, which will empower supervisors and students to thrive in their academic pursuits, making it a true reflection of the collective vision for effective supervision support.”

In Winter 2024, FGS will share a survey for graduate supervisors, seeking input on the supports and services that the GSSHub should provide. For now, the Faculty is gathering names of those who want to be involved and planning one-on-one consultations. To contribute, contact Bhoola, GSSHub program manager, at tbhoola@yorku.ca.

Envision YU eases student transition to and from university

Students and mentor gathered around a table

By Elaine Smith 

With support from York University’s Academic Innovation Fund, Professors Carolyn Steele and Lynda van Dreumel have created Envision YU, a curriculum complete with tools and a pressbook in both English and French, to aid faculty in guiding students into university life and through it to the career world, building useful skills throughout.  

Van Dreumel, an assistant professor and undergraduate program director for the Faculty of Health, was exploring ways to assist students in building necessary skills for success while transitioning to university when she met Steele, an assistant professor in the Department of Humanities in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. Steele was working on a project to assist students with their transition from university to the working world by building on classroom knowledge, skills and experience. The two teaching-stream faculty members decided to join forces to equitably support the student transition continuum from the time they enter the University to the time they graduate to the next stage in their lives – whether that meant the workforce or more schooling. 

“We felt that this same continuum could happen in a single course, not only across courses,” Steele said. “An instructor could begin with preliminary reflection skills early in the course and advance to more complex applications of reflection later in the course to enable students to identify career interests emerging out of the course content.”

Along with a team of instructors, students and subject matter experts, the pair created the Envision YU curriculum with “tools and resources that professors can embed directly into courses and customize to fulfill learning objectives using course content, so students engage naturally and can build skills,” van Dreumel said.  

Steele noted that when this is done iteratively, the students become more fluent with these skills and transition to the next stage of their lives with more agency and confidence.  

The Envision YU resources and supporting materials include interactive activities (H5P-based lessons), videos, infographics, tip sheets and worksheets. Instructors can use the resources as-is, or they can tailor the resources based on their specific course requirements. Many of them have been student- and instructor-tested.   

The Envision YU curriculum assists in building four capacities that are crucial to student success: reflection, self-regulation, teamwork and transfer. Faculty also have the option of incorporating resources developed for various stages of learning into their courses. The Envision YU curriculum has resources tailored toward different stages of skill development: comprehending, developing, applying and advancing. 

Steele says these Envision YU capacities are ubiquitous, needed by all students, no matter their academic focus. For instance, she said, “The ability to transfer knowledge, skills and experience from one context to another is critical in today’s dynamic world, but many instructors’ expertise is focused only on academic contexts, and they are uncomfortable including material that stretches beyond their disciplines.  

“Our toolkit helps instructors, so they aren’t expected to be experts in everything, yet can provide opportunities for students to master transition skills in their courses.”  

There’s a big cognitive load for professors when they get into the more nuanced aspects of teaching, especially in terms of classroom-based experiential education. Many instructors don’t know the theory of reflective writings and are, thus, ill-equipped to teach their students how to reflect critically. With the resources in Envision YU, they can use one or more of the several reflective assignments to guide their students to reflect critically on the syllabus, assignment feedback, course-based experiences, their skills, values, and the relevance of course topics and readings in their students’ lives. 

“Envision YU is about the impact you can have on your students – not only in class, but down the road. We want to provide instructors with the flexibility and self-confidence to integrate these skills in courses across the curriculum,” said Steele. 

Envision YU is an open access resource and is available through eCampus Ontario. Steele and van Dreumel are available to answer faculty questions and assist in customizing the tools. 

Upskill digital storytelling through new course at Glendon


By Elaine Smith

Raiman Dilag, director of information technology services (ITS) at York University’s Glendon College, and his team are working to ensure their students have access to the most current technology to enhance their storytelling capabilities.

They will make this possible through an Academic Innovation Fund grant that allowed them to create a new eight-week extracurricular course – XR Storytelling in Extended Reality / XR Accroche Narrative en Réalité Étendue – that will provide interested Glendon students and faculty, with an introduction to virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), 360-degree cameras, podcasting and 3D printing. The course is not for credit, but those who complete it will earn a microcredential and a digital badge that can be affixed to their resumes and LinkedIn profiles.

Glendon 360 video screenshot
Glendon College offers a new course for all students that allows them to upskill digital storytelling. This photo is a screenshot from a video showing 360-degree photoraphy. For another example, go here.

“While it’s expected for STEM students to be exposed to technological tools, at Glendon, we are deeply rooted in the liberal arts tradition,” Dilag said. “I saw the opportunity to complement resources currently in place, and enhance our students’ access to these and other new tools. Our students have stories to tell, and they benefit from sharing them using new media.”

For those on the outside looking in, the idea of using these tools can be confusing and/or daunting. VR and its sleek headsets can immerse users in another space, such as the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris before and after the fire. Fans of Pokémon Go know that AR allows users to employ a device to interact digitally with the real world, bringing images to life. 360-degree photography brings the viewer into the space, letting them experience that moment from all of the photographer’s points of view. Podcasts stream on digital devices and are excellent audio/video tools for storytelling, while 3D printing enables the creation, and customization, of 3D objects crafted in one’s imagination or modified from previous designs.

Each of these technologies, independently or in combination, are valuable for storytelling in a digital era.

The eight-week course created by the ITS team will familiarize students with these key tools and require them to work on a group project to show their facility with one or more of them. The project will also reinforce teamwork skills, and in true Glendon nature, is conducted in English or French by the bilingual XR technology co-ordinator.

“I’d like students to think about the stories they want to tell,” said Dilag. “These are just tools; however, a course like this can open doors, because opportunities following graduation may be influenced by things beyond academics, such as exposure to any or all of these XR technologies.

“We’re all about the student experience, recruitment and retention. If this course helps them graduate more career-ready, it’s a great way for us to add value to their university, and post-graduation, experience.”

The in-person course is open to all Glendon students and will be offered during both the Fall and Winter terms. Dilag hopes the success of the course will lead to expansion for all York students.

The team has been planning the course since February: designing the curriculum, writing the proposal, purchasing necessary equipment and making the space attractive. The course will be conducted by the XR technology co-ordinator with oversight from Dilag.

“Let’s get technology in the hands of this dynamic generation and see what they can do,” Dilag said. “I think they’ll impress us.”

He is proud of his team’s work and reminds the larger community that the ITS department “is about more than resetting passwords,” he said. “We aim to humanize technology, and to use it to enable the telling of great stories.”

XR Storytelling in Extended Reality / XR Accroche Narrative en Réalité Étendue begins the week of Oct. 16. Glendon students can register online.

Faculty who may be interested in the course can contact xrglendon@glendon.yorku.ca to discuss their needs and learning objectives.

Watching mushrooms grow: a new lesson in communications

oyster mushrooms

By Ashley Goodfellow Craig, editor, YFile

A cohort of Glendon College students will explore digital innovations in the context of interpersonal and mobile communications through an unexpected pedagogy – a living art installation containing a variety of mushrooms.

Students enrolled this fall in Dreaming of Electric Sheep: Emerging Practices in Communication, a course led by Glendon faculty member Roberta Buiani, will document and care for the installation as part of their curriculum.

The art project, titled Mycosymbiosis and designed by Chinese-Canadian artist Xiaojing Yan, is a time-based and site-specific installation located on the balcony adjacent to Glendon Manor’s ballroom. It will launch on Oct. 2 at 5 p.m., with a viewing event and reception to follow.

Oyster mushrooms in the mobile gallery
Oyster mushrooms growing in the mobile gallery.

“The installation consists of a mobile gallery (Emergent) containing a variety of mushrooms which grow, decay and renew, weaving their intricate forms through its interstitial space and responding to the surrounding natural environment,” explains Buiani.

Emergent – a Living Mobile Gallery is a mobile gallery featuring artworks at the intersection of science and the arts. The goal is to understand and address how life evolves and adapts due to climate change, global mobility, experiments and the shaping of the world. The mobile gallery itself is a porous object, and is designed to explore the role of exhibition spaces.

Yan’s installation combines the complex concept of identity with a perspective on nature that transcends conventional boundaries. Including three types of oyster mushrooms planted along the exterior walls of the mobile gallery, the living art project will showcase how these mushrooms grow through a time-lapse projection inside. This evolving living sculpture will change with varying temperature and humidity, inviting a range of symbiotic organisms that interact with the mushrooms.

Mycosymbiosis art installation
Mycosymbiosis art installation in full.

This installation of Mycosymbiosis represents the second phase of a long-term collaboration between Yan and the team behind Emergent: Buiani (Glendon/University of Toronto), Lorella di Cintio (Toronto Metropolitan University) and Ilze Briede [kavi] (York University, PhD student), with scientific advising from James Scott (University of Toronto).

Buiani’s course, which is a recipient of an Academic Innovation Fund grant, presents an examination of emerging trends in communication and media technologies, delving into web-based advancements and exploring novel modes of interpersonal and mobile communication.

Specifically, interacting with and documenting this installation is an important opportunity for students to not only achieve a better and more nuanced understanding of the complexities involved in interspecies communication in relation to our technological networks, but also to develop a better appreciation for responsible consumption and production, collaborative and collective work, communication with different forms of knowledge and ultimately, care, says Buiani.

The installation will be on view throughout the fall semester, and the Oct. 2 launch will kick off a series of public engagements on networks, care and land-based community building and artistic practice. More information will be available at artscisalon.com/COMS4208.

Professors earn award for bringing comic art to classrooms


Kai Zhuang, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science, and Mojgan Jadidi, associate professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering, were honoured with a Best Paper Award at the 2023 American Society of Engineering Education Annual Conference for a paper titled, “Visual Verbal Integrated (VIVID) Comics – A pedagogy for teaching.”

Comic art of Professors Jadidi (left) and Zhuang (right)
Comic art of professors Mojgan Jadidi (left) and Kai Zhuang (right)

The honoured paper reflects the professors’ ongoing efforts to develop innovative teaching methods, which are inspired by visual arts and practices such as games, music and comic art.

“Engineering language creates learning barriers,” says Zhuang. “We want to increase understanding of materials in more efficient ways – through approachable, accessible and inclusive methods. Art-inspired pedagogy combines rationale with creativity for a more engaged student-learning experience.”

Zhuang and Jadidi’s work especially stresses the use of comics to teach humanistic skills such as ethical leadership to engineering students, as they are crucial for professional success. However, students often find these skills difficult to grasp due to their focus on technical concepts.

Comic art describing the concept of VIVID thinking.
Comic art describing the concept of VIVID thinking

Summarized in their awarded paper, Zhuang and Jadidi are developing and piloting a pedagogy called Visual Verbal Integrated (VIVID) Storytelling, which aims to address the challenges associated with teaching humanistic skills to engineering students.

The method combines aspects of VIVID thinking, which integrates visual and verbal elements to improve communication and drive ideation, as well as storytelling aspects of comic art, to help increase student engagement. The method also incorporates elements of sketchnoting, such as the use of simple visuals, to reduce the level of expertise needed to apply VIVID Storytelling in academic settings. By combining these elements, Zhuang and Jadidi established a user-friendly and engaging teaching method that promotes creativity and associative thinking to help students understand complex or unfamiliar ideas.

Excerpt from comic art material used to teach students about computational thinking.
Excerpt from comic art material used to teach students about computational thinking

To test the effectiveness of VIVID Storytelling, the method was used in different student workshops to teach skills ranging from self-directed learning to computational thinking. Not only was the method capable of teaching various skills and topics in an engaging manner, but it also provided students with reference material for future study.

In addition, VIVID Storytelling can be used to make complex concepts more accessible for students who face various barriers in academic settings, thereby supporting decolonization, equity, diversity and inclusion efforts. For example, the method offers an alternative to academic language that may be daunting for students. VIVID Storytelling also helps create an inclusive learning environment for students of different educational and linguistic backgrounds.

Jadidi and Zhuang are also conducting a project through York University’s Academic Innovation Fund titled “Developing PAN-Lassonde Inclusive, Immersive, Accessible, and Affordable Learning Environments for Engineering Education using Augmented/Virtual Reality, Gamification, & Educational Comics.” Involving more than a dozen professors across Lassonde, the project aims to address challenges in engineering education and improve learning experiences with a library of teaching methods inspired by visual arts and practices.

“The Academic Innovation Fund is a stepping stone,” says Jadidi. “If we can continue to get more grants, we can involve more faculty members and start implementing these methods in our courses. Together, we can create a safe, accessible and inclusive teaching culture.”

Teaching with an assist from technology 

man using tablet with graphic image of lightbulb

By Elaine Smith

After returning to in-person teaching following the COVID-19 pandemic, some faculty at York University have continued to embrace technology as a useful and interesting adjunct to their courses. Alejandro Zamora, Mojgan Jadidi and Damilola Adebayo teach disparate topics, but each has decided that technology-enhanced learning benefits their students. 

Zamora, an associate professor of Hispanic studies at Glendon College, first used digital technology in a Hispanic Geopoetics course in 2018. The class was studying the work of Luis Cernuda, a poet from Seville, Spain, and he led them on a field trip to explore the spatial memory of a place recreated in his poetry throughout a life of exile. Afterward, he had students collaborate on a web-based multimedia project about the poet and about their field experience.

Alejandro Zamora
Jadidi with VR
Mojgan Jadidi with virtual reality
Damilola Adebayo
Damilola Adebayo

“I liked how these projects made students collaborate and engage with the community,” Zamora said. “They learned to create, analyze, synthesize and collaborate. I loved the pedagogic power of digital humanities courses.” 

He now incorporates digital projects into all his courses that have field components, such as the summer courses he teaches at the University’s Las Nubes Campus in Costa Rica. Some of the courses have established projects to which students contribute, while in others, the class conceptualizes and creates a project from scratch. He is open to students who propose digital projects in his other courses, too, such as blogs or videos as assignments. 

“Literature is often text-based, so students limit their experience to textual analysis and discursive thinking,” Zamora said. “These projects make the students think visually, so they help me enhance their learning experience. The course immediately becomes experiential, because the students realize that they can put what they have learned to work in practical ways and that they can mobilize knowledge.” 

He has also turned to globally networked learning to bring together students from Glendon with their counterparts in Colombia, virtually, for joint sessions about Gabriel García Márquez’ novel One Hundred Years of Solitude

“This was the first time we had a globally networked learning component as part of the [Hispanic Geopoetics] course and it was fantastic,” Zamora said. 

Jadidi, an associate professor of civil engineering at the Lassonde School of Engineering, uses gaming and virtual reality tools to assist her students in learning engineering and surveying principles. Previously, she created an extended 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. It allows students to mimic climate conditions online, such as floods, to see their impact on roads and bridges, for example.   

“The XR Sandbox is an inclusive, diverse learning environment that helps students to retain information,” she said.  

Recently, Jadidi and 11 colleagues received an Academic Innovation Fund (AIF) grant to develop gaming and XR tools that will assist students in learning complex engineering concepts. To do so, they will employ XR and gaming technologies, as well as Visual Verbal Integrated (VIVID) storytelling technology.  

“We have observed that engineering students become more disengaged from their learning, particularly when learning contents that are complex, theory heavy, nuanced and unfamiliar,” said Jadidi. “Technology is advancing very quickly and students are comfortable using it, so we want to give them tools to see different dimensions of engineering problems and enjoy learning in a different way.” 

For example, one of the tools will allow the students to virtually fly drones over a 3D model of the York University campus so they can understand a drone’s movement and rotation. They’ll be learning about drone assembly, system co-ordination, testing and flight, all within a virtual space.  

“It’s all about providing students more opportunities for learning,” said Jadidi. “They’ll be able to learn independently, too; they won’t be limited by time.” 

Adebayo’s first opportunity to teach a course occurred in 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a PhD student at Cambridge, teaching wasn’t required, so he was forced to acclimate simultaneously to teaching and the virtual environment. 

“I was plunged into the deep end,” said Adebayo, an assistant professor and historian of anglophone West Africa.  

Luckily, having grown up with technology, Adebayo quickly found his feet.  

At York, he started off teaching HIST 2750 (African History from 1800 to the Present) in a HyFlex classroom that is designed to provide remote learners with the same classroom experience as those present in person, and is also recorded for reviewing. It required some tinkering with technology to provide an equivalent experience.  

For example, Adebayo is learning to use a tool that allows him to embed quizzes into lectures so that anyone watching virtually can’t continue unless they participate; the video simply stops.  

An AIF grant has allowed him to purchase a professional camera and a green screen so he can improve the video quality of lectures, no matter the platform a student is using to view it. He has also learned to add closed captioning that is synchronized with the lecture. 

“I believe in access, so the easier it is for my students, the better,” Adebayo said. “I want lectures for students to be mobile-friendly so students can participate on their computers or mobile devices.” 

Since the course will be delivered remotely this year, Adebayo has also sought out a means to prevent students from using chat bots to do their assignments. 

“I assign short presentations to the students, that they record and send to me; then we meet and discuss the substance of the presentation,” he said. “Even if they’re employing AI tools, they still need to know the content.”  

The pandemic opened many eyes to the possibilities of technology in the classroom and, as illustrated, the students benefit. 

Project aims to educate students on academic integrity

Teachers students celebration

By Angela Ward

An Academic Innovation Fund (AIF) project at York University aims to broaden the understanding of academic integrity and the student experience.

“Academic misconduct is a complex and multifaceted issue that involves consequences such as compromised learning, reduced student success and reputational damage to an institution,” says Angela Clark, academic integrity specialist in the Office of the Vice-Provost Academic. Exploring the approaches used to educate students about academic integrity at York University is a key part of Clark’s project.

Angela Clark
Angela Clark

The AIF project, “Understanding Academic Integrity Instruction at York: A First Step to Developing Meaningful Interventions for Students,” will explore the current interventions in place so students can be supported in their understanding of academic honesty at York. It will lead to developing future interventions that are aligned to students’ circumstances and realities and are geared towards supporting their success. 

“There are many reasons why academic misconduct occurs. Although it is normally linked to a student’s lack of morals, it more commonly arises from both a lack of academic skills and a lack of awareness around academic integrity,” Clark explains. At York, Faculties offer different types of interventions, which can include modules, websites, activities and assessments, among others. Clark would like to learn what instruction is taking place, how it occurs, how students interpret it and how it is scaffolded. To that end, this project aims to collect all these interventions into an inventory and evaluate them, starting with co-curricular interventions and moving to curricular interventions in the fall. The next phase will take place in Winter 2024, in which focus groups with students will take place. 

“In education, most interventions that institutions offer are general in nature, but this doesn’t benefit students who are more at risk of engaging in academic misconduct,” Clark notes. “There is research on international students who are non-native English speakers that shows they tend to engage in breaches more often than domestic students. But there is a lack of research on equity-deserving groups such as racialized students, Indigenous students and those with disabilities, and the struggles they may face with academic integrity standards.

“The research does indicate that the development of competence in academic integrity is affected by a student’s starting point: their academic level, their language, their educational level and other contextual factors.” 

Clark is especially interested in these focus groups to understand students’ perspectives and experiences on current academic integrity interventions. “I would like to learn how students are encountering these interventions and where the gaps lie. It’s important to meet students where they are in order to effectively instruct them on this topic.  

“The new interventions, paired with the student voice in focus groups, will help us learn about our students and incorporate their diverse experiences and ideas about what can be offered in academic integrity education to best support them.” 

Clark adds, “It’s particularly important to understand student behaviour now more than ever. During the pandemic and the corresponding move to remote learning, the use of homework help and content-sharing sites like Chegg and Course Hero flourished across higher education institutions. Now we have generative AI (artificial intelligence) technology, prompting more concern about academic integrity.”  

Not only is there a concern around how students potentially use these tools to complete their work, but detecting their unauthorized use has been problematic, as no detection tool to date has been proven to be reliable. 

Choosing whether to leverage AI in classrooms is also based on each individual instructor’s judgment, as outlined in York’s Academic Standards, Curriculum and Pedagogy Committee statement. If instructors do allow the use of AI in course assessments or assignments, it is requested that they clearly communicate the parameters for how students utilize it, including being transparent about its use and providing citations. It is also recommended that they engage students in discussions about the ethical use of the technology and common concerns about inaccurate information, false references, privacy, confidentiality and copyright. 

The topic of academic integrity is timely, with Academic Integrity Month coming up in October at the University. The event encompasses the theme of “Connecting the Community,” as it will bring together students, faculty and staff for a series of discussions on innovative academic integrity approaches and ways instructors have revised their assessments. 

“Generative AI seems to be a popular topic in scheduled discussions, which presents a good opportunity for the York community to learn from each other,” Clark says. 

While sessions are aimed at instructors, there is also an opportunity for students to get involved. “Last year, we hosted an online scavenger hunt for students. Students were tasked with finding the answers to questions from various student service areas on their websites and then sending in their answers for chances to win prizes. This year, we’re hosting an in-person scavenger hunt, encouraging students to visit student support services such as Student Community & Leadership Development, the library, the Writing Centre and the English as a Second Language Open Learning Centre, among others, where they can connect with people in person, collect printed material and feel more comfortable accessing these services on campus,” Clark explains.  

The Academic Integrity Month website can be found here. “It’s not too late to get involved,” Clark adds. “If anyone in the York community has any academic integrity research, practices or ideas that they think would benefit the York community, they can reach out to me.”  

For further information on support and events related to academic integrity, visit the Academic Integrity website. For information about generative AI in particular, visit the AI Technology and Academic Support for Instructors web page, which includes contextual information on AI technology, tips for addressing AI technology with students, managing grey areas and ethical concerns, using AI technology as a teaching and learning tool, and detecting AI content, along with upcoming workshops in October and beyond. 

Professor makes drama studies experiential

actors rehearsing on theatre stage

By Alexander Huls, deputy editor, YFile

Professor Deanne Williams has introduced experiential education to two summer Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies courses – AP/EN 2140 Drama and AP/EN 3535 Shakespeare – by enabling students to see productions of the plays they are reading and studying.

For her first time teaching these courses in the summer, Williams wanted to try something different. Theatre trips with students have always been an element of Williams’ full-year courses, but they were typically dependent on chance – only possible when productions in the Toronto area happened to mirror the plays she was teaching in her syllabus.

Deanne Williams
Deanne Williams

In the fall of 2021, Williams first approached Tina Choi, who was then the English Department Chair, with an idea for teaching her Shakespeare and drama courses in the summer. “I proposed to teach them as experiential courses where the syllabus would be determined by plays that we could actually go and see live during the summertime, making use of the Stratford Festival, the Dream in High Park, the Soulpepper Theatre and more,” Williams says.

She knew students having the chance to see the plays they read in class come to life on a stage could have a major impact on their learning. “There’s so much more ownership of the live theatre experience that the students have, which gives them an incredible sense of authority [over the material].”

With the approval of Choi, and having secured experiential education funding through York’s Academic Innovation Fund to support the cost of tickets and transportation, the courses moved forward earlier this summer. Since then, in both courses, students will typically spend two full three-hour classes devoted to reading plays like Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or Sizwe Banzi is Dead by Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona, and they will then go on to see the stage production together.

“To enrich our in-class experience of studying the texts, where I am telling them a lot of things, we are also experiencing a live show together. Students will all have their own unique experience of that, which then they can bring back to the classroom for discussion,” Williams says. “We’ve had incredibly exciting and spirited discussions about the shows we’ve seen.”

Further accentuating the experiential element of the classes, Williams has arranged talkbacks with the actors and directors of the productions, allowing them to see how artists engage with and interpret the texts. For example, the Shakespeare class had the chance to interact with York Assistant Professor of acting and directing, Jamie Robinson, about directing A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the 40th anniversary of Dream in High Park.

The benefits of the experiences this summer have not just been academic. For many of the students, it’s provided them – post COVID-19 isolation – a means of connection through, for example, several bus trips to the Stratford Festival. “There’s a kind of summer camp aspect. They’re bringing snacks, they’re making wonderful friendships, and you can really feel that sense of community being created in the classroom,” Williams says. “After so many years of being online, and that kind of alienation, it’s wonderful to see the students really bonding.”

The summer’s experiences have also had an impact on Williams, notably how she approaches teaching drama studies. Typically, the plays she teaches have been taught in historical chronological order – i.e. starting with plays by the ancient Greeks and moving up to contemporary drama. But because the summer courses’ syllabi were determined by the productions that were available to see throughout the summer, and what students could logistically attend, Williams had to approach things in another way.

“Instead of teaching Shakespeare and drama in a linear way, with a commitment to history, it’s been very interesting to think about teaching the plays through themes and questions and shared connections,” she says. “It’s very different from any other teaching I’ve done, but it’s certainly my favourite teaching so far that I’ve ever done.”

It’s all led to Williams being committed to teach more Shakespeare and drama courses this way in the future, in good part because the experiential education approach – including its collective nature – channels something of the power of theatre overall. “Theatre, from its very origins, has a spiritual aspect to it. There’s something about that collectivity and community in the environment of the theatre that is very moving and transformative,” says Williams.

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.