Dancing without borders: workshop teaches Chilean dance

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By Elaine Smith

It’s likely that only a small percentage of Toronto residents could show you the steps to the cueca, the national dance of Chile that is performed at festivals and social gatherings, but a group of York University undergraduate students has swelled those ranks.

Department of Dance students in Professor Bridget Cauthery’s Big Dance Small Space course are now familiar with the cueca, thanks to a globally networked learning (GNL) workshop they attended along with students from SUNY Buffalo State in New York this past summer. GNL is an approach to teaching and learning that enables people from different locations worldwide to participate in and collaborate on knowledge-making processes and concrete research projects. It provides cross-cultural opportunities for students who might not have the opportunity to study abroad, a benefit in today’s global economy.

“The GNL exercise grew out of a connection I made with Joy Guarino, a dance professor at SUNY Buffalo State,” said Cauthery. “We both taught similar courses for non-majors that focused on the globalization of dance and the recognition of cultural dance practices within our own diasporic families and communities.”

Guarino was a proponent of GNL, and the pair discussed bringing their students together online. They had a few brainstorming meetings and decided to offer their students a workshop in cueca, since Cauthery had a teaching assistant from Chile, Sebastián Oreamuno, who was versed in in the dance.

The course was developed during the pandemic and has been taught online, so the workshop this past year brought the York students together in the studio on campus for the first time, along with Oreamuno, a PhD candidate in dance. The students from SUNY gathered in the Student Union on the Buffalo campus and participated via Zoom.

“There was a bit of a learning curve,” said Oreamuno, who simplified the steps for the workshop. “The dance is performed in 6/8 time, which isn’t a musical signature that’s prevalent in western dance.”

First, he had them listen to the rhythm of the dance and asked them to clap it. Next came the steps, done to a pulse rhythm. He worked with the students on a 30-second sequence of seven steps based on the rhythm. At the end of the 45-minute session, everyone performed it together.

“It was fun,” said Oreamuno. “The students in the York studio definitely enjoyed it; I felt the energy coming from them. The professor in Buffalo sent me a message saying her students enjoyed it, too.”

Cauthery said, “Folk dances lend themselves well to community engagement and connection, and this was a good first attempt, given our reliance on the technology. Next time Joy and I run our courses, we hope to make this a cross-border experiential learning opportunity. We could also have a reciprocal exchange between our programs.”

She is also further considering integrating the collaboration with Guarino and SUNY Buffalo State into something more long-term and with a larger scale; for example, collaborating together on choreography and sharing dance knowledge.

The GNL project also reflected one of York’s dance program’s larger goals: to globalize its offerings by teaching beyond the western canon.

“We want to focus on making connections through dance and dances that represent some aspect of heritage and identity,” Cauthery said. “By sharing that, we can build a bridge of understanding and respect, and create an equitable ecosystem of dance. These may be bold goals, but dance can be a way to bring people and ideas together.”

The GNL team will be hosting an information session for York faculty members on Monday, Feb. 26 from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Register here.

E-mentoring a success for nursing students

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By Elaine Smith

A three-month pilot project to pair York University nursing graduate students with fourth-year nursing students for online mentoring has been a success, says Ruth Robbio, the assistant professor who led the project. 

Using an Academic Innovation Fund grant, in 2023, Robbio created a pilot mentoring initiative for fourth-year nursing students based on her own observations, research and knowledge of the profession – notably her doctoral work focused on e-mentoring for new nurses. She realized that the post-pandemic educational environment offered an excellent opportunity to use e-mentoring in a proactive way by providing support from experienced nurses for those entering the field. 

Ruth Robbio
Ruth Robbio

“New graduate nurses face difficulties in their transition to professional practice and many report being bullied in the workplace,” said Robbio. “This challenging transition to professional practice was compounded for nursing students during the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in limited academic supports and clinical placements, alongside nursing staff burnout – leading to some nurses leaving the profession. 

“Socialization through psychosocial support and mentoring are critical to facilitating entry to practice. However, traditional in-person mentoring may encounter barriers such as unsupportive work environments, lack of mentor access, heavy workloads, and location and distance constraints.” 

The pilot launched with the assistance of a team of colleagues that included co-principal investigator Mavoy Bertram; Teaching Commons educational developer Lisa Endersby, statistician Hugh McCague from the Institute for Social Research; Helen Brennagh from Learning Technology Services; Stephanie Quail, acting director of the Open Scholarship Department at York University Libraries; and research assistant Doina Nugent

Ruth Robbio and her team
Ruth Robbio (top row, centre) and her team.

After receiving ethics approval for the pilot project in January 2023, Robbio recruited both mentors and mentees through the nursing program at York. Ten practising nurses doing graduate work at York volunteered to serve as e-mentors and 10 fourth-year students in the collaborative nursing program expressed an interest in e-mentorship. The e-mentors posted their profiles online and the e-mentees indicated their top three choices, allowing Robbio to match them. 

Before the program started, the mentees completed a questionnaire to identify their sources of stress, and they noted academic, work and financial stresses as the most pressing. Both groups also completed a self-reflective questionnaire about their current mental well-being. Mentors were generally more satisfied than their mentee counterparts. 

Robbio and her team fashioned the three-month pilot around six online modules that participants could review and discuss, addressing topics such as goal setting, conflict management and career advice. The real focus of the program was check-ins every two weeks between e-mentors and e-mentees. The e-mentors were able to provide psychosocial support and opportunities for professional networking and career support.  

“Nursing is often viewed as a sink or swim culture when you begin working, so this program showed e-mentees how to prepare for their careers and encouraged them not to bottle up their frustrations and anxieties,” Robbio said.  

The project has been an unqualified success, with 75 per cent of the mentees saying afterward that they would stay in touch with their mentors. Meanwhile, 80 per cent of mentors found the program helpful to them as e-mentors and 100 per cent would either participate in the program again or recommend it to a friend. 

The e-mentees were grateful for the support along the way. “I have found that in the few conversations that I have had with my mentor, she has been able to encourage me with ideas and advice about my career path,” wrote one e-mentee. “We’ve been able to connect on our passion for public health and I’ve been able to focus on the journey that I would like to take in my career as a health-care professional.”  

E-mentors found satisfaction in assisting future colleagues, too.  “It was fulfilling to share my knowledge and provide career and resumé advice to the next generation of nurses,” one wrote. “Witnessing my mentee benefit from my experience made me proud to be part of such an impactful program.”   

“At such a volatile time in health care, it is rewarding knowing that you are providing support and guidance to the next generation of nurses,” wrote another mentor. “It is an experience that benefits the experienced nurse, not just the student.” 

Some consistent themes emerged from the project, based on the post-program satisfaction survey. Participants viewed e-mentoring as a reciprocal relationship and as a commitment that takes time and engagement. The program offered a support system and provided support beyond career mentoring, occasionally venturing into the personal realm. E-mentees highlighted such benefits as “having a person with more experience guide you through new challenges” and seeing “a more practical experience of what nursing is like outside of school.” 

E-mentors mentioned their new role as “a reminder of the benefit and importance of supporting new nurses entering the profession” and indicated the value of “being able to learn about how I would like to mentor versus how others would like to be mentored.” 

Their study findings were presented last year at the Teaching in Focus Conference at York University, at the 8th World Congress on Nursing & Health Care in London, U.K., and at the University of New Mexico Mentoring Institute Conference in Albuquerque, N.M., where their conference paper was published in The Chronicle of Mentoring & Coaching, the institute’s premier bimonthly online academic journal publication. 

Given the success of the pilot, Robbio is optimistic about its place in the nursing curriculum. She and her research colleagues are eager to share study findings with the School of Nursing leadership team to see if this program might be a good fit for existing leadership courses or as a stand-alone. 

“The program is very transferable to any area of study, but it is especially valuable in nursing because it’s not easy out there for new graduate nurses,” Robbio said. 

Thanks to this pilot project, mentees now know what to expect as they enter the workforce in 2024. 

Teaching Commons’ program joins forces with University of Guelph

books on grass rustling pages

By Elaine Smith

Participants in the Teaching Commons’ Reading for Teaching program at York University got a glimpse of the commonalities and differences in teaching practice at another institution thanks to a collaboration with a similar group at the University of Guelph during the Fall 2023 term.

Scott McLaren
Scott McLaren
Lisa Endersby
Lisa Endersby

Reading for Teaching is an informal opportunity for colleagues from across campus who are interested in reading and talking about teaching. A type of book club that focuses on works dealing with pedagogy, the program is the brainchild of educational developer Lisa Endersby and teaching and learning librarian Scott McLaren.

The two started the group pre-pandemic in 2019, building on early iterations of a Teaching Commons Journal Club facilitated by Endersby, and it has been running in the fall and winter terms ever since.

Members read works, both fiction and non-fiction, related to teaching and meet monthly to discuss the ideas set forth in the reading and how they relate to each individual’s experiences in the classroom.

Earlier this year, Endersby discovered that educational development colleagues at the University of Guelph in the Office of Teaching & Learning ran a similar group, and she suggested collaborating. She and McLaren talked with the two Guelph group leaders – educational developers Jenn Reniers and Christie Stewart – and tested the waters this fall.

Jenn Reniers is on the left; Christie Stewart on the right
Jenn Reniers (left) and Christie Stewart (right).

“One of the strengths of the group is that it brings people together from across the University and allows discussion among people at all levels of the profession, from teaching assistants to tenured, full professors,” McLaren said. “By reaching out to another institution, it takes the group to another level, making it even more diverse.”

Their Guelph counterparts agreed.

“Within the university, context is important, and it’s interesting to talk to people from different contexts,” said Reniers. “Our two institutions are different, in terms of commuter students versus students who live in residence, size and programs offered. We were interested in continuing our own club while connecting with others from different contexts.”

Stewart added, “Many of the books we read were based on research from the United States. By talking with each other, it helped us work through whether the differences were due to a difference in our own university and theirs or if it reflects differences between post-secondary education in Canada and the U.S.”

The leaders met in August to consider how they could work together and still maintain the individuality of their programs. Since Guelph faculty meet bimonthly and York’s monthly, they decided to make introductions asynchronously at the start of the term and meet as a group at the end of the term, separately discussing the chosen book in the intervening months. The book they selected was Relationship Rich Education: How Human Connections Drive Success in College by Peter Felten and Leo M. Lambert (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2020).

“There are a lot of institutional structures that can facilitate or hinder connection,” McLaren said. “It’s interesting to talk about this across different universities and discuss what works and what doesn’t.”

The leaders of each group maintained a strict “whatever is said in the group stays in the group” policy to encourage openness and honesty and allow people to drop their guards when they met unfamiliar colleagues.

“In a group like this, you come face-to-face virtually with people you wouldn’t ordinarily meet and you don’t want to worry that you might be sitting across from them in a meeting,” McLaren said.

In September, the two groups used Padlet, a virtual bulletin board software, to introduce themselves to each other individually. Throughout the term, participants were able to post comments about the readings, although the groups met separately.

“Throughout the term, we updated each other about the conversations that were taking place,” said Stewart of the leaders.

The leaders also met to arrange December’s online joint session, creating reflection questions and planning for breakout sessions, as well as a large group discussion. The December gathering featured discussions about such topics as the impact of having a third space besides the classroom or home to meet and how to create a welcoming environment in large classes, even if one-on-one connections weren’t possible.

“It was very useful,” Stewart said. “I wasn’t sure what to expect when bringing in others after 12 weeks of building our own bonds, but I didn’t find reluctance. People were willing to contribute, and it offered validation of their experiences by people at another institution.”

Endersby agreed.

“Despite our sense of working in a York bubble, the Guelph participants felt the same way about some of the challenges and opportunities inherent in relationship-rich education. It was affirming for me.”

York’s Reading for Teaching program begins its winter term program on Jan. 16. For more information and to register your participation, complete the registration form.

Digital Library launches new upgrades, marking 10-year anniversary

hand holding magnifying glass with colorful background

In alignment with its 10-year anniversary, the York University Digital Library (YUDL) has introduced new software upgrades that bring increased accessibility and visibility to its cultural and heritage collections, protect future acquisitions and enable public exploration of more than one million unique objects.

The new extensive upgrades to the Digital Library platform include a full migration of the University’s existing collections, and the integration of a user interface that provides easy access to content by type, location, subject, and creator, and is supported by a search engine for more general queries.

The updates reflect the YUDL’s ongoing goal to be open to the public and provide low-barrier access to materials not often seen outside the walls of a physical archive, a mission it has pursued for a decade, serving as a preservation platform for unique collections of digital objects – including photos, videos, audio and text records in many formats – that reflect Toronto’s cultural heritage and the work of York researchers.

“York’s archivists collaborate with faculty and graduate students to build unique collections that preserve the cultural heritage of Toronto’s richly diverse society. The Digital Library allows us to share these documents with global diasporas to promote discussion and understanding of issues shared by people separated by oceans and continents, especially at a time when travel is more challenging,” says Michael Moir, university archivist, York University Libraries.

In its lifespan, it has grown to house 147 collections featuring a breadth of materials, including: photographs and interviews from politician and community activist Jean Augustine‘s collection; more than 1,300 recordings of Iranian radio programs from 1956 through 1979; digitized maps from York’s Map Library and the Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections; and nearly 18,000 digitized photographs.

Furthermore, the collections in the Digital Library provide visibility to the materials of marginalized and equity-seeking communities, whose histories are still under-represented in online spaces. Digital objects from BIPOC, 2SLGBTQIA+, Indigenous, immigrant and women’s communities, as well as a reflection of a broad range of social and economic statuses, can be surfaced using the platform. For example, the Burmese Colonial Cultures Collection provides access to rare books, pamphlets and journals published in Burma (Myanmar) between 1874 and 1930. The Egypt Migrations: a Public Humanities Project collection provides access to multimedia resources that document the history and activities of Coptic immigrants in Canada and the Egyptian diaspora. Other unique collections include the Kenneth Shah fonds, which provide access to organizational documents and promotional materials related primarily to the Caribana Festival, and the Mariposa Folk Foundation fonds, which provide access to digitized and born digital recordings, photos and other festival materials.

“The Digital Library offers a vital space to preserve cultural materials and make them available to groups who would otherwise be denied access,” says Alicia Turner, associate professor of humanities and religious studies. “In the midst of war in Burma/Myanmar and the military regime’s long-standing practices of censorship and suppression of education, we are able to preserve materials and make them available to students, scholars and activists inside the country and around the world.”

In addition to providing public access to rich archival material, the YUDL serves as an entry point to the much larger collection of physical items at the Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections, housed within York University Libraries.

“The UNESCO Memory of the World Programme reminds us that the world’s documentary heritage belongs to us all, and that the sharing of documentary heritage fosters dialogue and mutual understanding between people and cultures. York University Digital Library is integral in helping York University to advance this important mission,” states Andrea Kosavic, interim dean, York University Libraries.

Questions or comments about the YUDL’s new interface or collections can be directed to the Digital Library. Note: the YUDL has a strict Collection Policy, which can be viewed here.

York community invited to advance DEDI learnings through new toolkit

DEDI three diverse adults in conversations

The York University community is invited to the launch of the Decolonizing, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy (DEDI) toolkit on Thursday, Nov. 16, from 1 to 2 p.m.

This one-hour event will show community members how to engage with the toolkit and give a preview of some of the activities included in the course.

The toolkit is available at yorku.ca/yulearn for the community to add to their learning courses at any time.

“The Decolonizing, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Self-Reflection Toolkit was developed and created to support everyone in the York community in actualizing the University-wide Decolonizing, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy. It aims to support effective decolonization strategies and to make our campuses, our community and our world a more inclusive and equitable space,” said Marian MacGregor, executive director, Centre for Human Rights, Equity & Inclusion.

“The modules focus on you – your lived experiences and strengths, your biases, how you can use your skills to contribute to DEDI work and more,” MacGregor added.

Participants will receive a certificate upon the completion of the toolkit, which is offered as a five-part series that focuses on guided self-reflection, with the goal of building the internal tools and skills needed to engage in meaningful decolonizing, equity and inclusion work. The learning happens through short interactive videos, scenarios and activities, as well as access to additional resources. It provides five key reflective questions that can be worked through in any order and at any pace.

Visit the toolkit website to learn more and register to attend the online kickoff event.

Research asks: do online educational platforms violate privacy expectations?

student on video chat

Yan Shvartzshnaider, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science at York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering, is part of a collaborative project that has received $291,971 in funding from the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) to analyze the functionality and information handling of online educational platforms to determine if their practices align with user expectations and privacy regulations.

Yan Shvartzshnaider
Yan Shvartzshnaider

As online educational platforms quickly became the de facto standard alternative to in-person teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic, the urgent transition left many unanswered questions about potential privacy concerns. Through features such as location-based tracking to confirm student attendance and video conferences that can reveal socio-economic indicators in users’ homes, online educational platforms have access to an abundance of highly sensitive information, raising the question: do online educational platforms violate our privacy expectations?

“Everyone has gotten used to this new normal, but no one is asking if these platforms respect established privacy norms,” says Shvartzshnaider. “We want to understand how these educational systems actually work and if they deviate from our privacy expectations.”

In collaboration with researchers from Colgate University, New York University, University of Chicago, University of Illinois and Cornell Tech, this project will involve extensive review of information governance practices put in place by schools to protect students, staff and parents. The research team will also explore the ways in which the pandemic has changed information handling practices, and if these practices contribute to educational values and purposes or violate them.  

Knowledge gained from this work will be used for informative guidance, providing relevant stakeholders with useful tools and methodologies so they can better design online educational platforms that prioritize user safety and privacy.

The SSHRC grant represents a unique achievement for a Lassonde professor, highlighting the diverse applications of engineering research, bringing Lassonde and Canada into the international conversation of online classroom privacy, and providing unique learning opportunities for Lassonde students, allowing them to become a part of interdisciplinary research that blends computer science and information technology with social sciences and humanities.

“I’m really excited for this project, which will bring together multiple disciplines,” Shvartzshnaider says. “This SSHRC funding will allow us to get lots of students involved in this important and timely project.”

In prospective work, he will explore the use of learning model systems and virtual reality, aiming to elevate the future of online classrooms, while prioritizing safety and privacy. He will also continue to work alongside Lassonde students and international partners, to collaboratively achieve a unified goal of creating safer, more informed spaces for online teaching.

Registration opens for new employee learning opportunities

Laptop with a pen

York’s employee learning and development team, Organizational Learning and People Excellence, has unveiled this year’s lineup of employee courses, programs and series. Full registration opens via YU Learn on Sept. 13 at 10 a.m.

The learning content, meant to drive career navigation and strategic focus, emphasizes five key capability areas with a broad range of topics throughout each: change management, digital collaboration, healthy teams, service excellence and talent agility.  

“We’ve all experienced how rapidly 21st-century work evolves,” said Jennifer Sipos, director of Organizational Learning and People Excellence. “With work changing, and other new work appearing, many of our colleagues are looking to maximize their personal growth, deliver University Academic Plan priorities and advance their careers. Responding to that, we’ve created and curated learning experiences that are employee driven: intended to help our employees do their best work, and York’s best work, too.” 

This year, most learning opportunities will continue virtually; many are instructor-led with a range of self-paced learning, including new e-learning modules and curated learning paths in LinkedIn Learning. The opportunities are designed to offer something for everyone, whether they are onboarding to the organization or seeking management development courses, leadership development programs or specific skill development to grow their career. All learning is strategically focused so employees can transfer their learning to their day-to-day work and contribute directly to York’s priorities for action. 

“This year’s programming reflects our commitment to nurturing internal talent,” said Sipos. “For employees who are looking to advance their careers at York, our offerings now include new self-directed career resources, a new talent mobility program – the first of its kind in the Canadian post-secondary system – and new career-focused, customized services to support employees in navigating their careers with greater confidence.”    

Here are more specifics from the highlighted 2023-24 offerings:

U Programs: cohort learning focused on leadership development, including Emerging Leaders U, Leader U and Executive U.  

Flexible Series: employees choose courses to build their own unique series in (Tech U Flex Series, Digital Workplace Series, Onboarding to the Organization and Onboarding to the Organization for Managers Series). 

Elective Courses: includes talent development and technology-focused courses that empower employees to build specific skills (courses include: Connecting to Purpose in a Hybrid Place;, Balancing Performance and Well-Being: For You and Your Team; ​and Collaboration in Teams and Microsoft 365). 

Talent Mobility Programming: supporting employees experiencing career change or seeking career advancement (examples include: Effective Resume and Cover Letter Writing​; Enhancing Interview Techniques; Understanding Your Strengths;​ and Navigating Your Career).

Customized Services: offered on a by-request, year-round basis and available to leaders and teams (team development, leader development, skilled facilitation and instructional design consultation) as well as individual employees (career consultation, career coaching, skill development consultation and relationship management). Use this form to Request a Customized Service

Full details are available now via YU Learn. Full registration opens at 10 a.m. on Sept. 13 at YU Learn. Space is limited.

Professor gamifies cybersecurity education for middle schoolers

young kid using laptop

Sana Maqsood, an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science at York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering, has developed a web-based game to educate students in grades 6 to 8 about cybersecurity, privacy and digital literacy issues.

Sana Maqsood
Sana Maqsood

Maqsood’s game, A Day in the Life of the Jos, takes users through a series of decision-making scenarios encountered by two relatable characters who are highly active on social media. Each scenario addresses online challenges that students may face in the real world, such as cyberbullying, misinformation and privacy violations. As users decide how to respond to the encountered scenarios, they are provided with the results and consequences of their choices, as well as informative feedback and guidance on the best approaches to future situations.

In collaboration with a team of digital literacy experts, teachers and researchers, A Day in the Life of the Jos was created during Maqsood’s PhD fellowship with MediaSmarts, a non-profit organization focused on digital and media literacy.

“Elementary schools were using an outdated quiz tool for digital literacy that was developed all the way back in the year 2000,” says Maqsood. “This motivated the entire project. We wanted to create something that was more engaging and relevant for students today.”

Since its creation, four empirical user studies have proven A Day in the Life of the Jos to be educationally effective and engaging for both students and teachers, leading to its successful adoption in 550 schools across Canada.

The project is representative of Maqsood’s ongoing work exploring the use of games to elevate traditional teaching methods and improve student learning experiences.

“Gamification is very effective for teaching children,” explains Maqsood, because using educational games allows learners to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills and increase knowledge retention of complex concepts.

Next, Maqsood wants to focus on developing educational games on a range of other topics, and for a range of users – including students from low socio-economic households that may not have access to progressive technology, thereby aiming to remove barriers and provide supportive tools for education. Some of these tools include creative board games that are entirely developed by her research team.

Maqsood is also pursuing ongoing research contributing to shaping the future of teaching in K to 12 institutions through active collaboration with Lassonde’s k2i academy throughout Summer 2023, working with a group of high school students exploring a research question related to educational games.

To advance her work, Maqsood is currently recruiting undergraduate and graduate students who are interested in human-centred security and privacy. To learn more, contact smaqsood@yorku.ca.

Global Perspectives program supports international knowledge exchange

hand painting Earth planet

Since 2022, over 300 students from 28 Chinese universities have benefited from the Global Perspectives program, a partnership between York University’s Asian Business and Management Program (ABMP) and the Faculty of Science.

Established in 2022, the Global Perspectives program offers a series of impactful online, non-degree courses that cater to various academic interests and career aspirations by providing students with cutting-edge knowledge and in-demand practical skills, and fostering international insights in Chinese university undergraduates.

“Through this initiative, we are fostering global knowledge exchange and empowering students to make a positive impact on the world. The programs are also designed to drive positive change by aligning closely with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to address critical global challenges and promote sustainable development,” says Hugo Chen, director of international collaborations and partnerships at the Faculty of Science.

The Global Perspectives programs – which cover areas like data visualization, water and wastewater treatment, scientific literacy and more – are an adjunct to Chinese students’ core academic curriculum, delivering an immersive experience led by experienced university instructors and industry practitioners. They provide both a theoretical understanding and industry-ready practical skills, preparing students to tackle real-world challenges. English-language tutoring is integrated into the program, ensuring that students also develop the essential technical language and communication skills necessary for thriving in a global academic and professional environment.

Looking to the future, ABMP Program Director Elena Caprioni aims to provide an even greater number of Chinese undergraduates with enriching experiences and invaluable international exposure through these transformative opportunities, helping students gain unique insights and capabilities that enable them to thrive in a globalized world. “While the focus remains on empowering students for a globalized world, the collaboration between York and Chinese universities seeks to create a powerful impact that transcends borders and helps build a more interconnected, sustainable and prosperous world for all,” says Caprioni.

Launch of iClass to enhance LA&PS student learning

A group of five York University students walking down York Boulevard in the fall

By Elaine Smith

York University’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS) is introducing iClass (innovative, Collaborative Learning And Student Space), a new eLearning hub that will become operational during the 2023-24 academic year.

The technology-enhanced learning spaces that make up the hub will be housed at 117 South Ross Building, thanks to funding from the Ontario government’s Training Equipment and Renewal Fund, intended to help modernize post-secondary facilities.

Anita Lam
Anita Lam

“Because York University aims to diversify whom, what and how we teach, in accordance with the University Academic Plan, we hope to intentionally design learning spaces that can help facilitate 21st-century teaching and learning,” said Anita Lam, co-chair of York’s Joint Task Force on the Future of Pedagogy and former associate dean, teaching and learning, for LA&PS.

“By refreshing existing spaces and equipping them with flexible furniture, iClass enables students to engage in collaborative and active learning. During COVID, students missed out on opportunities for peer-to-peer interactions, discussions and collaborative group work,” continued Lam. “These high-impact learning activities remain important for students across different modes of course delivery.”

iClass will include three separate types of teaching and learning spaces. One space will be a dedicated drop-in learning space for students to engage in online courses while on campus.

The hub will also feature two tech-enhanced classrooms for instructors to experiment with pedagogical innovations and deliver pilots or special online courses. Both classrooms will be equipped for Hyflex teaching and learning, allowing instructors to bring the outside world into their classrooms in a variety of ways. For example, they can bring in a virtual guest speaker from across the globe, or allow LA&PS students to learn alongside students from another university.

The third type of space that will be part of iClass is a one-button studio that allows both novices and tech gurus the opportunity to create digital content.

“One-button studios offer non-technical users the ability to quickly and easily create audiovisual content,” said Lam. “They were originally developed at Penn State University but have quickly spread to upwards of 100 institutions.”

Lam said there can be many uses for the one-button production studio: instructors can create high-quality lecture recordings for online courses; and students can create audiovisual (AV) content as part of their course-based assessments (e.g. video presentations).

With invaluable assistance from York planners, Facilities Services and AV support services, among others, Lam and Nathan Chow, LA&PS director of information and learning technology, worked together to bring iClass to life. For Chow, this project offered a unique opportunity to “showcase the business value of [information technology] (IT), and how IT teams can meaningfully collaborate on strategic initiatives that allow instructors and students to thrive in new learning environments.”

“Coming out of the pandemic, faculty members realized that they needed both space and time to try new educational technologies and teaching methods, so iClass is an attempt to offer instructors a campus space for pedagogical experimentation and play,” said Lam. “Our iClass space complements eClass, by offering an in-person playground for transformative teaching and learning activities and practices.”

Lam adds: “As a pedagogy-first initiative, iClass suggests a different way of designing and redesigning learning spaces at York. Because these spaces can transform teaching and learning experiences, they can have a profound impact on how instructors and students engage in 21st-century learning.”

“We are thrilled to introduce this innovative hub that is set to transform the learning landscape at the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies,” shares LA&PS Dean JJ McMurtry. “This project is a testament to the dedication and collaborative spirit of our community. Congratulations to Anita Lam, Nathan Chow, and the Teaching and Learning and e-services teams who worked tirelessly to bring iClass to life.”