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.”

Mathematicians pilot open-access homework platform for students

student writing math on chalkboard BANNER

By Elaine Smith

Thanks to the availability of WeBWorK, an online open educational resource (OER) provided to students at no cost, homework shouldn’t be as stressful as usual for the hundreds of York University students enrolled in the Linear Algebra (MATH 1025) course this term.

Andrew McEachern
Andrew McEachern

WeBWorK allows them to practise solving challenging problems as often as they’d like and provides instantaneous feedback.  

“In mathematics, you need to practise, and with this system, you can keep trying until you get it right,” said Andrew McEachern, an assistant professor and course director for linear algebra. “For retention, research shows that engaging with problems multiple times is best. We want students engaged and practising, and this system allows for low, no-stakes practice. There is no cost for failure.” 

Online homework platforms aren’t new, but many of them are costly for students since they are owned by textbook publishing companies.  

“Textbook companies have proprietary rights to their platforms and many of them have a lot of bells and whistles that we don’t need,” McEachern said. “This bare-bones system works and does 90 per cent of the job that expert systems do.” 

WeBWorK is open source and very customizable. This means it can be downloaded for free, although there are significant costs associated with the server and staff resources. The Faculty of Science is covering these costs to provide the software free of charge to students. 

The IT team photo shows (L to R): Steven Chen, Kalpita Wagh, Violeta Gotcheva
The information technology team photo (left to right):
Steven Chen, Kalpita Wagh and Violeta Gotcheva.

McEachern and other instructors approached the Faculty about installing WeBWorK and joined forces with Hovig Kouyoumdjian, associate dean of curriculum and pedagogy, and Violeta Gotcheva, director of information technology (IT) for the Faculty, to explore the idea. Gotcheva, along with Steven Chen, a systems administrator, and Kalpita Wagh, an IT learning technology support specialist in the Faculty of Science, met with instructors and IT support teams from other Canadian universities to discuss their experiences with WeBWorK. They also joined the worldwide WeBWorK user group to expand their understanding of its applicability and support requirements.  

Although faculty members assumed the IT staff could easily upload the software and run it, Gotcheva explained to them that supporting the platform was more complicated. 

“It’s essential to ensure any software we run has appropriate security, robustness, reliability and scalability,” she said. “This is accomplished by obtaining a server hosting service aligned with the software requirements and hiring skilled staff for system maintenance and user support. After determining this, we realized we needed to install the open-source WeBWorK platform relying on community support.” 

Gotcheva, in collaboration with Kouyoumdjian, McEachern, and Michael Haslam and Stephen Watson – current and former Chairs of the Department of Mathematics & Statistics, respectively – created a business case for running the platform. They outlined the financial requirements for hosting and maintaining it and the cost savings that would accrue to students compared to the need for a proprietary platform. The Faculty of Science IT team partnered with Pamela Mills, assistant manager of University Information Technology System Management Services, and her team to use the University enterprise virtual server hosting. The WeBWorK pilot received a grant from the Faculty of Science Academic Equipment Fund to cover the server hosting costs, and the Faculty of Science IT team proceeded with the installation. 

Now, the pilot is underway in all the linear algebra sections during the winter term. 

“Testing the platform across all sections of the course was a bold move, as initially, we anticipated it being piloted only in Andrew’s section,” said Koyoumdjian. “We eagerly look forward to hearing about the experiences from both the faculty and the students.” 

So far, said McEachern, instructors haven’t discovered any insurmountable problems with the platform, and the more than 700 students studying linear algebra this term seem satisfied. He has paired the homework platform with an online help forum on social media platform Discord to provide students with a means for asking questions and getting answers quickly. 

“It’s amazing how many times other students pitch in with answers before I even get to the question,” McEachern said. “They just do it out of the goodness of their hearts.” 

He also said his students are reporting much less anxiety about their homework than usual. 

After the term is over, he, the other instructors and the team will review the success of the pilot, examining usage statistics and trends. They are also considering an informal survey of participants. 

“It’s easy to use and it’s cost-effective during tough economic times,” said McEachern. “In my opinion, if even one student benefits, it’s worth it.” 

Kouyoumdjian also sees it as a tool for student retention.  

Hovig Kouyoumdjian
Hovig Kouyoumdjian

“Mathematics is a foundational subject, and by enriching our students’ practice opportunities, we set them up for success and better equip them for future career endeavours” he said. “This pilot is a stepping stone, and we plan to extend the use of this platform to other math courses. We’ve also received positive feedback from colleagues outside our Faculty, who expressed enthusiasm for implementing WeBWorK at York University, which indicates a growing interest in adopting such powerful open-source platforms in their own courses as well.”  

In addition, noted Gotcheva, the United Nations considers OERs a public good, which aligns well with the York University Academic Plan’s commitment to furthering the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. 

“The Faculty of Science is committed to OERs,” said Kouyoumdjian. “Our aim is to promote the use of resources that are economically more feasible for our students and flexible enough to be reused, revised, remixed and redistributed. WeBWork aligns with these standards of OERs.” 

Dancing without borders: workshop teaches Chilean dance

National Dance of Chile BANNER

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.