Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies sheds light on new projects, global opportunities

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In this issue of Innovatus, you will read stories about how the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS) is responding to the needs of our students with innovative new projects and programs to help them succeed in a rapidly changing world.

Dean J.J. McMurty
Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies Dean J.J. McMurty.

One such program is our 12 U Math waiver pilot class. After the COVID-19 lockdowns, it became clear that some students needed to catch up in math fundamentals. This prompted the development of the pilot class to help address the numeracy shortfall experienced by many incoming LA&PS students.   

We also know that students want paid work experience in opportunities related to their field of study; this is one of the reasons paid co-op placements will replace internships and be available for all LA&PS programs starting September 2024.  

And now, more than ever, we know global leaders need a global perspective. We’ve reactivated our fleet of summer abroad opportunities, offering seven study abroad courses in 2024.  

Finally, educators across universities are all grappling with artificial intelligence (AI). Learn more in this issue about how we are dealing with both the drawbacks and benefits of AI. 

Thank you to our entire LA&PS community for all the work you have put into making our teaching and pedagogy so great.  

I hope you enjoy learning more about some of the ways we are helping our staff, students and faculty.  

J.J. McMurtry
Dean, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies 

Faculty, course directors and staff are invited to share their experiences in teaching, learning, internationalization and the student experience through the Innovatus story form, which is available at tl.apps01.yorku.ca/machform/view.php?id=16573.

In this issue:

LA&PS study abroad program evolves, expands its offerings
Students in LA&PS have opportunities – at home and abroad – to engage in global citizenship and learning.

Summer course opens door for students missing numeracy skills
A pilot program created to close the gap on math skills is adding up to success for students in LA&PS.

LA&PS opens conversation about academic honesty and artificial intelligence
A recent event to educate students about generative artificial intelligence, and the University’s policies, sparked meaningful discussions about the changing landscape of education.

It’s co-op programs, not internships, for liberal arts and professional studies students
The introduction of an optional paid co-op program will allow students to participate in work-integrated learning earlier in the educational journey.

LA&PS study abroad program evolves, expands its offerings

Map plane travel international world

By Elaine Smith  

The slate of summer study abroad courses offered by the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS) at York University is as popular as it was pre-pandemic and features new courses, as well as old favourites. In fact, its success has the Faculty looking toward a domestic version.  

Katie Gribbons
Katie Gribbons

“The program is back in full force with seven courses, and students are really excited to travel again,” said Katie Gribbons, study abroad co-ordinator for LA&PS.  

In 2024, three popular intermediate language courses – language and culture in China, Italy and Spain – will be reactivated, as well as three others: Anthropology Through the Visual in Lisbon; Greece: A Modern History in Athens; and the Politics of Youth and Old Age in Seoul. In addition, a new course joins the roster, Romantics en Route: Contexts of Literary Production in England. 

MJ Maciel Jorge
MJ Maciel Jorge

“We don’t offer the same courses every year,” said MJ Maciel Jorge, associate dean, global and community engagement for LA&PS. “The goal is to offer a variety of courses that engage students in global issues and provide an immersive experience they wouldn’t get otherwise. We work with instructors to promote attractive, value-added experiences and meaningful student learning. Our study abroad courses are very student-centric, with learning outcomes that provide added value and an opportunity to think globally.” 

LA&PS organizes the program itself. Gribbons works closely with York International (YI) so that LA&PS processes and policies are closely aligned with those YI co-ordinates. She works with faculty who are proposing summer abroad courses, shepherding them through the proposal stage, evaluations, review, the formal curriculum process and approval. Gribbons also works with study abroad partner institutions and organizations to arrange accommodations, activities and day trips. She promotes the program and recruits students, too.  

“We take a concierge approach to studying abroad that is tailored to student needs,” said Maciel Jorge. “In addition to being with an instructor they know while abroad, they are in contact with Katie, with whom they’ve been working for months. All of our students also get some financial support from LA&PS.”  

Both Maciel Jorge and Gribbons are happy to see the current interest in the courses, because many of the students enrolling are those who were constrained by the pandemic and have never travelled on their own. Gribbons said culture shock among the students is not uncommon but, luckily, the professors are incredibly supportive and are comfortable with the location, which helps the students adjust, too.

“Katie works with the students to build their confidence and stretch their comfort zone,” said Maciel Jorge. “They get to experience and learn from global perspectives and in doing so students are able to acquire intercultural skills and reflect on the value of global citizenship.

“Each year of the program, we learn valuable lessons and we are able to fine-tune our policies and processes for an enhanced experience for faculty and students.” 

Gribbons noted that LA&PS conducts pre-departure surveys and post-trip surveys to learn about the students’ experiences.  

“The top skills they gain are confidence and independence,” she said. “For many, it’s the first time they are travelling without their parents; it may be their first airline ride and first passport. They’re so nervous beforehand, but when they come back, they wish the trip was longer. They’ve been able to navigate a new place and learned to be resilient and resourceful.”  

This month, LA&PS is launching a community of practice around studying abroad, targeting both instructors scheduled to teach in summer of 2024, but also colleagues considering the 2025 experience.  

“We want to bring together all our colleagues who teach abroad or are interested in proposing courses for deep reflection on a student-centred approach,” said Maciel Jorge. “We will share best practices and look at how to continue providing tailored resources. We’ll also be revamping our website to include a variety of tools for students and faculty.” 

A potential domestic study away program is being discussed, and the Faculty is hoping to run a pilot program in 2024.   

“This is very meaningful to the Faculty and the University as a whole,” said Maciel Jorge. “It will give our students an opportunity to learn about global issues from a national perspective. Global citizenship starts at home. We plan to work with historically marginalized, immigrant and Indigenous communities on issues that often go unnoticed. We want to see how we can advance the University’s mission of decolonization, equity, diversity, and inclusion and our commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. So much of what we do domestically, such as water management and sustainable economics, for example, is of a global nature. 

“Either domestically or abroad, the benefits for students are immense. Learning about new ways of being and seeing the world makes one take notice of one’s own place in it, a collective human experience. We gain a notion of empathy and connectedness to the world at large from these global interactions.”  

Those interested can learn more about the LA&PS Summer Study Abroad Program by visiting the website.     

LA&PS opens conversation about academic honesty and artificial intelligence 


By Elaine Smith 

With generative artificial intelligence (AI) top of mind for many members of the York community these days, the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS) decided that Academic Honesty/Integrity Month was a perfect opportunity to discuss the topic with students. 

LA&PS held a tabling event at Vari Hall on Oct. 24 to educate students about generative AI, address the current parameters for using it in courses and build digital literacy around these emerging tools. They also posed scenarios involving AI so students could consider what is appropriate in various contexts. Approximately 150 students stopped to talk with faculty and staff on hand. 

“We’re really thinking about being proactive and connecting with students around academic honesty and AI in more engaging ways,” said Mary Chaktsiris, a historian and associate director of teaching innovation and academic honesty for LA&PS. “We hope that as a result of this event, students will reach out to instructors to talk about generative AI and connect with available supports at York.”

Students at Vari Hall learn more about academic integrity in the context of artificial intelligence.
Students at at tabling event in Vari Hall learn more about academic integrity in the context of artificial intelligence.

Chaktsiris and the LA&PS academic honesty team co-led the Vari Hall event with Stevie Bell, head of McLaughlin College and an associate professor with the Writing Department. They had support from Michelle Smith, a learning innovation specialist, and academic honesty co-ordinators Namki Kang and Angelica McManus. Neil Buckley, associate dean of teaching and learning, and knowledgeable representatives from the Writing Centre, Peer-Assisted Study Sessions (PASS) and Student Numeracy Assistance Centre (SNACK) instructional teams were also on hand to converse with students. 

“We wanted students to get the facts about academic honesty and give them some guidance regarding AI now that the York Senate’s Academic Standards, Curriculum and Pedagogy (ASCP) Committee has given a policy clarification,” said Buckley. “It was an opportunity to inform students about this, because every student experiences AI in different contexts, and this is a domain that will be growing and growing.” 

ASCP states that “Students across York are not authorized to use text-, image-, code- or video-generating tools when completing their academic work unless explicitly permitted by a specific instructor in a particular course.” As part of a regular review process, a newly revised Senate Policy on Academic Honesty is expected to be announced in coming months. 

Bell noted, “In my experience with academic honesty since I began teaching writing in 2002, I’ve never found a student who wanted to cheat; they want to find out how to do things correctly. 

“So, we brought the conversation to Vari Hall. We wanted this event to be an inviting space for students to discuss AI openly, because the landscape is shifting. In some courses, professors suggest that students use it to do specific tasks, while in other courses, it’s a no-go zone. We wanted students to know how to talk to their professors about it. From talking to students in the Writing Department, I know they are very confused about if, when and how to use AI, so this was very generative for all.”

Students at a tabling event in Vari Hall.
Students at a tabling event in Vari Hall.

Students had a variety of concerns to share at Vari Hall. Some wanted to talk specifically about academic honesty, but others wanted to discuss generative AI more specifically. Faculty, too, are exploring AI, Buckley noted. For example, the Teaching Commons has a community of practice dedicated to discussing AI and how it is being used across campus and recently held a Summit on Generative AI in Higher Education. With the use of AI expected to grow exponentially in the workplace, understanding how to use generative AI will be essential. 

“AI is already a tool in the workplace,” Bell said. “If you look at job postings on the Indeed site, for example, many of them request experience in using generative AI technology productively. As a result, in the Writing Centre, we’re looking at building digital literacies. Students need to understand generative AI’s incentives and motivations to tell you what you want to hear, and they need to learn to fact check. 

“The questions can become very nuanced. For instance, are you giving away a company’s proprietary information if you use it?” 

The success of the Vari Hall event inspired the LA&PS team and they would like to see the conversation continue. Bell has begun holding ongoing workshops at the Writing Centre with a student focus; the first one drew 75 people, including teaching assistants.  

“From a pedagogical perspective, connection and conversation are important parts of navigating the emergent aspects of AI,” Chaktsiris said. “More connections with students will be important to building digital literacies and helping navigate the shifting contexts of generative AI. A focus on connection and support also leans into more inclusive pedagogical practice. I hope there are more touch points for us to discuss AI and academic honesty more generally.” 

Students who have questions can turn to available LA&PS resources such as the Writing Centre, PASS, SNACK, peer mentors, academic advising and academic honesty co-ordinators to discuss generative AI and academic honesty in more detail.

It’s co-op programs, not internships, for liberal arts and professional studies students

A man shaking a woman's hand at a meeting or interview

By Elaine Smith 

Beginning in September 2024, students in all programs in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS) at York University will have the option to choose to enrol in a paid co-op program as they pursue their education.

Previously, said Neil Buckley, associate dean of teaching and learning for LA&PS, the Faculty had internships associated with its programs, but internships in general aren’t well-defined; some are for credit, some are paid and some are voluntary, leaving students and employers confused. 

“With the transition from an optional internship to an optional co-op program, people will understand that the co-op is a paid work-integrated learning (WIL) experience that is related to a student’s area of studies,” Buckley said. “It will help us to better communicate this opportunity to students and allow them to communicate with future employers exactly what their WIL means.”

Fahima Elsani
Fahimeh Ehsani

Fahimeh Ehsani, manager of employer engagement for LA&PS, said the Faculty wants to ensure that students are compensated for their work, and the change to co-op programs addresses any confusion, because co-op programs are traditionally paid work terms. 

“When students are choosing York, they will know that they can contribute toward their tuition, which makes a difference,” Ehsani said. “It was immediately obvious to us at this fall’s Ontario Universities Fair. One of the main questions parents asked was, ‘Do you have a co-op option?’ We are hoping that it will bring us more prospective students.” 

Buckley said that a 2020 report written by the C.D. Howe Institute supports the value of co-op programs, noting that Canadian university graduates from such programs are significantly more likely to get a first job that is closely related to their field of study, and three years afterward they have significantly better incomes than those students who don’t participate. In addition, regardless of their employment status, three years after graduation they have significantly lower debt levels than non-co-op students. 

The introduction of an optional co-op system will allow students to participate in WIL earlier in their educational career, beginning in the second year, rather than the third or fourth. They will have the opportunity for more work terms, experience and remuneration before leaving university as a result and more opportunity to apply what they have learned in the classroom, ultimately making them more competitive in the workplace. 

“Co-operative Education & Work-Integrated Learning Canada also says that it’s essential for students to have a study term between each work placement so they have time to reflect on what they’ve learned,” Buckley said. “We incorporate reflection into the co-op process so that students can integrate workplace experience and practise with the theory they learn in the classroom; it’s completing the loop.” 

Ehsani views co-ops as valuable in helping students decide what type of work suits them. 

“Co-ops open their eyes to multiple career paths,” she said. “They can also help students land full-time jobs. They are often offered jobs by co-op employers; it makes their recruitment easier to hire a known candidate who does good work. For students, this can be a relief, because finding jobs is extremely stressful. 

“In any case, successful co-op placements demonstrate that they have skills and are ready to learn, employers are ready to mentor and train them.” 

Before students begin their co-op terms, LA&PS’s co-op team prepares them with some non-credit training, addressing soft skills, resume preparation and what to expect in the workplace. 

“Our students compete with those from other schools, so support from our team is valuable,” Ehsani said.  

Ehsani is busy working with various other Faculties and the Career Centre to bring recruiters to campus and will work with employers to get feedback about how the program could be improved or which other courses might augment a student’s career potential. 

“Many students are just in a hurry to finish their degrees, but they may end up behind,” says Buckley. “Experience on their resumes is often worth the extra year or two until graduation, especially since that experience is paid. We are excited for this transition and looking forward to welcoming all LA&PS students to our optional co-op program next fall.” 

Summer course opens door for students missing numeracy skills 

Students from LAPS

By Elaine Smith 

The Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS) at York University has created a new summer course to assist students without Grade 12 math skills to acquire the knowledge they need to enter math-dependent university programs in the fall. 

In the summer of 2023, LA&PS introduced a pilot, Mathematics for Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, a 12U Math waiver class, to help address the numeracy shortfall experienced by many incoming students. The non-degree, online synchronous course was open to all incoming students required to complete a 12U Math course to meet their condition for admission, or to any York University undergraduate students required to complete a mathematics pre-requisite for an eligible program – such as economics and bachelor of commerce. Thanks to the success of the course, LA&PS plans to offer it again in Summer 2024. 

Robert McKeown
Robert McKeown

“We wanted to make sure these students had the math they needed to learn more advanced topics once they arrived at York, such as linear algebra and calculus,” said Robert McKeown, an assistant professor (teaching stream) of economics, who helped create the curriculum alongside members of the LA&PS Numeracy Steering Committee. McKeown also played a pivotal role in overseeing the development of the instructors’ weekly lessons and assessment components for the course.  

The course ran twice a week for 12 weeks. It covered polynomial functions and some probability and statistics, and was structured like a standard university course with two tests and a final, along with asynchronous class activities.

Mona Frial Brown
Mona Frial Brown

Mona Frial-Brown, director of student success for LA&PS, said the course has been a few years in the making, first proposed by LA&PS academic advisors and Sean Kheraj, the former vice-dean and associate dean of programs. It provides a pathway for LA&PS students, so they aren’t required to return to high school to obtain the necessary skills. Previously, students were able to take a relevant course at the School of Continuing Studies, but it no longer exists. 

“Sean wanted us to think about a non-credit option that was equivalent to an advanced functions course,” said Frial-Brown, who also credits former associate dean Anita Lam and the LA&PS Numeracy Steering Committee, who created the Student Numeracy Assistance Centre at Keele (SNACK). “Numeracy is closely linked to student success, and this initiative is focused on improving access. It was a collaborative effort, and being a part of it from start to finish was a rewarding experience.” 

The collaboration drew on the skills of a variety of people and teams. The LA&PS recruitment and academic advising teams were involved in promoting the course to students. York’s recruitment and admissions team were involved in developing offer letters and explaining to applicants that acceptance was conditional on passing the course. Once the curriculum was created, Marc Anderson, a learning technology support specialist from eLearning Services, built the content in eClass. SNACK peer tutors got involved in assisting the students who took the pilot class. Maggie Quirt, the current associate dean of programs at LA&PS, also had a hand. 

“It’s a baby I delivered this summer,” Frial-Brown added with a laugh. “In addition, it’s not just a course; it marks the beginning of a non-degree framework for the Faculty. We might consider other non-degree courses, so we wanted to carefully plan this pilot program and create a structure for the non-degree landscape. We consulted with colleagues across the University, including the Faculty of Health, where non-degree courses are already offered, and established a framework for enrolment, admissions and course payment. Many factors were at play.”

Neil Bucklkey
Neil Bucklkey

Neil Buckley, current associate dean of teaching and learning for LA&PS, who was involved with the Numeracy Steering Committee throughout the development and launch of the class, added, “There is a huge move in education for micro-credentials, some for credit and some not. This was a great opportunity for LA&PS to pilot test a non-academic course.” 

The class drew 61 students, almost half of them international students. This meant breaking the class into two sections to make it accessible from various time zones. One class met online in the mornings; the other in the evenings. All but one of the students passed the class.  

“At the end of the semester, we are planning to assess the success of the participants to see how well they performed in their courses compared to students who took the course in high school and see if success varies according to discipline,” said Buckley. 

The team will also follow them through the next few years to determine if the course has an impact on retention. 

“This course opens the door to a larger, more diverse group of students,” Buckley said. “It helps us achieve access and equity. We pride ourselves on being student-centric, and this offers students flexibility.” 

Frial-Brown is equally enthusiastic. 

“I’m truly proud of this project,” she said. “It was a genuine collaborative effort aimed at achieving a common goal, which was to provide access to our students. We’ve witnessed its successful development with thanks to everyone involved and with the backing of senior leadership.” 

Experiential education, DEDI key priorities of teaching and learning

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Welcome to our October issue of Innovatus. This month, we introduce you to a variety of inventive teaching and learning efforts that will undoubtedly interest you and provide food for thought. The initiatives featured in this issue focus on the key priorities of experiential education (EE) and decolonization, equity, diversity and inclusion (DEDI).

Chloe Brushwood Rose
Chloë Brushwood Rose

For example, stories from the Teaching Commons featured here highlight programs that reinforce York University’s commitment to DEDI, as set forth in our University Strategy. One, a 10-part workshop series called Trauma-Informed Pedagogies, may be of particular interest; it runs throughout the 2023-24 academic year. The Teaching Commons team has also begun to do research into the impact of York’s Model for Engaged Teaching, created in 2019 and updated in 2021. The model is worth exploring as a way of broadening your understanding of teaching as a profession.

For those who want to assist students in learning new skills and better cope with life’s demands throughout their university careers, Envision YU is a wonderful resource that you will learn more about in this issue. It provides classroom tools that are relevant to any subject and aid faculty as they guide their students toward the working world or further academic studies.

And let’s not forget the importance of EE. The University Academic Plan states that York will “attain our goal of providing every student with an experiential learning opportunity, regardless of program.” Two of our stories offer wonderful examples of such opportunities.  

In May, students in the School of the Arts, Performance, Media & Design had the opportunity to participate in a summer course, Shooting the Set, that provided them with hands-on experience in writing, shooting and acting in short films produced in front of a green screen. York’s amazing Motion Media Studio at Cinespace offered them the opportunity to gain professional-level experience in a low-stakes environment. 

In another example, faculty from the School of Global Health describe their Academic Innovation Fund-funded, simulation-based experiential learning initiative, the World Health Organization World Health Assembly (WHA) simulation (WHA SIM). WHA SIM seeks to enhance knowledge and skills around collaborative governance approaches, involving multisectoral and multijurisdictional global challenges, such as those found in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

So, there you have it: a full, varied slate of interesting stories that may entice you to tweak your own course delivery or ensure that your students learn some new skills. Our office is proud to showcase the diversity and range of teaching and learning efforts taking place across York University.  



Chloë Brushwood Rose 
Vice-Provost Teaching and Learning 

Faculty, course directors and staff are invited to share their experiences in teaching, learning, internationalization and the student experience through the Innovatus story form, which is available at tl.apps01.yorku.ca/machform/view.php?id=16573.

In this issue:

Teaching Commons leader in bringing DEDI lens to the classroom
York University’s Teaching Commons continues to bring equity-informed pedagogy to York University faculty, introducing relevant ideas and practices through its workshops and courses.

WHA simulation is excellent EE teaching tool
Students from the Faculty of Health will engage in a World Health Assembly (WHA) simulation to experience first-hand how global health policymakers at the World Health Organization make decisions. 

Hands-on green screen course an AMPD hit
An exciting opportunity for students in the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design (AMPD) to work with green screen technology resulted in the production of several short films.

Model for Engaged Teaching basis for conference presentation
York University’s Model for Engaged Teaching will take centre stage during an upcoming presentation by educational developers from the Teaching Commons at the International Society for Scholarship of Teaching and Learning conference in November. 

Envision YU eases student transition to and from university
Two professors from different Faculties have joined together to create Envision YU, a curriculum tool designed to help faculty guide students through university life.

WHA simulation is excellent teaching tool 


By Elaine Smith 

Students from York University’s Faculty of Health will once again have the opportunity to engage in a World Health Assembly (WHA) simulation: a chance to experience first-hand how global health policymakers at the World Health Organization (WHO) make decisions.

Adrian Viens
Adrian Viens
Ahmad Firas Khalid
Ahmad Firas Khalid

Dr. Ahmad Firas Khalid, a physician and assistant professor at the School of Global Health, created the simulation and ran it to great acclaim for 100 students last May in partnership with Associate Professor Adrian Viens, director of the School of Global Health. As a result, they have slated the second annual WHA simulation for May 1 to 3, 2024, with the theme of One Health.  

The simulation provides students with an experiential education (EE) opportunity to understand the workings of the WHO’s supreme governing body, and asks them to consider a current global health issue, participate in a WHA committee, draft a resolution and present it to the entire assembly.

James Orbinski
James Orbinski

In addition, students are exposed to numerous experts in the field who will offer guidance and share their own experiences. Participants in 2023, for example, were treated to an online address by Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, and Dr. James Orbinski, a Nobel laureate and director of the Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research at York. 

“It demonstrates how valuable experiential education is,” said Khalid. “It was so well received that we’ll be making it an annual event. We started working on this year’s simulation the minute the last one ended.” 

Khalid and Viens can attest to the value the simulation has for students, based on their research. The pair used a mixed method of study to evaluate the program, an event that was supported by a grant from the Academic Innovation Fund and funds from other donors.  

They asked all participants to fill out a pre-assessment survey to evaluate their skills with dialogue, complex problem thinking, communications and use of simulations. Afterward, they conducted semi-structured interviews with 18 participants to determine which of their skills participation improved and how it benefited them. These findings will form the basis of a research paper and will be shared at conferences. 

The findings indicated: 

  • 97 per cent of the participants affirmed the topics covered in the simulation were highly relevant to their current studies, future academic pursuits and prospective career opportunities. This data emphasizes the simulation’s alignment with students’ evolving needs, ensuring they’re well prepared for their future endeavours. 
  • 86 per cent rated the simulation as “very effective” in showcasing significant global health challenges and issues, illustrating its crucial role in imparting a nuanced understanding of global health dynamics. 
  • 79 per cent felt the simulation notably enhanced their preparedness for future career paths. 
  • 70 per cent confirmed the experience positively influenced their ability to apply knowledge in practical scenarios. 
  • An impressive 98 per cent showed enthusiasm for participating in similar simulations in the future, underscoring the simulation’s significance in meeting students’ aspirations and interests in global health. 

“The simulation improved our students’ skill sets in communication, interpersonal skills, time management and collaboration, and it enhanced their understanding of complex issues, filling gaps in their knowledge more effectively than a classroom lecture,” said Khalid. “We’re mimicking the outside world with a structured, informed pedagogical approach. 

“You can’t underestimate the simulation’s value in career preparation. I have already heard from two students who took part in 2023 and have decided to pursue master’s degrees in public policy as a result of this experience, something that wasn’t on their radar previously.” 

Khalid and Viens have taken the feedback they received during these interviews to improve upon the experience for this year’s participants. They’ll be holding four workshops in the months leading up to the simulation to help students prepare for the negotiating, informed discussion and writing required.  

“We want to be innovative in our approach every year and push the envelope,” said Khalid. “We want to push the students to think about both the dominant and the counter-narratives.” 

Currently, available funding means that the simulation is capped at 100 students, but Khalid and Viens are working with partners to see if it’s possible to open the door to larger numbers.  

Interested students from the Faculty of Health should contact Khalid directly. 

Teaching Commons leader in bringing DEDI lens to classroom 

Equity, diversity, inclusion

By Elaine Smith 

York University’s Teaching Commons (TC), the office that provides leadership in the pursuit of engaged teaching practices centred on the student learning experience, is also a leader in fostering an awareness of how to incorporate a decolonization, equity, diversity and inclusion (DEDI) perspective into pedagogical practices. 

As reflected by its statement of practice, the TC team has embraced equity, decolonization, diversity, inclusion and accommodation and continues to bring equity-informed pedagogy to York University faculty, introducing relevant ideas and practices through its workshops and courses.

“Since Ameera Ali, our educational developer, EDI, joined Teaching Commons in February 2022, we have been able to ramp up our support in this area, in alignment with York’s DEDI Strategy,” said Geneviève Maheux-Pelletier, director of Teaching Commons.

Geneviève Maheux-Pelletier
Geneviève Maheux-Pelletier
Jessica Vorstermans
Jessica Vorstermans
Robin Sutherland-Harris
Robin Sutherland-Harris

TC takes the responsibility for DEDI leadership seriously, as its activities demonstrate. Ali and fellow educational developer Robin Sutherland-Harris currently co-lead a DEDI in Teaching and Learning community of practice (CoP) with Jessica Vorstermans, an assistant professor in the Critical Disability Studies program. With online monthly meetings, it has about 130 members who participate as their schedules allow; it has also spawned a trauma-informed reading group. The CoP meetings are an opportunity for members to share what’s on their minds. This year, they plan to offer some in-person sessions, too.

Susan Dion
Susan Dion

TC held its first DEDI conference this past spring with the help of an Academic Innovation Fund grant, and during the past academic year, TC supported Susan Dion, associate vice-president Indigenous initiatives, in delivering Decolonizing the Academy, a course that discussed this shared responsibility, and what it means to decolonize teaching and learning from a pedagogical perspective. 

“This course offered the opportunity for a lot of inner reflection and considering what people’s roles as settlers mean,” said Maheux-Pelletier. “Professor Dion was very generous to partner with us and we will be looking for ways to deliver this course in the future without making major demands on her time.” 

This past summer, Ali and colleague Natasha May offered a course called Caring to Teach: Supporting Student Transitions Between Teaching and Learning Environments that helped instructors ease their students’ path between online learning and classroom studies.  

“Caring to Teach focused on the pedagogy of care, kindness and belonging, and it was especially important as we moved to and from online courses,” said Maheux-Pelletier. “It reminds us that students are more than simply someone sitting in class, and the more attuned we are to them, the better we can help them to be fully present in the classroom. 

“World events like the pandemic, the murderous attack on a Muslim family in London, Ont., and the University of Waterloo stabbing keep reminding us how vulnerable we are. If we’re not in a mental space to learn, it won’t happen.” 

These ideas lead directly to TC’s new 10-part workshop series, Trauma-Informed Pedagogy, in collaboration with the Centre for Human Rights, Equity and Inclusion. The series grew out of inquiries during the pandemic from faculty who were wondering how to make the classroom a more inclusive space. 

The workshops “will explore how trauma influences learning and how it manifests itself inside the classroom or elsewhere,” said Ali, who is leading the course along with Sutherland-Harris and Vorstermans.  

The first five sessions, running this term, lay the foundation by examining what trauma is and who is affected by trauma, Ali noted. “The second five sessions, taking place during the winter term, discuss how we respond: the pedagogical strategies and techniques we can use. 

“We’re bringing everyone to a common understanding of the subject and then giving them concreate strategies to use.” 

Maheux-Pelletier underscores TC’s ongoing commitment to DEDI and willingness to lead the way. 

“To me, there is no bulletproof approach,” she said, “but a commitment to the work is important, even if it is messy, imperfect and uncomfortable.” 

Hands-on green screen course an AMPD hit 

Shooting the Set, AMPD students at Cinespace using the green screen

By Elaine Smith 

An intensive five-week course called Shooting the Set offered 30 students valuable experience working with a green screen, taking advantage of York University’s Motion Media Studio (YUMMS), which is based at Cinespace Film Studios, the company’s one-million-square-foot industry studio space in Toronto. 

The experiential education (EE) course – created during the pandemic by Ingrid Veninger, assistant professor of cinema and media arts, and John Greyson, associate professor of cinema and media arts at the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design (AMPD) – made its in-person debut in May. Students in the course had the opportunity to study current aesthetics and practices of new neo-realist cinema; workshop a broad range of film studio and green screen methods; be trained in professional on-set and studio production techniques; work in teams to develop, script and shoot original short dramatic films; and perform key creative roles on at least two dramatic shoots.

AMPD students in Shooting the Set course working with the green screen
AMPD students in the Shooting the Set course working with the green screen.

“This is a studio-based, collaborative course that teaches the art of the green screen and shows that it isn’t just useful for stories about superheroes,” said Greyson, who taught the in-person version. “There’s a unique approach to how you can tell stories with actors using the green screen. 

“As a student, having that entrée and exposure is an extraordinary gift.”  

The course was open to all third- and fourth-year film, theatre, visual arts and dance students at AMPD, as well as graduate students, but it required an application and an interview.  

“The application focused on their skills and on the stories they wanted to tell – stories told in a neo-realistic style with a social justice theme,” Greyson said. “These are social justice stories coming out of their own lives; the stories that Hollywood ignores. We chose salt as a theme that tied them all together.” 

Fourth-year acting student Natasha Advani Thangkhiew drew on personal experiences with eating disorder and anxiety that inspired a story written by classmate JJ Mokrzewski. It became one of six screenplays the class filmed and told of the challenge the protagonist faced in going out on a dinner date with someone on whom she had a crush. 

Advani Thangkhiew found the process of acting in a story based on her own experiences “enlightening.” 

“When it comes to telling a personal story, what I learned is that as an actor, it is very important to detach yourself and look at the experience as an entity that is separate from yourself, because this allows the story to evolve in the way that it is supposed to,” she said. “Eventually, it is not only my story; it becomes a story where every person in the group finds ownership and meaning.”

A production group meeting with the core creative team for Shooting the Set
A production group meeting with the core creative team for Shooting the Set.

Veninger agreed that although each writer took one of the stories selected and wrote the draft of a script, the feedback and commentary turned the process into a collaboration that brought out the students’ creativity and allowed them to find ways to make the story their own. 

“It became an amazing think tank of ideas around social justice, and the best ideas won,” she said. “There was a general attitude of receptivity, active listening and meaningful collaboration. Everyone had a desire to see the script improved.” 

Added Greyson, “Having the writers in the same room as the actors from the beginning meant they could tailor the roles to the actors, which transformed the stories.” 

The cinematography crew shot the location footage in advance, and it was added during post-production. A still from the footage was projected onto a video screen before the actors began working so they could imagine the location in their minds and adjust their movements accordingly. 

“It was my first time acting in front of a green screen, and it forced me to activate my imagination,” said Advani Thangkhiew. “I’m glad I had the opportunity to do it in class where the stakes aren’t as high.” 

Working at YUMMS in the Cinespace facility was also a revelation. 

“Even having access to that kind of space, equipment and property houses is amazing,” Advani Thangkhiew said. “The studio is such a valuable resource and being able to shoot scenes in one of the best studios in the city was incredible.” 

Veninger noted that AMPD is grateful to have such outstanding studio space, originally a gift from the Mirkopoulos family, the owners of Cinespace, and recently renewed by TPG Real Estate Partners. It has two sound stages, equipped with teaching resources, a standing set, a green screen stage and professional equipment.  

“Students are working in a space with real productions such as ‘Law & Order’ swirling around them,” she said, “and they get inspired knowing that shows like ‘The Umbrella Academy’ and ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ were shot just down the hall.” 

Shooting the Set received generous contributions from industry collaborators. In addition to the gift from Cinespace Film Studios, in-kind sponsorships were received from Wiseacre Rentals and MBS Equipment Co., as well as an iHUB innovation grant from CEWIL Canada that allowed them to provide students with a stipend. CEWIL is a leading organization for work-integrated learning in Canada and champions it through partnerships with educational institutions, governments and others.

students and faculty posing at the Showcase event
Students and faculty posing at the showcase event.

At the end of the five-week course, Greyson and Veninger organized a movie preview night at the York U Motion Media Studio to showcase the films to family, friends, colleagues and industry guests, followed by a networking mixer. 

“This is one of the best courses I’ve taken at York,” Advani Thangkhiew said. “Everyone who came learned and grew so much.” 

Shooting the Set will be offered again in May 2024. Contact Professor Greyson for more information. 

Model for Engaged Teaching basis for conference presentation

Female conference lecture teacher professor

By Elaine Smith 

York University’s Model for Engaged Teaching (MET) will take centre stage during an upcoming presentation by educational developers from the Teaching Commons (TC) at the International Society for Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Conference in November. 

Geneviève Maheux-Pelletier, director of TC, and Mandy Frake-Mistak, a TC educational developer, will present preliminary findings from the qualitative research they are conducting into MET’s impact at York. They are currently conducting focus groups with faculty to obtain feedback about the model and how it shapes an instructor’s practice in the context of their own teaching and learning experience, disciplinary tradition and prior exposure, as well as whether it is used at York for activities such as operationalizing “excellent” teaching, helping faculty articulate their practice, and mapping out professional growth related to teaching and learning.

This image represents engaged teaching practices: the left side focuses on improving one’s own teaching, while the focus of the right is on dissemination of teaching-related knowledge in a manner that is appropriately public. For a more in-depth description, see this document.

“Our job at TC is to think deeply about teaching and learning and look at ways our York community of instructors can think about teaching in much broader strokes than just through their own individual classroom lens,” said Maheux-Pelletier, who co-chaired the Sub-Committee on Research and Innovation in Teaching and Learning that produced York’s Model for Engaged Teaching in 2019 (updated in 2021). “The model looks at what informs teaching, and considers four dimensions:  

  • an instructor’s classroom practice; 
  • sharing practice; 
  • systematic, intentional use of evidence in teaching; and 
  • formal research: the scholarship of teaching and learning. 

The diagram of the model adopted and adapted by York shows flexibility and an interplay between the dimensions that remind faculty that tasks may be more than one thing rather than neatly categorized. It also shows the interplay between tasks and, says Maheux-Pelletier, “opens up perspectives and opportunities to see teaching in a richer way. 

“It gives people language and anchors their practice differently and in an aspirational fashion; their practice may develop over time.” 

Frake-Mistak noted that the MET is the starting point for “changing the perception of what it means to be a teacher.” 

She noted that it is a more robust practice than many people realize. Instructors tend to downplay all the tasks that they take for granted, such as building relationships and creating an inclusive classroom environment. 

“We want to shift the language we use and the perception of teaching,” said Frake-Mistak. “There’s so much that teachers do that can be rendered invisible in an institution of this size.” 

Added Maheux-Pelletier, “The MET helps instructors grow over time with intentionality.” 

The preliminary findings of their research indicate that the model is helpful in defining concepts such as teaching excellence from a broader perspective than just the classroom, because it takes into account myriad activities, such as reflecting on teaching, developing a curriculum and writing a review or meta-analysis for a journal. 

“When we presented the model itself at last year’s conference, people grabbed onto it as a productive way of thinking about teaching,” said Maheux-Pelletier. “They seemed to find it useful.” 

Frake-Mistak expressed hope that the preliminary data will be only the beginning of a broader study. 

“There are more boundaries around discussing teaching and learning than around research and we’d love to tear them down,” she said. 

“Ultimately, from a professional standpoint, teaching is a scholarly practice and we need to recognize the power and significance it brings along with it, as well as the responsibility.” 

Maheux-Pelletier noted that the team at TC is involved in the scholarship of teaching and learning in addition to the work they do to disseminate evidence-based information through workshops, seminars and courses. 

“We’re actually a group of scholars who specialize in teaching and learning,” she said. “Yes, we are service providers and our work is influenced both by the literature and by our own research.”