Welcome to the January 2023 issue of ‘Innovatus’

Header banner for INNOVATUS

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

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

Will Gage
Will Gage

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

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

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

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

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


Will Gage
Associate Vice-President, Teaching and Learning

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

In this issue:

AIF funds a wide range of teaching and learning projects
Over the years, York University’s Academic Innovation Fund (AIF) has promoted an inspired shift in teaching, learning, the student experience and internationalization of the curriculum.

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

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

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

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

How will AI tools such as ChatGPT shape teaching and learning? 

Image shows a computer, chart and international map

By Angela Ward  

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

Out of all the emerging AI tools, ChatGPT has been the focus lately. The chatbot, developed by OpenAI, interacts with users in a dialogue, answering their prompts with complex responses. Despite the uncertainty that comes with this new technology, it offers exciting possibilities for education.  

Angela Clark
Angela Clark

“We always knew this was on the horizon in the academic integrity world,” said Angela Clark, an academic integrity officer in the Office of the Vice-Provost Academic. “This is a new generation of AI tools that represents a big leap from the AI tools in existence prior to OpenAI releasing DALL-E and ChatGPT last November. We’re still in the beginning stages of learning about what these tools can do and their uses in education.”  

Robin Sutherland-Harris, educational developer in the Teaching Commons (TC) at York University, adds that the use of these tools is already a reality in the working world. “As educators, it makes sense to adapt to these AI tools because students will graduate into this world with AI as part of the landscape. We should think about how we can incorporate them into assessments, strategies and ways that we think about disciplinary writing within academia. AI tools are going to change all of these.  

“I think the process of writing academically will probably shift with the integration of these AI tools into existing software, especially with predictive text completion.” 

Sutherland-Harris is interested in how tools like ChatGPT could help educators reflect on the nature of disciplinary writing and assessments. She said, “I’m excited by the possibilities for thinking about disciplinary writing, thinking about what kind of assessments are robust and how we’re asking students to do what AI is not able to do, such as taking multiple sources in combination and analyzing them for new conclusions.  

“My understanding is that ChatGPT is good at comparing one thing at a time but less adept at using deeper evidence to construct new arguments. How are we building assessments that addresses this, instead of getting bogged down in the mechanics of the writing?” 

ChatGPT can also encourage critical thinking when it comes to fact-checking content in classroom activities since it’s not always accurate with answers and citations. Sutherland-Harris said, “It’s helpful to start with an example text, which can be used to workshop ideas or interrogate what the AI is getting right in terms of a specific thinker, period of history or analysis and ask where the AI is falling short. It gives a useful starting point to push conversations into quite a deep level to really engage with content and discuss how writing should conform to the norms of the discipline, such as English or history.”  

Robin Sutherland-Harris
Robin Sutherland-Harris

Although there are exciting opportunities with AI tools, there are also challenges and concerns within this new terrain. ChatGPT can produce AI-generated essays, programming code and math solutions, which raises concerns about academic integrity.  

“When it comes to academic integrity, there will be some upheaval. It will be challenging as we all adapt to ChatGPT and come up with ways to integrate it into learning. In the short term, there may be more suspicion that students have engaged in academic misconduct. This may lead to more security measures being put in place such as having students write assessments by hand in the classroom or changing assessments from written work to oral. This may happen in order to be cognizant of professors’ time, so they don’t have to scramble to completely restructure how they assess,” said Clark.

In response to ChatGPT, some educators are already changing how they approach assessments and what they’re planning for the semester, said Sutherland-Harris. They are also searching for strategies around course-level policy that can protect academic integrity. Both Sutherland-Harris and Clark agree that this creates an opportunity for open discussion in classrooms, where educators might speak with students in-depth about the ideas they’re presenting or develop a charter with students on the use of academic integrity and AI tools.  

This open communication “engenders trust amongst the learning community,” Clark said. “Given that there are currently no citation guidelines for the content that these tools produce, instructors might even ask students how they think material should be cited.” 

When it comes to ensuring academic honesty, some educators will encourage transparency from students when they submit written work, Sutherland-Harris said. “Professors might ask students if they’ve used any AI or assistive writing technology. What was it and how did you use it? Students might use it to create an outline or draft an introduction before rewriting it. The use of AI for some educators is already being normalized as part of the writing process.”

Reflecting on citations, she notes that there is a gap when it comes to the norms around citing AI. “How do we cite and recognize the use of assistive technologies in the same way we cite other people’s ideas?” 

In terms of what tools like ChatGPT mean for the future, Clark said, “We now have ChatGPT 3.5, which has been shown to make mistakes at times. It can’t really synthesize information from different sources, show evidence of critical thinking and it makes errors when asked to generate programming code or solve math problems. As such, there are ways to detect when it has been used and in the short term, we can maintain our current practices. But GPT-4 will be released soon and who knows what that will bring? It also keeps improving as more people use it, prompting it to ‘learn’ and evolve.”  

“I think the ways that people think about, and structure assessment are already changing and will continue to change,” Sutherland-Harris added. “I wonder about the implications that AI which is good at writing will have on scholarly writing over time, which will affect how we educate students.” 

An upcoming workshop in February will be facilitated by both Sutherland-Harris and Clark to give professors the opportunity to connect on this topic. Instructors who are interested can register here. Different academic integrity resources for instructors and students are in development to help promote more clarity on these tools and their use.   

York University maps courses that teach about Sustainable Development Goals

Image shows a hand holding a pine cone against a lush backdrop of greenery

York University is internationally recognized for its contributions to addressing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) through teaching, research, stewardship, and partnerships. York’s annual SDG report is a snapshot of some of the work the University is doing in collaboration with Canadian and international partners to advance the Global Goals.

“The University is making determined and substantial strides towards the goals, through the power of higher education,” says York University’s Provost and VP Academic Lisa Philipps.  

As the world rapidly approaches 2030, youth have been mobilizing to compel global leaders to take urgent action on the SDGs. “As a global SDG leader, York University and its students are already playing an integral role in this movement,” adds Philipps.

To continuously improve the support offered to students and graduates who are tackling these challenges, York University has embarked on a process of understanding how its courses address or are linked to the SDGs. This initiative maps York courses with one or more of the SDGs, as appropriate, and the University is making this information available to the community on its SDG website.

The goal is to better inform students about learning opportunities related to the SDGs, to understand York’s strengths and curricular assets across the disciplines, and to increase awareness and deepen SDG-related conversations at the University and beyond.

Teaching the SDGs: the number of York courses related to each Global Goal

The above graphic shows the number of courses that relate to each of the United Nations 17 SDGs

Lessons learned from mapping courses

In consultation with OSDG, an open access tool developed by the United Nations Development Program’s SDG AI Lab and the EU-based thinktank PPMI, York analysts were able to undertake this process. They looked at both undergraduate and graduate courses offered in both English or French across all Faculties and all courses offered at the time of this analysis.

This approach looked at the use of more than 20,000 keywords and with the help of machine learning identified courses that are related to one or more of the SDGs through course titles and official descriptions. The University learned about the OSDG tool from University College London.

York University is the OSDG’s first official North American partner, as the organization works with a range of global partners such as the University of Hong Kong. York analysts consulted other universities in Ontario, British Columbia, California, England and New Zealand, organizations like York that are recognized for their global leadership on SDGs. Those consultations focused on learning about best practices for mapping and sharing SDG-relevant courses with their respective communities.

In total, analysts identified 1,635 courses (38 per cent of all courses), that are related to at least one SDG. Mapping for SDG 17 is still in development. All Faculties were represented among the mapped courses and the above table shows the number of courses that were identified as being related to each SDG.

The OSDG’s machine learning-enabled course mapping functionality flagged SDG-related courses when they specifically referenced the SDGs in the curriculum or where the curriculum empowered students to independently tackle an SDG theme within or outside of the classroom.

Many courses also mapped to more than one SDG – in fact, 285 courses were simultaneously mapped to two SDGs and 43 courses mapped to three SDGs. The process of mapping courses to the SDGs is iterative and analysts recognize that it is reliant upon the use of specific keywords and phrases found in current courses descriptions. As course descriptions continue to evolve, the analysis will be updated.

This approach will continue to improve over time, as new keywords are contributed to the OSDG’s bank. The full list of mapped courses will be published by Spring 2023 on York’s SDG website for the benefit of prospective and current students. The University will invite feedback in the lead up to publishing these courses and will continue to welcome ongoing feedback thereafter to ensure the mapped list of courses are kept up to date, and remain helpful for the York community.

The current analysis will serve as a starting point to improve the process of capturing SDG-related courses and advancing SDG education, and research on the SDGs, as outlined in the University Academic Plan.

Feedback from former Provostial Fellow and Professor Cheryl van Daalen-Smith, associate dean, academic; the Sustainability Office; the UNESCO Chair in Reorienting Education Towards Sustainability; and the Vice-Provost Students team has also been invaluable during this initial mapping endeavor. This Provostial initiative was supported by the Associate Vice-President Teaching & Learning, the University Registrar, the Office of Institutional Planning and Analysis and York International.

Welcome to the October 2022 issue of ‘Innovatus’

Header banner for INNOVATUS
Will Gage
Will Gage

Welcome to the second issue this year of “Innovatus,” a special issue of YFile dedicated to teaching and learning innovation at York University. This issue of our monthly newsletter focuses on Open Educational Resources, or OERs.

OERs represent an extraordinary opportunity for York University. These educational resources help to remove barriers that limit access to education. OERs also serve to expand what instructors can offer students as these freely available materials can be accessed, adapted, and modified with few or no restrictions. These materials in turn can serve to enhance student access to learning while possibly reducing costs, something that is particularly important as we navigate the new economic challenges posed by this post-pandemic world.

Together with Joy Kirchner, dean of University Libraries, I co-chair York University’s open education steering committee. I invite you to join us on this fascinating journey. You can keep up to date by subscribing to the Open Education listserv, details on how to access the listserv are available on the Open Education Steering Committee website.

In this issue of “Innovatus,” the articles recount some of the experiences our colleagues have had with OERs and offer resources for instructors interested in learning more.

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


Will Gage
Associate Vice-President, Teaching and Learning

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

In this issue:

Opening our eyes to the possibilities of OER
“The decision to devote this issue of ‘Innovatus’ to Open Educational Resources (OER) is a deliberate one,” writes Joy Kirchner, dean of Libraries at York University, in her letter to the community. “Across Canada, there is a national conversation happening about how academic institutions use OER, support OER adoption and creation in the classroom, and how OER facilitate innovative pedagogy.”

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

French as a second language educators build OER repository
As part of the larger goal of building a unified, intersectoral community of practice among French as a second language (FSL) educators, Professors Muriel Péguret and Dominique Scheffel-Dunand are building a multilingual hub that includes a repository of Open Educational Resources (OER), such as textbooks, articles and videos.

York faculty create Open Educational Resources, advancing UN SDGs
Faculty develop innovative Open Educational Resources (OER) that are aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) and reveal the positive impact on teaching and learning.

OER projects developed by York faculty for eCampusOntario’s virtual learning strategy
York University, through its talented faculty, contribute to eCampusOntario’s virtual learning strategy Open Educational Resources (OER) collection.

New Provostial Fellows engage community to lead on Sustainable Development Goals

Vari Hall

Four new Provostial Fellows have taken up their roles this year. The program is now in its second year running, with current fellowships in place until spring 2023.

As an initiative led by the provost, each of the Fellows will build capacity across the institution to advance the University Academic Plan and York University’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Challenge. At the same time, the program offers tenured faculty an opportunity to gain hands-on experience working with University leadership. Here is a look at what the Fellows will be doing in Fall 2022 through to Spring 2023.

Changing transportation patterns to reduce York’s carbon footprint

Burkard Eberlein
Professor of Public Policy and Sustainability
Schulich School of Business

Burkhard Eberlein
Burkhard Eberlein

Burkard Eberlein’s project, “Advancing Carbon Neutrality at York: Reimagining Mobility,” targets carbon emissions from commuting and travel related to studying, research and other University business activities. 

The project will support University Academic Plan priority “Living Well Together” and the UN Sustainable Development Goal 13, Climate Action.

The first phase of this project identified best practices for reducing emissions from other universities around the world. Data from York’s carbon inventory was also weighed to understand the dynamics of York’s current carbon footprint. This data analysis will enable the project to match innovative ideas and best practices with York’s emissions profile so that proposals for action can target relevant areas and make an impact. The next phase of this project will involve a community-wide transportation survey, set to roll out this October. The goal of this survey is to gain a better understanding of community’s support for reducing mobility-related emissions. Overall, the project aims to find opportunities to reduce emissions within York’s current carbon footprint, so that the University can right the future on climate change.

Ensuring LGBTQ2S+ students can access support to successfully launch careers

Jen Gilbert
Faculty of Education

Jen Gilbert
Jen Gilbert

Jen Gilbert’s project, “LGBTQ2S+ Students’ Experiences in their Professional and Clinical Placements,” will engage the York community in identifying new ways to better support early career nurses, social workers and teachers.

The project will support University Academic Plan priority “From Access to Success” and the UN Sustainable Development Goal 10, Reduced Inequalities.

This work will look at the experiences of LGBTQ2S+ professionals as they embark upon clinical placements and positions in their field. Often, as students leave the university and begin working in their professions, they can enter less LGBTQ2S+ positive spaces. These students frequently enter the field full of excitement only to encounter homophobia and transphobia from supervisors, co-workers, clients, patients or students.

Faculty, staff and students will meet to talk about what kinds of supports should be put in place to best prepare these students in their professional education. A pan-University advisory group will also be created, alongside focus groups and consultations across the York community.

During Pride Month in June, 2023, meetings will be held over the course of a day to formally identify ways to support 2SLGBTQ+ students through experiential education. Students, program administrators and representatives from professional accrediting associations will meet, share strategies, and hear from student representatives. The project will conclude with a report on best practices for supporting 2SLGBTQ+ students in experiential education.

Diversifying and decolonizing curriculum at York

Lalai Ameeriar
Associate Professor
Department of Anthropology
Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies

Lalaie Ameeriar
Lalaie Ameeriar

Lalaie Ameeriar’s project “Diversifying and Decolonizing Curriculum” sums up the progress made at York in this area and looks to identify opportunities to further maximize impact. As an anthropologist and ethnographer with more than 10 years of experience in research and teaching, Ameeriar brings unique expertise to this work.

In order to understand more about the experiences and viewpoints of various units and faculties who have implemented these efforts, a wider consultation will take place. Meeting with members of the Indigenous Council and the Advisory Council on Black Inclusion, the project will examine what efforts are making a difference at York University. A report will identify these experiences and create a benchmark for action.

Ameeriar will also review the literature, exploring what is meant by decolonizing the curriculum. Texts written on decolonizing and Indigenizing the curriculum in Canada, such as Sheila Cote-Meek’s Colonized Classrooms: Racism, Trauma and Resistance in Post-secondary Education (2014, Fernwood Publishing), will guide the review.

Supporting international student success after the pandemic

Saskia Van Viegen
Associate Professor
Department of Languages, Literatures & Linguistics
Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies

Saskia Van Viegen’s project “Engaging the Multilingual University” sets out to improve experiences and support for bilingual and multilingual international students at York.

Saskia Van Viegen
Saskia Van Viegen

The pandemic had a disproportional impact on international students. Restrictions to global travel interrupted access to campus life and many of the benefits of studying abroad.

This project examines levels of support that are currently available to students and will identify opportunities to enhance the student experience, with a particular focus on factors that drive academic success and persistence towards graduation. It will delve into how students navigate and access the University’s support networks.

Van Viegen will consult with students and stakeholders from across the primary faculties, departments and programs that admit international students. The project will also identify critical networks of support and effective changes to program delivery models within an equity, diversity and inclusion framework. Finally, the project will provide a concrete set of recommendations that align with University Academic Plan priorities on 21st Century Learning and Next Generation Student Supports, and contribute to advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goal 4, Quality Education

Welcome to the September 2022 issue of ‘Innovatus’

Header banner for INNOVATUS

Welcome back to campus! 

It’s a pleasure to be able say those words as we kick off the 2022-23 academic year with our first issue of “Innovatus,” a special issue of YFile. The theme of this issue of our monthly teaching and learning newsletter is The Future of Teaching and Learning.  

Will Gage
Will Gage

As many of us have been, I’m reflecting on how rapidly the world of teaching and learning changed with the onset of the pandemic. It pushed a lot of us into a space that was uncomfortable, but we adapted remarkably well to remote instruction. We may still be uncomfortable as we return to that “old, but new again” experience of being in the lecture hall. We should all keep in mind, too, that our students may be uncomfortable. It’s not surprising to realize that many of them have never attended York University in person – their introduction to the university classroom has been virtual until now. Now, it’s time to see how we’ll move forward, keeping the best of both the in-person and online experiences to continue improving the quality of our teaching and our students’ learning experience.  

In collaboration with partners across the University, we’re trying some new things, including hyflex, to bring an equitable learning experience to students who are either in the lecture hall or elsewhere. Meanwhile, colleagues in a variety of fields are experimenting in other ways, such as new ways to think about assessment. It will be fascinating to see where the world of higher education goes over the next decade or so, and that’s the whole experience of research in teaching and learning. Change is a constant and we’re using the new foundation we created during the pandemic to build something better for all of us. 

In this issue, six of our colleagues from different faculties and campuses speculate on the future of teaching and learning, relating it to how their own practices are evolving. We hope their ideas offer you not only food for thought, but the incentive to approach the future with creativity and curiosity. 


Will Gage 
Associate Vice-President, Teaching and Learning 

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

In this issue:

Teaching, not tools, is key to education, says Glendon course director
Valerie Florentin, a course director in the School of Translation at Glendon Campus, always liked to help people understand things and was interested in teaching “as far back as I can remember.” Today, with a PhD under her belt, she teaches translation and also works as a freelance translator.

AMPD professor loves teaching, the classroom, virtual or not
Ian Garrett, a theatre professor in the School of the Arts, Media, Performance and Design (AMPD), considers the impact of technology and its role in driving positive change in post-secondary education.

Professor looks toward the future of teaching and learning in post-pandemic world
The pandemic lockdown has brought new opportunities in teaching and learning and the student experience, including how technology can be used to enhance learning, and questions about who governs the data. Assistant Professor Sarah Rotz from the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change ponders the pros and cons of technology.

An augmented/virtual reality revolution is just beginning, says Faculty of Science professor
Chemistry Professor Kyle Belozerov uses virtual reality in his classroom. In this insightful Q-and-A, he considers the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in understanding the complexities of our modern world.

Can interconnected classrooms without walls shape the future of teaching and learning?
French Studies Associate Professor Dominique Scheffel-Dunand has written an insightful essay that explores the future of teaching and learning from a variety of perspectives and offers a futuristic view of the university in 2040.

Technology opens new doors, says humanities professor
Donald Ipperciel, a philosophy professor and former principal of Glendon Campus, has 26 years of experience in the classroom. He is also fascinated by the changing technology available to educators, including the benefits to teaching that are associated with artificial intelligence and virtual reality.

Teaching, not tools, is key to education, says Glendon course director

the word teach spelled out in scrabble blocks

Valerie Florentin, a course director in the School of Translation at Glendon Campus, always liked to help people understand things and was interested in teaching “as far back as I can remember.” Today, with a PhD under her belt, she teaches translation and also works as a freelance translator.

Valerie Florentin
Valerie Florentin

“There’s something magic in education and hopefully, you’ll have an impact on people’s lives,” Florentin said. Given her specific interest in assessment and interest in the practice of upgrading, “Innovatus” asked her opinion on the future of teaching and learning.

Q: How has teaching changed since you entered the profession?

Florentin: It has changed so much! Universal design has always been there, but it’s more present today. Institutions grant accommodations more readily and incorporate as many accommodations as they can so everyone benefits. Classrooms are becoming more diverse and there is more availability of testing for various diagnoses. I have ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder), and today, I wouldn’t just be an annoying kid in the class; a lot of disorders are validly discussed and recognized. Add gender to the mix, too, as more and more young adults decide who they are and an openness in teaching becomes more and more important.

Q: Is technology driving the changes that you see?

Florentin: Society drives change. Technology modifies what we can do and how fast, but the changes were coming anyway. Technology is just along for the ride. For example, distance learning has been available for a long time, but technology made it easier.

Q: How do we balance our need for connection with our need for flexibility?

Florentin: We do this by being compassionate, by talking to people as people and addressing their needs. We need to see students as individuals and consider each student as a person, not the class as a group.

Q: How will internationalization change education, especially with the prevalence of globally networked learning? Broaden it?

Florentin: Toronto is already a multicultural city, but elsewhere, it will broaden education. Internationalization changes a number of things. For instance, you can’t take for granted that your students had a Canadian education and understand North American references. We rely a lot on what we assume are common references.

Internationalization is a plus, but it’s not new. In the past, it meant going abroad and you had to travel. Technology helps; you have globally networked learning in courses. Those contacts are available and easier to make and that’s great. And, if you’re internationally inclined, you can learn about other cultures here in Toronto.

Q: Where does experiential education fit into the picture?

Florentin: It has become more important. It’s a great way for students to have a glimpse of their future reality and to bridge the gap between studies and work. It’s also a great way for universities to become more a part of the community and give back. It’s a win for everyone. Companies get a glimpse of their future workforce; students get experience; and universities become more in touch and part of the community.

Q: Do students want more agency? Will they direct their own learning more?

Florentin: Yes, they want flexibility and options. Historically, students attended university because their parents did and expected their children to follow suit. The new generation is there because they want to be. They have ideas about what university should be and what they expect from their studies. They are investing their money and they want to make sure they get their dollars’ worth. Now, they go to university because they have an idea about what they want to do. They may have started, stopped and changed direction or found a course that interested them more and switched programs. They are not there to sit in class because they have to; they have an idea of what they want to gain.

Q: When it comes to assessment, what matters?

Florentin: Fairness! Accommodations are needed because not everyone has the same level of aptitude and some have learning disabilities and exceptionalities. We’re also dealing with young adults and it’s not that easy: they’ve been through pandemic changes and social changes. They have lots of questions about their futures and have to decide what type of person they want to be. Add in the stress of exams, too.

We must take all of that into account. Should we really be using normal distribution curves? Shouldn’t it be, “Can you do this, or can’t you?” Can we have a gradeless university? Can we assess without grading, without the ideal answer and without insisting on essays? There are a number of ways students can prove they are learning without our usual approaches. Are we measuring the ability to handle stress or are we evaluating learning? Also, having no grades decreases anxiety. You don’t always need a grade to ensure that a student knows what they need to know.

Q: Where do you see things heading?

Florentin: Education will become more inclusive and more accessible, and you’ll see lots of first-generation university students. It will be more democratic; education is a great equalizer. I hope universities become more open to the outside world and build bridges, such as with experiential education; I’d like to see more of that.

Q: Describe a class in 2040.

Florentin: Half of the students will be in the classroom and half will be online, like a hyflex model. I hope it will be more and more international, including collaboration between universities so we can capitalize on each other’s knowledge. There will be a fair system of grading, taking into account exceptionalities, progress and effort, and perhaps there will be open courses where the community is welcome. We may even see those held in library settings or parks so they are less daunting.

AMPD professor loves teaching, the classroom, virtual or not

People at theatre

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

By Elaine Smith

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

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

Ian Garrett
Ian Garrett.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can interconnected classrooms without walls shape the future of teaching and learning?

Photo by SHVETS production from Pexels

By Dominique Scheffel-Dunand

French Studies Associate Professor Dominique Scheffel-Dunand has written an insightful essay that explores the future of teaching and learning from a variety of perspectives and offers a futuristic view of the university in 2040.

When recently asked to reflect on the future of teaching and learning, particularly for the next 20 years, my brain right away traveled to the time when a famous Canadian academic, Marshall McLuhan, poetically coined in the 60’s the ideas of “Classrooms Without Walls” and the “Global Village.”

Dominique Scheffel-Dunand
Dominique Scheffel-Dunand

We have to realize that more instruction is going on outside the classroom, many times more every minute of the day than goes on inside the classroom. That is, the amount of information that is embedded in young minds per minute outside the classroom far exceeds anything that happens inside the classroom in just quantitative terms now.” – McLuhan, M. (1966, April). Electronics & the psychic drop-out. THIS Magazine is about SCHOOLS. p. 38.

McLuhan variously labelled his alternatives to classroom as “classroom without walls,” “city as classroom” and the “little round schoolhouse.” He observed in the sixties, that built structures and spaces dictate how we work and interact in them. The educational settings then were catching up and considering ways of taking learning out of classrooms with radio and TV broadcasts, fiction, cinema and journalism to complement information and knowledge transferred in class settings s. Our York University students in 2022 can experience these explorations of classroom without walls and their current expanded meanings in work-related learning environments, in experiential learning, in curricula that foster acquisition of intercultural competencies. The flipped classroom approach, the recent release of open MOOCS, technology-enhanced class settings blurring what is home and school life and, of course, learning frameworks supported by AI are all today common practices and a new reality for instructors and learners alike.

With the arrival of print around 1500, Erasmus and humanist colleagues understood what had to be done in the classroom to adapt from oral literacy to written literacy. The arrival of the Gutenberg press impacted on procedures in the 16th century classroom. For McLuhan, print evoked the walls of the classroom, the movie and TV evoked the classroom without walls. Furthermore, photography, videos and social narratives were introduced as art, as knowledge rather than as news, and documentary books and videos crafted new literacies in communicational models used for reusing data and knowledge in course kits, textbooks and learning platforms such as eClass. But reinventing educational narratives in the context of presentism requires us to reshape what we have known during the linear evolution of education. Probing, constructing an argument based on the relationship between causes and effects requires retooling!

At York, like in other post-secondary institutions, academic communities have embarked in this journey of aligning presentism with education. For example, in initiatives such as the cross-faculty C4 project, in the explorations of Globally Networked Learning that foster global comparative and collaborative learning or in projects embedding UN SDGs in research-action activities. Moreover, how to deal with presentism in today’s classroom is formally discussed in pan-university working groups to map communication and educational strategies that invite exchanges on “Openness, “Accessibility” and “Equity” in the classroom. Reflections and outputs from these groups are to inform the drafting of new policies on teaching and learning that can inspire peers and learners alike to embrace change. The principles of Openness are shifting learners’ passive or active towards new educational practices that require searching of data, information and knowledge outside the classroom walls; foster an understanding of tools and platforms inspired from the semantic web; and contributing to networked repositories aggregating original content and feedback/assessment on content simultaneously such as in OER Commons, eCampus and Pavillon.

How can one further imagine the impact of presentism in the classroom? How can we collectively be prescient to craft teaching frameworks and learning pathways that (i) mimic, support and enhance our multi-tasking brains incapable any longer of storing information and knowledge without relying on AI and repositories to curate data and thoughts while (ii) expressing our consciousness and deep understanding of the multi-faceted worlds we live in?  First, young people are the most adaptable to innovations in teaching and learning because they are less likely to mourn what they never knew. They are already getting part of their knowledge through real-time streams to live multiple realities. They are contributing and reacting to other’s opinion on platforms such as Discord, Tik Tok to express their concerns, aspirations and understandings of the multiple worlds they live in here and there. They are consuming networked and remote knowledge that can be packaged into accessible OER freely 24/7.

Instructors and learners at any stage of the learning continuum are already engaging with these practices, pioneering, creatively and as experts, the re-use, assembling and reassembling, reshaping or transformation of educational content, narratives and knowledges edited simultaneously within and outside the classroom walls at a global level. Giving learners centralized access to a storage medium such as repositories aggregating content from multiple educational institutions, offering them the tools and competencies to master their searching and researching capabilities to find relevant resources that complement their understanding of complex concepts, thoughts and case studies will diversify and augment their ways of knowing.

When knowledge is rendered instantly accessible via Google and iTunes, the aggregated data becomes a single layer deep. The journey disappears and all knowledge is brought into the present tense. Temporal compression takes the form of a mash up of previous knowledge into new knowledge. The time compression that once allowed a learner to leverage his/her experience is now transferred to a machine. When there is no linear time, no narrative to explain why phenomena are the way they are, no time to analyze causes and effects, no time for doing and seeing results, we are left to make sense of things by making connections. The ease with which we can make these links of connectivity between people and things is matched only by our need to find patterns with no enduring story line, patterns generated by the assistance of AI and machines that compute data about students’ learning styles and the challenges they encounter in concept recognition and acquisition. We no longer have a history of knowledge on a discipline but a map of this knowledge and dashboards that allow us to fragment the data visualization that we render in bits of knowledge. A picture exists in the static moment and content is created through links and the whole world of knowledge begins to look like a space where each piece reflects the whole.

Storing ideas, knowledge, data, in relationship to other thoughts and knowledge refreshes and creates new neural pathways allowing multi-faceted problems in a discipline to be intersected to adjacent problems and responses in other disciplines or by the public at large. Further iterations of learning spaces like C4 and GNL along the academic progression continuum of our students will anchor reflective critical thinking and the cross-pollination of ideas via dialogues for the co-creation of knowledge. Storing these educational objects for further rejuvenation by learners based on their learning experiences or discussions in networked repositories will allow assessment of co-created teaching/learning resources by external experts and communities of practice, all collaborating to enhance teaching and learning practices across institutions and consortia.

But, continuing our pursuits with the timeless educational practices that have encouraged articulation of ideas and arguments and the art of the demonstration we can synchronously illustrate how linearity has been used to transform societies through time and reintroduce the relevancy of “slow and deep” in learning for certain tasks that require the mastery of literacies that intersect orality, alpha numerical writing and the computational to express solutions to complex 21st century problems. By pursuing our journey with timeless educational practices that craft foundations in learning we can help our students adapt to new temporal diversity and succeed as learners and engaged citizens.

The future of teaching and learning encourages instructors and learners to reflect now on the competencies, skills, literacies and knowledge the workplace and societies the world in 2040 will require. They have to be ethnographers, historians and stewards of their own learning journeys in long-life learning Our new hyperconnected fractal reality is quite incompatible with the way most educational or academic institutions still operate today where teaching, learning, research and service are based on a cycle of planning, feedback and internal policy making. To open these practices, we need to r on how the flow of information/discussions and feedback are altering our consciousness of societal changes and consequently our educational frameworks, and policies. We need to take stock of how EDI, Indigeneity and technologies are affecting our ways of being human in a compressed digital time frame.  The lateral thinking could be misleading as it may draw on premature connections once can make from data collected by instructors, students, leaders and machines. Pattern recognition and timelines brought by presentism is adverse to linear and analytical thinking but addressing the challenges they bring to timeless educational practices as we knew them may guide us to where we need to be by 2040!

New faculty join York and learn about vision for future

Vari Hall

By Elaine Smith

New faculty enjoyed their own “orientation” to York University during a two-day event late last month. The event provided an introduction to York’s unique position in the world, its focus on righting the future and offered new faculty an insiders’ guide to the many supports available through the Teaching Commons.

Alice Pitt
Alice Pitt

“It’s nice to see all the administrators and get introduced to the systems and to our future colleagues,” said May Haidar, an incoming York assistant professor of computer science. “It’s also exciting to have a face-to-face gathering after working online for so long.”

Haidar’s thoughts were echoed by numerous other faculty members who attended York’s two-day New Faculty Orientation on Aug. 23 and 24 in the Second Student Centre. The first day of the annual event, organized by the Office of the Associate Vice-President, Teaching & Learning, the Office of the Vice Provost, and the Office of the Provost and Vice-President Academic, was devoted to an introduction to the University, its plans and general administrative structure. The second, led by the Teaching Commons, focused on teaching interests.

Alice Pitt, acting vice-provost, academic, hosted the first day’s activities and noted that, “This is a day to help you get to know the University, some of the leadership, some of the structure, the leaders within your Faculty and each other. The last is very important; it’s a day when you will meet people who become friends across the University.”

Rhonda Lenton
Rhonda Lenton

York President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton offered a warm welcome. “We are thrilled that you have chosen us. As someone who gets to review all new faculty hires, I can say we have incredible strength in our faculty,” she said.

She shared the University’s vision to provide “a broad demographic of students with access to a high-quality, research-intensive university that is committed to driving positive change,” and noted that the vision “informs all that we do.” 

Lenton maintained that a special focus this year will be 21st-century learning as the University reflects on the lessons learned during the pandemic about meeting the diverse needs of York’s students. “All of you will be part of how teaching and learning takes place at York and where we can lead in terms of both teaching and research.”

Acting Provost and Vice-President Academic, Lyndon Martin, followed Lenton by giving new faculty an overview of some of the key plans and frameworks that set the direction for York. The six priorities of the University Academic Plan 2020-2025 and York’s commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are both at the core of the University’s commitment to building a better future through academic excellence.

Lyndon Martin
Lyndon Martin

York’s research vision, said Jennifer Steeves, associate vice-president, research, is “purposeful research that advances knowledge and creates positive change.” In 2021, York received the most Tri-Council funding in the University’s history, and its $10 million in grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Partnerships Grant program is the most among universities in Ontario, she noted. Innovation York has also yielded great innovation success, with 128 new ventures, $85 million in revenue and 283 new jobs created. 

Sheila Cote-Meek, York’s inaugural vice-president of equity, people and culture, introduced herself and discussed the underlying goal of her new division, which is “to improve culture, pay attention to systemic inequalities and create an environment of inclusivity with a strong sense of belonging.”

Portrait of Sheila Cote-Meek, York University's inaugural VP Equity
Sheila Cote-Meek

Drawing upon the teachings in Minobimaadiziwin (the good life), she added, “To live the good life, we need to be in balance with ourselves and the environment around us and think more deeply about what we can contribute in a positive way.”

She also touched on equity and diversity, something also mentioned by Ran Lewin, the assistant vice-president, budgets and asset management, who said that his division is “driven by principles of service excellence with responsive and adaptive services and solutions.” He also noted, “I believe that the special sauce that makes York so unique is diversity.”

Susana Gajic-Bruyea, vice-president of advancement, expanded on that theme, saying the four divisions under her purview are “committed to building York’s reputation as a leading research institution committed to the betterment of society.”

Day one also included presentations about equity, diversity, inclusion and decolonization (EDID); Indigenization; working with graduate students; research; and tenure and promotion. The second day, titled “A Focus on Teaching, Learning and Student Success,” was devoted to student success, accessibility, learning technologies and libraries. Faculty members also heard from students and a panel of existing York faculty members.

“You, as teaching academics, can play a big role in shaping where we are going as a university. You have influence over hundreds and thousands of students – these are the people who matter the most. For this reason, the Teaching Commons promotes and helps sustain a teaching and learning culture where the student experience lies at the heart of all teaching activities,” said Geneviève Maheux-Pelletier, director of the Teaching Commons and the day’s host.

New faculty who will be teaching at the Lassonde School of Engineering
New faculty joining the Lassonde School of Engineering pose for a group photograph at the orientation event in August

“There is a lot I’ve been interested in seeing, such as how the University is structured and what its initiatives are,” said Denis Martin, a new assistant professor of music technology in the School of the Arts, Music, Performance & Design. “It is helping me to fill in the gaps, to understand how music fits into the University and how York fits into the university landscape.”

Kostas Kontogiannis, an incoming mature faculty member in computer science and electrical engineering, was one of a group of new computer science professors destined for the Markham Campus once it opens. “Each university and each campus has its own culture,” he said. “I want to better understand York’s priorities, directions and culture, and to discover how it thinks as an organism.” 

All the new faculty sounded eager to take up the challenge implied by Lenton when she said, “You will be central in what the University is and what it needs to be.”