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.” 

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.” 

Faculty connect through fictional classroom to talk about teaching

Women in casual business attire browsing through paper documents and tablets

By Elaine Smith

Why not initiate discussions about pedagogy using classrooms portrayed in literature and film as the starting point?

Robin Sutherland-Harris
Robin Sutherland-Harris
Matthew Dunleavy
Matthew Dunleavy

It’s a premise that appears to be working for York University Teaching Commons (TC) educational developers Matthew Dunleavy and Robin Sutherland-Harris, who introduced Fictional Classrooms: Talking About Teaching Through Narrative as a pilot project during the Winter 2023 term. It was offered again in Summer 2023 and will soon be registering participants for the fall term.

“As the humanities liaison for the Teaching Commons, I find that professors who work on their own doing research and teaching don’t come to TC in huge numbers, so I wondered what else I could do to appeal to them,” said Sutherland-Harris.

She and Dunleavy decided to experiment with something similar to a book and film club, called Fictional Classrooms. During the winter term, participants read two books and watched three films portraying fictional university classes and discussed these together via Zoom. (Films: The Paper Chase, 1973; Madadayo, 1993; and The Great Debaters, 2007; books: Real Life by Brandon Taylor; and Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas.) The summer term focuses on a single book, Elizabeth Finch by Julian Barnes.

“It’s a lower stakes way of engaging,” said Dunleavy, “and the texts become a jumping-off point for larger conversations.”

Julie Conder
Julie Conder
Lucia Gagliese
Lucia Gagliese

Lucia Gagliese, a professor in the School of Kinesiology and Health Sciences, and Julie Conder, an assistant professor (teaching stream) in the Department of Psychology, each took part in the pilot project and are continuing with this summer’s session.

“I’m interested in narrative and it’s starting to become a part of my academic work,” said Gagliese, a psychologist. “This is a way to start thinking about teaching as narrative. We also get exposed to really interesting work, and I appreciate coming together as a group for discussions. We start talking about the professors in the movies and books and move on to our own teaching, theory and pedagogical practice, so it allows you to consider what you can take from this to the classroom.”

For Conder, it offered an opportunity to carve out time for the reading or film. “Even when I couldn’t attend, I still put that time in. I really enjoyed getting an opportunity to meet other fiction fans outside my department. I made some good connections with others who have similar interests, and our discussions were always interesting and thought-provoking. Finally, I really liked the focus on educational topics within the literature. As a professor, it made all the selections very personally relevant; many of the discussions we had made me take a critical eye toward my own teaching practice….”

The group meets monthly and participants attended as often as possible, given their competing commitments. There was no pressure to attend every session or to have finished a book to participate.

“Given their schedules, people need flexibility,” Sutherland-Harris said. “The experience is exploratory and reflective, and allows us to consider how art intersects with what we do for a living. It is really rich and new to discuss the artistic recreation of university classrooms.”

Dunleavy found that everyone brought topics they wanted to discuss to the meetings.

“People often just wanted to talk about themselves in the teaching context,” he said. “In workshops, they don’t always have that space. “

The topics that arose for discussion included: what is good teaching?; student wellness; how to support and supervise graduate students best; and how graduate school experiences informed them as teachers.

“It allowed people at York to form powerful, deeper connections,” Dunleavy said. “I believe it helps their teaching practice. Even if the only thing they get from it is that they aren’t isolated in their teaching, it’s a success.”

To learn more about Fictional Classrooms and to enrol for the fall term, contact Robin Sutherland-Harris at robinsh@yorku.ca or Matthew Dunleavy at mdunleav@yorku.ca.

York language students work with Japanese writing buddies

Students in the Intermediate Written Communication in Japanese course

By Elaine Smith

A new course at York University offered Japanese language students an opportunity to connect with a group of pen pals in Japan.

Intermediate Written Communication in Japanese (JP2010) is a full-year elective that focuses solely on writing, says Noriko Yabuki-Soh, an associate professor in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Linguistics. And, no wonder.

Noriko Yabuki-Soh
Noriko Yabuki-Soh

“Learning to write in Japanese takes time because there are three different writing systems which also incorporate Chinese characters,” she said.

Yabuki-Soh was eager to connect her students with the Japanese community through their writing as a way of ensuring the students had an authentic experience and learned some of the colloquial expressions commonly used in Japan today. She turned to York International, experts in globally networked learning (GNL), for assistance. GNL is an approach to teaching, learning and research that enables students, faculty and non-academic researchers from different locations around the world to participate in, and collaborate on, knowledge-making processes and concrete research projects. 

York International connected Yabuki-Soh with faculty at York partner universities and she found an interested colleague, Professor Jin Abe at Hitotsubashi University, a Tokyo-based national university and York University exchange partner.

To interest Japanese students in taking part, Yabuki-Soh created a recruitment poster and promotional video. Not only did local students apply; there were responses from students from other countries who were studying at Hitotsubashi, as well as Hitotsubashi students studying on exchange programs in other countries. Sixteen students joined the program to work with Yabuki-Soh’s class, which also had 16 students.

“It was a very diverse group with students from all over the world,” she said. “It was good for our students to work with other people their own age who had similar interests.”

The two groups interacted every two weeks throughout the course through various writing projects and using Google Docs. For example, Yabuki-Soh assigned her students to write opinion pieces for posting online on topics that interested them, providing samples in Japanese newspapers for guidance, and their Japanese peers would comment about the ideas put forward. 

“We’d review opinion pieces together in class, ensuring they understood the grammar, and I’d lecture about the writing style appropriate to the task,” she said. “Posting the pieces to Google Docs worked well, given the 14-hour time difference. The Japanese students could comment at any time of day.”

For another project, Yabuki-Soh paired each York student with a Japanese student, provided them with a list of questions and asked them to interview each other about the city where they lived or the town where they grew up. The York students were required to create an essay about their partners using the proper format for quotes. The York students also used the content for their final course essay, comparing their own hometown to their partner’s.

“They learned a lot about each other,” Yabuki-Soh said.

While class interaction was confined to Google Docs, students who expressed an interest in sharing their email addresses had the opportunity to connect individually with their overseas counterparts.

Jessell Miranda
Jessell Miranda

Jessell Miranda, a graduating economics major, said she studied both Korean and Japanese because she loves the languages. With no advanced Japanese class offered during the winter semester, she opted for the writing course.

“I don’t want to lose what I’ve learned, and I wanted to test my understanding of the language,” Miranda said. “It was really fun and enjoyable, because we were communicating with people from our own age group, not simply talking to the professor.

“I feel more confident about writing as a result, but I also realize how much more there is to learn.”

Risha Pelchat, a fourth-year translation major at Glendon College, called the class “amazing.”

“It gave me the chance to apply what I’ve learned in real life,” she said. “In addition to being able to apply Japanese in a real-life situation, I was able to deepen my cultural understanding. Moreover, the Japanese students were from the same generation and relatable, which made our interactions especially enjoyable.

“The course was invaluable. It took my Japanese to another level. Now, I can write and be confident that people will understand what I’m saying in just about any situation.”

Lisa Endersby, the educational developer from the Teaching Commons who assisted with the GNL portion of the class, added, “GNL is a powerful, practical model for faculty to engage in the same experiences they hope to share with their students – meaningful collaboration, cross-cultural learning and academic work to impact timely, global issues. The faculty I support in GNL projects often share how these experiences are uniquely impactful for their students’ personal and professional development, connecting them to people and places they may have previously only read about.”

For more information on JP2010 and other JP courses, visit the Japanese Studies Program website.

York faculty members interested in exploring a GNL project with a partner overseas can connect with Shirley Lam and Helen Balderama through gnl@yorku.ca.

C4 team receives teaching innovation award

Award stock image banner from pexels

Members of York University’s Cross-Campus Capstone Classroom (C4) team were awarded the 2023 D2L Innovation Award in Teaching and Learning from the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE), which recognizes post-secondary collaborative teams for their innovative approaches to promoting student-centered teaching and learning.

C4, launched in 2019, enables students to work on real-world challenges with social impact, promoting team-based collaboration, advanced research and design, critical and strategic thinking, and more.

The award was bestowed on those associated with C4’s innovative approach to pan-university interdisciplinary experiential education, including:

  • Danielle Robinson, co-founder and academic co-lead of C4, as well as associate professor in the Department of Dance;
  • Franz Newland, co-founder and co-lead of C4, as well as associate professor of Space Engineering;
  • Rachelle Campigotto, classroom coordinator assistant for C4 and contract faculty in the Faculty of Education;
  • Dana Craig, Libraries liaison for C4 and director of student learning and academic success in the Libraries;
  • Danielle Dobney, team culture strategist of C4 and assistant professor in Kinesiology and the Athletic Therapy Certificate program;
  • Andrea Kalmin, curriculum lead, classroom coordinator for C4 and adjunct faculty in the Department of Social Science;
  • Alice Kim, scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) research lead for C4 and interim assistant program head for Psychology at the University of Guelph-Humber; and
  • Natasha May, Teaching Commons liaison for C4 and educational developer in York’s Teaching Commons.

The D2L Innovation Award is an international recognition, open to applicants from all countries. It evaluates and rewards innovations in pedagogical approaches, teaching methods, course design, curriculum development, assessment methods, and more. It is named after D2L, a cloud-based learning analytics platform.

Award recipients are invited to a retreat held the day of the pre-conference at STLHE’s Annual Conference. This retreat includes a facilitated session, lunch, and a social and learning excursion focused on innovation. At the conference they will be recognized at the Conference Awards Ceremony and receive a certificate in recognition of their work.

York presents second annual Sustainable Development Goals virtual teach-in day


In collaboration with the Teaching Commons, the SDGs-in-the-Classroom Community of Practice is offering its second UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Teach-in Day.

The event, called “The Right Balance: Teaching and Learning the SDGs through Collaboration and Connection,” takes place May 8 from 9:45 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The online half-day event will offer panel discussions, interactive sessions, and experiential learning about teaching, internalizing, connecting and collaborating with the United Nations’ 17 SDGs. The program will also share approaches to working with the SDGs through student, interdisciplinary/interdepartmental and other unique partnerships, as well as encourage strategies for engaging students in SDG-focused lessons.

The York co-chairs of the event are Assistant Professor Sandra Peniston (Faculty of Health), PhD student/SDG project coordinator Nitima Bhatia and SDG project coordinator/curricular expert Tracy Bhoola.

Visit this page for further programming information and register for the event here.

Teaching Commons pilots Students as Partners initiative

Teachers students celebration

By Elaine Smith

Four students from York University’s Faculty of Education have joined educational developers at the Teaching Commons (TC) to create a new way of working together in partnership.

Students as Partners Teaching Commons

The students – teaching candidates Zainab Chaudhry, Theodora Dobbs and Lauren Wilson, and undergraduate educational studies major Corina Vitantonio – have just completed year-long placements with the Teaching Commons, working closely with educational developers Matthew Dunleavy, Lisa Endersby, and Lianne Fisher to think about how students can operate as partners, rather than as clients, in post-secondary education. Their work will form the foundation for future Student as Partners opportunities at TC, but they also hope that it will serve as a guide for future collaborations between students and staff or students and faculty.

Lisa Endersby
Lisa Endersby
Matthew Dunleavy
Matthew Dunleavy
Lianne Fisher
Lianne Fisher

“When we get student feedback on programs, it’s after the fact and doesn’t speak to their expertise,” Endersby said. “This is a chance to think about how to do it better.”

As the students state in a blog post they authored for TC, “At York, we aim to highlight the importance of student and faculty collaborations and vocalize the idea that within our society various power structures exist that perpetuate inequitable practices. As a united front, we must work together to break down these societal barriers and create meaningful and inclusive practices within our pedagogical work.”

They suggest six concrete ways to incorporate student partnership into teaching practice:

  • resisting client models of education;
  • pedagogical transparency;
  • valuing and centring student experience;
  • active feedback;
  • collaboration in assessment; and
  • self-reflection by everyone involved.

Initially, the idea of being an equal partner to perceived experts was unfamiliar to the quartet.

“I had little experience with the students as partners idea,” said Wilson. “I’m coming from a system where the professors are the experts and being on an equal playing field as an expert in my own lived experience didn’t occur to me. Now, I’ll take with me to my own teaching practice the knowledge that it’s up to me to value students’ lived experience, bring it out and show that it’s valued.”

Theodora Dobbs
Lauren Wilson
Corina Vitantonio
Zainab Chaudhry

Dobbs said, “Even within a course, I often wish I could provide feedback in the moment. It’s more valuable then than during course evaluations.”

Chaudhry noted, “We are programmed to believe in the traditional hierarchy and that’s how I thought. Now, my perspective has changed. Our opinions matter and the faculty can learn from us.”

The students and educational developers collaborated on the research and design of a Students as Partners program framework that will inform future student opportunities at the Teaching Commons.

“We’re designing the program as if it were a course with learning outcomes, and perhaps it will also be a resource for faculty,” Dobbs said. “We’re giving the Teaching Commons a foundation for what the program should be going forward, but it will allow for future students to tweak it. It is a solid place for new students to come in and bridge the gap between themselves and the staff.”

“They gave us control,” said Vitantonio. “It’s cool to know that we had this information in us and it’s appreciated.”

Wilson discovered that the larger themes in Students as Partners apply equally at the university level and the elementary school level where she hopes to practise.

“It’s about valuing the entire student, respecting where they come from and giving the student choice,” she said.

The educational developers are delighted by the collaboration and its outcome.

“The way we envision the program is that the students partner with us to collaborate on the work we engage in with faculty,” said Dunleavy.

Endersby added, “The students’ work is, ultimately, curating and collecting ideas about students as partners to give us a foundation for putting this into practice at the Teaching Commons. We hope to build on this important foundational work by engaging a new group of students to partner with us in piloting these ideas in the fall.”

AIF funds a wide range of teaching and learning projects

Hand holding light bulb with illustration on blurred background

By Elaine Smith

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. With the deadline approaching for applications to this year’s AIF, here is an overview of some of the examples of the past projects that received funding.

Will Gage
Will Gage

For Will Gage, York University’s associate vice-president, teaching & learning, the start of the winter term is a sign that it’s time to remind faculty members to submit their applications for Academic Innovation Fund (AIF) grants. And what better way to do so than to share some examples of projects that received grants in the past?

“For more than a decade, the AIF has provided faculty with funding to pilot, develop and test their innovative curricular and pedagogical ideas,” said Gage. “We are proud of the diverse, useful, practical output that has resulted, many of which have been incorporated into the classroom or the student experience.”

For example, an AIF grant is supporting a project related to a topic that is crucial to the University Academic Plan: the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The ‘SDGs-in-the-Classroom” Curricular Innovation Hub is a pan-University, interdisciplinary, scaffolded strategy that aims to infuse the SDGs into more York classrooms more quickly.

Nitima Bhatia and Tracy Bhoola, members of the SDGs-in-the-Classroom Community of Practice, are working under the oversight of Sandra (Skerratt) Peniston, an assistant professor of nursing, to bring this effort to life, thanks to an AIF grant. They led the team that created an SDGs toolkit to make it simple to integrate the SDGs into courses on any subject.

“SDGs do touch on every single discipline, but many people may not realize that, so we want to spread the word across campus,” said Bhoola.

Added Bhatia, “The toolkit has launched, but we are adding resources every day, so it’s a living, breathing resource.”

In time, the toolkit will be located on the hub, which will be home to resources about SDGs, collaboration opportunities and videos created by SDG Curricular Champions. Bhatia and Bhoola are also involved in five workshops being held in conjunction with the Teaching Commons to train faculty to incorporate SDGs into their curricula, and they will be making presentations to the faculty councils about the accessibility and relevance of the tools.

“We really want to get the SDGs into York’s DNA,” said Bhoola.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals

Robin Sutherland-Harris, an educational developer at the Teaching Commons, has used an AIF grant to develop a speakers’ program for the community of practice that is dedicated to equity, diversity, decolonization and inclusion in teaching and learning. Sutherland-Harris, the project lead, works with co-leads Ameera Ali, another educational developer, and Jessica Vorstermans, an assistant professor of critical disability studies, health policy and equity, to line up speakers for their monthly meetings and set the group’s agenda.

“We launched the community of practice in Fall 2021,” said Sutherland-Harris. “It’s for anyone who deals with teaching and learning at York and we’re always accepting members. We started with 40 people and now have more than 70.

“During our first year, our monthly sessions largely featured members of our community sharing topics of interest or expertise. However, we felt that especially those who are less established or not in the tenure stream were devoting a significant chunk of work to preparing presentations. We wanted to have funding to help support and recognize their labour, and that got us talking about applying for an AIF grant.”

The team plans to apply for a second year of AIF funding to support their monthly lectures and plan for their upcoming May conference.

A partnership between the Schulich School of Business and YSpace is preserving guidance and insights gleaned from York and Schulich alumni in a video database that any faculty member can access. Based on lectures given by these visiting experts, The Entrepreneurial Mindset/Skillset eLearning and Video Database Initiative, offers faculty short clips on myriad topics, such as venture capital and protecting intellectual property, said Chris Carder, executive director of Schulich’s Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

“Normally, when professors want to use video content for a class, they need to go out and find relevant stories,” said Carder. “Often, however, they are coming from American sources. At Schulich there are so many interviews done and appearances made by York and Schulich alumni and we’re saving it all.

“This program wouldn’t be possible without the AIF grant. I’m grateful that York has such a program that encourages us to push the envelope.”

Another current project, EE With, Not In, focuses on experiential education (EE). Led by Natalie Coulter, director of the Institute for Digital Literacies, and Byron Gray, manager of the TD Community Engagement Centre, this collaborative project supports students in their EE experiences in the Jane and Finch community. It uses a reciprocal approach that is respectful of community knowledge and expertise in the community, rather than being grounded in assumptions and stigmatizations.

Meanwhile, the Collective Inclusive Pathways to Access (CIPA) project is working to increase the success of students with disabilities in work placements. Currently, their access is heavily reliant on an accommodations model predicated on disclosure of a medical diagnosis. Led by nursing professor Iris Epstein, the project will develop a CIPA resource for professionals and those responsible for creating accessible EE. 

The AIF fund allows faculty to exercise their pedagogical creativity. Don’t miss out on this year’s call for applications – check your Faculty’s fast-approaching deadline for submission.

Reading for teaching offers new perspectives and connections  

open book with glasses and pen

By Elaine Smith 

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.

When Teaching Commons educational developer Lisa Endersby and Scott McLaren, teaching and learning librarian, came up with the idea of a Reading for Teaching program, Endersby was looking for ways to continue collaborating with York University Libraries on teaching and learning, while McLaren, who had earned his PhD in the history of the book, was interested in reading communities and their practices and saw an opportunity to see how such a group functioned. The Reading for Teaching program met those goals and many more. 

Reading for Teaching is “an informal, collegial opportunity to engage with colleagues from across campus interested in reading and talking about teaching.” Endersby and McLaren brought it to life pre-pandemic and opened it up to York faculty and staff. Originally, the group met in person, but during the pandemic, the group met online. They hope to return to in-person gatherings soon. 

York librarian Scott McLaren
Scott McLaren

“We draw people from all over the University and every discipline,” McLaren said. “We have faculty from both teaching and research streams, graduate students, post-docs, CLAs and librarians and they all come from different backgrounds. You wouldn’t necessarily think that someone from biology could shed new light on teaching to someone from the humanities, but they do.” 

The group reads books about teaching and meets to discuss them, although the approach has changed over time. 

“We tried to organize around themes and tried to have participants vote on books from a curated shortlist, but we’ve found that reading a common text is the best way to foster engagement,” said McLaren.  

Added Endersby, “The group suggests a topic; Scott can curate suggestions and the two of us pick a book. As a group, we discuss how we want to explore the book together; since they are generally non-fiction, we might look at individual chapters.” 

Lisa Endersby
Lisa Endersby

The program meets four times each term; this winter, the group is discussing How Humans Learn: The Science and Stories Behind Effective College Teaching by Joshua R. Eyler, a hold-over from last term, given its popularity with the group and the amount of relevant material to discuss. The program’s group generally has 10 people or a few more each term, a size that both facilitators find is conducive to participation and good discussion. Members read the books in varied formats: print, online or as audiobooks. 

“People read as much as they can and come as often as possible,” Endersby said. “If they attend two of the four sessions, we consider that they’ve successfully completed the program.” 

What draws people to Reading for Teaching? There are a variety of reasons, said McLaren. 

“People join to improve their teaching and explore different teaching practices, to experience a sense of community around a common concern and to have a support system,” he said. “It’s a great way to share success and failures in a safe environment.” 

Endersby finds that Reading for Teaching offers people an opportunity to read for professional development with some accountability and to reflect on teaching and take part in reflective conversations.  

“We’re all so busy, we don’t often get to pause and think about what we’re doing,” she said. “I know that personally, I talk about reflection a lot in my work on pedagogy, but I don’t get to do it myself, so this is a learning opportunity for me. I also enjoy hearing various different perspectives; it’s really good learning.” 

McLaren agrees and notes another personal benefit. “I’ve discovered an incredibly rich literature around pedagogy, both fiction and non-fiction; it was quite surprising to me and it’s hard to narrow the selection down to shortlists,” he said.

Other books the group has read include The Slow Professor by Professors Maggie Berg (Queen’s University) and Barbara K. Seeber (Brock University) and the memoir From the Ashes: My Story of Being Homeless, Metis and Finding My Way by York University Assistant Professor Jesse Thistle.

Anyone who would like to join the Reading for Teaching program in exploring their current read is welcome to register. For questions or suggestions about books to read, Endersby and McLaren invite you to contact them. 

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.