Creator AVR Sandbox Pilot in Winter 2020

A network of four University of Toronto instructors have been successful in their application to participate in the new eCampusOntario’s Augmented and Virtual Reality Sandbox initiative. The aim of the program is to provide the opportunity to explore and report on curriculum integration of 3D models and AR/VR experiences across disciplines. eCampusOntario will provision 120 licences for Creator AVR, a cloud-based authoring environment that allows users to choose from a library of educational 3D models or import an external 3D model to view in AR, VR, or mobile touch screen mode.

Each of participating instructors will redesign a course to incorporate an opportunity for students to create, experience, and share interactive AR- or VR-based learning modules relevant to their area of study. Students will learn by auhoring the learning materials, and also through the process of reviewing the work of others in their course. Support and consultation on use of the platform for design activities will be provided by the Mobile Application Development Lab (MADLab) and the Online Learning Strategies (OLS) portfolio. 

Project Lead:

  • Christopher Garside, Associate Professor, Teaching Stream – Cell & Systems Biology


  • Alexandra Bolintineanu, Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream – Medieval Digital Studies
  • Tony Tang, Associate Professor – Faculty of Information
  • William Ju, Associate Professor, Teaching Stream – Human Biology Program

Screen shot of Creator AVR interface

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Spotlight: Quercus Analytic Data Meets Course Design

Successful applicants have been confirmed for a new Data-Driven Design: Quercus Analytics (D3:QA) initiative, funded by the Vice-Provost, Innovations in Undergraduate Education. This program, facilitated by ITS Online Learning Strategies, extends course design programming to examine opportunities provided by the Quercus New Analytics module. We welcome a cohort of instructors from across various divisions/departments, including:

  • Laura Dempster (Dentistry)
  • Andrea Duncan (Faculty of Medicine – Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy)
  • Lynn Ellwood (Faculty of Medicine – Department of Speech-Language Pathology)
  • William Ju & Jessica Pressey  (Faculty of Arts and Science – Human Biology)
  • Sandra Bjelajac Mejia (Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy)
  • Safieh Moghaddam  (UTSC – Arts and Science)
  • Karen Mundy  (OISE – Leadership, Higher, and Adult Education)
  • Heather Thomson  (Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing)
  • Kathy Vu (Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy)

Computer Screen with Graphs

These pioneers will explore use of student data to make design decisions in hybrid and online courses, meeting quarterly over the course of a year for facilitated workshops related to extracting and making meaning of Quercus data patterns. Instructors will participate in evaluation of tools, and practices, with an expectation of sharing and dissemination of outcomes within the broader university community. This initiative aligns with strategic directions articulated in the IT@UofT strategic plan and the priorities of the VP-IUE, focusing on evidence-informed planning to support the teaching mission of the university.

By the end of the program the instructors will have:

  • Participated in cohort workshops and program evaluation activities
  • Redesigned a fully online or hybrid course
  • Shared examples of use of the Quercus New Analytics module
  • Presented a poster or presentation at the annual Teaching and Learning Symposium

We look forward to beginning the program this November. Stay tuned for updates.

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Engaging Students Through Teaching Presence In Online Courses

Communicating clearly with students is important in any teaching and learning scenario, but it is a unique skill to apply masterfully in a fully online course. Since students will not be seeing the instructor live, face-to-face, it’s important to establish a teaching presence and offer students a sense of who the instructor is and demonstrate that, though at a distance, the instructor is there to support student learning.

Barbara Murck has been teaching fully online courses for many years and in a recent survey of her course, she found that 93% of her students identified that they felt as connected with her, and their peers, as a regular face-to-face course. Her key to success is varied communication. She offers many ways for students to engage with her as she engages and messages them in multiple ways and through multiple channels.

Chat Icon

Some of her techniques to communicating with students and encouraging community include:

Taking a consciously informal approach to lecturing online

Although she has much experience teaching online Barbara admits that she is not that technologically inclined. She embraces that and produces online lectures that are somewhat informal and low-tech. However, she sees that students relate more to her videos when, for example, her dog wanders into the room and she says hello to him.

‘Clickbait’ material that offers fun connections to the course

Barbara tried a number of – what she refers to as – “clickbait” approaches to engage students. These were intended to get students to click through to course-related material, some of which was fairly serious but much of which was just for fun (e.g. “Test yourself…” links).

Virtual office hours

A staple in her course is to hold virtual office hours every week. Using webinar software she finds they have been well attended. She notes that she has set up the virtual office with a picture of her actual desk at home, which feels “homey” and welcoming to the students.

Timed regular announcements

Barbara also utilizes Announcements on Quercus. She delivers a lot of the course structure by way of timed announcements. For example, she has timed announcements every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday at 9 am. These really help guide the students to where they should be in the course at that point. Monday is “what’s happening this week”; Wednesday is the “Challenge” for the week; Thursday is “see you soon in my Virtual Office; and Friday is a “Weekly Checklist.”

Responsive to questions

Finally, she is also responsive to student questions in discussions. Being responsive means students feel that if they reach out that she’s going to answer them quickly which also means that they understand that she’s there with them.

Chat Boxes

Of course, a balance of some or all of these techniques can help any instructor connect more fully with students. While communication is key, it is also important to manage expectations with students at the beginning of the semester (e.g. indicate how long students should wait before they can expect a response). Understanding the when, where and how of communication goes a long way to establishing a teaching presence and connection with your online students.

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Say Hello To UofT’s Open Education Fellows

The University of Toronto continues to promote Open Educational Resources (OER) and Open UToronto is our initiative that promotes the discovery, use, creation and sharing of open content, resources and courses. We have produced dozens of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), made available numerous open modules and published several open textbooks.

Through eCampusOntario, we are now thrilled that two pioneering UofT instructors have been accepted as Open Education (OE) Fellows. A total of six new partners were recently welcomed, to lead action research focused on open education and contribute to the broader development of the open community in the province.

The eCampusOntario OE Fellows program has the following goals:

  • Promote awareness and increase use of open resources and open practices by Ontario educators working at post-secondary institutions
  • Support and advocate for increased diversity and choice in education content
  • Reduce resource costs for Ontario learners
  • Provide OE-focused professional development opportunities in partnership with post-secondary educators and learners
  • Conduct and share an open scholarly practice project related to Ontario post-secondary use of OER

Laptop with word Open on screen

The two fellows from UofT are William (Bill) Ju and Xinli Wang.

William (Bill) Ju is an Associate Professor, Teaching stream in the Faculty of Arts and Science where he teaches courses in neuroscience and health/disease. He has a variety of different interests to improve student engagement in the learning process but is currently interested in social justice issues in STEM, educational equity, mental health in the classroom and, of course, how Open Educational resources can be used in all of these areas. You can often find him posting his thoughts, concerns and interests on Twitter using the ID @NeuroscienceUT.

Xinli Wang teaches entry-level mathematics courses at University of Toronto, Mississauga, and Mathematics of Business and Finance at Seneca College. Her love of teaching started when she was a graduate student. After she received her Ph.D, She taught full-time as a math lecturer at Singapore Polytechnic for five years. Her current interests include flipped learning, blended learning, problem based learning, student engagement and open education resources. She does acrylic paintings to destress. She can be found at

See all of the OE fellows at

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Open Education Week 2019 at UofT

Open Textbook on Tablet

Photo Image by Johan Larsson CC BY 2.0

To celebrate Open Education Week 2019 the University of Toronto Libraries and Online Learning Strategies will host two separate events. In the first you will hear a range of perspectives on the opportunities and challenges in creating or adapting new open resources from those involved in projects funded by eCampusOntario.  The second workshop will explore the Open Textbook creation platform Pressbooks. Faculty, undergraduate and graduate students, librarians, and staff from all three campuses at University of Toronto and beyond are welcome to attend.

[Event video archive]

The events:

Tuesday March 05: Open Textbooks: Open Minds
A Colloquium Exploring Re-Use of Open Resources to Improve Quality and Access

This event will showcase the findings of a recent University of Guelph study exploring the impact of cost and access to course materials on student success. In addition, University of Toronto instructors, librarians, staff and graduate students who have had first hand experience in the creation and adaptation of open textbooks will share their strategies and insights.

For more information and to register visit

Friday March 08: Pressbooks Workshop
Learn How to Create, Adapt, and Publish Open Textbooks

Interested in creating, adapting, discovering, or publishing an open textbook? Curious to learn strategies for the discovery and use open resources others have created? Pressbooks is an online book and document formatting system that you can use to create books that are accessible on all platforms: in print and digital, including all smartphones, tablets, e-reader devices, and computers.

For more information and to register visit

We hope to see you there!

And, as always, enjoy Open Education Week

Open Education Week Logo

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New eProctoring Solutions Coming to UofT

For programs offering online courses, access to tools and services that ensure academic integrity for students who are at a distance is a priority. Several divisions at UofT have successfully used video-based online proctoring of exams for a number of years, allowing for student convenience at a relatively low cost.

Now, following an extensive review process involving consultation with our current users of online proctoring or “eproctoring” services, the university has identified two recommended vendors of these services and confirmed campus-wide pricing.

examity Logo proctoru logo

These service providers use a combination of strategies to ensure academic integrity is maintained. Example strategies include:

  • Students show photo identification to webcam to verify identity
  • Live proctor observes student taking the test via webcam
  • Screen-sharing technology allows proctor to view student computer screen
  • Browser lock-down software used to restrict access to other computer applications
  • Recording of student taking exam
  • Automated video review and flagging processes to increase accuracy and efficiency

Each of these vendors has been thoroughly vetted to ensure that they meet our requirements for data security and privacy; reliability and accuracy; technical support services; and full feature platforms. While these providers provide a new option for online assessments, decisions regarding use of these tools and responsibility for follow up on any potential issues remains with our academic program areas. See: Online Proctoring Guidelines

eProctoring Listserv

Join our eProctoring-L list serve for regular updates and information sharing among current campus users of these services. The list is called ePROCTORING-L To subscribe please send an email to and, in the text of your message, write: SUBSCRIBE onlinelearning-l.  You should then get a message confirming your subscription.

For more general information contact


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On the Horizon: Virtual or Augmented Reality and Pedagogical Innovation

Imagine students discovering concepts through exploration and honing skills through an immersive simulation experience.  

At the end of October faculty and staff gathered at the Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation to attend a full capacity event to share and explore these emerging trends.  

Developed by Diane Michaud and Laurie Harrison, this orientation workshop brought future looking instructors and educational technology support staff together to introduce the potential of AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) for teaching and learning.

stereoscopic viewers VR headsets

Timeline of stereoscopic viewers to VR headsets. Images from L to R: Holmes_stereoscope_invented 1861_Photo by Davepape_Public Domain_Wikimedia, 2014: Google Cardboard VR headset_photo by Evan-Amos_Public Domain_Wikimedia, 2016: Oculus Rift CV1, photo by Evan-Amos, Public Domain, Wikimedia

The session was co-facilitated by several pioneering faculty members who presented their creative examples of the use of these technologies at the University of Toronto and beyond. Anesthesiology Professor, Dr. Fahad Alam presented his research team’s preliminary findings after sending out stereoscopic viewers for their ChildLife app featuring 360 videos that aim to reduce pre-procedure anxiety in patients coming to the Hospital for Sick Children. Johanna Carroll and Martina Steiner, Teaching Stream Professors in Molecular Genetics discussed their project using immersive virtual reality-based wet labs for students to view and experience via some of the latest wireless VR headsets. The final faculty demo was from Professor Dawn Kilkenny of the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering who described her project of creating custom virtual labs.

Participants were asked to consider how these technologies could serve their learning objectives for students or solve an instructional challenge. They were then able to discuss the applicability of extended reality technologies for specific course goals and explore related instructional design considerations. By the end of this session attendees were able to identify VR integration and development options, apply a practical framework for teaching and learning activity design ideas and begin to assess their own level of readiness for adoption of extended reality technology.

Dr. Chirag Variawa with VR Headset

Dr. Chirag Variawa, Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream, Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering watching a 360 video on a mobile phone in a stereoscopic headset.

As a bonus, participants who arrived early were treated to a demo of VR and AR equipment and content. There were AR triggers for the ARchemy app created by Shadi Dalili, UTSC Chemistry Professor and a team of talented developers. Participants were able to try out a few VR headsets ranging from stereoscopic viewers for smartphones such as Google cardboard and a comfier plastic headset. A few folks tried out the fully immersive Lenovo daydream headsets with controllers to explore Labster’s virtual science labs. Those who demo’ed equipment were curious and enthusiastic, a reflection of the growing interest in the engaging learning possibilities of AR and VR and there was certainly an inspired buzz at this full-to-capacity workshop. 

 Full list of event facilitators:

  • Laurie Harrison, Director, Online Learning Strategies
  • Diane Michaud, Instructional Technologies Liaison Librarian, UTM Library
  • Dawn Kilkenny, Associate Professor, Teaching Stream, Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering
  • Fahad Alam, Assistant Professor, Anesthesia, Collaborative Human Immersive Interaction Lab (CHISIL)
  • Johanna Carroll, Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream, Molecular Genetics
  • Martina Steiner, Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream, Molecular Genetics 

If you’re interested in connecting with peers exploring the use of AR and VR consider joining our network –

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Sharing Our Experience in Open Textbook Publishing

Last month OLS co-presented a talk on the experiences of University of Toronto and Ryerson University faculty members who authored Open Textbooks in the previous academic year at the 15th annual Open Education conference held in Niagara Falls, NY.

The well-received presentation titled “Learning about Open Educational Practice through Open Textbook Publishing” provided an overview of our work to date with OERs, including:

  • The number of Open Textbooks we have authored
  • Participating faculty members’ past and current use of Open Textbooks (OERs in general)
  • Reasons for authoring Open Textbooks
  • The existing and desired institutional support for authoring and publishing Open Textbooks
  • Insights for future Open Textbooks authoring projects

Kindle device with text

Over the past two years, faculty members at Ontario’s post-secondary institutions have applied for funding to author open textbooks with the support of the Ministry of Colleges and Universities and administered by eCampusOntario. eCampusOntario recognizes the importance of Open textbooks to the post-secondary culture in Ontario because they have the potential to;

  • Make education more affordable and accessible for students
  • Improve learning experiences by allowing faculty to customize resources
  • Create possibilities for sharing, creating, and collaborating to expand knowledge

Summary of the presentation

The Open Ed 2018 presentation was a collaboration between U of T and Ryerson University. Between the two institutions, 28 authors and co-authors created nine open textbooks in a variety of disciplines including sciences, social sciences, medical sciences, and humanities.

Seventeen faculty members shared their experience of the OER creation process through a survey and the presentation focused on the synthesis of the survey responses from both institutions. Instructors chose to author open resources in order to reduce the cost of textbooks and increase the variety of resources available to local and international students. One instructor underscored how open textbooks enable faculty members to contextualize the context based on their geographical location. The majority of the respondents, 76%, had little previous experience using or creating OERs, which highlights the importance of institutional support structures and resources.

Between both institutions, the instructors had access to an extensive array of support structures and resources. Among the highest used resources were: technological information, copyright information, existing open textbooks used as examples, PressBooks platform information, and accessibility audits. An insight for facilitating future open textbooks was to provide authors with a prototype of a sample chapter. Another insight related to facilitating team work by providing the team with project management support and to monitor the steadiness of the work progress.

The authors also shared the main benefits of authoring open textbooks as a commitment to open pedagogical tools, deeper understanding of the affordances of OER, and the ability to inform other faculty members about the open textbook authoring process to other faculty members. For more details on the study view the Learning about Open Educational Practice through Open Textbook Publishing presentation file.

For More Information

To learn more about the process of creating your own open curriculum materials, explore information related to processes and practices in our Open Textbook Toolkit which offers information related to stakeholders, technology, copyright, accessibility, and more general production, classroom use workflows and more

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New Online Modules: Experiential Learning

Hearing a lot of hype around experiential learning? Are you new to this idea, or have you been a long-time advocate and facilitator of experiential learning opportunities? If you fall into either of those categories, this blog post is for you. The University of Toronto is developing a suite of open-source,  reusable modules  to respond to a range of needs in this broad domain. Whether you currently facilitate or are in the planning stages of developing a curricular or co-curricular EL experience, these modules and the flexible learning assets within them can be tailored and integrated into your context.

How did this project come about, and how can you get involved? Read more to find out.  

In 2017, the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development (now the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities) offered funding through the “Career Ready Fund” to support the development and expansion of experiential learning (EL). Specifically, funds were made available to support coordination and streamlining of EL experiences, developing faculty resources to support EL integration, and improving access to EL opportunities for students.

At the University of Toronto, a number divisions asked for a suite of online modules to support EL. Hands holding cut out letter of word "learning'Rather than having everyone create their own material, the University decided to establish a group to look at developing a suite of open educational resources that can be adopted or adapted across faculties and divisions. Which brings us to this project.

These resources are being created specifically with re-use, adaptation, and customization in mind so they can to be integrated in multiple ways to support differing practices, goals, and outcomes including curricular and co-curricular needs. To date, a group of representatives, including both content and subject matter experts, from divisions across all three campuses have collaborated on the initial topics and outlines and will continue to provide input into the planning and development of the resources. With student-facing and instructor/staff-facing modules, topics include: student readiness quick start, personal learning plan, student roles & responsibilities, reflection, partnership stewardship, instructional practices, assessment and reflection design.

What are re-usable modules? We are creating a group of learning assets—including powerpoint slides, videos, and learning activities—and suggesting the ways in which you can layer these assets into a cohesive module. Just want a video or a few slides? You will be able to take these individual assets and integrate them into your program.

We are currently in the design phase and drawing upon a broader group of stakeholders and subject matter experts to both incorporate existing and develop new material to make up the content of the EL resources. We will be developing these resources until January 2019 with ongoing consultations and contributions.

The final phase of the project is to support implementation over the months of January to April 2019. In this phase, we will be consulting with partners to discuss how these modules can be used in their context.

If you are interested in furthering EL opportunities and wish to contribute to these resources feel free to get in touch with us. Email Kimberly Elias  at .


Collaborators on this project include: Vice-Provost Innovations in Undergraduate Education; ITS – Online Learning Strategies; and Student Life.

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Riipen Pilot: An On-Ramp to Work Integrated Learning

The Riipen platform as an on-ramp to facilitating work integrated learning experiences. Riipen helps instructors set up micro-experiential projects with community organizations and businesses by finding matches and streamlining ongoing coordination and communication between the faculty, students and partners. This initiative is unique in its focus on integrating small projects into course contexts in alignment with learning outcomes.

[New: Riipen project extended for the 2019-2020 academic year]

Learn more about the Riipen Pilot Project

To find out how you can get involved at the University of Toronto please email


Shadi Dalili, Associate Professor, Teaching Stream is one of the instructors who pioneered the use of Riipen in her  course CHMD71 – Pharmaceutical Chemistry. Students in this 4th year course worked alongside research and development at pharmaceutical organizations to consult and create promotional materials.

We spoke with Shadi to ask about her experience with Riipen:

How did using Riipen help meet your teaching and learning goals?

For my fourth year Pharmaceutical Chemistry course (CHMD71H), I had two major sets of learning goals: disciplinary knowledge learning goals (such as research, analytical, and critical thinking skills) as well as transferable, professional development learning goals (such as teamwork, time-management, multi-tasking, communication, delegation, and decision-making skills).

Using Riipen helped meet most of these goals by providing a platform through which I could find an industry partner with whom my students could participate in a project in the field of pharmaceutical chemistry. This allowed them to gain firsthand knowledge on how to research information on molecular modelling and simulations used in the process of drug discovery and development, and then critically analyze this information to prepare a deliverable defined by the industry partner for a particular audience. This allowed them to practice critical analysis skills in appropriately using information for the intended purpose.

Additionally, as they had to work in teams and deliver the project by a set timeline, they used a project charter based on the RACI (Responsibility, Accountability, Consultation, and Informed) matrix used in industry for team projects, to prioritize, delegate, and manage their time as a group. This was a valuable exercise in teaching them interpersonal and communication skills, as well as exposed them to a real-world scenario of how to work as a team and delegate responsibilities.

With whom – community organizations, industry – did you partner?

We worked with Cognigen Corporation, a SimulationsPlus company, that is based in Buffalo, NY. They were established in 1992, and have partnered with leading pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, the World Health Organization, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as well as provided pharmacology consulting and pharmacometric analyses for more than 100 drugs. They aim to advance the science and engineer the systems for model-based drug development, which is more efficient and cost effective in getting a drug to the approval stage at regulatory agencies compared to traditional methods of drug development.

Why did you partner with them?

We partnered with Cognigen Corporation as they had a wealth of experience in the field of molecular modelling and simulations in drug discovery and development, which is one of the topics of the course I wanted my students to get industry knowledge on. In addition, Cindy Walawnder, their VP of Operations who was the contact from the company on Riipen, was extremely helpful and communicative in defining a project for the students that was within their level of understanding and manageable in the period of the course.

How did this experience meet (or not meet) your needs and expectations for your course goals?

This was my first time using the Riipen platform, as was the case with the industry partner (Cognigen Corporation), and as a first time user, it exceeded my expectations of meeting the needs of our course. Many students commented that they thought the project was interesting and valuable, considering it allowed to work with a real company and familiarized them with the pharmaceutical industry. In addition, our students now each have a profile on the Riipen site, with ratings and comments from the industry partner in their portfolio, which I hope will help in their employability in the future.

Riipen Logo

If you are interested in exploring the use of Riipen to support experiential learning experiences in your course there are new incentives to help the transition. The Ontario Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development (MAESD) awarded funding to Riipen as part of the province’s efforts to deliver Experiential Learning opportunities to every student in Ontario. With this funding, Riipen is able to subsidize a substantial portion of the cost of its platform to companies and organizations of all sizes interested in participating in real-world project initiatives at educational institutions across Ontario. The Fund will support eligible projects through to March 2019. More details can be found on the Riipen Career Ready Fund page.

For more information contact:

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