Online Learning at U of T – Ready to Reach Out

Computer with (n)ever (s)top learning displayed.As the University of Toronto shifts to increased online learning activity in response to COVID-19, we are fortunate to have an Online Learning Strategies portfolio with a strong track record in exploring and evaluating emergent learning technologies and practices. Since 2012 we have been supporting transformative initiatives that enhance the learning experience and build momentum for a digital learning innovation mindset.

Online Learning Strategies fast tracks capacity development, leveraging the work of a community of instructors who have already introduced effective approaches to course activities in a digital format.  At a recent round table it was acknowledged that the “most important consideration is keeping a connection between the instructor and the student to build community and ensure engagement.”

In collaboration with other units on campus, our portfolio has been building momentum across the following dimensions:

  • Flexible access through fully online, hybrid, and MOOC courses that leverage our academic technology tools
  • Digital content design featuring interactive modules, open educational resources, virtual reality, peer feedback and community-building activities.

University of Toronto instructors are able to access the resources and the know-how to provide a rich learning experience for all our students, regardless of modality of course delivery. We are “ready to reach out” to ensure that our students never stop learning at the University of Toronto.

Online Learning Spotlights

Support within a range of digital learning contexts is illustrated in the innovative initiatives featured below.

French Business Logo

French Language Collaboration with Wikis: Business writing activity focused on authentic and meaningful tasks. [Read more]

Rosa Junghwa Hong, Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream, Department of Language Studies, UTM


symbolic logic text

Symbolic Logic Video and Discussion: Supporting learning at own time and pace. [Read more]

Alex Koo, Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream, Department of Philosophy, FAS


Barbara MurckEnvironmental Science Virtual Office Hours: Live online drop-in question and answer sessions using Bb Collaborate. [Read more]

Barb Murck, Member of the UofT President’s Teaching Academy and Professor, Teaching Stream, Department of Geography, UTM

Screenshot of quizzing interfaceOperations Management Randomized Quiz Questions: Online assessment tool that generates, presents and automatically marks sets of randomized algorithmically generated questions. [Read more]

Gerhard Trippen, Associate Professor, Teaching Stream, Rotman School of Management and Department of Management, UTM

For more information visit About Online Learning Strategies.

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Open Education Week – Checking in on OER grant projects

students collaborating on computerPhoto by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

Last year, the University of Toronto Libraries (UTL) and Online Learning Strategies (OLS) announced the creation of a grant program for the adaptation and use of Open Educational Resources (OER) in University of Toronto courses.

Three currently ongoing projects were selected for their potential to save students money and to contribute to the growing movement towards open education at the University of Toronto, in Ontario, and beyond. The OER textbook projects engage with a range of disciplines that include: courses in Neurobiology, Spanish language comprehension, and Linear Algebra, respectively.

Read more about the ongoing awarded projects here.

Students as creative partners

Aside from their obvious differences in subject matter and focus, the awarded projects all do have something important in common – the fact that students play a significant part in their production.

Whether it be via the creation of textbook content via class assignments, when students participate in online, peer production communities, or via the hiring of student workers to manage these projects, students contribute to open education in a number of ways, performing varied duties such as:

  • Creating content
  • Coordinating tasks with content creation teams (usually other students)
  • Creating and maintaining a consistent editorial style across all parts of texts which may come from multiple sources
  • Finding or designing images and diagrams
  • Creating test banks and other supplementary materials
  • Managing team deadlines and coordinating review and quality assurance processes

Along the way, students gain experience in important areas and develop skills as practitioners in open education, pedagogy, and science communication.

In advance of open education week, the UTL and OLS grant team got in touch with a group of students working on funded projects and asked them to describe their experiences so far. Here are some of their responses, some of which have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Student: Benjamin Martin, Neuroscience and Astrophysics Majors, 3rd Year.

Future Plans: “I plan to go to grad school for research in either pure physics or some cross-over with human biology e.g. medical biophysics.”

Project: Enhancing existing OERs for better adoption and adaptation in neuroscience courses. Project leads:  Dr. Bill Ju (Associate Professor, Teaching Stream, Human Biology), Jeff Newman (D.G. Ivey Library), Aneta Kwak (D.G. Ivey Library).

How did you get involved in the project? “Dr. Ju offered the position back in October and I decided it would be an academically beneficial opportunity.”

What surprised you about the open education resource you were adapting? “How consistent in format and style it was. Very impressive!” [See the resource Ben is talking about here.]

What was the biggest challenge in your project? “Finding consistent and fresh ways to present content.”

Screenshot of membrane protein from open textbook

Student: Max Shcherbina, Graduate Student in Cells & Systems Biology.

Future Plans: “I am looking forward to pursuing a career in research and science communication!”

Project: “I am currently involved in the HMB422 Health & Disease companion textbook.” [Max was also involved in the creation of the Neuroscience: Canadian 1st edition textbook.]

What was the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your project?  “It’s been a challenge coordinating and collaborating with the whole class to create a cohesive milieu of topics. However, it’s incredibly satisfying seeing the finished product come together and be used by future classes!”

How about a success? “As a group we were able determine the design language of the entire textbook as it pertains to the figures that we will be using so that the audience that read the textbook will have a cohesive understanding of the material with the diagrams.”

What advice would you give to students considering working on OER? “Working on an OER does take a commitment but it is also incredibly rewarding to collaborate on a project and put it out into the world for all to benefit.”


Student: Jose Villalobos Graillet, PhD Candidate in Spanish Literature and Culture.

Future Plans: “I’m planning to teach at the university level.”

Project: Developing and Improving Students’ Listening Comprehension in Spanish for Beginners, Intermediate and Advanced Levels. Project lead: Juan Carlos Rocha Osornio (Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream, and Spanish Language Coordinator, Department of Spanish & Portuguese).

Can you tell us about a moment of success in your project? “Once I got acquainted with H5P and found the material for our book was easier to develop different sections. I was motivated at all times thinking about how future students at the Department of Spanish and Portuguese would welcome and use the book to improve their listening skills in a foreign language.”

How did you get involved in working on open education project? “I was invited by Prof. Juan Carlos Rocha Osornio, the Spanish Language Coordinator at UofT. I worked as his assistant from 2017-2018, so it was a pleasure to be involved in this project with him.”

What was the biggest challenge in your project? “Finding authentic and open access videos, pictures, texts, etc.”

Screenshot of open textbook landing page Spanish literature

Student: Beatrix Yu, 3rd year, majoring in neuroscience and immunology.

Project: Enhancing existing OERs for better adoption and adaptation in neuroscience courses.

How did you get involved in your project? “I got involved by being a part of the work study program under the Human Biology department.”

What were some of the biggest challenges in your project? “One of the biggest challenges in the project for me was ensuring that the figures I’m designing are able to visually communicate scientific information to a wide audience and be understood intuitively no matter the depth of prior scientific knowledge they may have. Although challenging, it was a very important learning experience for me as I was able to transfer this skill into my own studies by making simple visual summaries of concepts that were discussed in class to facilitate my own learning.”

What surprised you about working with OERs? “I was pleasantly surprised that open educational resources are becoming more common recently, as I wasn’t aware of the availability of such resources during my time in undergraduate studies so far. Now that I have participated in working with open educational resources, I’d like to promote this more to other students so that they are more aware of such resources and are hopefully able to find them useful in their own studies too.”


Student: Daniela Maldonado Castaneda, PhD Candidate in Hispanic Literature

Project: Developing and Improving Students’ Listening Comprehension in Spanish for Beginners, Intermediate and Advanced Levels.

What advice would you give to other students involved in OER projects? “I think training is good, but my advice is that doing the work yourself with the tools that are available will give you enough practice to make something great.”

What surprised you about working with OERs? “It gets easier once you are used to doing it. I think it is a very helpful tool to use with our Spanish students.”

Tell us about a moment of success in your project? “Finishing it!”

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Online Learning “By the Numbers” – OLS Infographic

Last year was another exciting period of growth in online and hybrid learning at UofT.

  • Undergraduate and graduate fully online courses remained steady, with over 11,000 learners enrolled in at least one online course offering.
  • Hybrid course design is a recently funded OUCI initiative and we are seeing an uptick in the development of hybrid courses across faculties
  • Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) continue to grow as well and we have passed a milestone in having well over 2,000,000 learners explore a MOOC from UofT.

Have a look at our infographic for the full story of online learning “by the numbers.”

Screenshot of OLS infographic report

Just what is a fully online, hybrid course or MOOC? See a full list of definitions of online, hybrid, MOOCs and more at


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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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