Active Learning: Online Redesign Lights Up Learning

Have you heard instructors at University of Toronto discussing the idea of active learning in their classrooms? While difficult to define, this approach is generally understood as engagement of students in clarifying, questioning, applying, and consolidating new knowledge. It has been compared to a lamp being lit rather than a vessel being filled.  Over the past year, a group of faculty leaders from across the university participated in development of active learning using digital strategies as part of the provincially funded Active Learning: Online Redesign (ALOR) project.

Active Learning Online Redesign

This network of remarkable instructors set their sights on the goal of enhancing the quality of student learning through design of active learning experiences using web-based resources and tools.

The project, spanning five divisions as well as the Centre for Teaching Support and Innovation (CTSI) and the Online Learning Strategies (OLS) portfolio, has lead to introduction of innovative strategies to support both classroom and online learning.

ALOR project faculty leaders focused their efforts on elements of curriculum design that would be of interest to other instructors in their academic program area. Steve Joordens (UTSC – Psychology Department) continued enhancing Digital Labcoat, an online environment that challenges students to test their own hypothesis, theorize about findings, and use statistics to answer theoretical questions. In Human Biology (FAS), Franco Taverna mapped neuroscience concepts learners find most challenging and developed digital resources to address those difficult concepts, primarily for use in webinar environments.  With a focus on reuse, Scott Ramsay (Materials Science, FASE) evaluated learning objects such as innovative tabletop lab videos and a range of screencast formats in terms of impact on student experience.

ALOR Quotes

Other divisions designed specific curriculum components for active learning through the incorporation of wiki tools and the promotion of online debates. Student response was very positive. As one UTM student noted:
“I loved the experience because I was able to share my ideas with my classmates… we could all learn from one another.”

An important benefit of this extended network of colleagues is the opportunity for collaboration on project activities beyond course boundaries. Each of these faculty leaders has worked with instructors and educational technology professionals across their academic program areas regarding the design, development and integration of active learning strategies and digital resources. Prof. Steve Joordens observed that “Educational research has highlighted many great educational approaches (e.g., assessment for learning, peer assessment, active learning) …if we use technology creatively, we can find ways of providing these experiences in any course.” The result is enhanced learning opportunities for our students – both inside the classroom, and online!

Full reports by division can be found on the ALOR project overview website.  Instructors interested in learning more about active learning in online environments may consider joining UOfT’s Online Teaching & Learning Community of Practice.

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Online Proctoring – Early Explorations at UofT

As adoption of online learning strategies grows there is an increased demand for effective assessment that meets expectations for academic integrity. One option that is garnering interest is the possibility of online proctoring by third party service providers. In this model, live proctors observe students who are completing an online assignment through use of web cam and screen sharing technology. The assessment process remains the responsibility of the university. However, the process of verifying student identity, ensuring that students are not accessing unauthorized material and that making sure that students are working independently becomes the responsibility of the online proctor.

There are a number of companies providing this service, including ProctorU. Recently the Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing undertook a series of online exam pilots using ProctorU’s service to explore the effectiveness of online proctoring, and to better understand the student perspective on the experience. Fareed Teja, Academic Information and Communication Technologist for the LSB Faculty of Nursing coordinated the project operations, and also oversaw the service evaluation process. He recently summarized their findings in a video and screencast presentation which was shared at the Ontario University Council on eLearning summer institute. For full details on the project please visit the following link:

Fareed Teja – Online Proctoring Project – Lawrence S. Bloomberg School of Nursing

Online Proctoring Pilot PPT Screen ShotWhile there were a few operational “kinks” to work out, for the most part the student response was positive. One area of concern was student comfort with the online proctoring process and technology. While very convenient since the online exam can be written in the comfort of one’s home or office, at the same time unfamiliar environment may cause  anxiety for some. Student orientation and support throughout the proctoring process may be the key. Our thanks to the LSB Faculty of Nursing for pioneering in this area and sharing their findings.

While we are on the topic of academic integrity, it seems timely to mention a new digital resource, just launched this week. The Academic Integrity at the University of Toronto web site provides a comprehensive overview for students and instructors, including strategies to promote and maintain academic integrity.


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MOOC Design Round Table 2014

On June 11th, the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering hosted our second annual MOOC Design Round Table, which was attended by several teams that have new project funding or are considering proposal development in the coming year. New initiatives are percolating across several divisions, including Engineering, Pharmacy, OISE and the iSchool. In addition to a process overview and practical design activities, we also had presentations from Bobby Glushko, from UTL’s Scholarly Communications Office, and Stian Haklev, coordinator of institutional research support for MOOCs under the Open UToronto umbrella.

Our design round table explored a range of topics including a platform comparison between Coursera and EdX, online learning design theory and process basics, activity scaffolding and assessment design, marketing, copyright issues and research opportunities.

Photos of MOOC Design Day 2014

A central focus of the discussion was the work of Dr. Jim Wallace’s team from Mechanical Engineering. This group will be exploring online learning at scale with through development of a new Coursera MOOC on the topic of alternative energy systems to be launched in fall 2014.

Another unique feature of this session was the participation of a colleague from UBC via Skype. Barry Magrill, who leads out their Coursera MOOC development for their Flexible Learning office, joined in the design activities and discussion throughout the day. UBC is similarly including us in their MOOC community activities so that we may share learn from one another’s experiences through virtual collaboration.

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Course Re/Design 2014 – Online Cohort

On May 21 and 22 another successful Course Re/Design Institute took place, hosted by the Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation, with participation from across the university community.  Our cohort of online instructors who are launching new courses or enhancing existing courses joined with the larger group of approximately 40 faculty members, but also explored considerations unique to online course design in a separate breakout stream.

Photo of CDI participants

Instructors who are designing fully online courses within the graduate programs or as part of the undergraduate OUCI initiative included:

Nursing Margaret Blastorah
Martine Puts
Lynn Nagle
Computer Science Paul Gries
Jennifer Campbell
French Marie Visoi
Statistics Alison Gibbs
Molecular Genetics William Navarre
Engineering Michael Seica
Jeffrey Packer
Historical Studies Kyle Smith
Public Health Ann Fox
Paul Bozek

Another group of instructors focused on hybrid designs, in which total class-time is reduced as selected course components and activities are moved online. (For more information on this format see the recent Modes and Meaning blog post). This group included:

Public Health Abdallah Daar
Andrea Cortinois
Physical Therapy Sylvia Langlois
Sharon Switzer-MacIntyre
Sociology Christian Caron
Study of Religion Jennifer Harris
Human Biology Maria Papconstaninou

For our online cohort the process also involved a pre-institute orientation webinar one week in advance of the event.Screenshot of Webinar Another unique feature for our online instructors is the participation of their own course builders or educational technology experts as part of a design team process on Day 2 of the institute. The conversations, explorations and considerations of effective course design were very engaging and inspiring, as faculty from across a full range of disciplines shared their ideas and insights. If you are interested in participating in upcoming discussions or considering applying for OUCI funding, please contact Laurie Harrison.

















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President’s Teaching Award Winners

Online Learning Strategies would like to congratulate Don Boyes and Shafique Virani, the winners of the President’s Teaching Award. They are the two recipients of this prestigious award which recognizes sustained excellence in teaching, research on teaching and the integration of teaching and research.

Their recognition as leaders in teaching is well deserved and we are privileged to have worked with both of them on online learning initiatives. Both have been pioneers in online teaching and integrating technology for active learning in their physical classrooms.

Read the full details about the accomplished teaching of Don Boyes and Shafique Virani.

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Active Learning for Faculty

Over the past few weeks several of the Active Learning: Online Redesign (ALOR) project faculty leads have been working on outreach and capacity development within their own divisions or departments.  Many instructors are taking the time to recharge and refresh by attending local faculty events. Here is a “sampler” of ALOR initiatives that target discussion and dialogue among peers with shared interests and goals. 

Annual Showcase and Celebration of Teaching
April 9, 2014

Steve Joordens and his team were sharing the latest on improvements and development of support strategies for three online tools that support active learning at the UTSC teaching showcase. The Advanced Learning Technology Lab team has been focused on enhancement to the mTuner assessment tool and Digital Labcoat scientific simulation tool as part of the ALOR project. In addition, new resources to support users of PeerScholar are now available. There is growing interest and uptake of these research-informed tools by instructors of other courses in conjunction with broader strategies for UTSC Psychology program and beyond. Great work!

UTSC ALOR Team Photo

Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing (LSBoN)
Online Learning Design Workshop

April 15, 2014

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of co-facilitating a Nursing faculty workshop with Margaret Blastorah (Assistant Professor, Director of Graduate Program), Michael Morrow (OISE) and Fareed Teja (Academic Technologist at the LSBoN), Also under the umbrella of the ALOR initiative, the half day session centered around a course design process framework with emphasis on assessment and learning activity design for online and hybrid courses. A range of tools and strategies for engaging students were showcased, with a focus on various uses within the context of nursing. This was a “hands-on” workshop and faculty teams were able to prepare the design for development of a new component for their course. Great instructors with great ideas!

Nursing Workshop Collage Photo

Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering (FASE)
Reusable Learning Objects
April 24, 2014

Dr. Scott Ramsay has developed a range of creative in-lecture demonstrations, video content and other course materials for courses he teaches at FASE. The focus of this first set of resources is the mechanical behavior of solids. These Reusable Learning Objects (RLO’s) are related to material science and chemistry topics relevant to other Engineering courses and have been designed for potential re-use by other instructors teaching the same concepts.  Dr. Ramsay recently provided colleagues, teaching assistants and educational technology professionals with a showcase of his work and invited feedback on ideas for future development and for practical use across courses. One example of Ramsay’s exploration is the production of the same instructional video content in three different modes, providing an opportunity to gather data on student preferences and learning styles.

Examples of Three Video Formats

Congratulations to our ALOR faculty leads on their community-oriented outreach and capacity development!

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UofT Participating in new Ontario Online Portal

You may have heard about a recent RFP for online course development for a new Ontario Online portal. The University of Toronto has been very successful, with seven proposals having been selected for MTCU funding! Contributing these foundational courses to the Ontario Online initiative reflects very well on these instructors, and on our institution. Please join me in congratulating the following instructors:

  • Paul Gries & Jennifer Campbell (Arts & Science) - CSC108 Introduction to Computer Programming:
  • Don Boyes (Arts & Science) - GGR272 Geographic Information and Mapping I
  • Michelle Troberg (UTM) - LIN204 English Grammar:
  • Melody Neumann & Ken Yip (Arts & Science) - CSB201 Molecular Biology, Biotechnology and You
  • Michael Seica & Jeffery Packer (Engineering) - APS160 Mechanics
  • Shai Cohen & Micah Stickel (Engineering) - APS162 Calculus for Engineers I & APS163 Calculus for Engineers II

UofT’s seven courses were among the 68 course proposals funded for $75,000 each. Each proposal was reviewed by two members of an expert panel using a set of criteria set by the Council of Ontario Universities. While two courses will go fully online for the first time in Fall 2014, five others are already online, hence the funds will be used for further enhancement.  Development processes for all of these online courses are supported through the Online Undergraduate Course Initiative.

If you work with departments or instructors who have an interest in the Ontario Online initiative, and its implications for development of online courses at UofT, please do get in touch:

Laurie Harrison – Director, Online Learning Strategies

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Instructional Uses of Social/Digital Media at UTSC

Many instructors are looking for innovative strategies to help their students move beyond being consumers of social media, and toward becoming active contributors and creators of digital content. On Monday, March 3, the Centre for Teaching and Learning at UT Scarborough hosted a panel presentation by faculty members who shared insights and practical advice on engaging students through “Instructional Uses of Social and Digital Media.”  Here are some of the great ideas that were discussed at that event:

Leslie Chan teaches a course in International Development Studies that offers students opportunities to learn first hand how social media is used for networked communication and citizen activism. The course uses an open wiki space, where projects developed by students are shared from year to year. The site integrates a twitter feed and also allows expert guests from the instructor’s research network to answer questions from the class. The IDSB10H Knowledge for Communication and Development course integrates collaborative activities that support the role of the student as researcher, both contributing and reviewing joint project work.

IDS course screen shot

William Gough spoke about introduction of more active learning through use of social media in his course on Principles of Climatology that features an  EESB03 twitter feed for posting media news and gathering student observations related to current phenomena, such as the recent “frostquakes” in the Toronto area. The twitter stream is integrated within Blackboard and students are offered optional participation marks for various activities.

EES twitter feed screen shot

Dr. Gough also described his “snowcam,” a real time low-tech solution in the form of a camera that captures the depth of snow against a simple outdoor measuring stick.

Daniel Scott Tysdal spoke about his work teaching creative writing and digital publishing in ENGB38, The Graphic Novel. Students have the opportunity to explore how poetic traditions appear in non-traditional digital forms, for example taking the idea of the iPhone or Photoshop as a “new pen” or mining Twitter and Facebook for new materials and inspiration.  New apps such as Halftone are available for authoring digital materials by combining visual images and text in comic format. New techniques are introduced within his classroom as students are engaged in experiential learning, re-thinking conventional material and forms – or perhaps crowdsourcing ideas and content.  The instructor shared this example of his own work entitled: Halftone Rubbing Stone: The Untold Story of the Great Rock’s End.

Screenshot of Tysdal graphic poetry work
 An interesting and thought provoking session. Hats off to the CTL team for organizing and hosting the event!
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Active Learning: Online Redesign

Laurie Harrison and Will Heikoop

Hot off the press!  The University of Toronto as just kicked off a new initiative on “Active Learning: Online Redesign” (ALOR) supported by new funding from the MTCU.  The Active Learning: Online Redesign project spans five divisions as well as the Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation (CTSI) and the Online Learning Strategies (OLS) portfolio. This interesting new interdisciplinary project aims to improve the quality of student learning through design of active learning experiences, while maximizing efficiencies through the use of web-based tools.

The primary focus of the project involves the strategic use of technology to support active learning in hybrid course models. You may have noticed an explanation of this increasingly popular model in a recent blog post that discussed “modes and meaning” in our changing online learning landscape.  In the hybrid format, face-to-face teaching time is reduced, but not eliminated, to allow students more time for online activities. As a term, it is one of the least familiar. But as a practice, it potentially has the most flexibility to tap into the best of both worlds – leveraging opportunities for innovation and productivity for the ALOR project. The major team activities include:

  • Supporting curriculum redesign through development of effective and scalable active learning strategies in online environments.
  • Building faculty and teaching assistant team capacity at the local level (e.g., Divisions/Departments) to expand future active online learning.
  • Providing the university community with innovative instructional tools for (a) re-use in a range of discipline areas, and (b) integration with the Blackboard learning system.

ALOR Projects

Faculty leads from five participating divisions/departments will work individually and collectively to construct a network of expertise and share their work with others.  The participating divisions/departments are as follows:

  • University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC) – Department of Psychology
    - Prof. Steve Joordens: Enhancements to mTuner and Digital LabCoat tools; new course pilots
  • University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) – Language Studies
    - Prof. Rosa Hong: Active learning and media integration activities to contextualize language learning
  • Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering (FASE) – Materials Science
    - Prof. Scott Ramsay: Digital resources to support table-top lab activities
  • Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing – MN – Health Systems Leadership and Administration Program
    - Prof. Margaret Blastorah: Develop pilot hybrid/online component strategies for the MN/MHSc program
  • Faculty of Arts and Science (FAS) – Human Biology Program
    - Prof. Franco Taverna: Mapping of neuroscience learning concepts to improve curriculum design

Each divisional team will focus on designing engaging online course components that address local programming needs and challenges.

The ALOR project is centrally supported and is a collaborative effort between the staff and support services at CTSI, under the guidance of director Carol Rolheiser and through OLS, with the work of director Laurie Harrison. The lead project coordinator is Mike Morrow of OISE’s Education Commons.

Other projects that will employ online strategies to improve quality and reduce resources include the incorporation of online course evaluation and data collection to inform future programming and planning. You can read more about a new course evaluation framework at the University of Toronto.

Watch out for more project updates as we work with all of our teams in the ALOR project to design and develop quality online learning strategies.


For program funding details see: MTCU Productivity and Innovation

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Let’s Talk: Re-Use of MOOC Content for Inverted Classrooms

Laurie Harrison and Will Heikoop

Last week we held a UofT MOOC community “round table” with several of our instructors, educational technology professionals and academic leaders who have been involved in the process. It was inspiring to hear faculty insights and discussion as to how the offering of the MOOCs has had a broader impact on pedagogical innovation. A significant portion of our conversation was focused on how the experience has influenced their current teaching practice at UofT and how MOOC materials can and are being reused in our degree courses.

As many of you will know, MOOC content is generally delivered in weekly modules that cover a specific topic or theme. These topics are commonly introduced through a series of short video “lecturettes” (5 – 15 minutes in length) interspersed with in-video quizzes. As well, each video segment is commonly bracketed with short quizzes used for formative assessment. The student is able to work through these videos at his or her own pace and can check their understanding of the content with the quizzes, in addition to discussion boards and help pages. Between the design, set up, capture and editing of these materials, considerable effort goes into development of the digital content needed to offer a MOOC.

Not surprisingly, the discussion turned to how this material is being reused and how easy or difficult is it to reuse the content. Several instructors shared how they have successfully used their MOOC video content in the inverted or “flipped” classroom. In the inverted class model the contact hours with students is not reduced, but rather enhanced with the MOOC resources such as video lectures and quizzes that students review prior to class.

  • One instructor commented on how it was an efficient use of class time that worked well for all involved. Having students view the lecture material outside of class meeting time allowed for more time to be dedicated to case work and project work when meeting face-to-face. In this way, students were able to more fully engage with and apply the concepts from the lessons.
  • Several instructors observed that, having had time to digest the lecture material outside of class meeting time, students and instructors alike had to work harder to apply the material during in-class time.
  • Although all involved found the inverted classroom model more challenging, instructors benefitted by seeing where students were experiencing problems and students were able to clarify misconceptions. Some early evidence shows a linkage to improvement in final grades.

Broadly, students responded well to the video content and and also benefited from the increased application of concepts in the various courses that adopted the inverted classroom model.

And what about the workload placed on instructors? They found that after having the initial growing pains of creating and producing the video content, slight edits could be made to the MOOC content to support adoption for integration into inverted course design. With minor ongoing updates it can be used again for a range of purposes.

Stay tuned as we continue to research our MOOC activity and extending our understanding of the new ways in which our MOOC experience can influence teaching and learning at UofT. For further description of UofT’s MOOC instructor perspective see the recent UOfT Magazine Article: Screen Time – Online courses are big, bold and potentially game-changing for higher education.

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