Google Search
Technology shouldn't trump teaching


President's Teaching Award winners share insights

by Anjum Nayyar

In a world full of iPods, iPhones and blackberrys where students can access data in an instant, university faculty are also looking for ways to hold their students' attention. It's these types of transformations and changes that were addressed at the third annual Teaching and Learning Symposium, held on Oct. 24 at the University of Toronto.

The day-long symposium aimed to stimulate discussion and the sharing of experiences around teaching and learning. Some themes covered included: Where do students learn? How are we preparing them? and How have new developments altered our understanding and actions related to teaching and learning? All of these questions formed basis for an inspiring panel with three of the four 2008 President's Teaching Award winners, moderated by President David Naylor. Professor Yu-Ling Chen of chemical engineering was unable to attend.

"An award like this where the university president takes an hour out of his day to come and moderate this session really puts front and centre the importance of teaching as part of the mission of the University of Toronto," said Professor Zubin Austin of the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy and one of the award-winning panellists.

Discussion was lively and each of the winners offered their insights on how teaching trends have changed and must evolve.

"Today's world is much more competitive, much more complex and there are many more pressures and situations our students are juggling," Austin said. "School therefore becomes not their focus and their full-time job, it becomes one of the many things they have to deal with. As teachers we need to realize that we are competing for their attention. To compete for cognitive attention of a student requires more of an entertainment factor."

Austin and fellow award winner, Professor Clare Hasenkampf of biological sciences at U of T Scarborough, have both employed online video lectures as one of their teaching methods.

"It's another technology that we have access to and next year it will be something else. It is just another step in a series of many steps," Austin said.

Professor Helen Batty of family and community medicine said as a faculty member, one has to come to terms with the notion that trends and technology are changing all the time. Therefore the key is to be open.

"Knowledge is transitory," Batty said. "One of the personal things for me is not to over teach."

Harnessing technology for classroom use is a skill that can be learned.

"If we're going to have a video lecture, we have to critically appraise the message. Are we doing it in the best possible way?" Hasenkampf said.

Austin said no matter what the trend or the technology, communicating and learning from such communication will always be front and centre.

"Human beings haven't' really changed that much in the 20, 30 or 40 years since any of us have been in university. At the end of the day it's all about learning from one another, interacting, observing, mentoring and thinking, all of those things. The technology sometimes gets in the way of that."

The panel was only part of a full-day learning experience. It's a tri-campus event intended to stimulate discussion and the sharing of experiences around teaching and learning. It is a cross-divisional forum that allows faculty and staff to explore new instructional methods.

© University of Toronto Scarborough