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Innovative summer course pays dividends: Eases first-year students into academic experience

For 200 incoming first-year students at the U of T Scarborough, summertime is the right time to get a jump on the transition to university studies.

These students are enrolled in the Summer Learning Institute, or SLI, an innovative program that offers two or three courses each summer that prepare incoming first-year students for the differences in learning between high school and university.

“I think a lot of students aren’t fully aware that the expectations at university are quite different from high school,” said Janice Crichton Patterson, interim director of Teaching and Learning Services.

Courses offered by the institute are “designed to give students a real taste of what the academic experience is all about. We’re providing them with the tools to make that transition,” said Crichton Patterson.

Now in its third year, SLI is offering two courses this summer. One is English language development, which concentrates on ensuring students have the language and vocabulary skills for understanding lectures, for writing exams and for reading textbooks, research papers and scientific journals. This two-day course is offered twice in July and twice in August.

The other course is reading, writing and presentation, being offered eight times from mid-July to mid-August. This two-day course takes students though the steps of completing a university research assignment including doing a literature search, writing a report and presenting their findings to the class.

“What we try to do is model what happens over a typical 13-week course in two days,” said Fran Sardone, a librarian and one of the instructors. “It’s intensive, it provides that time pressure that’s a factor in university and it lets them test their own skills in a university environment with actual faculty to grade them.

“We’re also trying to give them the tools to be self-directed and be more aware of how they’re managing their learning,” she added.

Faculty have received plenty of positive feedback from students who've completed SLI courses. In their student evaluation forms, some SLI students have reported they found their course well structured and scheduled. Others have said they feel significantly more prepared for university and would definitely recommend their course to peers.

“We are going after funding to be able to grow the program next year because the feedback that we've had has been so positive about it. Then, of course, there's the award,” said Crichton Patterson.

The reading, writing and presentation course recently received an Innovation Achievement Award from the Canadian Association of College and University Libraries. Sardone said the award acknowledges the effectiveness of the course in helping incoming students make a successful transition to university-level research and learning.

For their work developing and delivering the curriculum for the course, recipients of the Innovation Achievement Award are: Sarah King, lecturer and writing centre co-ordinator; Nancy Johnston and Allyson Skene, both lecturers and writing specialists; and Saira Mall and Fran Sardone, both librarians and presentation skills co-ordinators.

© University of Toronto Scarborough