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UTSC students help create new e-learning tool on human rights

HUMAN RIGHTS ONLINE: Students (from left) Stephanie Ng, Yang Zeng and Winnie Hua examine a new online teaching tool that they worked on in collaboration with the Ontario Human Rights Commission. To view more photos of the launch, click on the link in the article. (All photos by Ken Jones.)

by Eleni Kanavas

A new and pioneering teaching tool that will help people in Ontario to understand human rights better has been developed by the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) with assistance from three students at U of T Scarborough.

The online tool, called Human Rights 101, is a web site with audiovisual information and step-by-step online instructions, questions and answers about human rights in the province. Fourth-year students Winnie Hua, Stephanie Ng and Yang Zeng of UTSC’s New Media Studies program, which is offered jointly with Centennial College, helped the OHRC with the design and coding of the module. This new educational tool is the first in a series of e-learning modules on human rights that the OHRC is developing.

An official launch took place at the UTSC campus on June 8 with members of the OHRC, Toronto Police Service, and faculty, staff and students from UTSC. To view more photos from the launch event, click here

Viewers from across the province also had the opportunity to watch the launch of the e-learning site via a live web stream. A video of the launch is archived and can be viewed by clicking here

“It’s our philosophy at U of T Scarborough that media should be used as a tool for social change, and the human rights project is exactly the kind of project we want our students to be engaged in,” said Professor Leslie Chan, supervisor of studies for New Media Studies at UTSC.

The trio of students worked on the eLearning module under the direction of Chan as well as Dora Nipp, human rights education specialist of the (OHRC) and Richard Fouchaux, electronic education specialist at the OHRC. This collaborative project began in October 2009 and gave students an opportunity to gain valuable experience by applying the skills they learned in the classroom to a socially meaningful community project. The e-learning module was completed in April 2010.

“In today’s new world of technology, using a computer for communication and education has become part of our daily lives,” said Barbara Hall, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission and former mayor of Toronto. “I’m very excited to introduce this tool to help people across Ontario learn about human rights and how to take those written rights and make them lived rights.”

Human Rights 101 represents an opportunity to provide leadership and education in human rights learning and training, as well as a new media solution for sending the human rights message to a large number of users from anywhere they have internet access. It connects Canadian human rights agencies, stakeholders and the public to human rights history, principles, legislation, policies and case studies – all at the click of a button, any time of the day.

The module also provides background information on modern human rights, the Ontario Human Rights Code, Ontario’s human rights system and OHRC policies and guidelines. After working through various sections, users can also take a quiz at the end to see how much they have learned. Viewers who want to learn more about Human Rights 101 can visit the e-learning web site at

“I really enjoyed working with my teammates on this project and being able to put into practice all the technical skills I learned on how to build a web site through my courses at Centennial College,” Ng said. “We all came from different areas and possessed different skills that we brought to the design, technical and content elements of the project.”

The students divided up the work involved in developing the new electronic tool. Hua, a visual arts major, focused on the graphic design elements, while Ng relied on her background in international studies to evaluate content for the site. Zeng’s computer science knowledge enabled him to create a template web page prototype which he later transformed into a functioning web site.

“This is experiential learning at its best,” says Professor Rick Halpern, dean and vice-principal (academic) at UTSC. “Our community partners tapped the creative thinking of young, enthusiastic minds, while the students broadened their academic understanding. Our students worked hands-on to bring learning to life in an e-platform, and at the same time, enhanced their own knowledge of human rights issues. When students see how their knowledge and skills can have a real impact in the world, they learn how they can be a force for positive change in the careers they choose to follow.”

The New Media Studies program is offered jointly by UTSC and Centennial College and focuses on the critical thinking, research, design, and communications skills and experience needed to analyze the impact of media on culture today. Students master the techniques necessary to transform the world in a knowledge-driven society. Graduates take with them a portfolio demonstrating their creative abilities and academic expertise and are ready for careers in any organization requiring creative thinking in media and communication. For more information on the program, visit

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