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U of T Mississauga and Scarborough are pioneers in teaching

Innovative instructional technology, work placement programs all part of unique learning experiences

Change is ongoing in the world of education -- what worked yesterday is often rethought or reshaped today. Faculty at the Mississauga and Scarborough campuses are among those at the forefront of rethinking the way a student’s learning experience unfolds.

Work placement programs at U of T Mississauga are being swept up in this wave of change. Today, internships for courses such as environmental studies, business management and psychology are being integrated into a student’s academic workload. Students no longer lose valuable class time as a result of being off campus for months at a time or on placements far from home.

“Usually this [placement] translates into one day a week of off-campus work,” said Barbara Murck, a senior lecturer for UTM’s geography department, “and we’re proud of the fact that virtually all of our placement partners ask to take part again — including all levels of government, corporations, conservation authorities and environmental groups such as the Sierra Club.”

Murck’s colleague, chemistry senior lecturer Judith Pöe, associate chair of chemical and physical science, is also changing the UTM student experience with her online program she calls Virtual Office Hours.

“This is a space where students can ask questions either confidentially or publicly,” Pöe said. “I got the idea when faced with large numbers of students asking the same things over and over again. A lot of them now tell me it’s the most valuable learning tool they have because they learn not only from my answers but from the questions of other students.”

In fact, so far this year Pöe has answered more than 700 questions and the website itself has received close to 12,000 visits.

Dean Ragnar-Olaf Buchweitz, vice-principal (academic) at U of T Scarborough, is enthused about the FSSquared program (foundation skills for sciences). Jointly run by biology professors and Teaching and Learning Services at U of T Scarborough, it allows students to take an additional fourth hour in the first-year biology course where they are trained in basic science skills — such as collection and presentation of statistical data and preparation of lab reports — and are also given general advice on academic life such as how to study effectively for an exam and dealing with stress.

“This also improves a student’s ability to get information and instructions off the Internet, present data efficiently and interpret information properly,” Buchweitz said.

He added that since the program came into being, the quality of lab reports and other work has increased and class grades have improved substantially. As well, U of T Scarborough will soon employ the innovative library program called 24/5 that will allow students to use the library 24 hours a day from Monday to Friday for research work or just as a place to study. Weekend hours will also be extended.

The students in psychology professor John Bassili’s class at U of T Scarborough, as well as students from 13 other courses, can view lectures live or on the Internet, whichever fits their busy schedules.

“We’ve had incredible testimonials posted from students who feel the taped lectures make concentration and note-taking easier,” Bassili said. “The web, as we all know, is very popular nowadays, so given the option the majority of students are choosing online instruction. And many of these streamed lectures have discussion forums afterwards so there is a high degree of student socialization taking place.”

“This kind of educational technology is just one more tool we are utilizing when it comes to the entire student experience package,” said Professor Vivek Goel, vice-president and provost. “Technology can facilitate interactions between students and faculty by reducing time and space barriers.”

 




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