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Alum wins national leadership award for software adapting teaching to the 21st century

Aakriti Kapoor has won the 3M National Student Fellowship for her work on an education software designed to help students navigate information in the digital world

As a researcher and aspiring educator, Aakriti Kapoor (BSc, 2016) has focused on education tools to help students navigate the digital world.

“For me, in the 21st century, leadership is about making sure that we are creating a society that is not getting numbed, that is not drowning in information, that is in fact using it to enable us all.”

Kapoor is the second student from U of T Scarborough to win the prestigious 3M National Student Fellowship - and one of only 50 students to have ever received the award. 

The fellowship recognizes 10 full-time students every year for outstanding leadership in Canadian post-secondary education. Winners receive $5,000 and admission to an annual conference by the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.

“Leadership to me is education,” Kapoor says. “Good educators are leaders and good leaders are educators who teach, inspire, and allow others to exercise their potentials.”

“Through my leadership, I want to help others experience the joy that comes with being able to see the world differently,” Kapoor says.

Kapoor is now in her first year of a master of teaching at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE). She has spent the last four years at U of T’s Advanced Learning and Technologies Lab creating mindJig, an internationally recognized education software funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

“The kind of things that many student view as challenges, even insurmountable challenges, seem to just motivate (Kapoor),” says Steve Joordens, a professor of psychology at U of T who worked with Kapoor while she created mindJig.

“She doesn’t seem to get pulled down by anything, rather she just investigates it, figures it out, figures out a way around it and then does it.”

mindJig is an online software that teaches students how to think critically and write analytically. The tool helps students navigate what Kapoor calls the “infoflux,” that is, the overwhelming amount of information in the digital world.

“We’re constantly bombarded with information,” Kapoor says. “There’s really not enough time for us to pause and think critically and evaluate the evidence behind this information.”

“I am trying to create a tool that will let us do the opposite. Instead of just going fast, how do you say, ‘Okay, let me pause, let me figure out what this information is saying. Is it really true?’”

While working as a teaching assistant for Joordens in a first-year psychology course, Kapoor noticed that students were struggling with a major assignment because of the way they approached it. Kapoor says the students were first picking a thesis, then finding information to support it. mindJig teaches students to first critically examine research, then find a thesis from analysis.

“Educators and policy-makers have this renewed responsibility to teach our students and citizens to be critically aware of the information we encounter,” says Kapoor. “Through my leadership, I want to help others experience the joy that comes with being able to see the world differently.”

Kapoor was also one of the founding executives of the Students of English Literature and Film (SELF). As president, Kapoor led the development of SELF’s Emerging Voices Creative Writers Conference, Toronto’s first city-wide, free writing conference for young adults. The now annual conference features several notable authors and workshops, and sold out all 300 seats in its first year.

“She is determined, she is persistent, she is smart as heck and she’s able to work with people in a way that gets things accomplished,” says Joordens. “And those are things that are extremely hard to teach.”

© University of Toronto Scarborough