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12th Annual Teaching & Learning Symposium

[President Gertler was introduced by Professor Mihnea Moldoveanu, Vice Dean of Learning and Innovation, Director of Desautels Centre for Integrative Thinking and Marcel Desautels Professor of Integrative Thinking, DCIT]

Thank you Mihnea. Good morning everyone and thank you for joining us.

I would like to offer my special thanks to the Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation, and the Desautels Centre for Integrative Thinking for designing, organizing and hosting the University of Toronto’s 12thAnnual Teaching & Learning Symposium.

Let me also extend a warm welcome to the members of the Teaching Academy, to those attending their first Symposium, and to our returning veterans.  

It is great to see so many familiar faces – and such a large and energized gathering.  

This Symposium is a wonderful opportunity for our diverse community to join in a conversation about teaching and learning at the University of Toronto. The event brings together faculty and staff from across the University’s three campuses, to share and discuss research and best practices around teaching and learning, and to generate fresh ideas for enhancing learning experiences of our students’.

My role is mostly to support these important initiatives and then get out of the way!

But I do have two messages I would like to share with you this morning.

The first is, simply, thank you. The individuals gathered here constitute a hugely valuable network providing leadership, advice, support, and passion for pedagogical initiatives at every level. Your dedication to your students, your professionalism, your commitment to excellence, and the leadership you demonstrate within your academic units and divisions all help make U of T one of the world’s truly great universities. So, on behalf of our students and colleagues across the University, thank you.

My second message picks up on the theme of today’s symposium – Integrative Learning.

In 2017, the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development committed to an ambitious goal: that every post-secondary student in Ontario have at least one experiential learning opportunity by the time they graduate. It followed a similar national commitment made by the Business-Higher Education Roundtable several months earlier. Since experiential learning has been a key priority for the University of Toronto for some time, it was easy for us to embrace this objective.

In 2016-17, U of T’s Task Force on Experiential Learning developed a framework to support our efforts in this area. It positioned the range of experiential learning modalities under the umbrella of Integrated Learning Experiences (ILEs). We believe that these integrated, and integrative, learning opportunities play a crucial role in preparing our students to be engaged citizens, who are able to contribute in meaningful ways to complex and evolving work environments.  

Building on this idea of integrative learning, the Office of the Vice-Provost, Innovations in Undergraduate Education in collaboration with the CTSI developed The Integrated Learning Speaker Seminar and Workshop series. The series has featured workshops on:

  • Work-Integrated Learning,
  • Undergraduate Research, and
  • Community-Engaged Learning.

Future sessions are planned for:

  • International Experiential Learning,
  • Entrepreneurship Learning, and more.

The initiatives that have been highlighted through this series of workshops and seminars are impressive, including…

  • Internships with leading industry partners offered through the Institute of Communication, Culture, Information and Technology at UTM;
  • The Professional Placement Program in the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education;
  • The Scholars-in-Residence Program, offered through the Jackman Humanities Institute; and
  • The campus-community research partnership between students studying urban communities in the Department of Human Geography at UTSC and youth from an East Scarborough neighbourhood.

From these examples, and more like them, we see that teaching and learning at the University of Toronto are not only about the transmission of information or the development of key academic skills.

They are also about the life-altering experience of working with and learning from extraordinary people in authentic learning contexts. In fact, I think this is a crucial point about the future of education, not just at the University of Toronto, but for institutions of higher education everywhere.

Let me elaborate for a moment.

The current wave of technological disruption arising from advances in fields like artificial intelligence and robotics has helped shine a brighter light on what great teachers have known all along: a world-class education is about more than just teaching students advanced knowledge and functional skills. It means helping students acquire the fundamental competencies that will prepare them for life-long success in any career – or any series of careers, even those not yet invented.

We might describe those competencies in different ways, but this list is indicative:

  • the ability to think critically and analytically, and to solve problems;
  • the ability to communicate effectively;
  • the ability to work effectively with a diverse group of colleagues, and to develop effective interpersonal working relationships;
  • a basic grounding in ethical and social reasoning; and
  • global fluency.

These competencies will be familiar to everyone here, of course. But let me highlight and comment on the last two: ethical and social reasoning and global fluency.

It is worth stressing that ethical reasoning in an age of artificial intelligence and social media is clearly of critical importance. Automation and machine judgement are areas fraught with complex moral challenges, especially when combined with big data.

As the recent problems at Facebook have demonstrated, unprecedented technological capabilities unchecked by strong ethical frameworks can undermine the very foundations of well-being and long-run prosperity. Distinguishing ‘can’ from ‘should’ or ‘is’ from ‘ought’ are uniquely human capabilities – and ones we must do a better job of fostering in our students.

Similarly, global fluency – the ability to work effectively across geographical and cultural divides – is emerging both as an increasingly valuable competency in its own right, and as an indispensable means of enriching our other fundamental competencies. Despite the rise of nativism and protectionism, the work is more interconnected – digitally as well as physically – than ever before. We face challenges together that are fundamentally global in nature – climate change, poverty, food security, epidemics, and so on.

Global fluency is thus hugely important to our future. It is also a capacity that universities are uniquely well positioned to develop. Working with diverse teams of students from different countries, as well as from different socio-economic, cultural, linguistic, racial, and religious backgrounds is fertile ground for developing such fluency – along with skills in communication, collaboration, problem solving, and leadership.

This makes it all the more important for us to provide our students with the opportunity for international experiences. It also reminds us of the value of recruiting international students of diverse backgrounds to our campuses, and considering more systematically how to leverage their presence to create intercultural learning experiences ‘at home’. In doing so, we can encourage our students to stretch their knowledge, bridging and connecting unfamiliar perspectives.

These reflections bring me to today’s Teaching and Learning Symposium on Integrative Learning

As we move through the day and learn more about creating and supporting authentic learning experiences for our students that challenge them to make deeper and broader connections beyond their course material, we need to also consider how to assess these kinds of learning. As you will shortly hear from Elizabeth Barkley, our keynote speaker, integrative learning lends itself both to creating opportunities for learning and to meaningful and authentic assessment.

Assessment therefore is not just a set of metrics; in the world of integrative learning, assessment is a learning experience itself. It is an innovative and interesting idea – perfectly apropos of this Symposium.

So once again, thank you for being here – and for everythingyou do on behalf of the University of Toronto.