Earning credit in the community

Your next class could take you out of the classroom and into the community. The Centre for Community Partnerships pairs community organizations with professors interested in diversifying their classes.

“We’re really about creating meaningful learning opportunities outside the classroom in Toronto and the Peel region,” said Lisa Chambers, director of the center.

The program focuses upon service learning, a specific higher education pedagogy that Chambers explains is somewhere between volunteering, which mainly benefits the community, and interning, which mainly benefits the individual.

“Service learning tries to balance both,” said Chambers. “We believe its a bit of a package.” The program promotes a three-step partnership experience: development, meaningful service, and post-service reflections.”

“We really believe that unless you reflect on the experience you’re not going deeper. What were the underlying issues? How is it going to change me? […] Am I going to vote differently? Am I going to be involved in different initiatives?”

Programming is not limited to social justice courses; the centre has implemented service learning across 15 disciplines. In the 2009/2010 year service learning occurred in 22 courses and reached 1,700 students.

“You learn about a theory in a lecture and it might play itself out two days later in a community-based atmosphere.” said Chambers.

The only stipulation of the centre is that partnerships need to be based in the GTA.

“We’re unlike other centres who try to send students abroad […] our centre was created to specifically meet the needs and help create more sustainability and capacity in our local community,” said Chambers.

The centre was founded following a symposium of the Safer City Neighbourhood Taskforce at UTSC and results from the National Study of Student Engagement.

“There were certain areas where the university felt that students could have an engaged experience and one of the ways of doing that was to engage students with community,” said Chambers.
alt text

Partnerships are created following a faculty member requests assistance in establishing a service learning program.

“We don’t get involved in anything unless the community identifies what the need is and it meets the kind of learning outcomes of the course.”

Chambers aims to create extended relationships with community organizations that continue after a course is completed. She points to a course created by Reid Locklin in the Department of Religion and Theology as a successful example of a partnership with the Baycrest Geriatric Health Care System that led to an extended multi-course relationship.

“They created a course called Religion and Theology after Auschwtiz because of the interest and knowledge Reid has in that area and then the needs of the residents,” said Chambers.

The centre is working to to use a combinations of courses, student groups, and individual volunteers to create year-round volunteer support for organizations.

“The need doesn’t go away,” said Chambers, “The need is still there in April but no one is there from the university.” The need for service learning is also not seen by everyone at U of T.

“Across the board at a big research institutions it’s not always seen as a benefit for pre-tenured faculty.”

Along with being seen by some as a distraction from publishing and research, community partnerships are also time-consuming.

“Even though we can try and provide support, it’s going to take more time with service learning pedagogy than it would a lecture of traditional teaching.”

Fall fashion preview

alt text

Oxford Comma: Classic ≠ Dated.

Left: Elizabeth Kagedan. Menswear for women has always been a tried and true method of a bold fashion aficionado. Androgyny is, as it seems, OUT and class, not crass, has crashed its way back into the collections of Fall/Winter 2010-2011. The blouse-and-trousers combo is never going to be out of style; however, be a little more daring and look for accents like a secretary collar or a feminine print to infuse the spirit of youthful vitality and coy flirtation into your Dad’s white button-down. A shorter length, a cinched waist and some suspenders update the dandy trouser into a sexy and fresh way to dress for the modern age. The perfect accessory is always the way to add a flourish of personality to any outfit, and everyone should own a solid pair of dress shoes and a practical carry-all. Girls, ditch the TNA and Lulu’s. Boys leave the Burton backpacks back in your high school lockers where they belong. Giddy-up and get with it with some Saddle shoes and invest in a briefcase because hey, we’re in university now — the rest just looks like child’s play.

Freewheelin’ Utilitarian

Middle: Aaron Zach. Let’s keep it simple boys. It’s all about the canonical staple fashion items — comfortably cool and confident is the look for men this season. Despite its blue collar history, the blue jean is so much more than that, and comes in so many more fabulous colors these days. Instead of the traditional true-blue wash, opt more for a darker indigo, black or even grey version for more mileage and less stress. Investments are key here; a great utility jacket in a vivid neutral with pocket and button detailing and a pair of all-purpose trekking-friendly boots will make for an easy transition from the crispness of autumn to the glacial temperament of winter. If glossy leather Docs are too “I just got discharged” for you, perhaps try buck leather, or shaved suede — same use, but with a more subtle vintage feel.

Combat Baby: Badassery of Chic

Right: Evelyn Lee. The dichotomy of hard and soft, bold and understated, and gothic and glamorous was executed with militant precision in fashion weeks overseas by the likes of design gods Marc Jacobs, Christopher Bailey and Miuccia Prada. Clothing takes on an almost architectural identity with a play on structure and volume. Experiment with rich textures like leather, fur, lace, wool and velvet, in both bold and muted colors, not only to brave the volatile winds approaching, but also to achieve an instant “wow” factor. There is a call to arms for aggressive outerwear: full-length coats, cropped jackets, and either ankle-length or thigh-high boots have invaded the urban catwalk. These statement pieces are by nature very masculine, and are best paired with something feminine and pretty. Elegant tailored dresses in luxurious or flirty fabrics are your best bet — not only because you can dress them up, down and all around, but because a great fit and feel will always stand the test of time even after trends notoriously fizzle.

Styling by Aaron Zach and Elizabeth Kagedan

U of T researcher invents Omni-focus video camera

Professor Keigo Iizuka of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Toronto has invented the world’s first Omni-focus video camera. The Omni-focus video camera is revolutionary. It exceeds the capabilities of today’s mainstream cameras, capturing both near and far images in high resolution and real time focus.

Prof. Iizuka states that it took close to ten years to create this advanced and innovative camera. He created it in collaboration with Dr. David Wilkes, president of the Wilkes Association, a Canadian high-tech product development company. Dr. Wilkes assisted in creating the programming part of the Omni-focus video camera.

The Omni-focus video camera uses a distance mapping principle that allows users to focus on both the foreground and background at the same time. In most of today’s cameras however, when you focus closely on an object, the background is always blurry. Iizuka explains that he wanted both foreground and background to be in focus.

alt text
According to Iizuka, his first motivation for the project occurred when watching musical performances on television. He explains that when you watch television, the singer is singing with the orchestra in the background. When the camera is focused on the singer, the orchestra is always blurry. Prof. Iizuka wanted the singer as well as the orchestra to be in focus.

The invention of the Omni-focus video camera will also contribute to advances in the fields of medicine and entertainment.

Professor Iizuka states that the technology of the Omni-focus video camera can be used for medical purposes such as microscopes. When using a regular microscope, one usually has to adjust the focus many times to fit the object, especially when observing moving objects. If one does not have to worry about the focusing, it becomes easier to see what is happening in the foreground as well as background. Under these circumstances, an Omni-focus microscope would be more advantageous in comparison to the commonplace microscope.

In describing the benefits of the Omni-focus camera towards medical applications, Professor Iizuka explains his dream that someday we will be able to insert the device in the stomachs of human beings. This would allow scientists to see the fine details of stomach contents instead of having to extract samples and examine them under microscopes outside of the body. This would be possible because the Omni-focus video camera functions with the freedom of range that was not previously possible with the use of regular microscopes.

The first model of the Omni-focus video camera was relatively large, but the second model was smaller and could be elevated with a tripod. “The Omni-focus video camera is very user friendly,” says Prof. Iizuka. He also states that as long as you can operate a computer, you should be able to operate the Omni-focus video camera, since it only requires the pressing of a button.

With the invention of the Omni-focus video camera there are endless possibilities to its uses. As the camera continues to be developed by Professor Iizuka and his team of researchers, we can hope to see numerous uses for this new technology.

Welcome back!

DYLAN C. ROBERTSON provides an exhaustive summary of the havoc the G20 caused on campus.

Read about our new pedestrian only street. Take that, drivers.

YASER GHASSAN describes our new planetarium!

Now you can earn school credit by helping out in the community, as if that warm feeling inside you weren’t enough.

In case you missed it last issue, the U of T Bookstore is now offering rental textbooks. It could help you cut down on $100 paper weights come next April.

The men’s football team nearly managed to fill the stadium in their home opener! Not bad for a team that once went the better part of a decade without a win.

Finally, the Varsity’s section editors are holding a little virtual meet-n-greet over here. Come say hi… and remember to email recruitment@thevarsity.ca if you’d like to write for one!

Of course, there’s plenty of other great stuff going on in the issue, but we’ll leave that for you to discover on your own.

Don’t turn it in

The start of the school year means new classes and for many students these will involve the use of Turnitin.com, an electronic resource designed to detect plagiarism used regularly at the University of Toronto. The program works by checking submitted student papers for textual similarity against the millions of resources stored in its database, including an archived copy of the Internet, published works, and student papers submitted to Turnitin since 1996. Papers containing too many textual similarities are flagged as possible cases of plagiarism. While Turnitin is considered a valuable resource by many professors who might otherwise not spot plagiarism in student work, it is also the source of a number of controversies which suggest that students should think twice before submitting their work to the website.

Turnitin’s name is more reminiscent of Crime Stoppers tip hotlines and criminal activity than of an academic resource. Many students at universities such as McGill, Mount Saint Vincent, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford have criticized the program for its assumption of student guilt before any crime has been committed. All students are regarded as potential plagiarists, and must prove themselves innocent by submitting their work to a resource that rigorously scans it and creates an “originality report.” Since recent studies have shown the number of undergraduate students who have admitted to cheating at least once during their time at a post-secondary institution is at 70 to 80 per cent, many argue that this presumption of guilt is justified. However, Turnitin’s “guilty until proven innocent” approach is about more than just catching plagiarists — it also creates an atmosphere of mistrust between teachers and students that fosters a negative learning environment. Rather than encouraging professors to create assignments that are difficult to plagiarize and to teach their students about academic integrity and proper citation styles, Turnitin reduces student-teacher relationships to ones of rule enforcement. An emphasis on catching cheaters rather than avoiding academic dishonesty in the first place does not allow for learning opportunities, only for a mechanistic system of surveillance and penalties.
alt text

Turnitin’s practice of permanently storing submitted student papers in its database has also been the source of controversy. Iparadigms LLC, the company that created Turnitin, asserts that the information stored is only a digital “fingerprint” of the work and not the work’s actual content, and that students retain copyright of their work even after submission to Turnitin. Despite this, Turnitin’s policy of storing all submitted work in its database is a way of using students’ intellectual property for commercial purposes. Turnitin regularly flaunts the unrivalled size of its database as an incentive for prospective universities considering its use. John Barrie, the founder of Turnitin, has declared that, “in very short order, [Turnitin will] have it all wrapped up. […] There will be no room for anybody else, not even a Microsoft, to provide a similar type of service because we will have the database.” Student work submitted to Turnitin automatically becomes a part of this massive database, as there is no option offered to students who do not wish to have their intellectual property used in this way. It is questionable whether universities should use a resource that allows students’ original work to be used for a private company’s profit.

Given the various concerns that have surfaced about Turnitin, U of T allows students to choose whether or not they will use the resource. It also provides them with alternatives if they should choose not to, such as handing in rough notes with an essay. However, professors have a responsibility to do more than simply offer alternatives to Turnitin. They should also take the time to explain why a student might choose to opt for another method of evaluation. Similarly, students must do their research and consider the implications of their decision before using Turnitin.com for their assignments.

The American nightmare

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree, If mankind perished utterly
—Sara Teasdale, “There Will Come Soft Rains”

Part of the Toronto International Film Festival’s (TIFF) Essential Cinema project, Soft Rains #6: Suburban Horror, is a feature projection that uses David Lynch’s Blue Velvet as a jumping off point to explore several themes: consumer culture, the falsely idyllic suburbs, genre film-making, and the role of cinema in our lives. Originally designed by Brooklyn artists Jennifer and Kevin McCoy for a series of Soft Rains pieces commissioned in 2003 (Suburban Horror is the sixth), the exhibit is on display at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM)’s Thorsell Spirit House for the duration of the Toronto film festival.

“[I]n general the works within feature projections […] can be classified as remakes, where the artist uses the original film as a sort of platform for something else or uses it as a framework to explore their own ideas,” explains Michael Connor, the exhibit’s curator. “This Soft Rains piece is an example of that because the McCoys are really recycling genre elements or elements of Blue Velvet and re-assembling them in a new whole.”

The main display is a diorama consisting of four separate pieces — each designed from ready-made model materials — which come together to form a pleasant suburban setting. The first piece is two identical white houses on the same piece of land, both with white picket fences, flower bushes, and American flags sticking out on the front porch. Another piece is just a white picket fence with pink flowers, and another is a woman in her kitchen about to bake a pie. The final piece is a mysterious figure driving a convertible down a tree-lined highway.
alt text

Small video cameras mounted around the diorama connect to a central projector, which projects images of the diorama to the upper right corner of the gallery wall. The same seven scenes are looped with Billie Holiday’s “On the Sentimental Side.” We see an idyllic house with an American flag, then a boy pushing a lawnmower, then the man on the porch, then the pink flowers, and then we get three separate shots of the woman in her kitchen. As soon as the camera shows the image of the stranger on the highway, the music swells and becomes very dark and ominous. Is this person a threat to the tranquility of this suburban scene? We have no idea. The music implies something dark lies underneath the exhibit’s quiet, peaceful exterior.

“[The philosopher] Žižek talks about ‘The Truman Show’ and how one of the classic, American, paranoid fantasies is to be living in the suburbs where everyone is watching you,” says Connor. “When he said that it reminded me of this piece, because not only is there the horror that’s implied, but also the series of cameras that’s watching it.”

The whole piece accurately captures the tense atmosphere of Blue Velvet’s opening scenes, which offer the viewer similar idyllic images with pleasurable music. However, the tranquil scenery is broken when we see an older man fall over in his garden and start to writhe with pain. The camera then zooms further into his garden and we see black beetles tearing and biting each other. No context is offered, though we understand that there is some dark malevolence eating away at Lumberton.

The exhibit also connects thematically with Ray Bradbury’s short story “There Will Come Soft Rains”, which features a fully automated house in the future that continues to cook food and clean itself up even after its human occupants have left. “One link I’d like to mention with the Bradbury [short story] is the fact that this is a machine that makes movies” Connor says. “It’s similar to the machines in the story that continue to make toast after the humans die. The film will continue to be made and made and made long after were gone, in theory.”

I ask Connor if the piece expresses a horror at the inconsequential nature of human existence. He doesn’t quite agree with my interpretation: “That condition is explored, but not precisely in those terms. Maybe it would be fair to say it reflects our horror [at being inconsequential]. Certainly it presents suburban life as an inconsequential existence.”

The exhibit also highlights conceptually how cinema culture tends to use many of the same motifs in film. “There is definitely a connection between the idea of this machine that repeats the film ad infinitum and this idea of a cinema culture that repeats many of the same modes,” Connor explains.

“What [the McCoys] are picking out is this suburban idyll that is shattered by…”

“…a malevolent force?” I ask.

“A malevolent force—exactly.”

Whether that malevolent force is the stranger on the highway or just being trapped in the suburbs to begin with, the McCoys have definitely captured all the pleasure and trauma of their exhibit’s cinematic counterpart.

Soft Rains #6: Suburban Horror runs until September 19 at ROM in the Thorsell Spirit House. Admission is free.

Science in brief

Hormone oxytocin doesn’t make you gullible

Internet vendors would have you believe that oxytocin — a hormone and neurotransmitter known for regulating social and maternal behaviour — is a “trust elixir.” However, a recent study by Moïra Mikolajczak’s team at the Catholic University of Louvain (UCL), Belgium, has found that although oxytocin enhances trust, it will not make you gullible. In the study conducted, researchers gave 60 male volunteers either oxytocin or a placebo. The volunteers then played an investment game, in which they were given the option of handing over their money to a trustee partner who could potentially triple their investment. Participants were given a description of their partners, portraying them in either a reliable or unreliable manner, given certain traits such as their hobbies.

Participants given oxytocin made greater transactions with reliable partners than the placebo group, but not when partners were described as untrustworthy. According to Mikolajczak, the results prove the opposite of internet vendors’ claims, that oxytocin “renders people completely naive.”—Sherine Ensan

Source: New Scientist

Stem cell research faces legal quagmire

Barack Obama’s administration has begun appealing an injunction on federally funded embryonic stem cell (ESC) research. On August 23, federal Judge Royce Lamberth ruled that current stem cell legislation violates the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, which prohibits funding of research involving the destruction of human embryos. As a result, 22 major NIH projects worth $54 million have been halted in research areas including spinal injury, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s.

While previously a distinction was made between the collection and the research performed on embryonically derived stem cells, the current injunction dismisses this separation.

The scientific community, both within the United States and abroad, is feeling the impact of this ambiguous legislation. The delay of NIH grants has placed international collaborations in jeopardy and caused many post-docs and graduate students to reconsider entering the legal quagmire of ESC research. While the legal community remains confident that the injunction will not survive appeal, future challenges for ESC bills will surely continue.—Katarzyna Swica

Source: Nature

BPA present in 91% of Canadians

A survey conducted by Statistics Canada has found detectable levels of the synthetic chemical bisphenol A in 91% of Canadians, findings which are consistent with those of other countries, including the United States and Germany. The controversial compound, which is found in plastic water bottles, food containers, and in the lining of cans, has been tied to a number of health concerns, including increased risk of cancer and diabetes. “For the very first time [we] have baseline information against which we can study trends and track what is happening with respect to bisphenol A exposure,” said report author, Tracey Bushnik. The survey, which is the first to examine the prevalence of BPA across the country, measured BPA in urine samples of individuals between six and 79 years of age. BPA levels were higher in children between the ages of six and 11 than adults over 40, and were highest of all in teenagers.—Kimberly Shek

Source: Scientific American

Native remains held in U of T basements

U of T’s anthropology department is being asked to repatriate thousands of Huron-Wendat ancestral remains to their descendents. The skeletal remains, dug up between the 1950s and early 1970s by archaeologists, currently lie in the basements of U of T’s St. George and Mississauga anthropology buildings.

Attorney David Donnelly has been representing the Huron-Wendat Nation since 2006, when he “got a tip” about the existence of the bones in U of T’s lying in the Anthropology buildings’ basement. “The University of Toronto had skeletons in their basement and preferred not to tell anybody,” he said. “It is profoundly tragic.”

“There are different ways [in which] people have approached excavations for analysis,” said U of T anthropology professor Susan Pfeiffer, who is also involved in the negotiation with the Huron-Wendat. Before the early 1970s, Pfeiffer said there was no framework to regulating archaeology. “We reflect on the impact of our actions and we get better.”

Pfeiffer said the skeletal remains have not been used for a long time and that the university’s Department of Anthropology “has no reason to be reluctant to return them.”

The Ontario Heritage Trust has retained responsibility for the remains at the Mississauga campus. According to Pfeiffer, the land the remains were dug up from was owned by the Ontario Heritage Trust, which permitted the excavations.

A representative from the Ontario Heritage Trust could not be reached to confirm this statement.

Link to Huron-Wendat long known

Pfeiffer said the Department of Anthropology has always known, through research analysis, that the remains were linked to the Huron-Wendat, but added that the current location of the Huron-Wendat has been a barrier in returning the remains. “Heritage is a provincial responsibility and not [a] federal [one]. The fact that the Huron-Wendat live in Quebec has slowed us down quite a bit.”

Donnelly said that location cannot be used as an excuse not to tell the Huron-Wendat about their ancestors’ remains. “The University of Toronto is a world-class university and they could have looked in a yellow page to find the Huron-Wendat.”

However, Donnelly said it is encouraging that U of T has agreed to repatriate the remains in a cooperative and respectful manner. “That is the very small silver lining.”

He also said the Ontario Heritage Trust has not returned calls and e-mails about starting a similar negotiation. “If they don’t co-operate [in the same manner as U of T], we will prosecute them under the Criminal Code of Canada.”

“Most institutions are not forthcoming about their possession of ancestral remains,” said Lee Maracle, Aboriginal studies faculty member from the Sto:Loh Nation. “What is true is that we are the only people in the country whose remains are violated and who must seek redress via negotiations to have them returned.

“No Indigenous community was ever asked to have their remains committed to violation.”

Maracle said the Huron-Wendat had a similar case in which the Canadian government kept 500 sets of human bones in the basement of the parliamentary building in Ottawa. After 10 years of negotiation, the remains were finally returned to the Huron-Wendat in the year 2000, she said.

The Ontario Cemeteries Act

In section eight of regulation 133/92, the Ontario Cemeteries Act stipulates that a representative of a person whose remains are interred in an unapproved cemetery can consent to scientific analysis on the remains.

The regulation defines a representative as: “the nearest First Nations Government or other community of aboriginal people which is willing to act as a representative and whose members have a close cultural affinity to the interred person.”

Donnelly said the regulation assumes “any Indian would do” and asked the University of Toronto Law School to cooperate with his firm to reform the act.

In cases where there is no apparent sign of burial at the cemetery — known as “irregular burial” — the current land owner is responsible for the remains.

“Like all people, [Aboriginal] people have great respect for their ancestors who made it possible for them to be here,” said Donnelly. “Burial places are sacred.”

Pfeiffer said the Anthropology department at St. George wants as little publicity as possible about the existence of the remains at U of T.