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.
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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


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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.

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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.
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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.

A new approach to UTSU

The University of Toronto Students’ Union, which represents over 41,000 students at the St. George and Mississauga campuses is an organization appreciated for its services, but often resented for its politics. Past critics of UTSU have cited issues of communication, transparency, accountability, and even ideology that have left many students — especially on the St. George campus — feeling alienated. Last year, some college council representatives, particularly at St. Mike’s and University College, talked openly about de-federation. This year brings with it a new UTSU executive and an opportunity to tackle these past criticisms. Here are some practical suggestions for what UTSU could do to improve itself this year:

1) Build a better relationship with St. George Colleges: Last year’s Annual General Meeting was a tense affair with representatives from St. George College councils critiquing UTSU for lack of communication during Homecoming and questioning the transparency of Health and Dental Plan administration. UTSU should continue to liaise with the St. George Roundtable, a committee of college council presidents, and ensure that the concerns of all of the colleges are addressed. Representatives from UTSU should sit in on college council meetings and meetings of the St. George Roundtable to tackle issues of mutual concern.

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2) Improve the Annual General Meeting: Aside from college council critiques, the Annual General Meeting was not well advertised. The AGM is an opportunity for all of UTSU’s membership to meet and discuss the policies, by-laws, and budget of the union. Large posters should appear across campus advertising the AGM at least a month in advance. Leaflets should be distributed to explain how students and college councils can place items on the AGM agenda, and how to collect proxies for absentee members.

3) Re-think the Drop Fees campaign: The Varsity, the Strand, and the Newspaper reported a low turnout for last year’s Drop Fees rally on November 5. Rather than lobbying for a blanket tuition freeze, the campaign should focus on university services that have been reduced. For example, sweeping changes proposed to the Arts and Science faculty at U of T such as the downsizing of area studies courses and the amalgamation of several different departments has U of T students concerned that they are paying more for less. Perhaps a series of organized campaigns directed at U of T protesting these program cuts would be a better approach than an afternoon of protest against the Government of Ontario?

4) Better election notices: Elections have always been a contentious affair at U of T, mainly due to the lack of voter turnout. For example, current president Adam Awad received 4,152 votes while his competitor Steve Masse received 2,977, in a potential voter pool of 41,000 students. In most democracies such a number would be unacceptable. UTSU must go beyond notices in student newspapers. With students continually occupied with essays and midterms there’s no such thing as too much notice. Once again, large posters should be distributed around campus, advertising fall and spring elections. Non-partisan volunteers could also be used to motivate students to attend debates and vote. Even a town hall on elections and student governance would be a good idea as this could provide a forum for information and improvement of the elections process.

5) Interact more with the student body: One of the best ways to ensure involvement is to interact more with students on campus. During campaign season, some voters complained that elected student officials were only visible at major events like the Drop Fees rally, or when a controversy of some sort emerged. For UTSU to affect change in the way they hope to, students will have to feel engaged and involved in the process. The general consensus is that UTSU hasn’t done enough to make this the case. An election poster should never be the first time a student learns the name or face of their elected representatives.

6) Empower student clubs: While UTSU has tried to take the lead on a number of social justice and community initiatives, students rely on them to be primarily a service-based organization. With that said, the union leading the way on campaigns that require a lot of energy and organizing may take away from time and resources required to deal with their other administrative responsibilities. To correct this, UTSU should support student clubs and organizations with similarly aligned goals — and, quite frankly, more commitment and expertise — to organize relevant events and campaigns.

U of T goes car free

Willcocks Street between Huron and St. George, and Devonshire between Hoskin Avenue and south of the Varsity Centre is closed to cars as part of a program to create a pedestrian-friendly environment.

The closure is part of a pilot project that will last until Sept. 30, 2011. After the year is over, a decision will be made concerning the future of the streets.

“The pilot projects will be unique features on the St. George campus providing a new student amenity with the potential to enhance and enrich the student experience,” said Elizabeth Sisam, assistant vice president of campus and facilities planning.

“They can be seen as a first step in the process of planning, observation, design, and implementation of a longer term transformation of the Willcocks and Devonshire areas. The most basic measure of the project’s success will be the extent of their use and enjoyment by the University of Toronto community.”

Currently, there are tables and chairs for lounging students, a weekly farmers’ market, planters and Wi-Fi available to all students at U of T.

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“I think it’s a great thing that I’d like to see more of. Most of all, it is great to see the space made comfortable for students with tables, chairs, grass etc,” said Zannah Matson, internal liaison of the University of Toronto’s environmental resource network. “There is something great when it isn’t just an absence of cars on the street, but instead the presence of a people-friendly space.”

U of T is currently working with the City to create a pedestrian scramble at the intersection of St.George and Harbord in the next month. This will allow students to cross the intersection in every direction — including diagonally — at the same time.

“It’s great that the City has approved the closure of streets across Toronto to make them more pedestrian-friendly,” said UTSU President Adam Awad.

“Students have been lobbying for safer streets for years. I like what the University has decided to do with Willcocks and Devonshire, but it’s unfortunate that they chose to not close down at least part of St. George, even though the City approved its closure from Bloor to College.”

Toby Bowers, bikechain coordinator, anticipates the closure will be very successful. “It’s great that the university is facilitating more active transportation and I trust cyclists will be sensible in travelling through car-free zones safely.”

“I hope that one day St. George and Harbord/Hoskins will be fully car free. If this project works out I don’t see why the university wouldn’t expand the idea to other more trafficked streets on campus,” said ASSU president Gavin Nowlan.

Recently, the University has taken steps to make its practices more sustainable. Several recent initiatives include: an extensive lighting retrofit project across campus; installation of solar panels on the athletic building at the St. George Campus and the Instructional Centre at University of Toronto Scarborough; and geothermal heating on the Instructional Centre at the University of Toronto Mississauga Campus.

Chemicals that changed the world: Methadone

Controversy has surrounded the use of methadone in treating opiate addiction, and for good reasons: recent increases in overdose deaths, illegal trafficking, and the apparent replacement of one addictive substance for another. Yet this negative press has at times overshadowed the life-changing potential of methadone in helping addicts finally take control of their habit.

Originally synthesized in Nazi Germany as pain medication, its patent was seized by the United States following the end of the Second World War. In 1964, Dr. Dole pioneered the use of methadone for in treating opiate addicts. He observed withdrawal symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, and body aches and pains, alongside the quick onset of withdrawal (3-4 hours after ingestion) and a long withdrawal period (1-2 weeks). Using these observations, Dr. Dole concluded that methadone could be used in treating opiate addiction, because it reduced withdrawal symptoms, did not provide a “high,” and furthermore had a much longer half-life than regular opiate street drugs, thereby reducing the number of times addicts needed to ingest drugs from around three times to once per day.

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This stability allowed addicts to focus on other things besides drug seeking, such as getting a job, taking care of their families, and getting their lives back.

While methadone has a direct effect on those who abuse drugs, it also indirectly affects many aspects of everyday life. Since methadone was introduced in Canada, illegal activity has been significantly reduced, thereby making communities safer. It has also reduced the spread of deadly diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis transmitted via infected needles, which reduces the burden on our healthcare system.

The use of methadone is controversial, but behind this controversy lies a drug which has brought much hope and stability into an otherwise bleak and prison-like way of life. It helps change the world for those who really need it.