Steve Joordens is once again among the 10 finalists for the TVO 2010 Best Lecturer Competition. Joordens received the nomination for teaching the 1,500 student Introduction to Psychology class at U of T Scarborough.

“What I try to do in the classroom is make [students] realize that psychology is all around them,” said Joordens.

He has taught seven undergraduate courses and three graduate ones. Teaching Intro to Psych comes with the challenge of any large course.

“The competition is in the classroom every minute, usually in the form of laptops or iPhones or various electronic devices,” said Joordens. “If you slip up for five minutes and get a little boring… it’s enough time for students to get pulled somewhere else.”

Joorden’s research interests include human memory, consciousness and attention, and pedagogical issues. This is his second time in the top 10 and his fourth nomination.

“You don’t just need to be a person who knows a lot and can transmit that information clearly. You need to be part entertainer, and I think that’s the challenge I enjoy,” he said.

He is the 2009 recipient of the National Technology Innovation Award, along with his graduate student Dwayne Pare for the development and research of Peerscholar, an online student-marking program. Once students submit their written work, they log on Peerscholar and are required to assign a mark and provide qualitative feedback to the work of a subset of their peers.
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“In Intro Psych we got to a point where the course was a hundred per cent multiple choice assessment,” said Joordens. “Peerscholar was intended to right that by allowing us to bring back writing assignment and to do so in a way that uses technology to provide an enhanced educational experience.”

The program wasn’t so popular with CUPE 3902, the union representing U of T’s teaching assistants and sessional lecturers, who saw it as taking away their members’ paid work. In 2007, CUPE 3902 filed a grievance with the university for the use of Peerscholar, arguing that if undergraduates contribute to the final marks of their peers, they should be compensated as TAs. An arbitrator sided with the union, and the Ontario Superior Court upheld the ruling. The union is now in the process of obtaining compensation for students who have used the software in Joorden’s course.

Joorden is currently reworking Peerscholar for Fall 2010 under a licensing agreement with Pearson Education for use in universities and K-12 settings. He uses and does research on Web Option, which allows students to choose whether to attend his class or view it online.

“We’ve shown that some students prefer the online and some prefer the traditional,” said Joordens. “There’s no performance differences between these groups, they all tend to perform equally well in the course.”

Steve Joordens will give his lecture, called “You Can Lead Students to Knowledge, But How to Make Them Think?” on Sunday, March 6.—Andrew Rusk


Monika Havelka has been interested in biology for as long as she can remember, and that enthusiasm evidently got through to her students.

A senior lecturer at UTM, Havelka was nominated for TVO’s Best Lecturer Competition and has landed in the top 10. As a finalist, she will appear on TVO’s Big Ideas to give a lecture. Viewers can rate finalists and vote for an overall winner.

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“Being able to open students’ eyes and infect them with fascination to things they haven’t seen before, and knowing that it is appreciated, means a lot to me,” Havelka said. “I want students to understand how the material applies to real life, for their field of inquiry to spill over from the classroom to life itself.”

Havelka loves to travel to alternate climates and see life in different ecosystems. She spoke of fieldwork in the Rockies, where she studied small mammal populations.

“We would set live traps to catch and study flying squirrels—the most exciting part would be to arrive in the morning and see what sorts of animals you had caught,” she said with a laugh. “We caught everything from deer mice to weasels, chipmunks, and voles. It was like being a kid on Christmas morning.”

Havelka has taught classes in evolutionary biology, environmental science, biostatistics, and landscape ecology. She completed her MSc and PhD in zoology at the University of Western Ontario, and joined UTM’s biology department in 2003.

Asked about her most fascinating experiences as a researcher, Havelka said, “You get the biggest charge when you see a pattern emerge that you didn’t expect or a relationship between two variables from a hypothesis you predicted.”

Havelka said she hasn’t made dramatic changes in teaching style over the course of her career. What has changed is an increasing awareness of how students receive the material. “I try to make sure I’m grabbing everyone in the class,” she said.

She is currently doing research aimed at teaching methodologies to students.

“My real interest in teaching is to try to equip students with a set of skills that opens up possibilities for them—learning how to ask good questions.”

She is also involved in undergrad student projects on conservation and developing student projects in restoration ecology.

Havelka gives her lecture “Why Sex? The Evolution of a Paradox,” on Sunday, March 28. Viewers can vote at tvo.org or through 1-877-792-VOTE. Voting closes on Sunday, April 11 and the winner will be announced April 17.—Amina Stella

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