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3M Teaching Award for Steve Joordens

(photo by Ken Jones)

Steve Joordens loves the challenge of finding innovative solutions in the pursuit of improving education. 

Throughout his career the U of T Scarborough psychology professor has embraced or helped develop educational software that delivers results by keeping students engaged. (Read about previous teaching awards for Joordens.)

It’s that innovative approach to teaching and learning that’s seen him named a prestigious 3M National Teaching Fellow for 2015

“I really enjoy the challenge of trying to present information in both a clear and entertaining way,” says Joordens. “Engagement is the front door to learning and there’s nothing else about teaching style as important as that.” 

It was while teaching his large, first-year introduction to psychology class that Joordens began to think of more ways he could get his students to think critically and creatively about their work. His solution was peerScholar, an online educational software package that enhances cognitive ability through peer-assessment and peer-feedback.

“The model allows students to help each other,” he says. “We literally have students trying to help other students get a better mark, which is great because it gives everyone a reason to buy into the process.”

Joordens is one of 10 educators across Canada to be named fellows for 2015 by 3M Canada and The Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE). Started in 1986, the 3M fellowship is the only pan-Canadian, cross-disciplinary recognition of educational leadership and excellence in university teaching. (Read about past 3M teaching award-winners at U of T such as June Larkin and Nick Mount.)

The success of peerScholar – it’s been adopted by universities across Canada, the United States and Europe – is just one part of a broader approach Joordens uses to teaching cognitive skills that goes beyond acquiring knowledge. In addition to developing Cogneeto, a peerScholar version for kindergarten to Grade 12 students, he’s also overseen mTuner and Digital Labcoat, which were both developed at Joordens’ Advanced Learning Technologies Lab at UTSC.

His embrace of technology as a learning tool also led to a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a massive open online course (MOOC) for his introduction to psychology class that was offered over Coursera. He’s also lent his expertise to the Global Teenager Project, an initiative that brings young people from 40 different countries together to learn about issues of child rights through online learning circles.

“Education is the best way to improve the lives and living conditions of people around the world,” he says. “I’m very fortunate that I work with such a brilliant and talented team that can make some of these dreams I have a reality.” 

Don Campbell is a writer with the University of Toronto Scarborough.