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Spring is here… too early

This morning, the novelist, Rui Umezawa, who is a neighbour and who kindly reads my blogs, asked me why I have been so inactive on the blogging front. "Too busy", I yelled across the garden fences. This term I have been teaching BIOLOGY 2010, the Plants course, which I taught from 1991-97, before powerpoint and course websites. So, while all of those life cycles are forever burned into my brain, chalk and talk, as we call that style of lecturing, is, in science, pretty much gone the way of the dodo. I have had to create Keynote and Powerpoint lectures and to learn "moodle" which is the most comprehensive electronic classroom software that I have ever seen. This open source software has replaced the way that I previously accessed my course websites - namely through the very nice, and now retired Biology Department Lecturer who functioned as our webmaster.

Moodle has allowed me to teach this course as I always wanted to: skipping from chapter 1 directly to chapter 32, and then to 21, to chapters 2-8, to 11-12 and then 18, 17, 16, 15, 14, 13 in Raven et al's Plant Biology 7th Ed.  CRAZY, right? But in fact, moving through the material in this sequence always made more sense to me than the linear way that I was forced to teach in earlier versions of the course text book: i.e. start at chapter number one and proceed forward in a one-way sequence. The internet and moodle has provided me with the tools to lay out a completely different roadmap than that provided by the book's author's and index, and, in 2010, the students can follow my map and route through the text book. If I had tried to do this in the 1990s, supported by paper course handouts and chalk and talk lectures, there would, most likely, have been a revolution in the lecturehall. Students who missed classes would have been griping about the jumping around, and any deviations from the lecture schedule, when I found that I was not delivering planned lectures on the expected date. With moodle, I  constantly update the students about where we got to, and with podcasted lectures, they have more flexibility than ever before, to miss a class and still catch up.

I LOVE IT - but it's been a heck of a lot of work at the back end. Still, there's nothing like jumping into a new technology with two feet, and sinking or swimming. The York University support staff have been amazing and I have taken several mini-courses. And, the time involved, has meant no time for blogging here. But, I have sought to imbue the course with a large measure of sustainability thinking. This is easy to do in a course that is essentially about biodiversity, why plants are important to humans, and about evolution. Our lectures on the Carboniferous and the tree ferns and progymnosperms (ancestors of seed plants) that fixed enormous amounts of carbon, and which subsequently turned into fossil fuels, relate directly to human-produced greenhouse gas emissions arising from the burning of these fossil fuels. I found an amazing old You Tube video about fossils, from the 1950s or 1960s by Royal Dutch Shell (that's Shell Oil to you and me), that the students have watched.

Everything is connected. Teaching about flowering plants and pointing out to my students that trees are already flowering , has reminded me, every day since early March, that climate change is happening NOW. I told my husband yesterday that one is supposed to prune roses when the forsythia blooms, and today, I have seen forsythia flowers. My gardening journals from the 1990s tells me that in 1994, the forsythia was only just flowering on April 27. In the early 2000s, I was noting that the forsythia blooming in mid-April was just "too early" - and in 2010, it's been flowering since the 2nd or 3rd of April. Climate warming is here, and in fact, in the USA, the Gardening Zones were  adjusted in 2006 by the Arbor Day Foundation to reflect this.

Dawn R. Bazely

Y-File: Osgoode Law School receives stellar marks in Corporate Knights survey

The following appeared in the Friday, June 26, 2009 edition of Y-File:

Osgoode Hall Law School has been ranked second out of 21 law schools in Corporate Knights magazine’s 2009 Knight Schools Survey – up two spots since last year’s ranking.

The ranking, which appears in the Best 50/Education issue of Corporate Knights, was distributed nationally in The Globe and Mail newspaper on June 22.

The sixth annual Knight Schools ranking analyzed how Canadian law programs fare in integrating sustainability into the school experience. It used a broad definition of sustainability that encompassed environmental and social concerns such as issues of social justice, human rights, professional ethics, cultural diversity, climate change and conservation.

The survey, modelled after the US-based Beyond Grey Pinstripes survey, scored the programs in the areas of institutional support, student initiatives and course work.

The top 10 highest-scoring law programs were:

1. University of Toronto: 91 per cent
2. York University - Osgoode Hall Law School: 81 per cent
3. University of Ottawa - Common Law: 79.67 per cent
4. Dalhousie University: 78.75 per cent
5. University of Victoria: 75.5 per cent
6. McGill University: 73.42 per cent
7. University of British Columbia: 71.67 per cent
8. Université du Quebec à Montréal: 67.75 per cent
9. University of Windsor: 63.42 per cent
10: University of Alberta: 56.17 per cent

Also in the education issue, Osgoode's Ethical Lawyering in a Global Community course was identified as one of the best sustainability-related courses.

As well, in an accompanying article titled “Legal Eco-Beagles” about exciting sustainability-related work that is being done, Osgoode Professor Aaron Dhir was singled out for his involvement in developing a legal framework with United Nations Special Envoy John Ruggie to ensure respect of human rights by transnational corporations. Osgoode Professor Dayna Scott was recognized for her work with Health Canada’s Women & Water in Canada project and Osgoode Professor Stepan Wood was acknowledged for his role on the Advisory Committee on Social Responsibility at the Standards Council of Canada.

"The law school is very proud of the exciting inroads we are making in incorporating the idea of sustainability in our programs," said Osgoode Dean Patrick Monahan. "We are a socially engaged law school that aspires to make a difference in the world and you can see that reflected in what we do."

To see the result of the national survey, visit the Corporate Knights magazine Web site and click on "Reports".

The Night Sky

With the inspiring assistance of Aaron Maxwell, a recent graduate of York University with a passion for astronomy, the YSTOP students spent two evenings viewing the night sky.

In the rural environment of the King Campus, they braved very cold weather to take turns looking through the telescope, and also used a sky chart to locate constellations. Following on their afternoon experience of learning to find their way with a compass, they were intrigued to find the north star that can help them find their way after dark. They also discussed the effect of light pollution on being able to view the sky.

In the urban environment of the York campus, they attended the Wednesday public viewing session at the York observatory, and were amazed to see the rings of Saturn, which one student pointed out that he'd only ever seen before on TV. They also enjoyed Aaron's slide show presentation, which gave them background not only on astronomy but on environmental issues that affect the earth's atmosphere.


Advice for Doing Field Work

After two days of doing various field work activities with Dr. Brian Hickey, from the St. Lawrence River Institute of Environmental Sciences, with Dr. Dawn Bazely, and with York University graduate students Sheila Colla and Jason Gibbs, a group of students wrote the following advice about field work:

 Collecting water samples                   Examining water samples
 When doing field work, you need to be prepared for outdoors. Everything you do is hands on, so get ready to get dirty! Remember to always be organized, on time, and ready to go. You will be collecting data and interacting with the environment. For example, you may be observing insects, determining water quality, examining plants and the stars. You may also be taking your field work into the lab to study it more. You could find yourself setting up traps, for example, to capture bats. Another thing you could be doing is learning orienteering, getting prepared and learning your directions and surroundings so that you can find your way around. Field work connects you with the environment and its creatures.







Students involved in the York/Seneca YSTOP , wrote this entry:

YSTOP is an environmental camp where you do activities which shows different environmental professions. YSTOP is also for students who aren't necessarily considering college or university and shows them college or university isn't just work, it can also be fun.  It gives all the students amazing learning experiences. This program provides follow-up mentorship from graduate students and professors for students who are interested in one of the many environmental areas covered in the program.

At YSTOP students perform field and lab work to examine the environment. Students also learn how to use new scientific technology to examine micro-organisms. This program gives the students a view of what environmental scientists do and that it doesn't always involve being in an office!

YSTOP – What is it?

The YSTOP program hosted by YSIMSTE is called Urban and Rural Youth as Environmental Scientists.  Two days into the 6 day program some of the students created this description of the program:

YSTOP stands for Youth Science and Technology Outreach Program. This particular YSTOP program brings together students from urban and rural communities in order to learn about different aspects of the environment. This program encourages students to actually take a closer look at our wonderful world. This program takes place at Seneca College, King Campus and at York University, Keele Campus. Throughout this program different professors and graduate students came and taught these students about the environment, including sessions on animals, insects and plants. Since this program takes place at Seneca, in a rural area, and at York, in an urban area, students from the country get to visit the city and students from the city get to visit the country. They get to experience and explore the differences of rural and urban communities, and the environmental science related to them.

YSTOP – three essential skills for not getting LOST

Laura Zeno and I did an afternoon session with the grade 8 YSTOP students last Monday. The goal was to improve our map reading, compass use and tree identification.

Why? Well, if you know how to do all this, you should never get lost. It turned out that only one of the 32 students and teachers in the room had NEVER been lost. We figured out, that this might mean that out of a crowd of 1000 people, only perhaps 30 will be worth taking directions from! Getting lost is normal, so how do you work around it?

Kurtis, in Grade 8, described how he always notes landmarks, directions, and distances when he is hiking in the bush. He makes a mental map. Laura told us about asking for directions when she and a friend got lost in downtown Toronto. We listed famous explorers, and asked why they are mostly men, and how most of these Europeans, like Cartier and Champlain, in fact relied on the help of local peoples to find their way around. We looked at maps from York University's map library and learned about scales - large and small. We discovered that students lived around Lake Simcoe in the north and in Toronto, near Lake Ontario in the south.

The students all got a really useful gift - a carabiner key ring with a compass, and I gave them homework of watching one of my favourite movies, "Romancing the Stone", in which a tree is an important landmark on the treasure map. Go Joan Wilder!

Dawn Bazely

New Deans at Education & Environmental Studies

IRIS would like to congratulate Professors Alice Pitt and Barbara Rahder for their appointments as deans of the Faculties of Education and Environmental Studies, respectively. Both professors have over ten years of faculty and administrative service at York University, and their extensive experience will be invaluable in guiding their respective faculties through the new era promised by York University's equally new president, Dr. Mamdouh Shoukri.

BarbaraProfessor Rahder is particularly close to IRIS as she serves as a member of both the IRIS executive and our sister research centre, the City Institute. Her areas of research interest include participatory research & planning, women & planning, social sustainability, diversity & equity, access to affordable housing & community services, and urban planning history, theory, & education. Students and faculty members alike see her as an ally and trust her judgement.

Congratulations to both Barbara and Alice!

Step by step, York reduces its carbon footprint

York's carbon offset crew. From the left, front row, Alexis Morgan, Professor Dawn Bazely and Annette Dubreuil. Back row, from left, Steve Glassman, MES student Tony Morris and IRIS coordinator Melissa Leithwood (MES '07).

York's carbon offset crew. From the left, front row, Alexis Morgan, Professor Dawn Bazely and Annette Dubreuil. Back row, from left, Steve Glassman, MES student Tony Morris and IRIS coordinator Melissa Leithwood (MES '07).

The following appeared in the Wednesday, April 02, 2008 edition of Y-File:

York University is the first Canadian postsecondary institution to make its course kits part of a carbon offset program. Now each one of the thousands of course kits created annually by the York University Bookstore is "carbon neutral".

This means that kits are produced using environmentally responsible printing practices that include incorporating locally produced papers manufactured using sound forestry practices and increased recycled fibre content. York is also contributing approximately 10 cents per kit to the not-for-profit organization Zerofootprint, to purchase local renewable energy and support other projects such as tree planting. When factored together, the changes effectively bring the net carbon footprint of each course kit to zero, making the course kit program carbon neutral.

"While the best footprint is no footprint," says Steve Glassman, director of the York University Bookstore, Mailing & Printing Services, "making the course kit production at York carbon neutral is a very important step forward for the University.

"The University is leading the way in Canada in this area. Making the course kits carbon neutral is just the beginning of a University-wide effort to reduce its carbon footprint," says Glassman. "Furthermore, students will not pay a cent more for carbon neutral course kits as the University will contribute the funds to offset the carbon produced by the production of the course kits to Zerofootprint."

Working with Glassman on the project is York biology Professor Dawn Bazely. Annette Dubreuil (MBA '07), a graduate of the Schulich School of Business, and MBA student Alexis Morgan, created the business case for a carbon offset program at the University.

York, says Dubreuil, is the only Canadian postsecondary institution beginning to institutionalize a carbon offset program. "Creating this program is the first step in evolving a mechanism that will allow other business processes within the University to be carbon offset," explains Dubreuil. "Other universities have created links on Web sites to show you where you can go to offset your carbon footprint, but it is a complicated and challenging process to incorporate the idea of being carbon neutral into their financial, administrative, legal and purchasing processes."

The term "carbon neutral" was the New Oxford American Dictionary's Word of the Year in 2006, highlighting its importance in global warming. It is brought about by balancing the amount of carbon released with the amount of carbon offset. By purchasing carbon offsets, York University is able to mitigate some of the carbon produced that can not be avoided, says Glassman. While carbon offsets and renewable energy certificates do not actually remove carbon from the atmosphere, they prevent further carbon emissions from a particluar activity or process by supporting renewable energy, research and other activities that reduce carbon production.

Course kits, that provide access to course material, are used by students and are an essential part of the University's teaching environment. Developed by the University's professors, the content of each kit is customized to a particular course and may include the course syllabus, original material, course and lab notes, review questions, journal articles, chapters from books, or even an out-of-print book. The kits are produced through quick copying and are spiral bound, usually with a durable cover.

The idea to create carbon neutral course kits started with Bazely, who is also the director of the York Institute for Research & Innovation in Sustainability (IRIS), a University-wide interdisciplinary centre dedicated towards the pursuit of multifaceted approaches to the contemporary challenges of sustainability. "It was Professor Bazely's idea," says Glassman. "She contacted me a little over two years ago and after some fundamental points were sorted out, we set out to establish what the impact on global warming of printing York's course kits was and to review the production processes we use at the York University Bookstore.

"We then looked into different organizations who could help us offset the impact on the environment of what we do to produce these course kits and settled on the Canadian organization Zerofootprint," says Glassman. "Zerofootprint follows international standards and ensures that every dollar they receive to offset so many tonnes of carbon emitted into the atmosphere is spent on local green initiatives."

The carbon footprint of course kits was calculated by Zerofootprint according to how the paper is made, the percentage of recycled content in the paper, the processes used by the paper mill and the transportation of the paper to York University. Glassman and Bazely then examined the impact of the actual printing process. "We came up with pennies per course kit that would offset the environmental damage imposed by the production of the kits."

York students Tony Morris (standing), IRIS graduate assistant, and Melissa Leithwood (right), IRIS coordinator, conduct a carbon offset survey in Central Square

York students Tony Morris (standing), IRIS graduate assistant, and Melissa Leithwood (right), IRIS coordinator, conduct a carbon offset survey in Central Square

"The course kit program is an example for the University," says Glassman. "We do about 2,000 titles per year for various courses. Some courses may have only 20 or 30 students enrolled in them; others have upwards of 500 students. There is quite a substantial volume. The cost runs anywhere from $60 to more than $100 per kit, most of which is related to copyright fees for the material reprinted in each kit. For example, the carbon offset contribution is 10 cents for every $110 course kit."

The next step is a University-wide carbon offset survey. Dubreuil and her colleagues at IRIS are currently conducting an online survey to gauge student attitudes to carbon offset programs. "The survey asks students if they know what a carbon footprint is and what carbon offsetting involves. We are asking them if they want an expanded carbon offset program at the University. The survey also measures the attitudes of students," says Dubreuil. "Are they willing to pay more for various goods and how much more? Some of the people we have spoken to have expressed a concern. They don't necessarily have the vocabulary. Many students want more information and have an interest."

To facilitate students' knowledge, the back of each course kit contains an information page to tell students about carbon offsetting. The program falls under the umbrella of the Yorkwise program, a University-wide initiative to reduce York's ecological footprint and improve life on the University's Keele and Glendon campuses.

Visit the IRIS Web site for more information on the carbon offset survey and sustainability research currently underway at York. To learn more about York's efforts to reduce its ecological footprint, visit the Yorkwise Web site.

The York community can keep informed on sustainability through the new IRIS blog. Input is welcome.

Story by Jenny Pitt-Clark, YFile editor.