Recognized for her extraordinary contributions to the Covid-19 response in Ontario, the University of Toronto Mississauga Professor Fiona Rawle received the Minister of College and Universities’ Award of Excellence on October 23, 2020. 

The Minister of College and Universities’ Award of Excellence was created to put the hard work of Ontario professors on centre stage and recognize its worth during the global pandemic. 

Each award “[celebrates] the incredible work of professors and instructors on campus, in the community and beyond” and nominations were accepted until August 31 via the Government of Ontario online portal.  

“The University of Toronto congratulates Fiona Rawle on this important recognition,” shared Professor Christine Allen, U of T’s associate vice-president and vice-provost of strategic initiatives, on the U of T celebrates website. Professor Allen was the first to nominate Professor Rawle for the award.

During the earliest weeks of the country-wide lockdown in March and April of this year, Rawle took the initiative to ask her fellow staff and students on social media how they could better help each other through such trying times. By co-developing an online platform for educators and scholars to share advice based on their experiences, Professor Rawle was awarded for driving faculty and student success via e-Learning.

“Her creativity and determination to help students learn and thrive had a real impact.” Professor Allen continued. 

“I’m truly honoured to receive this recognition,” Rawle stated upon receiving her Award of Excellence. “But I want to point out that I’m part of a broader community of faculty and staff that are so dedicated to giving students meaningful learning experiences.” 

In light of the coronavirus pandemic, UTM educators put a creative twist on the process of phasing over to remote learning by inviting faculty members to take part in an online ‘summer camp’ over the course of eight days in July and August. 

In collaboration with colleagues Ann Gagné, an educational developer with the Robert Gillespie Academic Skills Centre, Simone Laughton, the head of library and instructional materials, and Matthew O’Reilly, a multimedia and classroom technology specialist, Professor Fiona Rawle developed and hosted the aforementioned virtual summer camp whose training was structured as a miniature course in itself. 

Faculty members participated in daily two-hour synchronous webinars, were assigned homework assignments, participated in tests, and were advised of relevant resources on the best practices in remote learning with focuses on how to help students learn and thrive in online classrooms.

The sessions also focused on subjects such as dealing with difficult issues in the classroom, developing a course syllabus, and designing an inclusive assessment.

Professor Rawle, an associate dean as well as a professor in the department of Biology at UTM, pointed out that both staff and students were under more stress than usual, and that “if ever there was a time for a pedagogy of kindness, it’s now.”

Prompted by multiple conversations regarding the difficulty of the new remote reality, Rawle shared a public tweet asking students and professors about the one thing that they wanted the other to know, opening up a heartfelt discussion for all to see and take part in. 

Professors shared that they missed their students and believed in their resilience while students shared their appreciation for the hard work that they were putting into their courses. Rawle emphasized that, underneath it all, there was a reassurance that “everyone is in this together.”

Professor Rawle hopes to demonstrate that solidarity is the key to success when continuing work and education during such an unprecedented time. “The wonderful thing about UTM is our community,” stated Rawle.

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