COVID Update: Quercus By Phone

Like almost all North American schools (and many around the world), we’ve had to switch the way we teach and learn due to the Covid-19 pandemic. That means significant increases in the use of technology, and in demand for support around those technologies. In a series of posts, we will be sharing some visualizations of those changes.

For today’s end-of-week “data challenge” we give you two graphs of Quercus “usage” since the covid-changes to teaching.

In graph one, we see the percentage of users who have accessed Quercus with their mobile devices (primarily phones, but not laptops). Almost 80% of those users accessed Quercus from an iPhone. The rest from Samsungs, Pixels, Huaweis, etc.

In the second graph, we show the percentage of actual sessions (actual connections to Quercus). Again, iPhones were used for the majority of the time, but the ratio is not the same – only about 60% of sessions were from iPhones.

Quercus By Phone

Why would there be this delta?

I sat and pondered this question with my colleague Bryan Ekeh, our data support analyst, and we had some possible explanations.

Said Bryan, “These observations may demonstrate various behaviours of students that are having to work remotely. Many of them may roll out of bed, check Quercus through their mobile phone’s web browser and continue a Quercus session on their laptop or desktops at home.”

My thought was that the delta in the data might mean that this behaviour is more prevalent for iPhone owners than non-iPhone owners. Does that mean that non-iPhone users are more likely to use their phones to more fully engage with Quercus than iPhone users? Is there something about the user interface of an iPhone that makes it less attractive to engage with Quercus than other types of phones?

Could the explanation be more about equity and access to resources? Are iPhone users more likely to have a phone and a another computer, and therefore, Bryan’s hypothesis holds – they do quick check-ins, but for serious work, they revert to the computer? And maybe those who have non-iPhones are also less likely to have a secondary computer (or at least a computer that is useful for doing Quercus-based work)?

All of these are just hypotheses. Now it’s your turn – what do you think accounts for the delta between the two graphs?

You can respond on Twitter here
Or on LinkedIn here
Or by email

COVID Update: Using Cloud-Based Teaching Tools

April 24, 2020

cloud clip art

With all the planning going on for the delivery of remote/online courses in the summer and perhaps beyond, we are hearing from many instructors and departments that they have an interest in using additional tools for teaching – whether for real-time video calls, or assessment tools, or asynchronous discussion tools. As such, we thought it would be a good time to remind people of our Provostial guidelines on using such tools where no formal contract exists between the University and the tool provider that protects privacy and intellectual property. Specifically, “full reliance on a third party service that is not supported by the institution or division, nor through an contract relationship will involve a high level of risk and is not recommended as a primary learning environment, in particular for fully online courses. However, if faculty members wish to take advantage of the benefits of Web 2.0 or Cloud-based technologies as an adjunct activity to enhance a course they should comply with the following directives to reduce the risk in use of third party systems – -“

Recommended Technology Requirements

April 23, 2020

With more teaching and learning happening online, a working group was recently struck to review the University’s minimal technical recommendations needed for students to access remote/online learning (including recommended computer technology, accessories, and ways to connect to the Internet).

This website features these updated recommendations:

computer clip art

In addition to the recommendations, the site also features links to information about financial support, cybersecurity considerations for those working at home, and information for students learning abroad.








MS Teams – Resources and Best Practices

April 21, 2020

Bo Wandschneider, our Chief Information Officer, recently published a useful memo on that’s worth repeating:

From: Bo Wandschneider, Chief Information Officer
Date: April 16, 2020
Re: Microsoft Teams – Resources and Best Practices

As many of us continue to work from home, there has been more demand for collaborative work spaces where colleagues can create content while collaborating with one another at the same time. Microsoft Teams allows users to share files both internally and externally; access their team files on SharePoint and instantly communicate with one another through text, audio and video conferencing.

Microsoft Office applications such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote are connected to Teams, and Teams integrates with your Outlook Calendar. Mobile, desktop and online versions of the application are also available.

Resources available in the Get Help section of the EASI website include:

Teams is available to all faculty and staff and can be accessed online or by downloading the app. Users can only access individual Teams channels by invitation.

To access Teams online, log in to your Outlook/UTmail+ account and click on the waffle in the top left hand corner. Select the Teams tool. To download Teams, log in to the online version and click on the computer icon in the bottom left hand corner.

Requests for new teams should be made through the Enterprise Service Centre (ESC).


You can find the original here:

And Bo’s CIO Blog here:

And you can follow Bo on Twitter here:

Creating an Inclusive Online Environment

April 17, 2020

The University’s policies and statements make clear that we must support and encourage free expression for all members of our community to express themselves and engage with each other. We also strive to create an equitable community, one that is diverse as well as inclusive and that is respectful and protects the human rights of its members.

This equitable community includes U of T’s online platforms. Addressing harassing comments and discriminatory conduct online is essential to creating an online environment that is inclusive and equitable. Harassing conduct can include but is not limited to offensive slurs/jokes and comments, inappropriate pseudonyms, or online handles.

There are many ways to create an equitable and inclusive learning community in the online classroom environment. Being intentional about your course material and structure as an instructor can eliminate barriers and create a sense of belonging for all students.

Earlier this week, the University’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Office released, with contributions from the Office of the Vice-Provost, Innovations in Undergraduate Education, a new tip sheet on Creating an Inclusive Online Environment. Please find the complete document here:

And remember, the University of Toronto’s Equity Offices remain available to students and instructors to provide support on equity issues that arise.

COVID Update: Computer Types (or Quercus Browsing part two)

April 14, 2020

Like almost all North American schools (and many around the world), we’ve had to switch the way we teach and learn due to the Covid-19 pandemic. That means significant increases in the use of technology, and in demand for support around those technologies. In a series of posts, we will be sharing some visualizations of those changes.

Last week, we shared with you the types of browsers being used to access Quercus. In this post, we are sharing the types of computers (as indicated by their operating systems – Linux, Windows, Mac, etc.).

For these graphs, we grabbed the data over the past month, since we moved to delivering our programs remotely (representing more than 4.5 million sessions). Are you surprised by the data below? I was a little surprised to see the pattern – I thought Chrome and Android based devices would be higher. And again, I love seeing the very tiny minority who are checking their coursework using their PlayStations and their “smart (Tizen OS) TVs” (yes, I had to look that last one up).

Quercus Access by OS - Guess

Can you guess which type of computer is most popular for accessing Quercus?
Scroll down to see the answer.


Quercus Access by OS

Quercus Access by other OS

Alison Gibbs New CTSI Director

April 11, 2020

As it appears in the Provost’s Memos:


From: Susan McCahan, Vice-Provost,
Innovations in Undergraduate Education & Vice-Provost, Academic Programs
Date: April 9, 2020
Re: Centre for Teaching Supporting & Innovation (CTSI) –
Call for Director Nominations (PDAD&C #63)

I am delighted to announce the appointment of Professor Alison Gibbs as Director of the Centre for Teaching Support and Innovation for a five-year term beginning July 1, 2020.

Professor Gibbs is currently a Professor, Teaching Stream in the Department of Statistical Sciences in the Faculty of Arts & Science. Professor Gibbs is an accomplished and recognized teacher, having received the Faculty of Arts and Science Outstanding Teaching Award in 2012, the University of Toronto President’s Teaching Award in 2016, and a 3M National Teaching Fellowship in

Alison Gibbs

Prof. Alison Gibbs

2018. She showed tremendous leadership as Associate Chair of Undergraduate Studies in Statistics during a period of unprecedented growth in student demand for programs in statistics, from 1000 students to over 4000 students.

Professor Gibbs work has focused on the teaching and learning of statistics and data science at all levels, from primary through graduate school. She has taught probability, statistical theory, and statistical practice to students at all levels and through a variety of formats, including small seminar courses, large lectures, and a Massive Open Online Course with over 60,000 students. She has been engaged in various projects related to data science in schools, online learning, inverted classrooms, statistics and data science curriculum development, and the development of professional identity and adaptive expertise. Professor Gibbs’ research interests have ranged from theoretical properties of statistical algorithms to how students learn. Her publications include studies of convergence rates of Markov Chain Monte Carlo algorithms, collaborative work investigating issues in human health, explorations of how secondary school students’ reason about Big Data, and examinations of how students most effectively engage with online learning resources.

Professor Gibbs completed a BMath in Applied Mathematics at the University of Waterloo and a BEd at the University of Western Ontario. She taught secondary school mathematics before pursuing graduate studies in Statistics at the University of Toronto, completing an MSc and a PhD. She joined the University as a faculty member in 2002.

Professor Gibbs’ approach to teaching, her passion for educational innovation and excellence, and her experience with a wide range of pedagogical and curricular approaches will be a great benefit to the University in this new role. Please join us in congratulating Professor Gibbs on this new appointment.

A&S Online Learning Academy

April 9, 2020

In response to the rapidly changing teaching and learning environment, our Faculty of Arts & Science recently launched its A&S Online Learning Academy to bring together professors and instructors to share their expertise in providing outstanding online learning opportunities for our students.

“We want to ensure students have access to high-calibre courses, regardless of the sustained impact of COVID-19,” said Melanie Woodin, ean of the Faculty of Arts & Science. “Arts & Science students, wherever they are in the world, can continue their education remotely this summer by registering for a wide-variety of online courses. Our Academy will support the professors and instructors of those courses in using cutting-edge teaching tools to support both student learning and the student experience.”

Don Boyes

Prof. Don Boyes

The new Academy is headed by Prof. Don Boyes, one our favourite faculty members, who we often turn to for advice and insight on the use of technology in teaching and learning. While this is an Arts & Science initiative, we know the whole University will benefit from the work and Don’s leadership.

Read more about the new Academy here:

COVID Update: Quercus Browsing (part one)

April 7, 2020

Like almost all North American schools (and many around the world), we’ve had to switch the way we teach and learn due to the Covid-19 pandemic. That means significant increases in the use of technology, and in demand for support around those technologies. In a series of posts, we will be sharing some visualizations of those changes.

On April 1st, we published a post about usage patterns for our learning management system, Quercus. We challenged readers to explain the interesting hourly pattern (usage peaking in the early afternoon). And we had some fun on Twitter talking about the pattern too.

In that conversation, Twitter user @sakhmeth asked about the devices used to access Quercus. So by popular demand we present you with part one of the answer … the browsers used to access Quercus.

browsers pie chart

other browsers pie chart


And for the real aficionados, here is the list of the obscure “other other” browsers:

Android Browser • UC Browser • Amazon Silk • androidTeacher
YaBrowser • Coc Coc • Playstation 4

My favourite? Clearly the person checking their homework from their Playstation 4. What’s your favourite?

BTW, the leading hypothesis for the hourly usage pattern is people (students?) sleeping in 🙂

COVID Update: Communicating Effectively

April 6, 2020

Like almost all North American schools (and many around the world), we’ve had to switch the way we teach and learn due to the Covid-19 pandemic. That means significant increases in the use of technology, and in demand for support around those technologies. In a series of posts, we will be sharing some visualizations of those changes.

At UofT, we have a URL shortening service that allows people with websites to create direct, short ( links, especially for marketing and communication purposes. Since the decision to move teaching and work into a remote mode, we’ve had more than 50 new unique short URLs created to point to Covid-19 related websites. The majority of those are to official news stories coming out of the University, but others have been using the service to make it easier for students and faculty to find information.

This word cloud paints a picture of the top sites (by number of clicks on the short URL) using the shortening service – the top five news stories, and the top five other webpages. Below we provide the links to those webpages for those who’d like to see where the links lead 🙂

covid word cloud