Workshop Leaders
Abstracts & Bios

Dr Deena Kara Shaffer SQ

Deena Kara Shaffer


Diana Brecher SQ

Diana Brecher

Learning How to Learn Well: Health-Promoting Learning Strategies

More and more is being understood about the relationship between the dimensions of wellbeing--physical activity, sleep, time in nature, mindfulness--and learning. Sustaining attention, bolstering motivation, practising optimism, remembering the body--these are more relevant than ever in our new online, screen-based COVID school context. In this session, participants will expand their repertoire of tools with key teachings from the realms of holistic education, Positive Psychology, neuroscience, and mindfulness. Well-being can no longer be held as a nice-to-have that comes after studying is completed, but rather as necessary to sustainable, and effective, learning. Participants will also feel buoyed in their own professional and personal lives, learning approaches for coping, grounding, creative problem-solving, compassion fatigue, and more. Learn strategies to help you and your students thrive at home while pivoting to an unfamiliar, digital classroom.

Learning outcomes:

By the end of this session, participants will:

  1. Feel more fluent about health-promoting learning strategies, how to use them with students, and how to incorporate them into their own professional practices.
  2. Bolster their confidence to disrupt, unsilo, and integrate what's often been separated as academic/learning-skill based and what's considered the realm of health and wellness, in the hopes of further ripples of disruptive/integrative conversations and collective work.
  3. Become familiar with and grounded in recent NCHA data on stress, sleep, loneliness and their academic impacts; in models of well-being; and, in research about well-being activities and academic success.


Deena Kara Shaffer, PhD, MEd, BEd, (Hons)BA, OCT is the Coordinator of Student Transitions and Retention at Ryerson University, and the President of the Learning Specialists Association of Canada. Whether by immersion in nature, somatic programming, digital strategies, or arts-based provocations, Deena helps students learn how to learn, and to do so from an equity-guided, research-driven, health-promoting approach. Formerly a learning strategist with Ryerson’s Disability Services Office, and a skilled OCT teacher, Deena offers a holistic, empathic, and joy-based pedagogical stance. Deena is co-initiator of the Thriving in Action resilience intervention, and oversees the Portage paddling program and Mood Routes campus st/rolling initiative. Deena holds a doctorate in nature-based pedagogy and learning strategies, and is also a trained yoga teacher (200 hour), restorative yoga teacher (60 hour), mindfulness meditation teacher, published poet (The Grey Tote, Véhicule Press, 2013), and a writer, public speaker, and consultant on learning and well-being. To keep nourished and well, Deena gardens, cooks, and savours hikes with her husband and two daughters.


Dr. Diana Brecher is a clinical psychologist who has been working with Ryerson University’s Centre for Student Development and Counselling since 1991. She was the clinical director from 1994 - 2011. As adjunct faculty at OISE/UT in the Counselling Psychology Dept. (2000 - 2009) and in the Ryerson Psychology Department, (2010 - present) she has taught graduate-level courses in CBT, brief counselling therapy, theories and techniques of counselling, and clinical supervision.

In 2016, Diana’s long-standing interest and certification in Positive Psychology led to a five-year secondment to the  ThriveRU  program within Student Affairs. She is the co-creator of the Thriving in Action program.  Diana's long-term goal is to infuse Ryerson University’s programming, services and academic curriculum with principles of resilience and flourishing and to help facilitate a cultural change within the university.

Diana was interviewed fairly early on in her secondment on the  Psychology Podcast.


Paul Denny SQ

 Paul Denny


Practice Makes Perfect: Supporting Student-Generated MCQs with PeerWise

As more classes move online and students become accustomed to working remotely, it can be challenging for instructors to keep students engaged with course content. One approach which can work well is to have students create learning materials for their peers. There are learning benefits associated with students reflecting on, and explaining, their understanding of relevant concepts as they create resources. In addition, distributing the work required to generate resources enables the rapid creation of large repositories of content. PeerWise is a free, easy to use tool in which students create, share, answer and discuss practice questions that target the material they are learning. Participants will learn how to set up PeerWise for use in their courses, how to efficiently assess students' contributions and - if of interest - how to collect and analyse data for research purposes.


Paul Denny is an Associate Professor in Computer Science at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. His research interests include developing and evaluating tools for supporting collaborative learning, particularly involving student-generated resources, and exploring the ways that students engage with these environments. One of his projects, PeerWise, hosts more than five million practice questions, with associated solutions and explanations, created by students from 90 countries. He has fostered a community of educational researchers around this project, more than 150 of whom have published their work as a result. Dr Denny has been recognized for contributions to teaching both nationally and internationally, receiving New Zealand’s National Tertiary Teaching Excellence Award (2009), the Computing Research and Education Association of Australasia Award for Outstanding Contributions to Teaching (2010), and the QS Reimagine Education Overall Award (2018).



Fiona Rawle


Unconscious Bias in the Teaching & Learning Context 

This workshop will explore how to recognize and address unconscious bias and, going beyond anecdote, will examine data and evidence for this phenomenon. We’ll investigate strategies for overcoming unconscious bias, and challenges inherent in doing so, drawing on examples from diverse fields including academia, medicine, finance, science, and music. We will specifically focus on evidence for, and strategies to address, unconscious bias in the teaching and learning context. In addition, we will incorporate considerations for minimizing bias in online and remote instruction.

Outcomes: After this workshop participants will be able to:

  1. Define and given examples of unconscious bias in diverse disciplines.
  2. Identify areas where unconscious bias is most prevalent in the teaching and learning context, and describe how this may shift when teaching online.
  3. Access resources available for addressing unconscious bias.
  4. Apply knowledge about unconscious bias to academic practices.


Fiona Rawle has a Ph.D in Pathology and Molecular Medicine and is the Associate Dean, Undergraduate, at the University of Toronto Mississauga, and an Associate Professor, Teaching Stream, in the Dept. of Biology. Her research focuses on failure-driven learning, the science of learning, and public communication of science. She has received numerous awards focused on teaching, including the University of Toronto’s President’s Teaching Award. Dr. Rawle is also a member of the University of Toronto’s TIDE group (Toronto Initiative for Diversity & Excellence), through which she gives lectures and workshops on unconscious bias, equity, and diversity.


Irina Ghilic

Irina Ghilic


Building NOTEoriety: How cognitive science can best inform note-taking practices. 

In today’s university setting, initial learning happens during lectures, whether in person or online. Students attend a class and try to encode as much of the new information as possible. Most students keep a record of the lecture information via notes. However, not all notes are created equal. Taking good notes is really important since students cite “notes” as their main source of study material. The work environment is no different when it comes to recording information. In a dynamic workplace, having no record of meetings or project updates quickly devolves into a game of broken telephone, especially in an online or remote environment. During this workshop, we will discuss various types of notes and their success (based on note-taking literature), tips and tactics for taking notes, and strategies to aid both students and professionals in becoming proficient note-takers in both a face-to-face and eLearning environment.

Throughout the workshop, participants will learn how:

  1. Cognitive research on note-taking and studying can inform note-taking practices;
  2. Self-regulated learning and metacognitive awareness are crucial for taking good notes;
  3. There are multiple ways to take notes and prepare for a note-taking session.


Irina Ghilic is currently a Learning Experience Designer for Enable Education, and a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour at McMaster University. Learning is a process, and in her role as a Learning Experience Designer, Irina explores a learner’s entire journey. Her main role is to create learner-centric solutions that go beyond the traditional boundaries of instructional design. In this role, Irina uses pedagogical approaches, multimedia design, research-based standards in online learning, and digital learning development practices to enhance the learning experience. As a Ph.D. candidate in cognitive and educational research, her hope is to work on bridging the gap between cognitive science, learning strategies, and teaching practices. Irina's work philosophy is at the crossroads of where education, technology, and design intersect.


EdCog Tanya Martini

Tanya Martini


Helping Students to See the “Transferable” Part of Transferable Skills

Randy Bass has indicated that students see little value in the assignments they complete for university courses. In this workshop we’ll explore why his concerns should be taken seriously. Indeed, Bass’ ideas are particularly relevant as we move toward a greater reliance on online learning, and may have to re-think the skills that we are emphasizing in our courses. We’ll also discuss how the literature related to transfer can help instructors ensure that students understand that course assignments build skills that are valued by employers. Doing so relies on helping students to see past the superficial “surface” features of assignments (which often appear unconnected to their career goals) and instead focus on the deep structure of the skills those assignments promote (since they are critical for understanding how the skills transfer beyond a particular course).

By the end of this workshop participants will be able to:

  1. (a) articulate the ‘deep structure’ of some key career-related skills (e.g., communication, critical thinking)
  2. (b) apply key suggestions from the workshop to a specific assignment from one of their courses

Note: Participants should bring one course assignment with them to the workshop.


Tanya Martini obtained her PhD in developmental psychology from the University of Toronto and is a professor in the psychology department at Brock University. In addition to introductory psychology, she also teaches human learning and courses designed to facilitate students’ understanding of career-related skills. She was awarded the Distinguished Teaching Award at Brock as well as a Chancellor’s Chair for Teaching Excellence. Dr. Martini’s research explores skill-based learning outcomes in post-secondary education. She has a particular interest in students’ ability to articulate their skill set during interviews, and their ability to recognize how university assignments foster transferable skills that are of interest to employers.


Jennifer Meka SQ

Jennifer Meka


Designing Learning Experiences to Support Cognitive Integration

Learners often struggle with integrating knowledge from different sources and synthesizing in a way that creates deep and durable learning.1,2 The purpose of cognitive integration is to “achieve a conceptual, cognitive connection between different types of knowledge” and is essential for performance in professional activities.1 In this workshop we will explore strategies that enhance cognitive integration such as productive failure and contextual variation through interactive activities and explore online tools to support use of these strategies in synchronous or asynchronous online settings. We will discuss lessons learned in implementing these strategies for the purpose of promoting cognitive integration and use these lessons to begin to frame/outline a learning experience (class or course) that harnesses the power of these evidence-based strategies in online, hybrid, or inperson teaching situations.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Describe evidence-based strategies that support cognitive integration including productive failure and contextual variation.
  2. Identify tools to support use of these strategies in synchronous and asynchronous settings.
  3. Discuss barriers and successes to implementing these strategies in the classroom by examining an example class session and course.
  4. Develop an outline for a class session or learning experience (online, inperson or hybrid) that incorporates these strategies to deliberately build cognitive associations.


Jennifer Meka, PhD is the Assistant Dean for Medical Education and Director of the Medical Education and Educational Research Institute (MEERI) at the Jacobs School of Medicine at the State University of New York SUNY at Buffalo (UB).

She earned her PhD from UB in Elementary Education and her master’s in Teacher Education from Canisius College.  Prior to joining UB, Jennifer served as the Director of the Woodward Center for Excellence in Health Sciences Education at the Penn State College of Medicine providing support for faculty and other teaching health professionals seeking skills development and mentorship in their roles as educators.  

Her current research areas focus on the impact of participation in peer observation of clinical teaching on observer teaching self-efficacy and clinical teaching practice; developing collaborative partnerships for co-teaching with learning specialists at academic health centers; and using evidence-based education for assessment of student learning.



EdCog Amy Pachai

Amy Pachai


Assessing Learning Inside and Outside the Classroom: Principles & Best-Practice

Assessments measure the extent to which students have learned the facts, concepts, procedures, and skills that have been taught in the course. However, assessments can also benefit learning by reinforcing important concepts and identifying gaps in a student’s knowledge. Assessment can take many forms beyond the traditional exam and can have unique benefits for different types of students and subjects. With teaching moving entirely online, educators must move beyond the traditional means of assessing learning to a more diverse, creative, and empathetic approach.

 In this workshop, we will:

  1. Learn about and use different types of assessments and online tools
  2. Explore how theories of learning such as Bloom’s revised taxonomy can help us determine the level at which a question should be written
  3. Practice writing questions for use in lectures, exams, take-home assignments, or other learning activities


Dr. Amy Pachai is currently an Educational Developer for DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University. She works with instructors, staff, and students to create and execute an innovative new blended learning MBA program for working professionals. Prior to this role, her doctoral research explored ways to reduce mind wandering and improve learning. She has facilitated workshops for diverse audiences on topics such as creating effective multiple choice questions, scientific writing skills, business communication, and study strategies for students. Through these experiences, she has experimented with many tools and techniques to foster engagement, improve comprehension, assess learning, and promote collaboration.


EdCog Faria Sana

Faria Sana


Taking the Big 3 into the Classroom

The scientific study of human learning and memory consists of thousands of experiments dedicated to identifying cognitive processes fundamental to learning. The big three to emerge from the lab are spaced learning, interleaved practice and retrieval practice. The bigger question is how do I go about implementing these methods into my teaching? In this workshop, we will we will explore activities and exercises for implementing these methods into your classroom. Please bring your syllabus along with a sample lesson (lecture) and assignment that you have used. We will also explore solutions for practical challenges to building durable learning.


Dr. Faria Sana received her PhD in Cognitive Psychology (McMaster University), and completed an Izaak Walton Killam Fellowship at University of Alberta. She is an Assistant Professor in Psychology at Athabasca University, and an Adjunct Professor in Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour at McMaster. Dr. Sana translates basic research in memory and attention into applied educational contexts to promote durable and efficient student learning. Such contexts include using educationally-relevant materials to enhance learning in classrooms, among students with lower cognitive aptitude, through multimedia instruction, via illustrative examples and through problem solving. Follow her on Twitter @ProfFariaSana


EdCog Joe Kim

Joe Kim

Focusing on what really matters: A reset for workplace productivity

During the course of a busy term, we are pulled in multiple directions with increasing demands for our time and attention. Without a game plan, confusion, procrastination and “busy work” dominate over moving toward higher goals. Research from psychology can provide effective strategies to choose priorities that separate signal from noise, focus attention to engage in deep work, and develop habits that invest limited resources on what really matters. In this workshop we will:

  1. Explore how understanding the cognitive architecture of the mind leads to developing a working plan to handle daily challenges with optimized solutions.
  2. Develop a culture for productivity that promotes deep work and movement towards a goal.
  3. Learn about digital tools to integrate into workflows to shift our resources to important tasks like strategic planning which also deserve attention.

Dr. Joe Kim is an Associate Professor in Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour at McMaster University and is actively involved in the scholarship of teaching and learning. He co-ordinates the innovative McMaster Introductory Psychology ( program which combines traditional lectures with interactive on-line resources and small group tutorials. The program has been prominently featured in Maclean’s, Globe and Mail, Toronto Star and numerous education media outlets.

He directs the Education & Cognition Lab which aims to understand how cognitive principles such as attention, memory and learning can be applied to develop evidence-based interventions in education and training. He also organizes the annual McMaster Symposium on Education & Cognition ( which brings together cognitive scientists, educators and policy makers to explore how cognitive science can be applied to educational policy and instructional design.