Monthly Archives: September 2012













Last week I did a talk for about 60 members of the general public, for a short annual series called “Mini-Med School” offered through the University of Toronto. The title of my talk, “Alcohol: A Delightful Poison?” was meant to pique peoples’ interest in a substance that is pretty thoroughly integrated into everyday life in Western culture. The focus was on challenging assumptions and providing a few “aha” moments – we looked at standard drink conversions, low-risk drinking guidelines, health effects of alcohol, brief screening tools and treatment options.

Since didactic lecturing is counter to constructivist approaches, here are a few ways that I encouraged learning by doing in this 90 minute session:

– At the beginning and the end I invited the audience the consider 3 things: (1) A feature that resonated for me (2) A question I want to think through (3) A seed I could plant now.

– A “bar” set up at the front of the room had a white tablecloth and liquor bottles full of coloured water and empty glasses of different sizes. A volunteer bartender and customer from the audience poured drinks, while another volunteer measured. The results? The “martini” was close to 4 standard drinks; the highball glass contained just over three standard drinks, and the wine was just under one standard drink.

– I asked people to turn to the person next to them and guess the percentage of Canadian men and Canadian women who consume over 14 standard drinks in a typical week. The large-group polling revealed a massive over-estimate of Canadian drinking norms based on research data – in other words, marketing trumps science in the popular imagination.

– Q & A after each section distributed questions throughout, instead of asking people to save everything up for the end. This elicited some of the “burning questions” and relevant issues as they occurred to learners.

– When it came to exploring screening tools to see who might be at risk for alcohol-related problems, we collectively, as a large group, went through the various tools using a fictional case example (“Alex”).  This evoked some great comments and questions about the shortfalls of brief screening (sensitivity and specificity), and made the tools more relevant to real-world applications.

– We held a raffle for prizes – a few books focused on alcohol and alcohol treatment – which kept everyone in their seats until the conclusion, and helped to end the session on a high note.

– Along with the slides, I put together a “playlist” of songs related to drinking – as a way of further underlining how alcohol is culturally interwoven with relationships and experience.

It’s not easy to keep people on the edge of their seats for 90 minutes on a Thursday evening, but I felt like the group stayed present and brought home some memorable key elements and applications.

You can check out the slide deck for this talk on Slideshare…or see it on Vimeo.

Predicting the Future: Higher Education in 2112 (Part 2)

My workplace overlooks a big downtown university campus, and it’s always fun to see the frosh week excitement and back-to-school energy.

This made me think about: what will higher (university) education look like 100 years from now? Hard to imagine, especially because universities have sustained a pretty enduring business model and delivery system for – what – the last thousand years or so?

But I think we’re seeing the fault lines in higher education, some driven by students themselves and their expectations/learning preferences, some changes being driven by new technologies/social media, and perhaps the most significant changes are a result of globalization and rise of “educational megalopolies”.

So – here are some of my predictions:

This first one is kind of a no-brainer: Face-to-face learning will be the exception. Students will design and access knowledge and skills guided by both human and virtual tutors/faculty

Students will register and be affiliated with multiple academic institutions from the same family of university “brands” (as smaller schools become gobbled up by the big names)

Students will travel virtually or geographically throughout their academic careers and access a plethora of institutionally-branded choices in different metropolitan centres and online, with the entire academic record in a single transcript file location

The electronic transcript will look more like a virtual portfolio of students’ work and assessments, and will link to other accomplishments/activities

There will be no such thing as “full” courses (due to over-enrollment) because all courses will be webcast

The most successful university brands will offer programs in multiple languages: for example, English, Mandarin, Portuguese, Hindi, Russian (via automatic simultaneous translation of faculty/instructional materials)

Unique, personalized programs of study will be developed so as to fit specific jobs via proprietary algorithms (and these will be recalibrated as students’ career goals change)

Teaching performance will be graded on a variety of metrics – including student performance and feedback/reviews – and this will be integrated within mobile academic course calendars (inside-out universities).

Book Cover











Will e-books ever fully replace the real thing?

I get the convenience and portability of e-readers and tablets, but this week end I was reminded of why I love print media in bound paper form.

There’s a second-hand bookstore that I love in east Toronto. You know the kind – stacks of books from floor to ceiling on every possible topic. I was perusing the collection of older and antiquarian books and was charmed by a 1922 edition of Good Housekeeping’s Book of Menus, Recipes and Household Discoveries.







This volume is a treasure trove of miscellany and arcane household tips, and came packed full of ephemera (old newspaper clippings, treasured recipes in spidery handwriting, and even some vintage labels for fruit preserves).





Here is a sample menu provided for a Tuesday in September ( a couple of recipes follow) – enjoy!



Ready-to-eat Cereal     Top Milk

Chipped Beef of Toast



American Beauty Salad        Mayonnaise

Raisin Bran Bread Sandwiches


Wafers     Iced Chocolate


Stuffed Steak        Mashed Potatoes

Spanish String Beans

Turnips Hollandaise

Fresh Peach Pie


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