Category Archives: Project news

The TFFE submits its final report to the VPA

TFFE final report submitted
The final report of the Task Force on Flexible Education concludes more than a year of consultation and deliberation.

The final report of the Task Force on Flexible Education (TFFE) was submitted to the Vice-President, Academic, at the end of June.

The document outlines the role and activities of the task force, presents the findings of a community consultation and environmental scan, and showcases exemplars of flexibility at SFU. Most importantly, it contains recommendations intended to foster flexibility in teaching and learning at SFU.

The seven recommendations in the final report are slightly modified versions of those contained in the April 9 draft report and, as before, they are grouped into five themes as follows:

Designing engaging and responsive academic programs

Recommendation 1: Provide opportunities for community engagement or practical experiences within all SFU programs.

Fostering student agency

Recommendation 2: Create a foundational experience in learning for life for all SFU students.

Reinforcing connections between research, teaching and practice

Recommendation 3: Use research on teaching and learning to guide, develop and expand innovative teaching and learning practices across SFU.
Recommendation 4: Provide better advancement opportunities for teaching-oriented instructors.

Enhancing learning environments—both digital and physical

Recommendation 5: Proactively research and explore digital learning and teaching systems, and develop and implement a digital infrastructure for the creation and distribution of instructional resources across SFU campuses.
Recommendation 6: Create renewed spaces for student life and learning across SFU campuses.

Aligning educational research and service for the future

Recommendation 7: Appoint a senior administrator to guide and facilitate a strategic approach to learning and teaching across all learning units at SFU.

The full report will be reviewed by the Vice-President, Academic, before it is submitted to Senate or released more widely. However, a Summary of General Benefits of a Flexible Education Strategy for SFU from the report is available now.

The TFFE releases its draft recommendations

TFFE Status Update
Members of the SFU academic community are invited to comment on the draft recommendations contained in the April 9 TFFE status update.

On April 9, the Task Force on Flexible Education (TFFE) released a status update report for discussion by TFFE members. The report contained seven draft recommendations designed to guide SFU’s response to “the growing diversity of its students and the resulting call for programs [and services] that accommodate their varied needs.” The recommendations were developed after a university-wide consultation process involving faculty members, students, administrators and staff. They build on SFU’s tradition of innovation and reflect the TFFE mantra: “Relevance is the goal, flexibility is the enabling strategy, and responsiveness is the practice.”

The recommendations are grouped into five themes that were identified by the task force:

Designing engaging and responsive programs
Recommendation 1
: Provide opportunities for community engagement or practical experiences within all SFU programs.

Fostering student agency
Recommendation 2
: Create a foundational program on lifelong learning for SFU students.

Connecting teaching with research and practice
Recommendation 3
: Use research on teaching and learning to guide effective teaching practices.
Recommendation 4: Provide better advancement opportunities for teaching-oriented instructors.

Building infrastructure and support systems for engaged teaching and learning
Recommendation 5
: Create a digital infrastructure for instructional resource development and distribution.
Recommendation 6: Create renewed spaces for student life and learning across SFU campuses.

Aligning educational services for the future
Recommendation 7
: Realign the Teaching and Learning Centre (TLC), Institute for the Study of Teaching and Learning in the Disciplines (ISTLD), and Centre for Online and Distance Education (CODE) under a single operating structure.

Particular initiatives to support each recommendation are proposed in the full text of the draft report. The TFFE invites all members of the academic community to view the status update and respond to the proposed recommendations before May 15. Contact information for the task force is available from the TFFE website.

A TFFE discussion paper considers the benefits of an infrastructure for digital educational resources

Digital resources can have advantages over printed textbooks in areas such as cost, accessibility and flexibility. A new TFFE discussion paper proposes an integrated infrastructure for the delivery of digital course content.

By David Porter

Throughout the community engagement process for the Task Force on Flexible Education (TFFE), we’ve encountered many exciting initiatives across the SFU campuses. Some of them deal with the future of teaching resources, textbooks, digital instructional resources and e-books.

We’ve noted student interest in open textbooks and a desire to lower textbook and instructional resource costs associated with taking courses. We’ve noted the Bookstore’s interest in changing its delivery model for instructional resources, too. And, we’ve had discussions with the Library about its interest in supporting open access and open educational resources at SFU.

In an effort to consider these interests collectively, the TFFE team has written a short discussion paper that explores whether a new digital infrastructure for teaching and learning resources would be of benefit at SFU, and we’re inviting input on the draft discussion paper.

Read the discussion paper >>

The world cafes: Charting a path toward implementation

World Cafe DAC
Participants at the Burnaby world cafe at the Diamond Alumni Centre on January 26.

Over 70 faculty members, staff and students attended world cafés hosted by the Task Force on Flexible Education at the Burnaby campus on January 26, and in Vancouver on February 2.

The participants, supplied with refreshments, writable table covers and a collection of coloured markers, moved from table to table to discuss key questions related to flexibility and relevance in education. The result—captured visually by graphic recorders—was a compilation of thoughts ranging from the cautionary to the visionary to the practical.

The world café series, which will conclude with a session at SFU’s Surrey campus on February 17, will help guide the task force as it develops recommendations to ensure that SFU instructors and programs receive the support they need to continue providing relevant and flexible learning experiences to their students.

The conversations during the completed events centred on five themes:

– Relevance
– Teaching approaches
– Infrastructure and support
– Student agency
– Program design

The challenge for the task force will be to sort through the many ideas proposed by participants in order to identify clear goals and actions. Participants did seem to agree about certain broad principles, including the following:

– Progress will require institutional support, including a financial commitment, to foster cultural change.
– Change will require talking to various partners (unions, faculty members, administration, etc.) about the implications for SFU’s organizational structure.
– The university should build on existing “flexible” initiatives, in part by sharing current achievements more widely with the community.
– Long-term transformation will require changes to the infrastructure that supports teaching and learning activities.

In addition, they suggested a number of concrete steps:

– Address students’ desire for marketable skills by being more explicit about how the strengths of a university education—including critical thinking, literacy, citizenship and writing skills—deliver what employers want.
– Conduct research to define the meaning of relevance within different departments and student populations.
– Incorporate experiential learning into all programs through capstone projects, community-based courses and other forms of active learning.
– Encourage and support inter-disciplinary work and provide budgetary incentives for faculty members to undertake such activities.
– Investigate new approaches to course structure, length, delivery modes and scheduling.
– Introduce a foundational course on lifelong learning in which students could learn study skills, critical thinking methods, assessment of scholarly materials, and other related skills.
– Provide better advancement opportunities for good teachers.

The final Surrey world café on February 17 is open to participants from all campuses. For details and to register.

Personalization and an emphasis on competencies: How B.C.’s new education plan will shape our students’ expectations

Jan Unwin
Jan Unwin provides an overview of changes happening in the K-12 sector that will impact future teaching and learning
approaches at SFU.

Passion, purpose and personalization are three elements that public school (K-12) students view as fundamental to the ideal education system of the future. These are some of the core findings of a study presented at SFU on January 16 by Jan Unwin, superintendent of graduate and student transitions with B.C.’s ministries of Education and Advanced Education.

Unwin’s presentation was arranged by the Task Force on Flexible Education (TFFE) to provide a glimpse into the changes that could shape SFU’s incoming students—and their expectations—in the years ahead.

According to Unwin, the provincial government is taking a bold leap towards reimagining and restructuring the K-12 public education system to make it more reflective of today’s diverse educational needs. “It’s a mind shift,” she said, adding that the current K-12 system is built on “systems and models and structures that were set up for a different age.”

Unwin indicated that the government has identified five key areas of focus for the next B.C. Education Plan: personalized learning, quality teaching and learning (including mentorship), flexibility and choice, high standards, and learning empowered by technology. A key question guiding the exploratory study went like this: Why should our education system be one-size-fits-all when we know that no two students are alike and that they come to us with different goals, aspirations and competencies?

Perhaps one of the largest pedagogical shifts within the proposed plan is the focus on competencies rather than content as the driver. Unwin described the vision is one in which teachers take on a coaching and mentoring role to assist students with finding their passion and a successful pathway to their future.

“We want to create the best possible life chances for kids and young adults, and we want them speaking about their entire educational experience with passion, purpose and pride,” said Unwin. “We need to work collaboratively to get it right.”

The proposed transformation of the K-12 system will have enormous implications for post-secondary institutions like SFU. The TFFE is highlighting these types of issues and working to generate discussion around how the university can be more responsive to, and prepared for, students who will expect approaches to teaching and learning that mirror, at least to some degree, the reimagined K-12 curriculum.

Want to know more about Jan Unwin’s presentation? Follow the links below to view the presentation webcast, see the presentation slides, or download the new B.C. Education Plan.

Click here to watch the webcast.
Download a copy of Jan’s slides.
BC Education Plan:

Sometimes you need to build your own learning system

Hellenic Studies
André Gerolymatos (left) and Costa Dedegikas of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Centre for Hellenic Studies developed and built a custom learning management system for Greek-language training.

By David Porter

For André Gerolymatos, a professor and director of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Centre for Hellenic Studies, the problem was straightforward — how do you build a system for Greek-language training that is engaging, productive and works on the mobile devices that today’s students consider everyday-carry equipment? In solving the problem, Gerolymatos and his colleagues in Hellenic Studies, illustrated the role of faculty and departments in spearheading innovation and flexibility at SFU.

“We were facing a serious challenge in offering Greek language in a university with a very small population of Greek speakers, in a city that has a very small Greek population to begin with,” says Gerolymatos.

To address the challenge, he worked with Costa Dedegikas, the centre’s technology manager and leader of a team of software engineers that recommended a modular approach to designing an online learning system that could host the language lessons. The design approach they took was future-oriented, allowing the learning system to be used with emerging technologies, with other languages, and in other kinds of courses.

After working with experts to obtain feedback on their Greek-language system, a funding partnership with the Stavros Niarchos Foundation enabled the team to take the learning system a step further, and this meant making a big decision, said Dedegikas:

“Go with an off-the-shelf learning management system (LMS) or build an innovative platform that pushed the boundaries of existing LMS environments.”

The Hellenic Studies team developed its own lab at SFU with a view to staying on the cutting edge and maintaining its modular approach to instruction. The team also included learner profiles and data analytics in the competency-based system, an environment that provides both students and instructors with a real-time picture of achievement.

Gerolymatos and Dedegikas have begun to work on improved technology through an SSHRC grant for a new mobile-enabled system that will contribute to language preservation and instruction for First Nations communities. The new system will also work for other courses and languages, and it is currently being used at SFU for mobile-enabled history courses that include archival video.

The critical design decision for the Hellenic Studies team was user engagement. Its systems had to work for the faculty and instructors who teach the courses, and they had to work for students and demonstrate that learning was happening. To ensure success, the team took an inclusive, iterative, design-based approach to implementing, testing and improving the system.

Gerolymatos and Dedegikas believe they have built an innovative niche technology that could also be used successfully by other departments at SFU and beyond.