Category Archives: Course formats

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 >>

Change Lab: Becoming comfortable with discomfort

SFU Change Lab
In Change Lab, students confront “real-world” challenges and develop solutions that have an immediate impact on people in the community.

By Candy Ho

Creating student discomfort in the classroom may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a positive teaching experience. However, this is exactly what instructors in SFU’s Change Lab aim to achieve.

The objective of this seven-credit experiential course, co-offered by the Faculty of Environment and the Beedie School of Business, is to challenge and empower students while equipping them with the skills required to create positive social change in a rapidly changing world with complex social and economic environments. From the beginning, students and instructors co-create shared values and rules of engagement to set the tone for the class. Depending on students’ interest areas and level of understanding in creating change, instructors engage various speakers to share their expertise on relevant topics such as social change, design thinking, entrepreneurship and innovation.

Students are mandated to be self-directed. They develop an idea for a socially relevant project and execute that plan. The plan must be meaningful and must address a social problem that exists for real people in a real community. That’s the whole experiential aspect.

“Try and learn, and try again, and fail, and learn, and try again.” This is the so-called “secret sauce” for doing change work according to Jenn McRae, Change Lab co-instructor. “It’s very iterative. Through this process students cultivate attributes such as agency, empowerment, and feeling a sense of efficacy in launching their own creation.”

McRae cites the example of one student group that completed a zero waste project, developing an online platform that matched food-based charities with distributors who had food that was edible but not sellable.

The lack of structured lectures, assignments and typical course expectations can be a jarring experience for students, says McRae. To ensure that projects align with the course learning outcomes, students are required to present regularly on their progress, with immediate feedback and ongoing mentorship provided by both instructors and peers.

Immersing students in an environment that emulates reality and real problems gives learners the confidence that they can develop the skills needed to tackle some of our more pressing issues. Change Lab provides students with awareness and the ability to make a positive impact in real-world settings.

For more information:

Students as entrepreneurs of learning experiences

Venture Connection
Student participants of the SFU Venture Connection program and the winners of the 2014 Coast Capital Savings Venture Prize, an annual competition that recognizes entrepreneurial excellence at Simon Fraser University.

By Candy Ho

Can learning entrepreneurial skills be considered a form of flexible education? If you ask Dr. Michelle Unrau, Program Manager for SFU’s Venture Connection (VC) program, the answer is a resounding “yes!”

Similar to the Co-operative Education program, VC serves as a co-curricular element that students can apply to, and complete in addition to their regular studies. However, its uniqueness is embedded in its sole focus on entrepreneurial development.
Its non-traditional learning model includes a mentorship approach that utilizes multiple industry experts to provide tailored, just-in-time advice to student entrepreneurs. Going beyond the bricks and mortar of the institution, its notion of learning space is also non-traditional, as the “classroom” is typically a coffee shop or a student’s place of work.

Students learn and apply entrepreneurial theories by going through steps of creating, testing, launching, and growing a business. They receive ongoing support to engage and network with business people in their area, and to even talk to potential customers. They find themselves faced with answering questions like: Should they conduct market research to determine the feasibility of their business idea? What about mastering their five-minute business pitch in front of potential investors? Lead generation? Business model canvas? All of these activities require students to actively conduct research, and interpret data to inform their business decisions.

Like most educational settings, VC is not aiming to only develop successful outcomes; instead, learning through challenges or unexpected situations that may at first appear as setbacks or even failures are also highly valued. “VC has truly become the place where students can gain skills and confidence to apply theoretical learning – in a safe environment – and actually ‘do’ entrepreneurship,” says Unrau.

For more information on SFU’s Venture Connection program: click here

Truly engaged: My SFU experience

Raisa Crisologo
Raisa Crisologo is working with the TFFE team as part of a student advisory committee. For her, flexible education is about balancing learning with personal and professional development.

By Raisa Crisologo, BBA candidate, 2016

Flexible education – what does it really mean? I define flexible education through three aspects of what I believe are critical components of a flexible university education: balance, creative learning, and personal development. These three characteristics embody the kind of education that every educational institution should strive for.

Balance is a key aspect of flexible education. In terms of flexible education, this means that a university education should allow students to learn at their own pace, and in the way that works best for them. The university should be open to various types of learning structures, such that students are able to fit other spheres of their life (e.g., social life, family life) around their education. This means that students should have enough time to finish their degree, as well as have ample time to fulfill work commitments, to become involved with organizations, and to participate in social events and activities.

Flexible education should be innately a creative learning experience. This means that there is not just “one way” of learning or of teaching a concept or an idea, but that there are different ways of doing so. A flexible education caters to various styles of learning – it essentially provides students a variety of avenues, methods, and learning techniques that allow them to learn in the best and most efficient way possible.

Lastly, flexible education should provide room for personal development, either through workshops and conferences, or through co-curricular components. A flexible education should include various opportunities for students to develop and grow into the best version of themselves. A great university produces responsible social citizens who are passionate about what they do, and are community-oriented. This to me is the mark of a stellar university. Thus, flexible education should provide room for students to personally grow and develop the necessary skills that they will need outside of university.

The publication of self in everyday life

John Maxwell and Suzanne Norma
John Maxwell (left) and Suzanne Norman have developed a course that helps students understand and take control of their online presence.

By David Porter

For Suzanne Norman and John Maxwell of SFU’s Publishing program, the “publication of self in everyday life” should be a core piece of the university experience for all SFU students. Their vision is a liberal arts course that complements academic programs and provides students with the opportunity to build a professional portfolio of accomplishments that matches their areas of interest. Their PUB 101 course, titled, not surprisingly, “The Publication of Self in Everyday Life,” does precisely that.

“It’s the kind of first-year course that everybody in university should take. You take an English course to insure you can read and write. You take this course so you’ll know how to operate online, know what’s beyond your keypad and know how to take responsibility for it,” says Maxwell.

PUB 101 is part of the Print and Digital Publishing Minor, an increasingly popular choice for students of Communications, English, Business, and from SIAT (School of Interactive Arts and Technology) who are looking to build skills and increase their employability. It’s an example of a flexible learning experience that provides students with new digital publishing skills as well as the know-how to build a professional portfolio of their own.

For Suzanne Norman, who currently teaches the course with Juan Pablo Alperin, the strength of the course is its requirement for students to manage their digital presence end to end: “The PUB 101 course is about taking responsibility for public presence—taking ownership with no parental guidance.”

Maxwell agrees: “The whole idea of portfolio assessment could be given to students in its entirety. It’s their responsibility. They should completely own their own stuff.”

Rowland Lorimer, founding director of SFU’s Master of Publishing program, gave PUB 101 its direction by suggesting to Maxwell and Norman that they build on Erving Goffman’s ideas from The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life and provide a modern outlet for personal expression for students of the digital era. Maxwell and Norman found ideas for such an outlet in the DS106 and A Domain of One’s Own projects designed by Jim Groom and Alan Levine.

Norman emphasizes that “the most important part of PUB 101 is peer learning. If you end up in publishing … you need to work with people you don’t know, contractors and designers, sometimes temperamental creative types … so you need to be able to work and share and teach each other.” These are life lessons embedded within the flexible learning experience that PUB 101 provides.

The connection between flexibility and student well-being

Health Promotion team
SFU’s Health Promotion team partners with instructors to organize courses in ways that promote student well-being. From left: Tara Black (Associate Director); Crystal Hutchinson, Alisa Stanton, Rosie Dhaliwal (health promotion specialists).

When Tara Black hears “flexible education,” she thinks “student well-being.”

Black is the Associate Director of Health Promotion in SFU’s Health and Counselling Services unit. Her team takes a systemic approach to the creation of a healthy campus community by treating the university as an ecosystem and identifying factors that influence student well-being. Inevitably, classrooms enter the conversation.

“If you think of SFU as a setting, the classroom is such a core part of the student experience,” says Black. “Classrooms have a really profound impact on student well-being.”

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