Category Archives: Flexible Education

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.

Student focus groups: If I ran SFU …

Student focus groups

What’s missing from your SFU educational experience? What would make it better?

Greater flexibility in putting together your program? More spaces for group work on campus? Weekend classes?

We want to know.

The Task Force on Flexible Education is looking at ways to respond to the changing educational needs of SFU students. We would like to hear what works for you and what doesn’t, as well as your ideas for making things better.

Whether you are an international student, a mid-career professional, a “traditional” student straight out of high school, or someone completely different, your experience will help us shape the way the university offers courses and programs and how it supports  learning.

Come to a student focus group in March to define a vision and identify concrete actions. You’ll get the chance to make a difference, and we’ll show our appreciation to you with a FREE meal and a $10 dining gift card.

Sign up for one of these dates:

Wed, March 4 | 5:30–6:20 p.m. | West Mall Complex 2501 |
Wed, March 11 | 12:30–1:20 p.m. | West Mall Complex 2220 |
Tue, March 17 | 1:30–2:20 p.m. | West Mall Complex 3513 |

To register: Click here
Questions? Contact

Creating confidence and competence through conversations

Let's Talk Business

If flexibility is about responsiveness, then the Let’s Talk program offered by the Student Learning Commons (SLC) is a prime example of a flexible approach shaped by and to the needs of its participants.

Donna McGee Thompson, head of SLC, says the program is designed for English as an Additional Language (EAL) students who want to become more comfortable communicating in English, and its structure is deliberately informal. Tim Mossman, EAL coordinator, was the SLC lead responsible for developing the program and training peer facilitators.

“Once per week students come to the group and participate in a series of fun and engaging discussion-based activities led by peer educators to gain confidence and proficiency in spoken English,” says McGee Thompson. “The activities are individualized—students speak about their own experience and then hear from others. It’s not a lecture or workshop format. Instead, the focus is on the individualized conversations to facilitate reflection on personal experience.”

The conversational format in a setting where they are not being evaluated means students relax and share more about their issues, says McGee Thompson. This element is a key pedagogical underpinning of the program.

Let’s Talk actually has three iterations: Let’s Talk Business for Beedie students, Let’s Talk Psychology for first-year psychology students, and the general Let’s Talk program for EAL students from all disciplines. In every case, says McGee Thompson, the secret of success is the program’s use of peer mentors, students who are willing to support their peers in their educational —and cultural— journey.

While general guidelines exist, Let’s Talk has no limitations and is designed for flexibility to ensure the comfort of all who participate. Some students attend regularly for an entire semester; others may drop in once or twice. Participants discuss a new topic each week that incorporates vocabulary development, listening comprehension, pronunciation, and critical thinking—but it’s all malleable, based on what the participants are keen to discuss or need at a given time.

Although the program is not directly related to students’ academic work, its goal is to increase their confidence and comfort level in approaching their TAs and professors with questions, and to participate in group work with other students. It’s also an example of how flexible education extends to the ways in which we establish a supportive environment around learning activities.
Let’s Talk is designed with international and new Canadian students in mind, but the program is open to all SFU students, as well as interested faculty and visiting professors. Any groups interested in exploring a customized EAL communication program for their students are encouraged to contact Tim Mossman to talk further:

For more information:
Let’s Talk:
Let’s Talk Business:
Let’s Talk Psychology:

Research Commons helps grad students reach the finish line

Grad Pres

The Task Force on Flexible Education recognizes that flexible learning occurs both inside and outside of the classroom. This is part one of a two-part series highlighting two flexible programs offered by SFU Library.

The notion that a student’s sole responsibility is degree completion is becoming obsolete. Today, many students are forced to juggle multiple life roles, and school is just one of the many priorities on their never-ending list. Finding adequate support and work-life balance may be even more difficult at the graduate student level. Flexible education within the context of that reality is about providing the resources and support students need to complete their programs despite the constraints—and it’s something the SFU Library understands well. Nicole White, Head of the Library’s Research Commons, leads a team that is providing a remarkable integrated solution: Thesis Boot Camp.

Ideal for students nearing the end of their dissertation or thesis, the 3 day intensive program is designed to propel participants toward the finish line. Each three-day Thesis Boot Camp provides a comfortable working environment, with librarians and writing facilitators available for writing and research support. Students establish individualized goals at the start of the camp and choose how best to use the three days. While some use the time to get feedback on their current thesis draft, others take the time to write, review, or further their literature searching. Many take advantage of workshops on obtaining ethics approval, copyright permissions and other topics.

Thesis Boot Camp has engaged staff members from Health and Counselling Services, the Office of the Ombudsperson, the Office of Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Fellows, and the Graduate Student Society to educate students on topics like maintaining well-being, working effectively with a supervisor, and accessing relevant resources. White emphasizes the importance of recognizing that participants are at various stages of their writing and must be empowered to be “masters of their time.” Thus, the program is flexible and personalized as students are free to plan their itinerary for maximum benefit.

The workshops foster a peer support network that also enhances the participant experience: “[Students] mind each other’s experience and generate tips and tricks from one another.” White points out that it’s common for participants to make connections across different disciplines, stay in touch and provide mutual support beyond the sessions.

For more information:

Thesis Boot Camp:

“All in a day” workshop series:

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