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.

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