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.