Category Archives: Project news

The flexibility of studio physics


By Sherrie Atwood

It’s a Thursday afternoon and Dr. Daria Ahrensmeier’s studio physics lab is buzzing with activity. Her students, in groups seated at round tables, begin class with a low stakes iclicker quiz on electrical circuits. After each polling result the decibel level rises as students discuss why answers are either correct or incorrect. Rather than hurriedly moving on, Dr. Ahrensmeier, a theoretical physicist, is cool and calm: she smiles while those who got the correct answer gesticulate, draw diagrams, and talk it out with those who did not. In these conversations you can actually hear the students developing their own understanding of the process of electrical conduction. “

Studio physics is an idea imported many years ago from Dickinson College in the U.S. In the labs students integrate content from the online portion of the course—which Dr. Ahrensmeier describes as a visual representation of a book chapter—with practice: today students are looking at the optics of an oscilloscope which each group puts together by itself. This flexible approach offers a more custom fit for students. “With a lecture,” explains Dr. Ahrensmeier “you have 200 people sitting there and it’s impossible to make it run at a pace and with content that fits everybody’s needs. That just can’t happen.” In contrast, in the studio physics lab, Dr. Ahrensmeier and the TA circulate amongst the tables: “I think that’s where the flexibility comes in that we can answer specific student’s questions and the groups’ questions. “Flexibility has to be done the right way and that’s the tricky part. Students need to know what they have to do but there is flexibility in how fast and which order these tasks have to be completed.”

Is this format better than a single lecture? “A lot better,” according to Soroush Jafary. “I love the labs: I think they’re essential. I like doing things rather than just sitting there listening.” Adam, another student, agreed: “Students study in class rather than receiving information on what you are supposed to be studying. So, it’s a lot more work because you’re constantly writing, you’re constantly doing questions. You can’t fade out like you do in a lecture. Another student pointed out the experiential appeal of the lab: “You work in groups and do experiments and that’s also how you learn—which is really helpful in that you see real world applications of what you’re learning in the book.”

Task Force on Flexible Education publishes its interim report

TFFE interim report
The interim report of the Task Force on Flexible Education recommends the creation of four working groups to examine key themes identified by the research and community consultation process.

After an initial round of research and engagement with the SFU community, the Task Force on Flexible Education (TFFE) has published its interim report.

The report reviews the mandate and activities of the Task Force, summarizes the key themes identified during the initial research and community consultation process, and defines the term “flexible education” within the SFU context.

In addition, it recommends the creation of four working groups made up of faculty members, staff and students in fall 2014. The working groups will explore four themes:

• Vision and strategy for flexible education at SFU
• Learning models, delivery and support systems
• Learning experiences and learning spaces
• Program designs and business models

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Modelling flexible learning

Dr. Nabyl Merbouh’s work in designing learning tools and replicas processed on a 3D printer.

Dr. Nabyl Merbouh’s work in designing learning tools and replicas processed on a 3D printer is a great example of the diversity of the term ‘flexible education.’ Along with research machinist Ken Van Wieren, Dr. Merbouh, a senior lecturer in chemistry, has provided an opportunity for thousands of math students across the province to physically hold equations and geometrical structures. “Math and chemistry students often have problems visualizing concepts,” Dr. Merbouh explains. Students studying anatomy can close their eyes, visualize their kneecap, and compare their intuitions to a 3D model that they can then take home. Passive learning is transformed into an embodied experience.

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How physical setting affects learning

Peter Jamieson
For Peter Jamieson, an internationally renowned researcher from the University of Melbourne, flexible education is about creating learning spaces that encourage new forms of interaction.

On April 23, Peter Jamieson of the University of Melbourne (Australia) spoke at SFU about “Pedagogy in Place.” His presentation, the first public event organized by the university’s recently launched Task Force on Flexible Education, was provocative in the best sense of the word. Jamieson’s research focuses on how physical environments affect learning. In his remarks to a diverse group of SFU faculty and staff he advocated fundamental changes to the design of learning spaces inside and outside the classroom—all with the goal of facilitating more active and effective forms of teaching and learning.
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