Category Archives: Project news

Flexible education: World Cafe event

World Cafe

Greetings SFU Community Members!

The Task Force on Flexible Education (TFFE) is inviting you to an exceptional event, our very first World Café. Given your unique and valuable perspective, we believe that you can make a major contribution to this exchange and opportunity to shape the future at SFU.

This event will bring together passionate students, staff, faculty and instructors from across the university, who have an interest in the future of flexible education at SFU. Using a simple and flexible World Café format, the morning will consist of large and small group dialogue that will examine and explore some interesting key principles in flexible education, and what they might mean to the future of SFU, including:

  •  Learning-centred approaches to program design and delivery, impactful pedagogies, and effective support systems are hallmarks of the SFU student experience.
  • Innovative and effective teaching and learning methods are practiced and supported at SFU.
  • Recognition of context and culture within and across disciplines is a key component of an SFU education.

Event Details:

Date: Monday January 26th, 2015
Time: 10:30am -1:30pm
Location: Diamond Alumni Centre, Burnaby Campus
Refreshments will be served

This event is open to all members of the university community. Due to space restrictions, and for logistical and catering purposes, please confirm your presence by registering at the following link: Register Here

We sincerely hope that you will be among our participants.

* Future events at Surrey and Vancouver campuses will take place in February 2015, and will be announced in early 2015.

Sometimes you need to build your own learning system

Hellenic Studies
André Gerolymatos (left) and Costa Dedegikas of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Centre for Hellenic Studies developed and built a custom learning management system for Greek-language training.

By David Porter

For André Gerolymatos, a professor and director of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Centre for Hellenic Studies, the problem was straightforward — how do you build a system for Greek-language training that is engaging, productive and works on the mobile devices that today’s students consider everyday-carry equipment? In solving the problem, Gerolymatos and his colleagues in Hellenic Studies, illustrated the role of faculty and departments in spearheading innovation and flexibility at SFU.

“We were facing a serious challenge in offering Greek language in a university with a very small population of Greek speakers, in a city that has a very small Greek population to begin with,” says Gerolymatos.

To address the challenge, he worked with Costa Dedegikas, the centre’s technology manager and leader of a team of software engineers that recommended a modular approach to designing an online learning system that could host the language lessons. The design approach they took was future-oriented, allowing the learning system to be used with emerging technologies, with other languages, and in other kinds of courses.

After working with experts to obtain feedback on their Greek-language system, a funding partnership with the Stavros Niarchos Foundation enabled the team to take the learning system a step further, and this meant making a big decision, said Dedegikas:

“Go with an off-the-shelf learning management system (LMS) or build an innovative platform that pushed the boundaries of existing LMS environments.”

The Hellenic Studies team developed its own lab at SFU with a view to staying on the cutting edge and maintaining its modular approach to instruction. The team also included learner profiles and data analytics in the competency-based system, an environment that provides both students and instructors with a real-time picture of achievement.

Gerolymatos and Dedegikas have begun to work on improved technology through an SSHRC grant for a new mobile-enabled system that will contribute to language preservation and instruction for First Nations communities. The new system will also work for other courses and languages, and it is currently being used at SFU for mobile-enabled history courses that include archival video.

The critical design decision for the Hellenic Studies team was user engagement. Its systems had to work for the faculty and instructors who teach the courses, and they had to work for students and demonstrate that learning was happening. To ensure success, the team took an inclusive, iterative, design-based approach to implementing, testing and improving the system.

Gerolymatos and Dedegikas believe they have built an innovative niche technology that could also be used successfully by other departments at SFU and beyond.

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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