Category Archives: Course formats

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

Truly engaged: My SFU experience

Raisa Crisologo
Raisa Crisologo is working with the TFFE team as part of a student advisory committee. For her, flexible education is about balancing learning with personal and professional development.

By Raisa Crisologo, BBA candidate, 2016

Flexible education – what does it really mean? I define flexible education through three aspects of what I believe are critical components of a flexible university education: balance, creative learning, and personal development. These three characteristics embody the kind of education that every educational institution should strive for.

Balance is a key aspect of flexible education. In terms of flexible education, this means that a university education should allow students to learn at their own pace, and in the way that works best for them. The university should be open to various types of learning structures, such that students are able to fit other spheres of their life (e.g., social life, family life) around their education. This means that students should have enough time to finish their degree, as well as have ample time to fulfill work commitments, to become involved with organizations, and to participate in social events and activities.

Flexible education should be innately a creative learning experience. This means that there is not just “one way” of learning or of teaching a concept or an idea, but that there are different ways of doing so. A flexible education caters to various styles of learning – it essentially provides students a variety of avenues, methods, and learning techniques that allow them to learn in the best and most efficient way possible.

Lastly, flexible education should provide room for personal development, either through workshops and conferences, or through co-curricular components. A flexible education should include various opportunities for students to develop and grow into the best version of themselves. A great university produces responsible social citizens who are passionate about what they do, and are community-oriented. This to me is the mark of a stellar university. Thus, flexible education should provide room for students to personally grow and develop the necessary skills that they will need outside of university.

The publication of self in everyday life

John Maxwell and Suzanne Norma
John Maxwell (left) and Suzanne Norman have developed a course that helps students understand and take control of their online presence.

By David Porter

For Suzanne Norman and John Maxwell of SFU’s Publishing program, the “publication of self in everyday life” should be a core piece of the university experience for all SFU students. Their vision is a liberal arts course that complements academic programs and provides students with the opportunity to build a professional portfolio of accomplishments that matches their areas of interest. Their PUB 101 course, titled, not surprisingly, “The Publication of Self in Everyday Life,” does precisely that.

“It’s the kind of first-year course that everybody in university should take. You take an English course to insure you can read and write. You take this course so you’ll know how to operate online, know what’s beyond your keypad and know how to take responsibility for it,” says Maxwell.

PUB 101 is part of the Print and Digital Publishing Minor, an increasingly popular choice for students of Communications, English, Business, and from SIAT (School of Interactive Arts and Technology) who are looking to build skills and increase their employability. It’s an example of a flexible learning experience that provides students with new digital publishing skills as well as the know-how to build a professional portfolio of their own.

For Suzanne Norman, who currently teaches the course with Juan Pablo Alperin, the strength of the course is its requirement for students to manage their digital presence end to end: “The PUB 101 course is about taking responsibility for public presence—taking ownership with no parental guidance.”

Maxwell agrees: “The whole idea of portfolio assessment could be given to students in its entirety. It’s their responsibility. They should completely own their own stuff.”

Rowland Lorimer, founding director of SFU’s Master of Publishing program, gave PUB 101 its direction by suggesting to Maxwell and Norman that they build on Erving Goffman’s ideas from The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life and provide a modern outlet for personal expression for students of the digital era. Maxwell and Norman found ideas for such an outlet in the DS106 and A Domain of One’s Own projects designed by Jim Groom and Alan Levine.

Norman emphasizes that “the most important part of PUB 101 is peer learning. If you end up in publishing … you need to work with people you don’t know, contractors and designers, sometimes temperamental creative types … so you need to be able to work and share and teach each other.” These are life lessons embedded within the flexible learning experience that PUB 101 provides.

The connection between flexibility and student well-being

Health Promotion team
SFU’s Health Promotion team partners with instructors to organize courses in ways that promote student well-being. From left: Tara Black (Associate Director); Crystal Hutchinson, Alisa Stanton, Rosie Dhaliwal (health promotion specialists).

When Tara Black hears “flexible education,” she thinks “student well-being.”

Black is the Associate Director of Health Promotion in SFU’s Health and Counselling Services unit. Her team takes a systemic approach to the creation of a healthy campus community by treating the university as an ecosystem and identifying factors that influence student well-being. Inevitably, classrooms enter the conversation.

“If you think of SFU as a setting, the classroom is such a core part of the student experience,” says Black. “Classrooms have a really profound impact on student well-being.”

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Why Health Sciences students loved this one-week course

Bruce Lanphear
Bruce Lanphear experimented with a one-week intensive course format. His students gave it rave reviews.

Does a credit course need to be 13 weeks long? Do alternative formats provide any benefits? Bruce Lanphear, a professor in Health Sciences, shed some light on these questions when he offered HSCI 483-3, an environmental health seminar, as a one-week intensive course during the spring 2013 semester break. Students praised the course (see the student comments below), and Lanphear, who co-taught the class with Glenys Webster, thinks he knows why: “If I had to single out the most important factor of success, it would be the format that resulted in the positive student feedback.”

“The condensed nature of the class allowed for a very high level of concentration and focus on one subject that allowed for more in depth learning. Unprecedented access to the profs for extra help, and the small class allowed for greater discussion and learning opportunities outside the classroom.” – Student

Lanphear previously taught the course in a traditional 13-week, three-hours-per-week format. He found that the change to a five-day format prompted his students to become more connected and collaborative: “When we have students eight hours a day for one whole week […], they are sitting next to the same people hour after hour. People become comfortable talking and dialoguing with each other, so the level of engagement is much greater.” Lanphear found that his own level of engagement rose as well because he was able to fully dedicate himself to the course within its short duration.

“This is an excellent format to offer to students and should be offered for other courses more often. It creates a community environment, allows one to concentrate on the material, connect with the professor and peers, and allows for things like field trips which enrich the experience. Also, the scheduling is fantastic – loved getting to fit in a class between semesters as my schedule is fairly busy and sometimes conflicts with the 14 week semester.” – Student

Remarkably, all 31 students finished the class with a perfect attendance record. Presumably the engaging nature of the course activities had something to do with that—for example, guest speakers were brought in, and students participated in field trips with follow-up activities that reinforced applications to real life—but as the student comments made clear, the course format itself was a big part of the appeal, especially for students juggling studies with work and other responsibilities.

“[The course] allows people to get 3 credits done in a way that probably fits better into the majority of students’ schedules – students who want to work full time, for instance, can take a week off, but not 4 hours a week off for 13 weeks.” – Student

Lanphear has the following words of advice for other faculty members interested in exploring intensive course formats:

  • Evaluate your current course format to determine its suitability for an intensive format: If a course consists mostly of lectures presented by a single instructor without other assistance, a one-week format could be daunting for the instructor and the students.
  • Enlist help from staff and faculty since the change in format can have implications for systems and operations. In the case of HSCI 483-3, it took two years to move the course forward.
  • Consider how you will deal with additional costs for field trips and other activities. Think about where you can obtain funding (research grants, funding from your Faculty and/or the Teaching and Learning Development Grants).

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Jamie Mulholland on flexible education

Jamie Mulholland
For Jamie Mulholland, a senior lecturer in mathematics, flexible education has meant experimenting with a flipped-classroom model that allows him to interact more meaningfully with his students.

Jamie Mulholland,  a senior lecturer in mathematics, and recipient of the 2011 Teaching Excellence Award, is renowned within the SFU community for his flipped calculus courses. Flipped classrooms are one example of flexible education—students watch lectures posted on Jamie’s YouTube Channel, while class time is spent solving math problems. Jamie began this initiative with the help of educational consultant Cindy Xin, and colleague Veselin Jungic. “We were all on it from day one so it’s equally as much their baby as it is mine,” says Jamie. To shore up the technical side he took the Ed Media Protégé Program and worked with Adam O. Thomas, a videographer from the Teaching +Learning Centre.

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