Task force explores flexible education at SFU

One idea of flexible education could mean moving away from a traditional lecture hall setting.

SFU’s Task Force on Flexible Education (TFFE) is looking for ways to create more education options for instructors and students.

Made up of various administrators, faculty, and both undergraduate and graduate student representatives, the task force was formed last April following a survey of SFU’s current online education resources.

During an initial consultation process, the TFFE attempted to define flexible education at SFU, opening up the conversation to the SFU community. The group completed an interim report in August summarizing the process.

According to the report, the task force discerned that the SFU community saw flexible education as offering more choices to accommodate increasingly diverse educational needs and objectives. The next step for the group was to divide into working groups — each of which is developing suggestions for a final report to be recommended to the university.

Some of the flexible education strategies being considered involve course restructuring, which could potentially mean course length adjustment, and more distance education options.

TFFE communication lead Mark Bachmann explained, “There are a lot of ways you can enable student and instructor choice, [. . .] offering an online version of a course [for] someone who can’t get to campus [for instance].”

He continued, “It can also mean perhaps offering courses that don’t last 13 weeks [. . .] so that people who are working and can’t fit into that schedule can take a course. It can be an accessibility for a student with a disability.”

Bachmann also mentioned alternative instruction styles that move away from the traditional lecture setting. One such style is the ‘flipped classroom,’ wherein students learn the material at home — perhaps through an instructional video — and class time is geared toward more interaction between students and instructors.

Bachmann suggested that, in a time when most information is available online, “that sort of interaction is going to become more and more valuable in the future.

“What a university can offer is that sort of unique space where instructors, and experts, and students can get together and talk about things, ask and answer questions, and work on common projects and goals,” he continued.

Another way to increase flexibility would be to reconsider the physical classroom space. “Maybe instead of having a traditional lecture hall where the instructor has no choice but to stand at the front and the students have no choice but to sit in the seats, we could offer spaces with flexible furniture, different levels, different configurations, so that different kinds of learning can take place,” said Bachmann.

In preparing recommendations for the final report, working groups will seek feedback through various means, including a student advisory group, a student survey sent out this fall, and presentations to the community.

The group will finish its work in June of 2015, when it will submit its final report to the VP academic and the SFU senate.

“How the ideas become reality, that depends [. . .] on what those recommendations are. Some of them will probably be the type of recommendation that can be enacted very quickly and others will be [longer]-term,” explained Bachmann.

He acknowledged that bringing some of the ideas to life will most likely require funding, but said that in some cases, “they might just need resources to be reallocated or they might just need a shift of emphasis.”

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