Democratic Teaching and Learning: A Study of Practice at Simon Fraser University 

Published by Simon Fraser University, Faculty of Environment

Principal Investigator: Dr. Joanna Ashworth, Director of Professional Programs and Partnerships and Teaching Fellow, Faculty of Environment 

Research Collaborators: Am Johal, Brenda Morrison, Paola Ardiles, and Tara Mahoney 

Drawing first on the literature and wisdom of leading practitioners in the field, this phenomenological study begins with the premise that democratic teaching and learning operate on the basis of an ethos of fairness, care, and transparency, and, in essence, teaching the skills of deliberative reasoning. But we recognize there is much more to understand about this practice. This study assumes that university teaching plays an important role in fostering democratic capacities through theory and practice and in the design of learning that takes place both inside and outside the classroom.6 This may include methods and practices that allow students to participate in decision making and collaboration within the classroom, as well as learning activities that engage students in democratic life outside the classroom. 

This discussion paper is intended to identify what Simon Fraser University faculty are doing in this field. The paper aims to spark a conversation among university educators about the phenomenon of democratic teaching and learning practices in everyday teaching — intentionally, informally, and/or inadvertently — to share the methods and approaches used by SFU faculty and lecturers, to examine what discernable effects their efforts have yielded, and to offer insights derived from these teaching experiences about institutional and pedagogical limits and supports for these efforts. The paper, in short, offers a lens through which to see the possibilities for educators, staff, and senior administrators that will contribute to scaling up the art and science of educating for a strong, participatory democracy.