Changing faster is good

November 05, 2013
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Message from the VP Academic

A few years ago, I attended a conference where it was suggested that implementing significant change in a university took a generation—and the speaker meant 25 years, not the more rapid turnover of student generations.

A slow rate of change is not necessarily a bad thing. Universities have been around a long time because their core mission—the generation and transmission of knowledge and the development of students’ abilities—meets a societal need that recurs with each cohort of school leavers. Universities are also slow to change because their governance processes encourage deliberation and debate, rather than a quick jump onto a new bandwagon.

However, there are times when a more rapid response is required. And the articles in this edition of ViewPoint Academic reflect an internal impetus for faster change driven by faculty members, students and support staff.

About four years ago, the Task Force on Teaching and Learning reported on its in-depth examination of our practices and made a number of important recommendations to diversify and enhance undergraduate learning. These recommendations are central to the recently completed 2013-2018 Academic Plan.

Across the university faculty members are exploring new approaches to education through the Teaching and Learning grants program or collaborations with the Teaching and Learning Centre. Others have been inspired by SFU’s new learning management system, Canvas, to introduce new media and online participation to students.

Some have decided to “flip” the classroom. Last summer faculty members experimented with new ways to obtain student feedback, with a greater emphasis on the context in which student evaluations are made and on input that is useful to instructors’ future development. And after extensive debate we agreed on a way to be more accountable through the development of educational goals and assessment practices that are determined within academic departments.

There is still work to be done, though. Almost half of our students do not speak English as their first language and that requires us to think about how we teach and to plan more carefully the support and development of English language skills.

While we have resisted a rapid adoption of massive open online courses, or MOOCs, and although we were pioneers in distance education, it’s time to evaluate how we can best use online resources to provide high-quality, accessible learning. I anticipate a comprehensive review of this issue over the next two years.

I have always found SFU instructors to be enthusiastic and deeply concerned about the well-being of their students. Many of the initiatives described in this newsletter were conceptualized by the earlier task force and have drawn instructors into discussions that allow them to contribute their own expertise and learn from the experiences of others.

What I believe has changed quickly in the last few years is the realization that by sharing our experiences as teachers we become more confident, more expert and more effective. I am pleased to have been able to facilitate and support this, but in the long run I am convinced that real change in education flows from the collective activities and energy of instructors. I hope you will see something in this report that inspires you to become involved in this movement.

Jon Driver
VP Academic and provost

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