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Semester in Dialogue 2016 brochure

Upcoming Courses

Summer 2019: Semester in Housing Futures

Full-time, 10 credits (DIAL 390W & 391W)

Application deadline: February 8, 2019

It’s not an easy time to be a young person trying to find a foothold in Vancouver, a city of bold contradictions. Home to one of the most expensive real estate markets in North America, the city, like many urban centers around the world, is also the site of an ongoing housing crisis evident in its growing homeless population and its rental vacancy rates that hover near zero. Unaffordable and inaccessible as they can be, cities are also home to numerous people and organizations who have dedicated their working lives to doing what can seem impossible: creating a more equitable city that a broad range of people can call home.

Through an exploration of the human, textured nuances of what makes a place a home, Semester in Housing Futures will dialogue with planners, community advocates, developers and funders to probe what it takes to build cities that better reflect the housing needs of everyday people—particularly those struggling to get by and get started. We will work together to uncover bold, creative responses to what can seem like an unworkable housing crisis, and consider what it takes to build a city worth fighting for.

The goals of the class are largely about uncovering new ways of talking and thinking about difficult, divisive issues, productively learning from each other, and engaging in dialogue through difference.


Am Johal is the Director of SFU's Vancity Office of Community Engagement.    

Mark Winston is a professor and senior fellow at the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue.  

Jackie Wong is a facilitator, writer, and editor. She works in Vancouver’s social change community to advance public conversations about urban health, race, and equity. 

Spring 2019: Complexity of Health and Wellness—Applications are now closed.

Full-time, 15 credits (DIAL 390W, 391W, 392W - D100)

Health and wellness are complex topics worthy of exploration on many levels.  

The systems we have in place for “health care” are really “sickness care” systems.  In Canada, this sickness care system is primarily the responsibility of the provinces and territories.  In most jurisdictions the system uses the largest portion of provincial tax dollars, in addition to receiving transfer payments from the Federal government. Wellness in the form of prevention receives a very small proportion of the funding.

Canadian’s tend to perceive our healthcare system as universal and think it is excellent.  But not everyone is treated equally and there are many services not covered. Commonwealth Fund rankings put Canada at 10 out of 11 countries surveyed, including Australia, New Zealand, France, Sweden and the UK.  Only our neighbor to the south has poorer performance and costs more.

The Spring 2019 Semester in Dialogue will use dialogue and systems thinking as a means to examine the nature of health, inequalities and the boundary between health and other societal issues.  Specific themes that may be explored with invited guests and through assignments include:

  • Mental health and addiction
  • Indigenous health and wellness
  • Aging, dementia and home and community care
  • Precision health and personalized medicine
  • Disability and diversability in the community
  • Obesity and chronic disease prevention


Dialogue is intended to be an engaging and inclusive conversation for all participants, and is based on an understanding that everyone in the room is coming from a different background, and will have different interests and views. The goal of the Semester in Dialogue is to create a space where views can be expressed, and where participants can actively listen to each other and learn something new.  Dialogue ultimately provides a space to bring together diverse viewpoints, explore these differences, and work towards understanding them better.

Systems thinking recognizes that complex problems are different from simple or complicated problems.  Think: “cake, rocket, child” (simple, complicated, complex).

  • Baking a cake is simple.  It is easily reproducible, context doesn't matter much and it doesn’t require a lot of expertise.  A recipe is helpful.
  • Sending a rocket to the moon is complicated.  It is also reproducible after some trial and error, requires and benefits from lots of expertise.  Detailed recipes are necessary.
  • Raising a child is complex.  Lessons don’t necessarily transfer from one child to the next. Expertise is not all that helpful.  The outcome is hard to predict. A recipe can’t be constructed.

The Spring 2019 Semester in Dialogue will apply systems thinking to both understanding and addressing complex health and wellness challenges.

Course runs Monday through Friday 9:30-4:30


Dr. Diane T. Finegood is an experienced research leader and strategic thinker with an excellent track record of heading national and provincial health research organizations.  She served as President & CEO of the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (2012-2016) and inaugural scientific director of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s Institute of Nutrition, Metabolism and Diabetes (2000-2008).  Diane is currently a Professor in the Centre for Dialogue and Semester in Dialogue at Simon Fraser University.

As a bridge-builder and systems thinker, she has successfully facilitated the needs of disparate stakeholders to carve out common ground for effective dialogue, collaboration and outcomes.  Diane is also an internationally recognized researcher whose work and expertise range from cell biology, physiology, and mathematical modeling, to population and public health, health policy and knowledge translation.  She has received a range of awards, which reflect her impact as a leader, scientist, partner and mentor.

Dr. Scott Lear is a Professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University and the inaugural Pfizer/Heart and Stroke Foundation Chair in Cardiovascular Prevention Research at St. Paul's Hospital. His research spans the breadth of prevention of chronic diseases at a population level to the management at an individual level. This includes the identification of environmental characteristics that may act as facilitators and barriers of healthy lifestyle habits, investigation of the role of ethnic background in risk for obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and how technology can help improve health care access and delivery.

Chris Yakimov is the Associate Director, Digital Community Engagement for the Office of Community Engagement, SFU External Relations. He has worked as a digital strategist in the private, nonprofit and now public sector, and has a BA and MA from UBC in Psychology and Education, respectively. His graduate thesis was a narrative inquiry that explored the power relations brokered by the word “self”, in academic, therapeutic, and everyday discourse. He’s heavily influenced by thinkers like Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Antonio Damasio, Jaron Lanier and Judith Butler, and brings an abiding and passionate interest in the roles of emotion, autonomy, language and power within the complex bio-relational system that is “us”. Current interests include: critical deconstructions of economic and business systems, blockchain, cooperative governance, and the underutilized potential of fiction in knowledge mobilization and pedagogy. Vancouver-born, he loves hockey, photography, cli-fi, breakfast sandwiches and looking forward to whatever his three-year-old daughter will say next.

Spring 2019: Semester in Alternate Realities—Applications are now closed.

Full-time, 15 credits (DIAL 390W, 391W, 392W - D200)

About the Program

Semester in Alternate Realities proposes a unique educational experience meant to inspire interdisciplinary teams to solve a real-world problem exploring Virtual reality (VR) and hybrid VR physical installations.

What is “XR” and alternate realities?

The xR (“Extended Reality”) space is an emerging umbrella term that includes development, critical theory and different types of research and human aspects in the areas of virtual, augmented and mixed realities. Part of the alternative realities program goal is to support and contribute skills and knowledge to this burgeoning area.

In this project-based course, participants will be challenged to develop solutions using technologies such as VR (e.g., Oculus Rift, HTC Vive) and immersive multi-modal media installations. In addition to focusing on the co-construction of digital prototypes affording meaningful experiences in “alternate realities”, our objective is to stimulate documented reflection and discussion throughout the process. Participants can expect to work collaboratively, be matched according to the skills they bring, and be provided time and resources to learn new techniques and approaches, soft- and hard skills, and processes to conduct user research. Participants will get the opportunity to reflect on future technologies and their potential impact on the world, and improve their presentation skills and publicly showcase their projects. To incorporate diverse perspectives, students from different disciplines are invited to apply and, in their application, argue how they could contribute to the course and the co-construction of team projects.

Who is this course for?

Upper-level undergraduate students with a keen interest in addressing real-world problems through designing alternate realities experiences. Students are expected to be fearless in their exploration, adoption and experimentation of immersive technologies, and open to and interested in exploring new ideas, concepts and perspectives in an interdisciplinary setting. Come prepared to work collaboratively with others.

Please see our course information video here for more information about the course.

Course focus and design challenge

This semester’s design challenge is "creating for good": Use alternate realities techniques and technologies, guiding theoretical frameworks, and appropriate processes, project management and collaboration approaches to iteratively ideate, design, prototype, and evaluate an interactive alternate realities experience that affords meaningful experiences for the betterment of humanity and/or our planet.

The course runs Monday through Friday, from 9:30 AM – 4:50 PM at SFU Surrey.


The application deadline is October 31, and more information can be found here.

Applicants must also be available for a 3-hour audition session on November 2nd @ 3pm-6pm on the SFU Surrey Campus, where you’ll have a chance to get to know the instructors better and ask any questions you might have about the course.

Accepted students register through SFU. The course is open to students from all participating universities and departments.


Bernhard Riecke is Associate Professor and directs the iSpace Lab at SFU’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology (SIAT). He likes to go beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries, combining natural sciences approaches (being a physicist by training) with human-centered and creative approaches (drawing from Psychology, Cognitive Science, Meditation, HCI, Design, and Art) using immersive Virtual Reality (VR).

Starting off researching how we orient and move through real and virtual space, he is increasingly interested in exploring how we could utilize the potential of multi-sensory “extended realities” like Virtual and Mixed Reality to foster meaningful or even pivotal experiences and profound emotional shifts that we might otherwise never be able to experience. After researching for a decade in the Virtual Reality Group of the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen, Germany and working as a post-doctoral researcher at Vanderbilt University and UC Santa Barbara, Bernhard joined SFU in 2008. Bernhard teaches classes on immersive environments/Virtual Reality, game design, human-computer interaction and cognition, and research methods and recently gave a TEDx talk on the potential of Virtual Reality.

Patrick Pennefather has led development teams in the co-construction of VR, AR, MR and hybrid xR applications and experiences. As a founding faculty of the MDM Program and Assistant Professor at UBC, he facilitates and investigates pipeline development in the xR space. He is actively integrating immersive technology in the performing arts, currently prototyping geo-locatable augmented dance and music with dance company Small Stage.