A Week in the Life of a Dialogue Student

This is intended to illustrate how a week in the life of a Semester in Dialogue class differs from a conventional university class. This is an example of a week, but may vary from week to week, and between semesters. 

Thought Leaders

Each semester, fifteen to twenty-five community guests interact with students in a dialogue format. Lectures are not permitted, but rather students have an opportunity to facilitate dialogue and engage accomplished leaders in discussion. Recent examples include:

SPRING 2018: Health and Wellness

  • Heidi Hansen: MSW, EdD, Family Therapist, First Nations Counsellor, Patient Advocate, Community Liaison; Intercultural Communication Instructor
  • Mary Clare Zak: Managing Director Social Policy, City of Vancouver

Thoughts from Alumni:

“I like how we had speakers from various—and very current—spaces in the industry. It made us feel [like we were] a part of things and not [were] just in a university bubble. I left feeling motivated and informed [and feeling] like what we did mattered.”

Small Group Projects 

Students collaborate in small groups to develop community-based projects. Many of these have become established programs of large-scale impact, including:

  • YIMBY: Welcoming homeless citizens in neighborhoods outside of the Downtown Eastside
  • Bike Lab: Installing bike repair stations all across Vancouver
  • Buddy up: A community platform of shared interests and skills to build a more collective Vancouver

Thoughts from Alumni:

“…a very powerful experience because I understood the impact students, engaged citizens and people with a vision can have in their city. Seeing those bike repair stations literally hit the ground made me realize I can positively impact my city.”

Public Dialogue

A final dialogue hosted by the cohort at the end of their semester provides the opportunity for students to choose a topic of significant community interest, then organize, publicize and facilitate the event, as well as share the public dialogue’s outcomes. For example:

SUMMER 2018: Urban Energy Futures

Sparking a Change: Engaging Metro Vancouver in a Clean Energy Future

Semester in Dialogue students held a showcase to envision the future of electric vehicles. Click here to view a short student-made video that captured this exciting event and some of its outcomes.

SPRING 2018: Health and Wellness

Crisis on Campus: Exploring the current state & potential of student mental health

The Spring 2018 cohort invited other students, wellness leaders, faculty, staff and others interested in mental health to explore the state of campus mental health and brainstorm innovative strategies to improve services on campus. This report was distributed to community policy makers, university administrators, health care staff and government. Many of the recommendations have been adopted or are being considered.

Thoughts from Alumni: 

“We had the ability to be powerful agents in the community, whether it was through our group projects or the public dialogue-archive that we took part in regardless of our age. We didn't have to wait to be 'grown up' or gain experience to be able to contribute.”

Op-Ed (Opposite-Editorial Commentary) 

Students research, present and submit an opinion piece to media outlets, following considerable feedback and revision from Dialogue faculty. Student commentaries have been published in the Globe and Mail, National Post and Vancouver Sun, among many other publications:

Thoughts from Alumni:

“When I wasn’t sure about what to write about for an op-ed, I was invited to chat with Mark Winston who just listened to me share. I ended up being inspired and went on to be published in the Vancouver Sun. I realized I had experience just like everyone else; I just needed to learn how to express it."

Field Trips

Students attend three to four field trips during the semester, adding valuable experiences to classroom learning. These interactive, investigative trips provide real-world context, as well as a network to draw from after their semester is completed.

  • Provincial Court of British Columbia: A trip to the Provincial Courthouse, a trial level court in BC that deals with criminal and civil issues, enhanced students’ knowledge of how particular cases involving individuals with mental health and/or addiction issues are being resolved.
  • BC Hydro: Students visited BC Hydro’s generation and distribution operations centers and learned first-hand how electrical energy is delivered in BC.
  • Pacific Autism Family Network (PAFN): The PAFN provides clinical assessment, employment initiatives, preschool and other online initiatives to support families affected by autism. 

Thoughts from Alumni:

“I spend so much time living in a world of theory, and this was very refreshing and grounding.”


Workshops develop skills for engaging in dialogue, using critical thinking, and planning & hosting events. Examples include:

  • Dialogue facilitation
  • Systems thinking
  • The art of hosting
  • Event planning
  • Storytelling
  • Public speaking

Thoughts from Alumni:

“My time in the Semester in Dialogue cemented my belief in the need to incorporate storytelling and diverse forms of knowledge in making lasting social change."

Team Building Exercises

Team building exercises establish a tightly knitted community. These interactive and social activities foster an effective team with trust, a sense of safety and commitment. Examples include:

  • Art Workshops: Students express themselves and topical issues through dance, storytelling, spoken word poetry, improvisation and other art-based practices.
  • Camp Capilano Retreat: Some semesters take students on an overnight retreat, usually early in the semester, to begin building an effective class culture through dialogues and organized activities.
  • Potlucks: Students organize potluck lunches, to engage in relaxed conversations and connect over food.

Thoughts from Alumni:

"My best friends, my community, my professional network and every project I've ever worked on has roots in the Dialogue classroom.”