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iPads in the Classroom

Collaboration for Innovation: Ground-Level Research at George Brown College

Since 2007, the Government of Canada has granted universities research capacity-building funding through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). This July, select college-level initiatives got their own slice of that pie: through the Community and College Social Innovation Fund, up to $200,000 in funding was made available to finance two years' worth of selected college-industry partnerships.

“Businesses need help innovating,” explains Robert Luke, Vice President of Research and Innovation at George Brown College. In order to make that happen, collaborations with post-secondary research institutions are a necessity. We spoke with three of the George Brown faculty heads whose research projects, in tandem with area businesses and institutions, received Community and College Social Innovation funding in this inaugural cohort.


Charles Anyinam, Faculty of Community Services and Health Sciences: Partnership for Applied Research to Support the Development and Evaluation of the Post-Secondary Students with Disabilities Network (PSDNet)

Anyinam and his student-researchers have partnered with the National Educational Association of Disabled Students, Nipissing University, and University of Ontario Institute of Technology to provide an online environment for post-secondary students with disabilities.

“Research shows that students with disabilities have a harder time integrating in post-secondary communities,” explains Anyinam. To counter this challenge, he and his project partners are working on developing a social media platform that allows disabled students to more easily connect with peers.

The platform also folds in a mentoring program to connect students with disabilities with recent post-secondary graduates who also have disabilities. “We know from research that mentoring makes a huge impact on peoples' sense of themselves, their connectedness to what they're doing,” says Anyinam. “Overall our goal is to support those students and help them to come out on the other end with credentials and a better sense of themselves.”

At press time, Anyinam and his colleagues are in the early planning stages of data collection and hope to launch their project next fall. Eventually, their aim is to use the data they collect to make the initiative province-wide, and eventually national.

“I've worked in universities before, and I've never experienced the level of support that our research and innovation offices have offered at George Brown,” says Anyinam. “I feel very fortunate to be working as an academic in the college sector, doing research. SSHRC has done a great thing by allowing community colleges to have their own funding pool to pull from.”


Monica McGlynn-Stewart, Centre for Early Childhood Development: Toys or Tools? Using Tablet Computers for Open-Ended Literacy Learning

Where does tablet technology fit in the classroom? To solve that riddle, Monica McGlynn-Stewart has partnered with a large Toronto area school board to develop an open-ended tablet app that allows kindergarten-aged children to take photographs, draw on blank slides, and voice over an explanation of what they've done. From there, they've introduced the program to a number of Junior and Senior Kindergarten classrooms, where staff are instructed on how to use the technology and, crucially, the technology's efficacy can be measured.

“It's a way for young children to narrate their learning,” McGlynn-Stewart explains. The advantages are multifold: the process allows for oral language development, reflective learning, and problem-solving in terms of both learning how to use the technology, and to become active digital media producers and content creators. The app will also help classroom teachers understand how to effectively incorporate technology in their teaching.

“We're interested in the children's learning but also the educator's learning,” says McGlynn-Stewart. “When we were learning to become teachers we didn't learn appropriate pedagogies around these new technologies. This project will help us understand how to shape effective programming.”

With SSHRC funds, McGlynn-Stewart and her team were able to buy more iPads for the 14 classrooms involved in the project, in addition to hiring four research assistants to go into those classrooms every week to troubleshoot technological problems. And, because of the funding, the study can now be extended for a total of three years. This allows its investigative researchers more time for focus groups and workshops.

“We want to bring the educators together so they can share ideas,” says McGlynn-Stewart. In the meantime, they're working toward developing website to put up their findings and provide ongoing classroom support.


Jaswant Bajwa, Centre for Preparatory & Liberal Studies: From Margins to Center through Education: Integrating Victims of Torture and Political Oppression

In collaboration with the CAMH, and under partnership with the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture (CCVT), George Brown's Jaswant Bajwa has undertaken a research study to facilitate the post-secondary success of previously politically oppressed newcomers to Canada.

“The needs of this community are not high on any political agenda, but they're critical,” says Bajwa.

Her project's goal is, simply, to see that learners from all backgrounds are able to access education. Specifically, the project seeks to create innovation to identify the needs and barriers of victims of torture, and bridge the gap to address these needs. From there, Bajwa aims to develop a curriculum that would then be piloted at a yet-to-be determined location—potentially, at George Brown College.

“SSHRC funding totally made this possible,” she says. “Unfortunately there's not much funding typically available to engage in this kind of innovation.”

This feature and the Collaboration for Innovation package are made possible by George Brown College. 

Robert Luke
Robert Luke
VP Research & Innovation at George Brown College
Robert Luke is Vice President of Research and Innovation at George Brown College, leading the college's applied research and innovation activities that focus on industry collaboration to meet challenges in development and productivity.

In late 2014, the Government of Canada announced that funding would be made available through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) to the college sector. The Community and College Social Innovation Fund is designed to encourage multi-sector research partnership, and is the first SSHRC funding to be designated for the college level. We spoke with Luke about what college-level inclusion in large-scale research means for Canadian innovation, and the general climate of Canadian development.

Yonge Street Media: What is the primary advantage of offering SSHRC funding to the college sector, as opposed to solely university programs?
Robert Luke: The reality here is that in the college sector, we have faculty with a lot of expertise that they want to apply into the communities and social systems and which they work. Productive social economies where all workers in the continuum have experience and exposure to innovation as it relates to a particular economy. Investing only in PhD students is less effective to economic innovation.

Why is it beneficial to develop research capacity in all post-secondary students?
We need brilliant engineers and scientists. But we also need brilliant nurses to work aside our brilliant doctors. Canada has finally realized that it we don't leverage the entire postsecondary continuum for compatibility, we're doomed. We do not specifically train people to work in clinical, scientific academic environments. We need specific and mindful training for all professions in the continuum. It is our responsibility to fix the system. And to do that we need everybody.

What's one of the biggest innovation challenges facing Canada at the moment?
Canada invests more in R&D than any other G7 nation, but we're 29th in the world for business investment in R&D. We don't have the GDP to invest in everything that crosses our minds. According to World Bank only 1.73% of GDP goes to this. Partly because of this, we are the world's open source ideas factory. We need to be commercializing our own ideas here.