An interview with Kaila Folinsbee, Research Coordinator in the Office of Instructional Development (OID) at Dawson College.
In the introduction to the 2013–2014 Dawson College Annual Research Review, Director General Richard Filion states:
"Along with such values as accessibility, diversity, and collegiality, excellence and innovation also figure prominently in our mission statement. Over the decades, this commitment to excellence and innovation on the part of the Dawson community has translated into an unmatched level of support for research activities. This research is often fundamental or applied in nature; it creates new knowledge and sometimes pioneers new pedagogical approaches. These varied initiatives complement one another to create a truly productive research community.
This willingness to support the development of research is very much a part of our College’s DNA, and this for one simple reason: research is a means by which, as a learning community, we maintain our position at the leading edge of knowledge".
Dawson College’s reputation for supporting research and nurturing a productive research community is well-known throughout the college network. Le Portail, (the Quebec college network portal), wanted to know the basis for the College’s support of research and the players involved. Kaila Folinsbee, Research Coordinator at Dawson College, gave us an overview of research at Dawson College.
Research in numbers
Over the past eight years, sponsored funding to College researchers from research grants grew from $357,672 in 2006–2007 to $642,371 in 2013–2014, and currently totals $972,319. In 2013–2014, 18 research projects were funded by provincial and national funding agencies – including PAREA, the FRQSC, the FRQNT, and SSHRC – in various disciplines including natural sciences, math, history, literature, and pedagogy.
In addition to securing external funding, Dawson researchers generate a significant number of peer-reviewed papers, books, and conference papers. These activities, which are critical for knowledge mobilization, represent a major component of the institution’s research output. For example, in 2013–2014 alone, more than 50 peer-reviewed papers were published in the natural and social sciences, and pedagogical research. Researchers also give seminars, talks, and courses to disseminate their findings to a broad audience. Some 50 teachers are involved in research at Dawson, in spite of the fact that research is not formally recognized as part of a teacher’s workload.
An important field of research: enhancing teaching and learning
Kaila Folinsbee first points out that “most of our researchers are concerned with the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. We specialize in the field. About 30% of our researchers are involved in pedagogical research.” The field of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning encompasses the variables that influence student success, learning, and retention as well as technology and teaching-related practices. The emphasis is on measuring the effectiveness of innovative learning tools and technologies available to enhance the educational environment. Dawson hosts numerous communities of practice that involve teachers and researchers from across the College and from other institutions. These groups implement innovative teaching practices such as active learning, problem-based learning, science education, and Universal Design for Learning (UDL).
The SALTISE (Supporting Active Learning and Technological Innovation in Studies of Education) consortium illustrates Dawson’s practices in this regard. SALTISE began with a grant from the Projet interordre Programme de collaboration universités-collèges (PCUC) entitled « L’appel à la technologie et à l’innovation pour parfaire l’enseignement des sciences. » The initial project partners were McGill University, Dawson College, John Abbott College, and Vanier College. The SALTISE consortium has since become a broad research community co-directed by Dr. Elizabeth Charles and Chris Whittaker from Dawson, and Dr. Nathaniel Lasry of John Abbott College. In addition to their research output, they have received awards and recognition for their work from Canadian and Quebec associations.
Dawson College’s ALC Community of Practice
The research work of Dr. Catherine Fichten of the Psychology Department is well known at Dawson and in the college network. Her research focuses on facilitating the postsecondary education of students with disabilities (within the ADAPTECH research network) and sleep issues including insomnia, sleep apnea, non-refreshing sleep, and chronic fatigue syndrome. She recently received FRQSC funding for a three-year project entitled: Les perspectives des étudiants et des professeurs sur l’excellence dans l’utilisation des TIC et du cyberapprentissage au collégial (a $432,000 grant). She is also the principal investigator of another three-year project funded by the FRQNT: Mesure objective de l’attention et de la somnolence au volant (a $100,000 grant), and co-investigator of a six-year project with Concordia: Centre d’études sur l’apprentissage et la performance (CEAP) ($186,000 awarded to Dr. Fichten and her team).
Disciplinary research—numerous initiatives across a broad range of fields.
Many faculty members are also deeply involved in disciplinary research, and a number of them work with university collaborators. In the words of Kaila Folinsbee: “Relatively few grants in the natural sciences are awarded to college teachers, because most federal funding in the field tends to be allocated to applied research, and there are few grants supporting fundamental science research at the college level.”
The 2013–2014 Dawson College Annual Research Review attests to major research activity and varied research initiatives. Here are a few examples that illustrate the diversity of research at Dawson:
Richard Soare (Geography) published several papers on geological landscapes of Mars. Frédéric Bastien (History) studies constitutional history and recently published La Bataille de Londres, a topic of much discussion in the media. Janice Harvey received a four-year grant from the FRQSC for her work with an UQAM research team. Their project: Le gouvernement de la misère et la citoyenneté: pauvreté, maladie et crime dans l’histoire du Québec. Louisa Hadley published the book Responding to Margaret Thatcher’s Death (Palgrave Pivot, April 2014). Shelagh Robinson studied the effect of reading backwards text on cognition. She has created an iTunes app called Mirror Read, and with Kyle Ilantzis, she created a specialized Mirror Bookmark. This new technology offers an easy way to view the mirror image of Web pages http://www.mirrorread.com/#!mirror-bookmark/c20hh). Miranda Campbell published the book: Out of the Basement: Youth Cultural Production in Practice and in Policy (McGill Queens University Press, 2013), a study on the variety of cultural productions of young people in the 21st century and their impact on their lives.
Presence of CRISPESH
The Research Centre for the Educational and Professional Inclusion of Students with Disabilities (CRISPESH) is a college centre for the transfer of social practices (CCTT PSN) created through a partnership between Cégep du Vieux Montréal and Dawson College. The centre was recognized by the Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport (MELS) in October 2010. CRISPESH’s mission is the advancement of knowledge and the development and promotion of innovative social practices that promote the educational, social, and professional inclusion of people living with disabilities. Among the Centre’s research initiatives is the PART-funded project, which uses technical applications to improve the written French of adults with disabilities. In partnership with the Association québécoise des troubles d’apprentissages (AQETA), the Centre is also studying how adults with a learning disability (LD) integrate technological aids into their autocorrection strategies in the exercise of writing French.
Research Recognition Award
To honour exceptional contributions to research at the College, Dawson created the Research Recognition Award. The award takes into consideration not only the awardee’s research, but also her or his contributions to the development of the research capacity of the Dawson community. Recipients include Catherine Fichten (2010), the Dawson Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC) (2012), Bruno Geslain (2013), Coordinator, Professional Development and Research at Dawson from 1984 to 2005, and Silvia d’Apollonia (2014), whose empirical work on group learning has helped to transform and increase the effectiveness of implementing cooperative and collaborative learning. Her work on the topic of students’ evaluation of teaching effectiveness has contributed significantly to pedagogical research in the field.
Organization of research at Dawson
The Academic Dean, Diane Gauvin, is responsible for research and research initiatives at Dawson. Barbara Freedman, Dean of Instructional Development, is in charge of pedagogical development and research in the Office of Instructional Development (OID). Within the OID, the Research Office is staffed by the Coordinator of Research, Kaila Folinsbee and two administrative technicians (Suzanne Prévost and Debbie Gill), who are responsible for direct support to researchers and grants administration. The Research Office in the OID helps researchers to write and submit applications to funding agencies, and manages the financial administration of grants together with the Human Resources and Finance departments. The Research Office in the OID is also responsible for drafting research policies, and is currently working on a policy to evaluate research and partnerships. Last year, an inventory of research activities was completed to review the accomplishments of the past 10 years. This year the Research Office is heading the development of a strategic research plan for the institution.
A major institutional choice
If research occupies a significant place at Dawson, it is due largely to the choices that the institution has made over the years to invest in research support. Dawson has a long tradition of allocating three FTEs (full-time equivalents) in research release time to researchers with grants. “The situation is unique in comparison with other colleges. It is the largest investment that Dawson makes for research, and it is critical to our success. Without this research release time, researchers could not carry out their projects. But with the growth in the number of researchers getting grants, there is a great deal of pressure to provide release time, and we don’t have enough release to meet the demand.”
A strategic plan to chart the future
Dawson is organizing an event to take place on May 21: Celebrate Research 2015. This will be an opportunity for researchers to share their discoveries with the College community, and to be recognized for their contributions to their fields. The College will also launch its Strategic Research Plan 2015–2018 at this event. This plan articulates the research areas that Dawson will invest in, as well as lay out strategic objectives for the next three years. One more opportunity to further embed research at the College and to showcase the important contributions college researchers can make to their disciplines, the Montreal community and the wider world.
Interview and text by Alain Lallier, Master Editor, Portail du réseau collégial.