With more than 235,000 people experiencing homelessness at any given time across the country, it is a prevalent concern for Canadians. Gaining a broader understanding of the issues surrounding homelessness is vital, and that is exactly what a group of Trent researchers are setting out to accomplish through a new, accessible online educational resource, Understanding Homelessness in Canada: From the Street to the Classroom.
Big social challenges require big thinking
“Homelessness is an issue that impacts all of society,” says Trent Sociology and Criminology professor Dr. Kristy Buccieri, who served as project lead. “One of the things that I've learned throughout doing my own studies and my own application across different fields of study is that there's a need to understand homelessness better, regardless of the field of study you are in.”
The core project team encompassed a wide range of interdisciplinary perspectives. Professor Buccieri brought a Sociology and Criminology lens, Dr. Cyndi Gilmer, director of the Department of Social Work and associate professor in the Trent/Fleming School of Nursing, and the Trent Online team providing valuable design, navigation, and multimedia expertise. The research was also informed by people who have experienced homelessness themselves, with community partners, the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, Green Wood Coalition in Port Hope, and Peterborough AIDS Resource Network (PARN) in Peterborough, providing valuable insight as part of the core research team.
The initial goal was to design an online course on homelessness that could be widely adopted by faculty across universities and disciplines, but the project grew into a much larger collaboration.
Sharing Unique Perspectives into Canadian Homelessness
“When we were talking about how we wanted to develop this course, we thought it would be good to reach out to some colleagues who teach and conduct research in the field of homelessness and get their input on what they think should be in the book,” Prof. Buccieri explains. “Then we thought, why don't we record those conversations and include them as mini guest lectures.”
The online resource includes interviews with 26 researchers from across the country discussing homelessness from various perspectives, including the fields of Indigenous and Canadian Studies, Mental Health and Public Health Studies, Population Studies, Social Sciences, and Health Sciences.
A talking textbook
Prof. Buccieri describes the online resource as a “talking textbook”, incorporating video, podcasts, original artwork and interactive activities into an engaging learning environment. Trent Online’s Stephanie Ferguson, e-learning designer, James Bailey, multimedia e-learning design specialist, and e-learning technologist, Josh Andrews were instrumental in pulling together this textbook on eCampusOntario’s Pressbooks platform. Being such an extensive resource means that the book can also be used in a variety of contexts says Prof. Buccieri.
“It can be a textbook or resource for existing courses or even a general interest reading book,” she says. “Our partners at the Homeless Hub are also using the content to develop professional development material for people working in the field. So, there's a lot of different routes that we can take with this particular project.”
Ensuring an engaged audience
“My goal when I teach is to get students to think about the course when they're outside of the course,” adds Prof. Buccieri. “With a course like this on homelessness, I want students to do the readings, attend the lectures, watch the videos, and record the notes and think about it. But I also want them then to later turn on the news and see a story about healthcare and think, ‘I wonder how that would impact somebody who's experiencing homelessness?’ or read about housing prices in their community and think, ‘well, that would be really hard to achieve if you were a person who had limited income and was experiencing homelessness’.”
To ensure that students are truly engaged with the content of the e-book, the research team involved students in various ways throughout the development process. Trent Biology and Sociology student, Carter Tongs, provided a valuable student perspective by conducting online surveys of undergraduate students at Trent to get a better understanding of their current knowledge of homelessness, their interest in taking a course on homelessness, and their interest in taking it as an online elective. Students also reviewed select chapters of the e-book and provided feedback on their user experience.
“We thought a lot about students as learners and how they would interact with that material and what we could do to really make sure that it was presented in different formats and also very accessible for all learners,” says Prof. Buccieri. “I'm hopeful that having so many different people participate in this project and bringing not only their different opinions but their different voices and different ways of explaining things that that will resonate with students in a way that will allow them to not just think about the material, but really think through the material in their everyday lives.”
This is one of several Trent projects that received a total of nearly $1 million from the Government of Ontario’s Virtual Learning Strategy (VLS). The VLIS is being delivered through eCampusOntario, a non-profit organization assisting post-secondary institutions in developing and testing open-access resources and online learning tools to advance the use of education technology and digital learning environments.