Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, WIMTACH has continued its efforts to support its Student Researchers to gain experiential learning, job opportunities, employable skills and industry knowledge of digital health sectors. This series will highlight how students and faculty who work with WIMTACH are managing the ongoing changes to their daily lives.
Even though his office was just around the corner, Professor Dwayne Locke of the Early Childhood Education program was unaware of what WIMTACH was all about. The opportunity to become a Principal Investigator for the first time on an education-based project was brought to him by two coordinators because of his teaching focus on curriculum for children, his decades of experience and the personal and professional benefit it would bring him.
“What interested me was that Jeziel was very forthcoming and open and seemed excited to have me on board. I felt like I was a part of a community. I felt like, you know, people were hearing my voice, respected what I had to share and seemed to be excited about what to look forward to later when we’re working on the project itself. Very open, very positive, very warm,” he said in an interview.
Not knowing what to expect, Dwayne was “stunned” by the “the number of different stakeholders, the diverse knowledge that came from different people” because it was a more research- and technical-based approach to contributing new ideas in the early childhood education sector. Since February of this year, the WIMTACH team and the RQDN Labs team, the industry partner, have been meeting to discuss the specifics of the project. Despite some differences about some education aspects of the project, such as how children learn, Dwayne was open to listening to different views and understandings and so was the WIMTACH team:
“Eventually, I began to talk and share my passions and what I truly believe about how children learn…they seemed to be very open. [Although] they had their plan and ideas, they were definitely listening to what I had to share and how this would help move the project forward.”
At WIMTACH, collaboration is a key component of its success precisely because it requires bringing ideas together to better understand a problem and create an innovative solution. All applied research projects include Centennial College faculty and students as well as WIMTACH Research Associates, project managers and industry partners. By design, these projects create the best conditions to be creative, especially with the growing number of new faculty members joining the WIMTACH team.
Recently, the RDQN Labs project Dwayne is part of was approved for NSERC funding:
RQDN Labs is a Toronto-based company that provides science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programming to children aged 4-10. Using a Montessori-school-inspired approach, their aim is to teach children digital skills that will prepare them for the future of work and digital innovation. RQDN Labs and WIMTACH are partnering to design and prototype a voice-based smart speaker application that will deliver STEM-based content and activities. The outcome of the project is a functional and tested voice application Minimum Viable Product (MVP) that implements key lessons supporting the development of cognitive skills – such as problem solving, storytelling and vocabulary-building.
“When [the news of the funding] did come, I felt really good. There was tons of affirmation. Jeziel seemed to be appreciative of what I was able to contribute and the team as a whole. It was great and reassuring. Knowing that I’m competent and able to share and give information and that people are going to use that for something in their future…that was a great feeling. I think that really boosted my confidence in terms of my knowledge base, the years I’ve been working, my passion for child development. This knowledge is being used in a different way, not in the formal classroom but outside of my program in a different space in the College. That whole connecting and networking is a huge bonus for me.”
However, once the pandemic struck, the networking and meetings became scheduled and remote. Additionally, he has been teaching with a full course load. From his students, he’s been “hearing the good and not so good” particularly around how the way learning has become completely online has impacted students differently. To be as responsive and supportive as possible, his department is surveying students to better understand their experiences as well as the various formats courses and other online course material has taken.
Personally, for Dwayne it’s been “a good juggle and good balance” because of the support he’s received from his managers and colleagues. While quarantine has been new and sometimes challenging, Dwayne has a special philosophy that he always refers to:
“For me, my philosophy is my state of mind, my body, my soul comes first before anything. “I’ve tried my best to make sure I’m eating well, I’m sleeping well, I’m engaged with my family…that’s been interesting and that’s been my priority at home. Quarantine has allowed me to be more flexible in terms of when I do things and how I do things. If I was at the College, I think it would be a bit difficult and I would have a more structured format to follow. But because I am home and I can regulate my timing, and figure out what works best for me, it’s worked for me. On the other side of that, sometimes I don’t know when to quit…sometimes I’m working in the wee hours of the morning. That could be a disadvantage but right now it works for me.”
Dwayne’s advice for students and faculty is to ground what works in wellness because “if you aren’t well, you can’t be well for others.”
“Ensure that you take time for yourself to de-escalate, to breathe, to relax to reflect, to pick up a hobby and make sure you stick to it and you’re consistent with that…I think what’s important is empathy, knowing that you aren’t the only one that experiences this. Have conversations with colleagues and your peers to give you the reassurance that there are other people also dealing with these stressors and the difficult period time of change. And then, come up with a plan. Know that your plan is not concrete and it’s not carved in stone. There should be flexibility in that. Understand that things may not work out the way you planned it, and it should be okay.”
A few weeks ago, Dwayne had a conversation with a coordinator where they talked about how important it was to “step outside of our comfort zone and our box to meet and network with other people within the College” because it facilitates the movement of knowledge – someone has it, shares it, receives it, questions it and researches ways to expand it. Academia is, in this way, is a celebration.
“If we think that way and bring it back to the program, it supports the program and bringing back more information to share and use inside your classroom…you can also gain more knowledge about the College itself and what the College provides and what’s out there for students.”
The WIMTACH project made way for this approach in real-time. Since all WIMTACH projects involve students as employed Student Researchers of projects, Dwayne got to share the job opportunity with his students. And once the project has been completed, he plans on bringing back what he learned and took away from it back to his department to move forward.
For more #WIMTACHatHome stories, please visit: https://wimtach.centennialcollege.ca/news/
For updates on WIMTACH’s operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, please visit https://mailchi.mp/d9a20aac07f0/covid-19-update
WIMTACH proudly recognizes funding to support this work from Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).