SSHRC-Funded Research Project Aims to Humanize Learning

Many students, and particularly traditionally underrepresented students including international students, Indigenous students, and mature students, face challenges as they enter and progress through postsecondary education. These challenges can include poverty, mental health challenges, previous poor performance in education, a lack of academic preparation, and more.

A research team led by Principal Investigator Dr. Meridith Lovell-Johnston (Associate Professor, Orillia) has received a SSHRC Insight Development grant to work toward “humanizing learning” via the development of four microcourses to teach educators how to make courses more accessible and supportive for students who struggle.

The research team includes co-applicants Dr. Joan Chambers (Associate Professor, Thunder Bay) and Dr. Sonia Mastrangelo (Associate Professor, Orillia); collaborators Helen DeWaard, Lucas Johnson, Sabreena MacElheron, and Steven Secord of Lakehead’s Faculty of Education; Kimberly Veneziale from Confederation College; and Wayne Brown from Georgian College.

Meridith explains that the research came about in 2020, when “eCampus Ontario circulated a funding call seeking proposals to develop open access resources in a variety of different areas, including humanizing learning. This call coincided with events in our faculty around the move to completely online learning, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

She adds that research supports the fact that moving online by necessity, rather than choice, creates headaches for the average student, but can pose more significant challenges for students who are marginalized or already struggling.

In response to these recognized challenges, and the desire to make learning accessible and supportive for all, the research team will develop four microcourses for postsecondary educators:

1. Defining Humanizing Learning and Principles  

2. Course Design using Humanizing Principles

3. Building Relationships and Empathy using Humanizing Principles

4. Promoting Student-Centered, Responsive Learning through Humanizing Principles

Research participants in the two-year project will include undergraduate and college educators, including professional program educators in the Faculty of Education.

“The direct benefit of our project for participants is to build awareness of humanizing learning and universal design principles for postsecondary educators, thereby advancing their pedagogy; but indirectly, our project will benefit the students who come into university or college and find the institutions unwelcoming, confusing, and even frightening,” Meridith says.

At the conclusion of the project, the microcourses will be hosted on an open access website for a minimum of five years, so that other educators in Ontario, Canada, and across the world can benefit from them.

Pictured below: Principal Investigator Dr. Meridith Lovell-Johnston.