Research, teaching and community engagement

Education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and world better than you found it."
~ Marian Wright Edelman

The diverse and rich professional and community experience of our faculty members provides SDS students the advantage of having instructors that can help them relate their education to the real world. 

We focus on curriculum, programs, research and knowledge mobilization to apply resources of faculty, students and research to meet the needs of our community in order to create change. Partnerships with community based organizations create learning opportunities for students that also contribute to community well being.

The extensive involvement of SDS faculty members in various agencies, organizations, and associations helps to facilitate and bridge the gap between the classroom and social issues in the real world.


Furscience blends fandom with academic research 

Dr. Sharon Roberts standing infront of a furscience displayDr. Sharon Roberts is a member of the International Anthropomorphic Research Project (IARP, or "Furscience"), that brings together global academics to research an often misunderstood community - Furries. The IARP's work was recently highlighted online in The Stranger.

Furscience asks "psychological, anthropological, and sociological questions" to facilitate a greater understanding of the Furry community. The group conducts both quantitative and qualitative research, and defines a Furry as someone who creates "an anthropomorphized animal character (fursona) with whom they identify and can function as an avatar within the community".

a furry wearing a labcoat and headlampFurscience publically shares a wealth of information from their research and has demonstrated how diverse the furry community is across race, gender, education, mental health, sexual activity, etc. For example, Furries often identify with their fursona as an "idealized version of themselves", with a common thread among all being a stable sense of personal identity. Lately the group has been exploring how individuals with autism experience the community, and acknowledge an increase in trans identification among the fandom.

“It’s been the privilege of my life to engage with this community," says Roberts in The Stranger."Furries are misunderstood, but when you cut through it with science you find all kinds of great things.”

Learn more at The Stranger or visit the Furscience public information hub.


Collaborative project aims to change the way history is taught in Canada

Professor Kristina LlewellynHow do youth learn about Canada's history and what are they taught? What improvements can be made to the current K-12 curriculum that encourage student engagement and critical thinking?

As one of six executive members of a nation-wide team, Associate Professor Kristina Llewellyn will explore these questions through an $8.6 million-dollar project called “Thinking Historically for Canada’s Future”. The seven-year project is spearheaded by University of Alberta education professor Carla Peck, and will consider the 2015 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. 

“Despite great change over time, we still emphasize teaching the facts about white man’s history in our schools," says Professor Llewellyn. "We need to engage young people in the making and questioning of inclusive historical narratives.”

For a more detailed overview, see the August 20th, 2019 piece by the UW Daily Bulletin.


Professor Margaret Gibson headshot"Missing the Mark" - Meg Gibson highlights issues in Ontario's new autism strategy reform

Renison professor Margaret Gibson recently shared to The Record her perspective on present debates surrounding Ontario’s new funding allocation for autism services. Her piece highlighted how practitioners, researchers and families are reacting to these new changes. She emphasized the need for Ontario to expand its range of services and support systems for neurodiverse clients beyond ABA (Applied Behaviour Analysis, “the only publicly funded approach to autism intervention” in the province).

Read The Record’s opinion article for more detail.

Gibson is joint-appointed with Renison’s Social Development Studies program and the School of Social Work. Her academic focus covers LGBTQ2S+ and sexuality work, feminist research methods, disability studies, parenting and more.


Speaking Fruit - Renison professor Craig Fortier brings his research to the classroom (SOCWK 120R - Introduction to Social Work)

With colourful produce, a virtual reality film and lively soundscape, Speaking Fruit aims to share strategies and build alliances between movements for racial, food and labour justice, while distributing these messages to the public.

Beginning with a single question posed to migrant farmworkers in Southern Ontario, the project asks: “If the fruits you grow and pick could speak from dinner tables, refrigerators and grocery aisles, what would you want them to say?”


Renison professor presents new research on community engagement and water issues

Rob CaseRenison professor Robert Case (Social Development Studies), presented at two conferences of Congress 2017.

At the Canadian Association for Social Work Education (CASWE), Case was a participant in a panel on Social Work and the Environment and presented the findings of his research exploring the patterns and dynamics of community engagement on water issues in Canadian communities.
Read full article


Educational tech that’s helping to share the stories of Canada’s history

VR used in the classroomLast week, the ongoing work of Professor Kristina Llewellyn, a faculty member in Renison’s Social Development Studies department, was featured across the country on CBC as part of a piece looking at the use of virtual reality as an educational tool in classrooms. Llewellyn, whose research focuses on oral history, is leading a three-year $500,000 project with The Games Institute at the University of Waterloo, entitled Digital Oral Histories for Reconciliation (DOHR).

This project, funded through a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Partnership Development Grant, aims to create virtual reality (VR) oral histories with former residents and with the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children Restorative Inquiry to be used within Nova Scotia’s grade 11 history courses.

"There's great criticism about VR and technology generally for education, that it is about disconnection and a lack of communication skills for young people," Llewellyn said to the CBC. "This is meant to do the opposite."

Watch CBC’s video interview with Professor Kristina Llewellyn on the uses of VR for the purposes of education.

Read the CBC article about the uses of VR in the classroom, featuring Professor Llewellyn’s DOHR project.


Denise Marigold: Connecting positive psychology to student growth

Denise Marigold - SDS Professor

In a program known for attracting students with a “desire to make a difference in the world,” sustaining and nurturing that desire is a fundamental challenge. Renison’s Social Development Studies (SDS) is such a program; it seeks to empower learners “to pursue lives and careers dedicated to the promotion of individual and community well-being.” For Dr. Denise Marigold, Social Psychologist and Associate Professor of SDS, supporting students in achieving the program’s objectives means equipping them with the tools they need to become thoughtful, responsible, and engaged citizens.

But how does one do that, precisely? Marigold’s approach combines experiential learning with a responsive approach to teaching that is deeply influenced by positive psychology. She wants to see students thinking critically, gathering and analyzing evidence, and applying their knowledge in her classes. She works to get students questioning what they see in the media about personal well-being—how to live the “good life,” for example, or how to have happy, successful relationships—by asking them to bring their knowledge of psychology research to bear on the validity of those claims. Read full article on Centre for Teaching Excellence site