Noah Kenneally’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program Final Report

September 29th, 2011 by Rubina Quadri

This summer was the second the Ryerson Office of Innovation and Research offered to it’s students the Undergraduate Research Opportunity program. The program allows students to carry out a research project of their own from start to finish, under the tutelage of a faculty member engaged in similar research. I applied and was accepted as a URO Scholar this summer.

My URO project, called “Researching Skills Development in Adaptive Design and the Creation of Objects for Children with Disabilities”, involved inquiry into how to best encourage skills development in Adaptive Design. By researching various curricula of experiential, hands-on education, I was able to explore how combining theoretical and practical knowledge work together to effectively construct meaningful and personal knowledge.

Adaptive Design is a philosophy of inclusion and a suite of skills and techniques used to create “assistive devices” – objects that respond to specific needs and that improve the lives of people (primarily children) with disabilities, allowing them to be more autonomous and independent. Using cardboard as a primary building material, adaptive design is both environmentally sound and an effective solution to the high cost of expensive therapeutic equipment. Practitioners of adaptive design are not often medical professionals, however, and therefore the design process is a collaborative hands-on process involving the designers and the person for whom the object is being designed. This collaboration allows for needs to be directly addressed, and can often incorporate medical specifications provided by other professionals involved in that person’s care and support.

Part of my project was an in-depth review of both canonical and contemporary literature speaking to experiential education; craft; design; and participatory learning, as well as investigating adaptive design techniques developed by the Adaptive Design Association made available to the public through their website. The work of experts in the field such as D. Gauntlett, M. Glover, A. Antle, J. Dewey, b. hooks, L. Malaguzzi, and P. Friere all informed my research, and helped to construct a theoretical framework on which to base my inquiry. The constructivist/constructionist perspective of learning shared by the majority of these thinkers places emphasis on the experiential aspects of building knowledge through direct experience. I applied this approach to skills development in adaptive design by designing curricula for workshops in which participants would learn the processes and philosophy by building adaptive design objects, thus constructing their knowledge as they constructed something with their own hands. The curricula also emphasized building knowledge through meaningful experiences, personalizing and contextualizing the skills to encourage optimal exploration of the techniques of adaptive design.

I then employed techniques of action research, and tested the curricula in workshops situations with experts in the fields of early childhood education, special needs and experiential education. We also hosted four early childhood education students as interns, who tested the curricula, assisted with workshops and explored their own learning of adaptive design. Using the workshops as testing grounds, I had the fortunate opportunity to be able to assess and retool the workshop curricula, and was able to refine the curriculum pertaining to each fundamental technique of adaptive design over several workshops.

Inspired by Gauntlett’s work on craft and its contemporary parallels found in the participatory creations of Web 2.0 platforms such as flickr and Youtube, I designed instructional videos for several adaptive design techniques. I was able to shoot, edit and produce six videos, which were then uploaded to Youtube to both provide support and reminders for learners and to also serve as a resource for anyone interested in learning adaptive design.

Finally, my research into skill development in adaptive design will contribute to a larger research project of Dr. J. Nolan, A. Gaston and the EDGE Lab, called Adaptive Design Pedagogical Inquiry. This project will explore the design and implementation of a curriculum for teaching adaptive design here at Ryerson University.

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