research furthers innovation and teaching at the University of Lethbridge | summer 08 vol 1 issue 3
Research in Practice Dr. Ches Skinner disseminates his findings on the human condition in front of a full house
Shakespeare wrote, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” Dr. Ches Skinner, dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Lethbridge, wholeheartedly agrees. Fresh off directing the exceptionally well-received production of To Kill A Mockingbird, presented on the University Theatre stage in March, Skinner has reinforced his career-long belief that the theatre is a microcosm of the world at large – a kind of showcase laboratory where life experiments are conducted before the eyes of a riveted audience. As an artist, Skinner has personally experienced the discoveries that occur through the creative process time and time again, but as a scholar and dean of the Faculty, he faces the ongoing challenge of placing those discoveries in an academic context. In an environment where research findings are by-and-large expressed exclusively in print, it can be difficult to explain that performance art is all about experimentation. The finished product – the play – is the end result of hours and hours of research both on and off the stage. “People tend to think of research as something that happens in white smocks,”
Skinner says. “In Fine Arts, we don’t work like that, but we’re effectively doing the same thing. We’re trying to get a better handle on who we are, what we’re doing here and the world in which we live. A lot of our exploration has to do with styles and genres, but also with relationships, messages and ideas.” Skinner’s brand of research is organic in nature – a kind of play within the play that aims to find out what works and what does not in relation to the script, its message and how the cast interprets it. “I believe very strongly in the power of creativity,” he says. “I try to create an environment where actors feel safe and free to try things. Someone will eventually say, ‘Wow, that’s really good,’ and what we end up with is a production that is unique to this time, this Lethbridge, this cast.” Because Skinner’s training and expertise are in the area of theatre history and theory, as opposed to studio performance, he has several articles to his credit in publications such as The Journal of Popular Culture, Prairie Forum and Theatre Research in Canada. Still, Skinner is inclined to let his work speak for itself. “I very rarely write about the process
because I think my research is adequately disseminated on the stage. Almost 3,000 people saw our production of To Kill A Mockingbird, so more people have been exposed to my work than ever would had I simply written a paper about the script.”
Theatrical findings aside, first and foremost Skinner considers himself to be a teacher responsible for nurturing the talents and curiosities of drama students. “My main concern is that fine artists discover their voices and develop the confidence to speak,” says Skinner. “Studio art is collaborative research. Everyone can and should contribute.” This spring, the curtain will close on Skinner’s ten years as dean. During his tenure, the Faculty of Fine Arts made the transition from “School” to “Faculty”; the Department of New Media and bachelor of fine arts degree in new media were introduced; the number of tenured faculty increased from 14 (Spring 1998 Semester) to 26 (Spring 2008 Semester) and the number of fine arts majors grew from 145 to 592 in that same period.
Skinner, who was first appointed to a 10-month teaching position at the University of Lethbridge in 1976, has directed more than 30 plays at the U of L during his career. Over the years, he has seen firsthand that theatrical research and production have far reaching impacts. “The message in a play like Mockingbird comes through very clearly,” he says. “It reminds all of us about our responsibilities to each other as members of the human community. Its implications are as valid today as when the play was written.” Skinner was one of the U of L faculty and staff recognized with a 2006 Internationalizing the Teaching and Learning Practice Award from Alberta Advanced Education and Technology for his contributions to the Malaysia Work-Study Program. In 2007, he was named as one of 100 people to make a significant contribution to Alberta theatre in the Alberta Playwrights’ Network’s book, Theatre 100: Celebrating 100 Theatre Practitioners Over 100 Years.
Dr. Dennis Fitzpatrick
In this, our third issue of FIAT: Furthering Innovation and Teaching, we examine research in practice and once again illustrate how faculty from a broad range of disciplines deploy their research findings to affect change. At the University of Lethbridge, we view scholarship as encompassing discovery, synthesis AND application. In practice-led research, practice or application is an integral part of the process. The projects are academic quests that advance insight, knowledge and understanding to the research community and well beyond the walls of the institution. Research in practice embodies an emphasis on supporting the implementation and adoption of research findings into everyday applications. University research and scholarship are concerned with changing circumstances rather than just analysing them. They are the vehicles we use to change the way we think about things. Our researchers and scholars advance ideas that start a debate within the community and push us further into understanding who we are. The researchers profiled here all strengthen the link between academic research and the community’s needs. Whether they are producing plays that examine the human condition, improving the nutritional content of food or promoting human potential in addictions counselling, these scholars provide the research-based evidence that allows members of the community to make sound policy and personal decisions.
Editor: Alesha Farfus-Shukaliak Associate Editor: Jane Allan Photography: Glenda Moulton, Bernie Wirzba Writers: Caitlin Crawshaw, Natasha Evdokimoff Design: Sarah Novak Design Printing: University of Lethbridge Printing Services Correspondence should be addressed to: Research Services, University of Lethbridge 4401 University Drive Lethbridge, AB T1K 3M4 Phone: (403) 317-2869 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org www.ulethbridge.ca
“There is nothing as practical as a good theory. This concept, first developed by Kurt Lewin in 1951, is something I have put to work in my research and classrooms for many years, exploring the theories of leadership styles and how they influence human resource and organizational behaviour functions in the workplace. “Theory and practice are equivalent to body and soul. One without the other is incomplete and not fully functional. Theory is the structure of knowledge – the organization of ideas, conceptual constructs and matters. Practice is something of action – tangible, measurable outcomes that are the manifestation and representation of theory. “So often today we have people working only on theory and others working only on practice – not combining the two together. We need to look at the whole equation to understand how one works with and influences the other. Action without knowledge is equivalent to walking in the dark. You will be ineffective no matter how determined or moral the wandering is.
PRACTICE IN THEIR OWN WO R D S
Dr. Jim Henry explores creativity through M.U.S.I.C.
“For as long as I can remember, I have loved all things creative – creative ideas, approaches, products and creative people. This love of creativity is the main focus of my research and has also made its way into my teaching philosophy. “To me, effective teachers are also creative teachers. Not that they should be dancing and singing – though they may – but rather that they bring a creative approach to their work. As well as having excellent teaching skills, they are able to be spontaneous, imaginative and innovative, and they are willing to explore new territory. “Over the past few years, I have been exploring creativity enhancement and “When I teach leadership theory or cross-cultural management theory, I have my students practise the theory in class. It could be through self-experiential exercises, case analysis or role playing. I am there as a guide, but the students are conducting the exercises. We make discoveries about the implications of those theories together, incorporating a variety of factors that may influence the outcomes. “The classroom is a microcosm for any work environment. We have natural leaders and natural followers, and students all come in with their own set of beliefs, cultural perceptions and expectations. In the end, we’re producing better managers because the students have put learned theories into practice before entering the workplace. They have a better grasp of how management theory is effectively applied and how to change their tactics to accommodate different scenarios.”
have been working on a model to help facilitate this process. As far as I can tell, whenever something truly creative is occurring, five elements are involved: motivation, uncommon commitment, skill, imagination and courage (which can easily be remembered using the acronym M.U.S.I.C.). I am just beginning a new study of outstanding artists and what they can teach us about being our creative best. “As well, my long-time affinity for authenticity – a vital component of my work as a psychologist – has also made its way into both my teaching and my work with creativity. I believe that a “real” learning environment is a more effective learning environment – that people learn best when
Dr. Mahfooz A. Ansari puts theory into practice in his research and in the classroom
healthy interaction with others is a part of the process. “Authenticity has emerged as an important theme in my creativity research as well. One of the principles that emerged from my work is: You are the secret ingredient in your own creative genius. “Though we need all of the M.U.S.I.C. elements to be truly creative, how we arrive at them can vary tremendously from one person to the next. For instance, some people absolutely require solitude if they are to be imaginative; others find that imagination withers when they spend time alone and that their best ideas come when working in groups with others. There really is no onesize-fits-all when it comes to creativity.”
Making Food Healthier
Dr. Roman Przybylski boosts foods’ nutritional value, benefiting both consumers and producers
As Canadians become more health conscious, the market for nutraceuticals (like cholesterollowering yogourt and omega-3-enhanced eggs) is growing. However, not everything you see on the shelves is as healthy as it might appear. University of Lethbridge food chemist Dr. Roman Przybylski knows that some of the common nutrition-boosting additives can have negative side effects. Omega-3 fatty acids are now found in a wide variety of foods to promote heart health. “But increased consumption of omega-3 may cause more free radicals to form in the body,” Przybylski says, explaining that free radicals – a product of digestion – contribute to aging processes. One of Przybylski’s research projects focuses on identifying and synthesizing antioxidants that could be added to foods to balance omega-3. “It’s a project driven by both producers’ needs and consumer demand,” he says. His other projects are primarily preoccupied with cooking oils and the need
to eliminate trans-fats (which are linked to cancer) while maintaining key qualities about the oil (like its ability to fry foods at certain temperatures without degenerating). After determining the ideal chemical composition of oils, Przybylski works with plant breeders to create canola plants that will yield the desired oil. This work involves producing lines of canola plants through both selective breeding and genetic engineering, depending on the market to which producers sell (some don’t accept genetically modified foods). Przybylski says increased awareness by consumers is good news for producers in Alberta, who are finding niche markets for their nutritionally enhanced crops. “You cannot fool consumers today,” he says. In fact, three types of oil he designed – including HOLL’y Oil, a healthier alternative to frying oils – are being produced in southern Alberta and sold to North American and Japanese markets at premium prices.
The Science of Movement The gentle movement of a violinist’s skilled hand brings music to life as her bow releases each note with a pleasing vibrato. Beyond the musician’s interpretation of a score, her physical movements are critical to how she creates music, and those movements can be evaluated scientifically. Dr. Gongbing Shan, a University of Lethbridge professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education and the founder of the university’s biomechanics lab, is collaborating with music professor Peter Visentin to find ways to scientifically measure the movement behind the playing of musical instruments, particularly the violin. This art form requires high precision and automisation of motor control, and can put musicians at risk of repetitive stress injuries – the consequence of long hours of repetitive practice. The research will help teachers better instruct students about proper technique, while minimizing risk of injury. The tool Shan utilizes in his research – motion capture technology – is also used to create digital characters in film. The
technology involves filming individuals from different angles and reproducing their movements in a computer model. “We use motion capture to rebuild the performer in the computer, and then we can quantify the movement. But it doesn’t matter if it’s artistic performance or even sports or seniors’ movement, the quantification itself is key,” says Shan. His research program also examines the movement of senior citizens using an artificial neural network. This tool works similarly to the motion capture technology, creating a computer model mimicking neurological pathways, in order to diagnose motor skill problems. “For seniors, there’s a degeneration of motor skills,” Shan explains, adding that the model helps us understand the many factors affecting movement changes. This knowledge can help researchers determine exercises to counteract these changes and “help slow down the degeneration of the muscular system.”
Dr. Gongbing Shan uses motion capture technology to understand how we move
Reclaiming Our Vibrant Wholeness
Dr. Bonnie Lee takes a fresh look at addiction
Popular treatments for addiction do not always recognize the importance of a person’s family and community context and the spiritual underpinnings of the problem, says Dr. Bonnie Lee. “Addiction culture is quite focused on talking about addiction as a disease. I like to start earlier and explore the wholeness that was there before addiction began,” says the assistant professor in the addictions counselling program in the School of Health Sciences. Ultimately, addictions are attempts to deal with pain. “Pain comes from the fact that something sacred to human beings has been violated,” says Lee. “When what is originally meant to be whole is broken up, it leads to pain and to the need to deal with the pain. The fragmentation could be due to trauma, abuse, neglect, loss or abandonment. Addiction is human beings’ ingenious way of dealing with pain when they have not yet found a better way.”
Lee, professionally a marriage and family therapist, has a background in anthropology and psychology of religion. She has developed a systemic model of working with couples that helps pathological gamblers improve multiple dimensions of their lives, including their spirituality and family relationships. “People have a deep need for acceptance and connection,” says Lee. “Improving relationships can pave the way for healthier coping strategies.” Lee’s work also includes a study of immigrant gamblers and research related to clinical best practices in the area of addiction. But all of her research stems from a hopeful, humanistic tradition that prizes human potential. “The field tends to think of addiction recovery as a long-term, chronic and relapsing process. I wonder if that has to be the case as we find ways to work with sets of core issues and restore people to their vibrant wholeness.”
research furthers innovation and teaching at the University of Lethbridge
new media @ U of L
The New Media Department keeps pace with a rapidly changing discipline
(l-r) Dr. Aaron Taylor, Dr. David Clearwater, Emily Luce
Just as day-to-day communication has been transformed by technologies like Bluetooth and Facebook, art too has gone digital, adapting a variety of new technological forms of expression. Since its inception in 1999, the Department of New Media has allowed University of Lethbridge students to explore the marriage of fine art and the digital realm – a union that is ever evolving. “In the field of new media, everything is always changing – software, devices, even modes of delivery. We’re at a point where the viability of our program has stabilized, but our curriculum will never stabilize,” says Christopher Moore, acting Chair of the department. Initially best-known for its 3-D modelling and animation courses, the department is now recognized for a wide variety of disciplinary approaches, including graphic design, video production, animation, web and interactive media and cinematography. And the list is constantly growing, says Moore: “As the program has evolved, we’ve been able to support more diversity in different practices.” The program is now home to 10 full-time faculty and upwards of 250 undergraduate students (which is double the 2002 enrolment). A proposed MFA program is currently under development (subject to final approval by the government) – a sign of good things to come, says Moore. “In a sense, it means we’ve proven ourselves over the years, and demonstrated that our program is of a high quality.” Unlike other new media programs in the province, the University of Lethbridge takes an interdisciplinary approach, blending different fine arts disciplines, including courses in art, drama and music, says Moore. As one of four departments in the Faculty of Fine Arts,
the BFA (new media) program focuses on creativity, where critical thinking is paramount. “It’s about producing students who are content creators as opposed to technicians,” he explains. This approach is reflected by a diverse faculty, whose members come from across the country and study a plethora of subjects. Emily Luce joined the department in 2006 and teaches graphic design and web and interactive media. Her latest research focuses on adapting typographic forms to meet the needs of the endangered language of the Hupacasath First Nation. “Right now, there are three fluent speakers left in the community – when we started the work, there were seven. They’re aging and (the language) is rapidly declining, so there’s a big effort to revitalize and reclaim it, like so many First Nations languages,” says Luce. For nearly 70 years, the Hupacasath, along with Nuu-Chah-Nulth language scholars, have been working to create a written form of their language in order to preserve it. Having finally created and agreed upon an alphabet, the next step has been developing a way to represent these characters typographically. For many years, this was problematic, as there were only a limited number of variations (or slots) in a particular font, which meant that some languages couldn’t be usefully codified. But recently, programmers figured out a way to code millions of characters into typeface. It’s an important development for the preservation of the language, since technology has become such an important vehicle of communication. “Specifically for younger kids, where the language wasn’t a part of how they grew up, this is a way for people to engage who
haven’t engaged before.” Luce is currently helping the Hupacasath capture all of their words with the new typeface in a series of dictionary-like books. This work embodies the heart of new media, says Luce. “I feel that it’s really important to apply a social context to using technology. That’s my mantra.” Like Luce, Dr. David Clearwater’s work has a decidedly social element. He’s currently researching the use of videogames to promote the public relations agenda of the U.S. military and the cultural ramifications of such a strategy. The proliferation of military shooter games is actually the most recent incarnation of a decades-old strategy, he explains. Since the 1920s, the military has had a hand in the making of many Hollywood films with military themes. “It’s something that no one really talks about. There’s been a few books published on it, but it’s a long history. Any kind of major Hollywood film that features the military in any way, if it’s a positive portrayal, you can guarantee it’s had various levels of assistance from the U.S. military,” says Clearwater. The games feature the latest military technology and the conflicts are only somewhat fictionalized – most take place in Middle Eastern countries. Since they reach a broad demographic, the games are not only part of a recruitment strategy, they play a general public relations role. Clearwater wonders how this approach is impacting the public’s feelings towards the military and war in general. “I think that is the big question: What is the degree to which this approach influences the attitudes of children and the general population, but also of those people in
Congress who make decisions?” Clearwater has hired a crew of undergraduates to play and record the games for later analysis, work that involves examining the design, narrative and rules of the games to better understand the cultural implications of the genre. But while playing games sounds like an undergrad’s dream, it’s not as glamorous as it appears, says Clearwater. “They were happy at the beginning, but if you’re not playing a videogame out of complete enjoyment, it’s a different experience.” Drawing from cognitive theory and analytic philosophy, Dr. Aaron Taylor’s work also examines how emotions are evoked in viewers, but through films and film actors. “I’m interested in art emotions, I suppose. The kind of emotional experience that only art is able to offer,” he says. Taylor’s research program is broad. One of his most recent projects is a book for Oxford University Press on how viewers develop moral engagements with characters (particularly villainous ones). He’s also starting to branch into realms of neuroscience, cognitive theory and the philosophy of mind to investigate viewers’ emotional engagements with the moving image. Presently, he’s researching the imaginative faculties of film actors, in an effort to understand how they create and enact a personality different from their own. While his research is complex in practice, Taylor says the concept is deceptively simple. “At its most basic, I’m interested in the human figure in film. I’m fascinated by film’s capacity to excite certain kinds of emotional experiences that are medium-specific, that one doesn’t get in day-to-day activities, or in any other kind of art experience.”
research furthers innovation and teaching at the University of Lethbridge