Paula MacDowell

How can VR environments teach empathy in ways that traditional classroom learning does not do very well (e.g., by engaging students in experiential learning and focussing their attention)?

My research program is diversified in three directions: the first direction is toward Educational Media and Technology where I am interested in computing education, creative coding, media studies, educational applications in reality technologies (AR/VR/MR/XR), and the mobilization of youth through new media that foster climate literacy and action. Many of the courses that I design and teach challenge me to explore emerging technologies and to put my research into practice. The second direction is toward Learning Design, where I focus on the development of curriculum, policy, and learning environments that educate and empower vulnerable and marginalized groups. My doctoral research is part of this trajectory (e.g., studying how girls learn to become activists and change makers in technology culture). The third direction of my research agenda is toward the development of new methods and digital tools for researching how we learn media and technology (in formal and informal learning contexts).

My scholarly work is characterized by a deep commitment to engage in research projects alongside under-represented groups, ranging from empowering young females who are disenfranchised in technology culture, to addressing issues relevant to the well-being of Indigenous children, to advocating for global concerns such as access to clean drinking water, poverty alleviation, environmental sustainability, and meaningful educational for all. I am a strong advocate for the integration of teaching, research, and community engagement. I have travelled extensively throughout Eastern Africa, visiting schools in challenging contexts and learning about the Kenyan and Ugandan school systems. I am exploring possibilities to form cross-cultural research partnerships with village communities, for the purposes of education and healing, empowerment, reciprocity, and pro-social change (e.g., teaching youth media literacy and technical skills to bring forth their valuable perspectives to education and community decision makers).

The focus of my doctoral study was Empowering Girls as Change Makers in Maker Culture. I recruited 30 co-researchers, girls aged 10 to 13, and we co-created 101 Technology Fun, a design community and makerspace on the UBC campus. I placed my team members in roles as instructional designers and challenged them to pursue their technology-related interests in sustainable and innovative ways. A central goal of this work was to learn how we might empower girls with the confidence, literacies, and skills that are necessary to benefit from and to participate in advancing our increasingly mediated and technologically dependent society. I have presented significant findings from my thesis at invited talks and international conferences (e.g., AERA 2014, CSSE 2016, ITEEA 2016, STEM 2014) to share girls’ perspectives on gender equality and cultural diversity in the technology sphere.

In my doctoral study, I developed a new system of methods and techniques for data collection, analysis, and representation called the Tween Empowerment & Advocacy Methodology (TEAM), which emphasizes relational ethics through artifact production, design thinking, mind scripting, invention, and imagination. Highlighting the need for children’s voices to be recognized and given influence in the educational research concerning their lives and learning circumstances, TEAM encourages and supports youth to question the taken-for-granted assumptions within dominant media and technology discourses. For example, to get girls to expand the stereotypes about who they are, what they ‘should’ be, and how they ‘should’ act. Characterized by tween fieldwork, designworks, makerspaces, and storymaking, TEAM generates new possibilities for the study of youth cultures and youth learning, especially concerning media and technology.

Paula MacDowell

I’m grateful for the support of my colleagues from UBC.

Paula MacDowell

The How We Learn (HWL) research team.

My research program also represents a scholarly engagement into the role and impact of media and technology on children, youth, families, and communities, asking questions like: How do we educate a new generation of digitally empowered kids? How is technology changing the way children learn, think, and play? What if we design school learning environments (on-site and online) around the issues that students care about and the current challenges of their communities? How might we use social media to foster social justice and further awareness of child and youth rights? How might we increase the availability of affordable learning tools and technologies for children in developing countries? I am passionate about maker culture, maker education, and research into the development of mobile, physical, and virtual makerspaces across diverse learning contexts. As a technology education teacher and researcher, I have worked with makers of all ages to design, invent, code, and build things with the goal of making, renewing, and improving our world.

My research program will continue to focus on extending the boundaries of knowledge in Educational Media and Technology, Learning Design, and Research Methodologies. My future research agenda will intensify along three lines: 1) toward best practices for teachers to integrate technology across the curriculum to enhance learner engagement, empowerment, and ingenuity; 2) toward developing socially relevant technologies that enable children and other minority voices to find their voice and make it heard around the world, as counter-narratives to hegemonic media messages; and 3) toward ethnographies and longitudinal measures of the design, development, and feasibility of technology-enabled learning environments for youth in challenging contexts (e.g., urban slum areas, remote villages, aboriginal reserves, and socially or economically disadvantaged locations). Each of these lines offers significant challenges and opportunities for opening new avenues of research into children’s rights, education, and well-being.

Explore a world of creative learning possibilities with augmented reality (AR) technology.