Q&A with Dr. David Kaufman on AGE-WELL

December 13, 2017

Dr. David Kaufman’s background is very diverse. He has degrees in Electrical Engineering and Education. He has served as Research Coordinator for the Educational Research Institute of BC, Director of Course Design for the BC Open Learning Agency, and Director of the Medical Education Unit in Dalhousie's Faculty of Medicine. Dr. Kaufman's research interests centre on educational technologies, and he works on the use of digital games and digital storytelling to enhance older adult’s social connectedness and cognitive skills. As one of the co-leaders in the AGE-WELL NCE project, Kaufman tells us more about the project and his collaboration with other researchers.

The AGE-WELL project is funded from 2015 to 2020. What is the background of this project?

The AGE-WELL project is a pan-Canadian network of industry, non-profit organizations, government, care providers, caregivers, end-users, and academic partners working together using high-quality research to drive innovation and create technologies and services that benefit older adults. The purpose of the project is to use different kinds of technology to improve the lives of older adults. Our vision is to harness and build upon the potential of emerging and advanced technologies in areas such as artificial intelligence (AI), e-health, information communication technologies (ICTs), and mobile technologies to stimulate technological, social, and policy innovation. We aim to help older Canadians maintain their independence, health, and quality of life through accessible technologies that increase their safety and security, support their independent living, and enhance their social participation.

You are collaborating with 48 other investigators. What is your role and how did you get involved with this project?

I am a co-leader of one of the eight workpackages in the project. In my workpackage, we focus on enhancing older adults’ social connectedness. Each workpackage comprises several projects. I am co-leader of the project on digital games for older adults and an active participant in the project on digital storytelling for older adults. I have two students who are doing their theses on topics related to these projects, and several others have already completed theses on our digital games research.

I was invited to participate by the AGE-WELL Scientific Directors because of my ongoing work with seniors over the previous four years in these two areas. One former project, funded by a SSHRC Insight grant, was on digital games. The second one was on digital storytelling as legacy for older adults and was funded by a SSHRC Partnership Development grant. More recently, one of my collaborators at the University of Northern British Columbia was funded on a project to continue our work on digital storytelling with the Nak’azdli First Nations community, located about two hours away from Prince George. One of my PhD students, is a collaborator on this grant and works closely with my UNBC colleague.

What are the challenges of the project?

I find this research really fun. I don’t think of it as difficult. If I were to name one academic challenge, it would be working on a project that is so diverse and has so many people involved across the country. For example, the co-leader on my workpackage lives in Toronto. Fortunately, my son and his family live there too, so I have a good personal reason to visit there. Another co-leader lives in Quebec City, and I work with her in French – this helps to maintain my first language. We go to each other’s city and we socialize with our families, which I really think is important in a big project like this. You really need to work on relationships when working closely and extensively with other scholars.

Even though the multidisciplinary aspect of the project is great, it is heavily weighted toward outcomes and products for commercialization. This approach is challenging because most of us do not work in that frame of reference. The network leaders have modified this emphasis a bit, so now we talk about two things: knowledge mobilization and commercialization. In knowledge mobilization, we aim to get what we have done to as many people as possible since, the goal of the project is to impact Canadians. We are not only centred on academic outputs although these are still valued. Of course, we are focused on research as we are academics, but that is not really our primary goal. Our focus in the network is to create products, services, or processes that are going to have an impact on the lives of Canadians. This is really important to me as I consider myself as a community-based researcher.

Another issue is the amount of reporting. We are required to justify our work and report extensively several times per year. This is very bureaucratic and there are numerous forms that must be completed when we want to bring other people into our project. Obviously, we help them do what is required, but the administrative piece can be very heavy.

Last year, you had Dr. Helena Brandão as a visitor scholar from Brazil. She made important contributions to the project. Are you planning to invite new scholars to collaborate in future?

It was a such a pleasure to have had Dr. Brandāo here. She worked on a digital storytelling project, and we trained her to be a facilitator in our digital storytelling course. Now Helena wants to implement this in São Paulo, so I am planning to spend a week there in April to work with her. She plans to translate our course materials into Portuguese and to run our course there. Then we will publish the evaluation results together and likely do a comparison of our results in both countries.

What are the impacts of this project in the educational community?

This project focuses on a particular aspect of education called ‘lifelong learning.’ The digital games we are developing have learning content embedded in the games. The digital storytelling course develops seniors’ writing, media, and technology skills. Intergenerational aspects of both projects address the problem of ageism in our society, as does the public viewing of the digital stories created in our digital storytelling course.

So far, what is the most important outcome of the project?

The most important research outcomes have been gathering evidence that demonstrates the social and emotional benefits of our projects for older adults of both digital games and digital storytelling. For example, we have already collected about 100 stories that are legacies for their older adult creators. To extend our reach, we are developing an online version of our digital storytelling course, and developing several of our own educational digital games to play on tablets.

As a researcher, what have you learned from this project?

I have learned how important it is for academics to work in the community and develop relationships with participants. Seeing the impact of our work first-hand energizes and motivates us to continue our work. The appreciation expressed by our older adult participants is heartwarming. This work also reduces the gap between the university and the community.

You don’t have to stop learning because you are 65. We are demonstrating that you can play our digital games and you can learn something through them. We are helping to create a lifelong-learning society in a fun way.

Another passion of mine is to get help get rid of ageism as much as possible. When young people see an older person, they have no idea about the person’s life experiences. They just see an old person. There is an expression I like that I read a while ago: Adults are only children in aging skin. We need to respect and value the lives and accomplishments of older adults.