About my research

Research Achievements and my Research Program for the next Five Years 

The present research statement is presented in three sections. In the first section I summarize my doctoral research.  In the second section I present a number of research projects I am currently involved in or that I have completed. Finally I share an overview of my research program for the next five-years. This program has two paths:

  • First path: Curriculum improvement and pedagogical innovation in an AI era
  • Second path: Media literacy to counter intolerance and hate speech

Summary of my doctoral research project:

Learning About Oneself: An Essential Process to Confront Social Media Propaganda Against the Resettlement of Syrian Refugees

Brief Description:

Public reactions to the 2015-2016 resettlement of Syrian refugees to Canada ranged from strong support to active resentment. My doctoral study consisted of an in-depth exploration of those experienced by host society youth. It examined the process of youth from several countries learning about themselves in the context of the social media propaganda about the resettlement of Syrian refugees, and it investigated how the public opinion about the refugee resettlement affected youth perceptions of their roles in the integration and inclusion of these newcomers.

I conducted 126 in-depth interviews with 42 host society youth between 18 and 24 years old from North America, Europe and the Middle East. For the purpose of my doctoral thesis, only data collected from the Canadian participants was analyzed and shared. The participants were recruited through a snowball sampling technique. They were active on social media, supportive of the Syrian refugee resettlement in Canada, but deliberately acting as passive bystanders whenever they encountered online posts and interactions about the Syrian refugee crisis. Adapting four techniques from George Kelly’s Personal Construct Psychology (Kelly’s self-characterization technique, Procter’s Perceiver Element Grid, Kelly’s Repertory Grid Test and Hinkle’s laddering technique) I interviewed each participants three to four times.  The interviews provided the participants with opportunities to delve into their own construct systems and to reflect on the genesis of their constructs.

This study carried important pedagogical implications to educators, in particular civic educators, social workers, curriculum developer, policy makers, governmental and non-governmental representatives, and parents concerned with the takeover of social media by hate speech proponents, namely the social media propaganda against the resettlement of Syrian refugees. It presented a model – the Get Ready to Act Against Social Media Propagandamodel, which informs various educational contexts how to help youth withstand manipulation, fight racism, hate speech, cyberbullying and radicalization. The process is composed of concrete tools and strategies, and engages youth in transformative in-depth discussions.

Through the Get Ready to Act Against Social Media Propagandamodel I proposed based on the results of my study, I posit that learning about oneself and understanding one’s own behaviours in regards to a sensitive and controversial issue targeted by digital age propaganda is key to transform passive bystanders into agents of change. It helps individuals examine and address what holds them back from acting. It equips and empowers them to get ready to be actively involved in counter-propaganda behaviours.

Get Ready to Act Against Social Media Propaganda is the first step to take to get ready to act. Several disruptive pedagogy interventions are necessary to create change in behaviours. These all include dealing with the complexity of messy situations, accompanying the learner in reflections to understand themselves and their ideas, their stereotypes, their fears and their views of the world.

This study constitutes a first step towards the development of recommendations that aim to inform key leaders and stakeholders in educational contexts to better intervene and create learning and training programs that focus on facilitating the inclusion and the integration of newcomers, such as the Syrian refugees, in a context where the potential presence of these newcomers is construed through content shared online. A variety of channels, environments, learning approaches and strategies must be considered (online/offline, synchronous/asynchronous, formal/informal or incidental, communities of learners/individual learners).

Furthermore, through my project I was able to draw from my expertise in performance consulting to study the Canadian immigration and refugee system holistically, from a systems perspective. I conducted a performance diagnosis focusing on the integration and inclusion of Syrian refugee youth performance issues in relation to social media content using Swanson (2007)’s performance diagnosis matrix (PDM). This doctoral project was the beginning of a larger research agenda I envisioned where my objectives evolved from understanding how social media influenced the inclusion and integration of Syrian refugees in host societies, to finding strategies and solutions to address this influence and empower our youth to stir it towards helping newcomers to become fully-fledged productive Canadian citizens.

Interdisciplinary aspect of the project:

 My project was at the intersection of education, educational technology, psychology, and political science. While the overall focus of my study was on curriculum development in the area of media literacy, I used a human performance technology approach to analyze its complex social context that was rooted in the political events that were leading to or caused by the Syrian refugee crisis and the public reactions to it, and I created interview instruments that stemmed from Personal Construct Psychology.

As I was developing my methodology for this study, I went directly to the source. I travelled to the European Conference of Personal Construct Psychology in Italy where I met the authors of the techniques I was using and presented my work to receive their feedback and criticism. My work was validated and commended by top psychologists in the field including Harry Procter, David Winter and Vivian Burr.

Quickly after completing the data collection, my project gained credibility from my scholars in several disciplines. I was invited to offer a workshop titled Hands-On Methods to Encourage Participatory Politicsto address the influence of social media on the integration and inclusion of newcomers in host societies at the International Graduate Summer School at the Center for Immigration Policy Evaluation (CIPE), a seminar on how to confront extremists’ social media propaganda through transforming passive bystanders into agents of changeat the Politico-Religious Extremism and Violence seminar (P.R.E.V.), and a workshop on how to use social media in preventing radicalizationat the 3rd International Symposium on Teaching about Extremism, Terror and Trauma: Radicalization – Creating Learning Against Radicalization (C.L.E.A.R.). I was also invited to participate in the panel Democracy, Journalism, and Citizenship: What girls have to sayat the 14th Annual Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation Forum. I facilitated a workshop titled Rôle de préjugés dans l’opinion publique et influence sur accueil de réfugiésduring the seminar Démystifier les crises des réfugiés du global au local organized by the UNHCR and l’Institut du Nouveau Monde. All these workshops stemmed from the disruptive pedagogy aspects of the Get Ready to Act Against Social Media Propaganda Model I developed in my doctoral thesis.

Funding and awards:

To conduct my research project, I received several awards:

  • SSHRC Doctoral fellowship; $80000 (2014 – 2018)
  • Doctoral Research Scholarship from the Fonds de Recherche Société et Culture Québec (FRQSC); $60000 (2013 – 2016)
  • France and André Desmarais Graduate Fellowship; $5000 (2013 – 2014)

I received several awards for my doctoral project, which I am listing below:

  • The Governor General Gold Medal – Person and Society 2018
  • Media Outreach Award for Graduate Research Communicator of the Year (2016-2017)
  • SSHRC Storyteller (2017)
  • ACFAS Ma Thèse en 3Minute Laureate (2017)
  • Concordia 3-Minute Thesis PhD Runner Up
  • Concordia Public Scholar Award (2017)

Research dissemination for my doctoral research:

I participated in many local, provincial, national and international professional and scientific conferences and congresses, where I presented and discussed my research project. I have published two papers in peer reviewed journals in collaboration with my doctoral supervisor and a number of op-eds, as per my CV.  I also presented my research in several media outlets and engaged in various forms of knowledge mobilization including workshops and events.

Major research projects I am currently involved in or that I completed:

Throughout my doctoral program I had the opportunity to be involved in projects with several professors and research teams in the field of Education. Notably I worked, and am still working, with Dr. Ann-Louise Davidson, Associate Professor in the Educational Technology Program in the Department of Education at Concordia University and Concordia Research Chair in Maker Culture. Her research revolves around developing an international network of interdisciplinary makersand engaging scholars, students and community within inclusive and intergenerational experiential making activities in a critical perspective. She has expertise in collaborative action-research and in using techniques for inquiring into action, developing consensus, moving forward with practices and evaluating impact.

I also worked on several innovative projects with Dr. Roland van Oostveen, an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Education at UOIT and the director of the EILAB. My work with Dr. van Oostveen revolved around innovative online pedagogies and problem-based learning online. We presented our work in several scientific conferences and we are currently preparing several papers on this topic. Through the work I did with Dr. van Oostveen, I have developed skills to teach online using learning management systems and to work in a virtual team.

I also had the opportunity to work with Dr. Carole Raby, full professor in general didactics in the Département de didactique at Université du Québec à Montréal and Associate Dean of Research. Dr. Raby focuses on the pedagogical integration of technologies, as well as teachers’ professional development. We spent three years together working on developing a professional learning community with principals, teachers, resource teachers, daycare monitors and support staff from six schools. The work I conducted with her team has taught me how to design professional development interventions collaboratively and to integrate research data through iterative intervention design for teacher professional development. I presented the data of this study in various conferences and participated in the publication of two papers.

Given my expertise in developing online courses with innovative pedagogical models, I have been actively involved in the Interdisciplinary Problem-Based Blended Learning in the Department of Education project, at Concordia University. The primary objective of the curriculum innovation project is to update and enrich qualitative methods, quantitative methods, and cross-listed research methods MA and PhD-level courses. This project is ongoing.

In addition to these projects, I was involved in the first iteration of the design of the Emerging Literacy in Mathematics (ELM) software –a research-based bilingual interactive multimedia instructional tool, based on the current evidence showing promising links between mathematic instruction and computer technologies. The design of the tool was rooted in empirically grounded multimedia learning principles to reduce cognitive load, engage learners, reduce anxiety, and scaffold understanding of mathematical concepts. This project was a CSLP initiative and yielded several presentations and a peer reviewed paper.

 Through working with these professors and on these projects, I gained a wealth of experience in research proposal writing, in grant writing, in disseminating research in national and international scientific conferences, in mobilizing knowledge, in conducting participatory action research, and in networking and collaborating with interdisciplinary teams of researchers from Concordia and other universities.

Brief description of future research interests 

 In the next five years, I have concrete plans to build on the research I have undertaken. I am envisaging two paths to my research program. The first builds on my teaching in the Educational Technology program and strives to answer the following research question: How can we equip instructional designers and performance consultants to thrive in an increasingly connected world and in an era of artificial intelligence? The second builds on the research I started during my doctoral studies, which focuses on social media propaganda, and aims to answer the following research question: How can human interventions and ethical AI be mobilized to counter intolerance and hate speech?

First path: Curriculum improvement and pedagogical innovation in an AI era

The first path of my research program focuses on training and equipping instructional designers and performance consultants to better perform in the 21stcentury job market and to thrive in an increasingly connected world, soon to be dominated by artificial intelligence.

The AI revolution has already started. The technology is maturing very rapidly; its speed is about ten times the speed at which the first industrial revolution has happened, according to Joëlle Pineau, Associate Professor at McGill University and the lead of Facebook’s Artificial Intelligence Research lab in Montreal. Conversational AI agents are integrating seamlessly in our interactions. Siri on some of the Apple devices or Alexa devices provided by Amazon are only examples. While the first industrial revolution led to machines extending humans’ mechanical power, the AI revolution will lead to machines augmenting humans’ cognitive abilities. The machines can memorize more things than human can, process more data, and extract key information from this data more efficiently than humans can.

The AI paradigm has shifted from programing the machines to do things to teaching the machines how to do things. Deep learning technology, which is “an artificial intelligence function that imitates the workings of the human brain in processing data and creating patterns for use in decision making”, is the engine of the AI revolution. It wasbuilt in Canada by three founding fathers, Yoshua Bengio (Montreal), Geoff Hinton (Toronto) and Yann Lecun (New York), and funded by the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR). Machines are learning from examples and from natural information.

In the area of education, AI will have a growing role. Some experts predict that AI in education will grow by 47.5% between 2017 and 2021. Its role will include, inter alia, automated marking, identification of weaknesses in the classroom, computerized teaching assistant, tutoring and support outside the classroom,and more. Experts expectAI tofacilitate the creation of customized learning programs using the insights it provides based on the enormous amount of data it collects and analyzes, to assess and recommend tailored learning solutionsthrough quickly pulling data and easily sorting it, and to enhance and streamline content development for instructional designers, to name only few. They believe that AI will “free up time for instructional designers to concentrate on creating quality content for learners”.

With the rise of AI and of the digital world, workforces are evolving. They are more globally connected and more diverse than ever. The expected workforce will become “knowledge workers who focus on non-routine problem solving and creative thinking”.While waiting for the next gen workforce to become better prepared to the current technological revolution, the current workforce will require re-training and training in adopting proactive approaches to lifelong learning.

Responsive, adaptive and personalized or tailored mobile learning, self-service or on-demand learning, micro-learning and experiential learning are only few of the trends that are expected by most our clientele.

Since the ability of AI to perform physical and analytical tasks is rapidly progressing, and since our instructional designers will be working with machines on a set of shared goals, our studentsshould keep up with these rapid technological advancementsand our educational technology program should adjust its priority to reflect the competencies that will be essential in this coming AI dominated era.

As a researcher in the education field, namely the educational technology area, and as Assistant Professor training instructional designers and performance consultants “in the making”, my goal is to figure out how we can incorporate these changes in our the education curriculum. The first path in my research program will focus on finding ways to help  Educational Technology students and students in the education program to develop competencies to thrive in an AI era, as instructional designers or educators, and to be able to design learning experiences for an AI era. The research questions that I will seek to answer are:

  1. How to develop our students’ 21stcentury skills, including creativity, global mindset, diversity acumen, emotional intelligence, problem solving, critical thinking, mindfulness, lifelong learning, communication, collaboration, leadership, and information, media and technology skills, essential in the AI era.
  2. What additional component does our educational program need to ensure that the students in the education field will be able to:
    • Design with machines and thrive in an AI era
    • Design instructional and non-instructional interventions that answer the needs of clients and learners in an AI era
      • Design training programs that incorporate artificial intelligence
      • Design training programs for learners who live in a connected world and an AI era
      • Design training programs for learners who need to work with machines and thrive in an AI era

Since I defended my thesis and was granted the rank of Assistant Professor in the Educational Technology program I started exploring this first path.

First, in the ETEC593/593 summer course I taught in 2018 at Concordia University, Special Issues in Educational Technology, Consulting in Educational Technology, the students acted as consultants to the ETEC program and reflected on ways to prepare the ISD students to thrive in an AI era. They interviewed their fellow classmates to identity the learning and performance gaps they needed to be addressed. The purpose of this assignment was three fold. First the students worked on an authentic case with real learners, second they started to be aware of what the future held in terms of AI in workplaces and in education and reflected on their readiness, or the lack of it, to be part of this new era, and third, we were able to list potential areas and competencies to add to our ETEC curriculum.

Second, I started to connect with pioneers in the field of AI in educational technology and Learning and Development, such as Trish Uhl, to get a better idea of how AI will influence the jobs of instructional designers. By identifying the job description of the future ISDs, I will better prepare my students to compete in the evolving job market. Further, Montreal is the 2ndglobal Artificial Intelligence driving hub and we live few steps away from Yoshua Bengio, a deep learning pioneer and professor at Université de Montréal and many emerging AI startups. We are in the right place at the right time to follow closely the massive technology growth and to think ahead and improve our curriculum to best prepare the Next Gen Ed Techers.

Third, with the help and support of the tech office in the department of education at Concordia University, I created a website that will be used to build an EdTech community of practice and curate key resources to our field. I will be regularly sharing the latest news and trends in the field of Educational Technology and Learning and Development. Students and faculty members are welcome and encouraged to join, contribute and interact.

I have engaged in preliminary discussions with Bart Simon and other researchers at the Milieux Institute for Arts Culture and Technology , about a research project surrounding the AI hub at Concordia University. The FRQSC is interested in the ethical aspects of AI which I am interested in pursuing to obtain funding for projects revolving around the pedagogical aspects of AI, training instructional designers to work with AI and learning with AI.

Second path: Media literacy to counter intolerance and hate speech

The second path of my research program concentrates on how to mobilize human interventions and ethical AI to counter intolerance and hate speech, and facilitate the inclusion of newcomers. More specifically it aims to improve youth media literacy and foster youth online agency. It posits that youth, namely host society youth, are key players in counterbalancing hate discourses and thus facilitating the integration and the inclusion of newcomers. Educators need to equip and prepare youth to withstand social media propaganda and to fulfill their pivotal role as key agents of change. But, first, these educators need to be trained and supported to trigger this change.

Extremist parties, politicians and their fans all successfully take advantage of social media platforms to spread messages filled with racism and intolerance — even incitement to radical views. Several news outlets also play a major role in reinforcing the negative image of newcomers, namely refugees, in the public eye. The refugees are subject to “othering,” the practice of depicting nonwhite cultures as “alien,” and highlighting differences rather than shared values or interests.

To force social media giants’ owners to take action to stop the spread of hate speech on their platforms, Germany and the European Commission enforced rigid laws. Yet, hate speech still prevailed. Tarleton Gilespie, a principal researcher at Microsoft Research New England, explains that “content moderation is hard,” and errors happen. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO, admits that Artificial Intelligence will only be reliable in detecting hate speech in five to 10 years, and even then, challenges will persist. Steve Huffman, Reddit CEO, declares that “enforcing a total ban on hate speech is nearly impossible since hate speech is difficult to define.”

Most conversations happening on social media often reflect those happening offline. Homophobia, xenophobia, racism, bigotry and other forms of hatred are invented by human beings, not by technology. They transcend offline environments and are widely spread online by social media users.We don’t have access to offline hate conversations, but online conversations are public. By paying close attention to the content and arguments shared online, we have a front seat to what these hate groups think, and how they fuel hate discourses. These groups thrive in contexts of real or imagined power imbalance. To end hate speech, and facilitate the inclusion of newcomers, we need to ensure power balance. This will happen when bystanders are involved.

Contrarily to previous discourses that posit Millennials as passive consumers of news with little and incidental exposure to world events, a thorough study conducted by the Media Insight Project (2015) affirms that youth between the age of 18 and 24 are anything but newsless, or civically uninterested, and yet, substantial portions of them are far less likely than others to have voice and influence. This can only change when educators are equipped and ready to engage with youth in in-depth discussions about controversial issues that affect their lives.

Eight potential projects

First,I will focus on strategies and approaches to train, equip and support educators to facilitate their students’ engagement in civic online reasoning and participatory politics. The Stanford History Education group (2016) defines civic online reasoningas the “ability to judge the credibility of information” (p.4) that social media users find on different platforms. Kahne, Hodgin, and Eidman-Aadahl (2016) define participatory politicsas “interactive, peer-based acts through which individuals and groups seek to exert both voice and influence on issues of public concern” (p.2), such as the resettlement of refugees. Educators, namely civic educators, as per Kahne et al. (2016), should develop competencies to help their students to 1) effectively search for information and analyze its credibility, 2) use multiple digital tools and platforms to ensure high-quality investigations, 3) exploit social networks in their quest for information, 4) frame the information and create stories, 5) express their perspective with respect and civility in a digital format while using persuasive strategies, 6) engage in conversations with people with diverse standpoints while being aware of the risks of backlash and cyberbullying, 7) circulate multimedia using digital tools,  platforms, and social networks, 8) go public and invest in expending their online audience that would serve as a vehicle to spread their viewpoints, 9) anticipate and thus design the footprint and the digital afterlife that will generate from their civic and political activities, 10) organize and mobilize others for a cause, 11) build support, and 12) anticipate possible or unexpected outcomes and plan adequate responses. Despite the importance of these media competencies for 21stcentury youth, Canadian school curricula initiatives lack to include many of them in media literacy, let alone to train educators to help their students to develop them.

Second,I will analyze the data I collected for my doctoral project from the youth living in European and Middle Eastern counties. I will compare and contrast the results with the ones that emerged from the data collected in Canada. This process will shed light on the global experience lived through transnational social media spaces. The refugee crisis, hate speech, and radicalization are all global events. Their implications span across nations and borders. While many react to terror attacks and sexual assaults happening in their own neighborhoods or countries, others live these experiences vicariously through social media. The reactions, consequences and major decisions could be context specific or problem specific. It is of outmost importance to identify the potential solutions that can be generalizable or transferable to other contexts. I would use my start-up fund to hire a graduate student to work with me on this.

Third,during my data collection for my doctoral project I had the opportunity to interview 42 participants, all proponent of the settlement of newcomers, namely refugees. A complementary step would be to interview youth from the opposing camp, authors of hate speech, and understand how they view their role in the integration and the inclusion of refugees. Going through the process of understanding oneself could help this youth identify where their intolerance is coming from, and hopefully challenge it.

Fourth,while my doctoral study proposed a model that can help bystander host society youth get ready to take action, following closely this youth through an ethnography study that would examine and evaluate their counter-propagandist action in regards to the resettlement of refugees would be of outmost importance. Host society youth who choose to advocate for these newcomers could play a key role in facilitating their integration and their inclusion in Canada, and help them become fully-fledge productive citizens, despite the unstoppable social media propaganda against them.

Fifth,the four instruments used in my doctoral work are very powerful as they engage interviewees in in-depth transformative discussions. They can help shed light on the influence of social media on the inclusion of groups of migrants victimized through social media, and disrupt the hate discourses and cyberbullying targeting them. Anybody who wishes to use them would need to be immersed in Personal Construct Theory (PCP) and obtain a rigorous training to develop interviewing skills in PCP, such as suspending own personal values, listening credulously, being reflexive and verbally skilled and taking account of culture-dictated constructs. My knowledge and skills in using the techniques evolved with every interview I conducted. Any educator, social worker, or parent who would choose to use the aforementioned PCP techniques to address sensitive and controversial issues about migrants will need to go through a learning journey. A fifth focus of my research program will be to design, implement and evaluate training programs, for example workshops and webinars, that prepare and equip educators, social workers and parents to engage in such discussions with their youth.

Sixth,for the last couple of years I have developed connections with CEGEPs and community centers in Montreal, with the Institute du Nouveau Monde and with the UNHCR Canada. I will collaborate with them to take my model Get Ready to Act Against Social Media Propagandafrom theory to practice and test it with youth from different contexts to address controversial issues such as the resettlement of newcomers. Following this step, and based on the results of this pilot testing, I will update the model and propose to include it in the media literacy curriculum.

Seventh,many Syrian refugees had to use raw competencies they developed in their everyday lives when in Syria to survive their resettlement and integrate their new environment. For instance, Les Filles Fattoush revived their food making skills and transformed them into a successful catering career in Montreal.  The Haddad family revived their chocolate making skills after living three years in a Syrian refugee camp and lunched their flourishing chocolate factory Peace by Chocolate in Nova Scotia. I am very interested in collecting stories of refugee makers who were able to “remake” their lives thanks to their “making” skills. Understanding and sharing the cognitive processes that these refugees went through to overcome the resettlement stress and find ways from within to integrate into the Canadian society and become part of its productive citizens will allow to design programs that could be used with other refugee groups to help them resettle.

Eight,I will design inclusive workshops that integrate Syrian refugee youth in the role of digital “makers” who can engage in digital fabrication, within a do-it-yourself (DIY) culture of engaging in “open” digital production. Digital fabrication incorporates commons-based peer production (collaborations of many individuals to provide freely-available information), open design (the ability to publish content under a Creative Commons license without the need for special tools), and open-source software and hardware. Becoming digital makers is likely to make them more autonomous and independent, and facilitate the social inclusion and the integration of Syrian refugee youth. Through engaging Syrian refugee youth in maker culture, and facilitating their role as digital makers we would encourage them to become emancipated from many of the conditions that others impose on their social participation. They could become able to self-acquire their right to participate. They will develop the capability required to participate in making activities through collaborating with others both offline and online, using open-source resources and also engage in group activities, which will help them to become socially included.

Research funding, collaboration, and dissemination

I am in the process of preparing a SSHRC Insight Development Grants (IDG), a Partnership Engage Grants (PEG), and a Connection Grants (CG) applications.

I already have a network of collaborators that I am nurturing and expanding. I am affiliated with Centre for Immigration Policy Evaluation (CIPE) and Milieux Institute for Arts, Culture, and Technology, both at Concordia University and the EILab at University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT). I have also developed international partnerships with the George Kelly Society, the European Personal Construct Association (EPCA), the Constructivist Psychology Network (CPN), the Australasian Personal Construct Group (APCG), the European Constructivist Training Network (ECTN), the Personal Construct Psychology Association (PCPA) in the UK, the Serbian Constructivist Association (SCA), the Società costruttivista Italiana (SCI) and the Associazione Italiana di Psicologia e Psicoterapia costruttivista (AIPPC) in Italy.

In the coming months, I will submit to peer reviewed journals two articles from my doctoral dissertation: 1) The Inclusion and Integration of Syrian Refugee Youth in Canada from a Systems Perspective, and 2) From Briefed Bystanders to Influential Agents of Change in the Era of Social Media Propaganda and Fake News: Learning to Disrupt the Discourses Around Syrian Refugees. So stay tuned!