Presentation at UBC’s Investigating Our Practices conference

This post is just a place holder for folks who’d like to spend a bit more time on the presentation we prepared for today. Enjoy!

Conference link:
Session: Science Creativity Literacy Symposium: Impact on Students’ Perceptions of Science and Creativity. (11:50pm, Rm 201)
Slides: IOP2016.pdf (~12Mb)
Notes: (will put up later tonight).


So this is what ethics approval looks like in a research project looking at science and creativity

Or at least what it looks like so far.

The ethics approval process was actually quite a bit of work, as it’s more or less a document that fully explains the intent, methology, and all logistical elements of the research. This means, that you pretty much need all of your ducks lined up before you hand the thing in.

UBC has a fairly standard process where you need to submit to a Behavioural Research Ethics Board who then goes through the application in fine detail. Their website is actually excellent in the sense that it’s super details, although that can also be a bit overwhelming if you’re new to the process.

For us, this meant big things like having all of our documentation in order (i.e. various permission letters that would go out to teachers, parents, and students), to seemingly minor but crucial elements like language describing how we plan on collecting and store data (especially sensitive in Canadian research as we must make sure all data is stored within Canada).

It also meant having a good crack at coming up with our survey questions (both questions asked via laptop sessions during the actual fieldtrip, as well as questioning that we would like to present when talking to kids in focus groups scenarios). An important part of this was actually, having language in our ethics approval application that make it clear that there may be several iterations of these questions as the project progresses. This is, after all, an exploratory phase!

In any event, for us, the time for the entire process was about 7 weeks from start to finish. Basically a detailed timeline is as below:

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 10.25.29 AM

Early February: Starting from the first week of February, we essentially had an extended back and forth from our research team (myself, Marie-Claire, Tathali, Janice, and Latika) until we had what look liked a copy that could be submitted. This included having all of the aforementioned documentation ready (permission/consent letter, questions in our surveys, etc), and full disclosure on various logistics (such as data gathering, storing, etc).

March 2, 2015: Submission of the application. Signed off by my Department Head (Dr. Jim Kronstad).

March 10, 2015: Feedback returned with the following provisos:

5.4 Recruitment: Please clarify how classes/teachers will be recruited for focus group follow-up.

8.1 Security of Data: Data should be stored on an encrypted computer. This should also be corrected on the consent form.

9.2 Consent form: Provide a copy of the consent form for the teachers’ participation in the follow-up focus group.

March 17, 2015: Marie-Claire sent back comments (after adjustments were made).

Thank you very much for noting these inconsistencies. We have have addressed the provisos as described below. Please note that as a result of our ongoing discussions we have also revised the questionnaire. It addresses the same themes but is shortened and worded differently. A new file, labelled V2, has been uploaded.

5.4 Recruitment: Please clarify how classes/teachers will be recruited for focus group follow-up.
The following text was added to the application:
“Classes attending the last few sessions of the SCLS field trips will be invited to participate in the focus groups in a convenience sample. Teachers of classes invited to participate in follow-up focus groups will be asked in person by a member of the research team during their visit to the SCLS. If the teacher expresses interest, he or she will be asked to contact the researchers to arrange a time for the research assistants to visit the class. The consent to participate in the focus group (if selected) is already included in the consent form so they will have discussed the possibility with the researchers already. ”

8.1 Security of Data: Data should be stored on an encrypted computer. This should also be corrected on the consent form.
Thank you for noting this oversight. The following text has been added to the application, and the word “encrypted” has been added to the appropriate phrases in the consent forms.
“Data will be entered without any identifying information and all data files will be stored in password protected, encrypted computers. Back up files will be stored in the same office and protected through encryption and password access to files.”

9.2 Consent form: Provide a copy of the consent form for the teachers’ participation in the follow-up focus group.

There are no focus groups for the teachers, only individual interviews completed when the research assistants visit the classes to conduct focus groups with the students. These are described in the submitted consent form.

March 18, 2015: Ethics application approved (yay!)

Anyway, without further ado, here are the actual documents below:

Ethic application document:
ethics application full

Permission/Consent letters:
consent assent for parents and children
invitation letter for children
invitation letter for parents

Survey Questions:
Pre-survey PARTICIPANTS …ence_Questionnaire
Post-survey PARTICIPANTS…ence_Questionnaire
Pre-NON-SCLS -questionnaire

SCLS lesson plans for your perusal

O.K. So here we have the documentation for what outreach actually happens during one of these Science Creative Literacy symposia. A lot of these activities have evolved and morphed over the span of the program, but basically you have one science graduate student and one creative writing MFA delivering two activities. The key, of course, is that there is a little bit of blending the two conceptually.

Anyway, below are the various pdfs of the current incarnations of the lesson plans, as well as pdfs of the slides currently used. We don’t have a lot of photos of the children partaking in the activities, because we haven’t been asking for permission to do that, but maybe down the road, we’ll try to get that possibility covered as well.

Oh yeah, and these activities wouldn’t rock the way they do without the teaching prowesses of our grad students. Currently, we have on board the following:

Emily Chou (poet and graphic novelist) – link
Becca Clarkson (writer)
Elaine Corden (writer and editor)
Emmanuel Fonseca (astrophysicist) – link
Stacey Kaser (playwright and screenwriter)
Vivienne Lam (botanist)
Tissa Rahim (neuroscientist)
Marybel Soto Gomez (botanist)
Laura Trethewey (writer and editor) – link

Anyway, pdf lesson plans below!

1. Genomic DNA isolation | Writing a Screenplay | Slides

2. DIY Cloud Chamber | “What is in the jar” poetry | Slides

3. Adaptations and Microscopes | Choose Your Own Adventure | Slides

First meeting: Round up email.

Just for the record. The first email sent out (after our initial meeting as a team, with Marie-Claire on Skype) detailing our first “to do” list.

date: Tue, Feb 10, 2015 at 9:06 PM
subject: Next steps

Alright! Here is a list of things brought up in the meeting. I’ve put them in order of priority:

1. Please pass on the following details so that I can set up GRA appointments. Name (as in on cheque), address, phone, birthdate, student number, SIN number. 

2. Marie-Claire asked about getting the permission letters [for participating teachers, students, and parents] written. The project description (available at the site where you’ve all been added)1 has currently been written to be a bit more open ended and can be used as a starting point for the letters. This text just needs translating so that everything is appropriate for parents and then for students (with all of the required consent language, etc). As soon as those letters are done, we’re basically ready to submit the BREB (aside for filling in a few further check boxes etc but that’s an easy step). This is with a mind to consider collecting data in earnest as of March 30th. (By end of week – please liaise with Marie-Claire if you have any questions here)

3. Setting up a google folder which we can use as an initial general repository of information and notes2. You will also get an email sharing the SCLS fieldtrip schedule doc. I’ll also upload the lesson plan info to this folder once it’s ready.

4. Steps toward informally developing and testing the laptop procedures. This basically involves setting up the chromebooks so that they are prepped appropriately. As mentioned before, I have an admin account that you can use to start creating gmail accounts for each chromebook.

Login info is as follows:
(username) xxxxxxxxx
(password) xxxxxxxxx
(entry point) http://xxxxxxxxx

There’s also the wifi set-up, but that is something we’ll have to do in proximity to the lab (details are on the bulletin board in room 229).

As a beta of our laptop usage, we could probably have students complete more simple questions (like the kind you might normally fill out at the end of field trip to for the field trip organization). Again this would give us some preliminary ideas but mostly would allow us to try out the procedures for handing out the laptops and getting students to do stuff on them so that all of that is smooth when we’re ready to go with full data collection. (Let Dave know when you’re ready to test things, so he can alert our instructors)

5. Another key task is for you to propose an observational framework (this means either a checklist or a table to fill out or something that guides and standardizes the process of observing the field trips and focuses on the types of observations that will be of interest to us.) We’ll start by having you attend the workshops and doing informal observations, not things that we will use for analysis but things that will help focus in on the most interesting elements of the workshops when we start collecting formal data. Here, you could also practice taking field notes to start helping each other get on the same page about what they’re paying attention to.

6. I’ve attached the paper3 that Marie-Claire mentioned would be good to look over. And I’ve penciled us in to arrange FOB access this Friday at 10am. Tathali: let me know what needs to be done in regards to your letter of employment, and Latika, I’m going to send you an email right after this regarding stipend specifics.

Dave and Marie-Claire


1. This web address is the portal to our ethics approval documents. For more information, please see this link.

2. Google docs was set up initially to organize our documents, but we have since moved all documentation to UBC Workspace service, in order to comply with Canadian server requirements.

3. (This one): Shanahan M-C and Nieswandt M. Creative Activities and Their Influence on Identification in Science: Three Case Studies. Journal of Elementary Science Education, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Summer 2009), pp. 63-79 (link to 1st page pdf)

On hiring our education graduate students.

comic-1q0zhwr (From

So here’s something I learnt going through this process: graduate students are treated very differently in different Departments and Faculties. In a way, I was already aware of this, but it was still interesting to see first-hand the specific mechanics around this difference (at UBC anyway).

Here, I was use to the requirements around hiring Science graduate students, which generally revolve around a guaranteed salary of somewhere in the neighbourhood of $18,000 per year. This assumed that the student would working full time on his/her thesis. This isn’t great amount of cash, but when you include tuition waivers and opportunities to augment your take home pay with TAing or fellowships, it generally works out to something that is approaching a livable wage – albeit barely (this is Vancouver after all).

In the Faculty of Education, requirements for graduate work seemed to operate a little differently, in that this guarantee of a base salary doesn’t really exist. Indeed, many students would work on their theses part time without a real wage, often supplementing their livelihoods with a part-time job on the side. As a result of this set-up, we were essentially able to hire Faculty of Education graduate students as “contract” researchers, where hours would be placed administratively under an “hourly wage GRA” (or Graduate Research Assistant) status.

Given our desire to do some preliminary work, this nuance actually worked to our favour, in that we could explore part time help to get things underway. Under this rubric, we set out to find two graduate students who could work for a total of 100 hours each (at $25 per hour). As detailed in an earlier post, this equates to 5 hours per week over a 20 week period (roughly mid Feb to end of June).

And so, to start recruiting students, we liaised with the Faculty of Education, who kindly distributed our job ad (pdf copy) through the ranks (thanks Christine!).

Then, we waited…

Pretty quickly, we receive a LOT of applications, most of which were remarkably strong.  Based on our interviews, I really got the sense that the research project was thought to be pretty interesting, and of course, I can imagine that for the prospective researchers, it’s always great to try and get employment that would extend and hone your research chops further.

In any event, we ended up offering the positions to two graduate students (Tathali and Janice), who were not only very strong candidates but also nicely represented a dichotomy in their own research interests. Specifically, Tathali was quite embedded in science education research (particularly with an environmental focus), and Janice was exploring the interplay of theatre and pedagogy. Essentially, we thought having these two students with different perspectives might prove useful down the road, especially given the interdisciplinary nature of the program. As well, we had one other notably strong science education candidate (Latika), who due to certain restrictions (based mostly on her fellowship status) was ineligible for hiring under the number of hours we were hoping for. Latika, however, was so interested in the project that she offered to volunteer her time to be involved.

I should point out that I’m actually one of those folks who always tries to make sure students are properly compensated for their time, so whilst we went ahead and brought Latika aboard, we didn’t do so until  we made sure that at least some type of partial stipend was available.

In any event, there you have it. I’m going to get Tathali, Janice and Latika to introduce themselves in the coming days, so you’ll all get a chance to say hello.  Hopefully, they’ll share a little of their background and why they were interested in getting involved with the project.

So we begin… (Some number crunching and general budget stuff) #sciencecreativityvenn


(From xkcd)

I’m including this post so that we have a record of general start-up funds that we spent to get things going. When compared to the SSHRC ask, the most significant difference was the amount we were able to put towards the research graduate students.

It started with realizing that we needed some base funding to get the ball rolling. And I think crunching formally began around early December (2014) if I recall correctly. In essence, the science creativity project has three core components that each needed funding.

no1 One of these components included providing a salary for the graduate students (science MSCs or Phds and creative writing MFAs) who are actually being involved in the field trips as authentic instructors/mentors (i.e. the “teaching” staff). As described in the SSHRC grant, for each field trip, this teaching team primary consisted of one Science grad and one Creative Writing grad (we hired a rotating team of 6 grads), with a Creative Writing undergraduate student providing additional support. The student contact time itself lasted about 4 hours per field trip, so the total time calculated for compensation was set at 5 hours per session. Each grad student received a stipend roughly equivalent to current TA rates ($25 per hour), with the undergrad helper being paid $12.50 per hour.

All told, and if you calculate approximate cost of supplies and reagents at about $100 per session, this meant that each field trip would cost about $400 each. Generally speaking, we would try to do 15 of these sessions each year (the SSHRC grant was hoping to double this), so total cost of field trip delivery (not counting in-kind costs associated with infrastructure or my technician’s time) would result in a grand total of about $6000. Note, however, this 15 session expenditure is part of my lab’s ongoing programming costs and was not included in the SSHRC ask.

no2 The second component pertained to hiring Education graduate students to do the heavy lifting associated with the research component. Here, I managed to find some funding to set up two GRA (Graduate Research Assitant) stipends. This would encompass 2 grad students working for 20 weeks at 5 hours per week, at a rate of $25 per hour: a total of $5000.

With this rubric in mind, we sent out a job ad in late January, with a mind to hire for the second week of February (20 weeks from Feb 9th would take us to roughly the end of June). More on this in a later post.

no3 The third component was setting up some infrastructure that would make survey taking and analysis a lot easier. I was umming and ahhing about this for a while, but considering that we would possibly have about 800 or so surveys to wade through (this includes responses from a pre and post set-up), it made a lot of sense to invest in this. As well, I have other projects in my lab that would greatly benefit from having a suite of laptops around (some of our teacher professional workshops come to mind).

In the end, I decided to purchase a set of 30 Chromebooks (specifically, the Acer Chromebook NX.MQNAA.004, 11.6″), given the fact that these laptops were super affordable, low maintenance, were relatively resistance to quick obsolescence, and that the set-up for Google Apps for Education seemed like a handy thing to take advantage of. Anyway, each one of these machines retailed for about $250 (before taxes), so the total cost for this set up was about $8500.

Anyway, with these three pieces in tow, we were ready to start. First big step: hiring the research team!

A Brief History of Time(ly SSHRC feedback).


I’ll be the first to admit it. I was pretty disappointed when we found out that our SSHRC proposal wasn’t successful. We had quite a few folks take a good look at the documentation we worked on, and generally speaking I really thought we had a strong and interesting proposal which stood a good chance.

Still, I think one of the curious things about these interdisciplinary projects, is that perhaps I got especially caught up in my own biases and particular academic views. Since the project is tip toeing across so many ideas, and therefore different areas of research, it was perhaps inevitable that how others viewed the project was different, although different in a way that would provide valuable insight. As well, the process of looking at this with social science eyes was new to me (as a science academic), and reading through the comments was actually quite challenging for me (which is to say that jargon exists everywhere!).

In any event, in empirical terms, our “score” (based on “challenge”, “feasibility”, and “capability” categories) was 11.88 out of 18, which I think meant that we ranked somewhere in the middle. These ratings were determined as an average between two reviewers, whereupon we essentially received one strong review, and one weak review. In both cases, it was our numbers for the “challenge” element that took a hit.

Since we’re not sure of the copyright around straight up releasing the reviewers comments, we thought it best to simply highlight the core criticisms. At this point, I won’t respond to them, as I think it’ll make more sense to address them at a later date and when we’ve move along in the project and have had a chance to see how anticipatory these comments were.

Overall, however, I think they do a great job of showcasing a variety of valid criticisms inherent in our proposal (although I’ll also let Marie-Claire comment on this in the future, especially as she is the more experienced social scientist in this project).

Anyway, in no particular order, here are the main points of concern:

1. That the research primarily focuses on ideas where creativity is a general construct, as oppose to forms that are tied to specific scientific practices in specific fields (i.e. the specifics of creativity in DNA work, or particle physics or microscopy/microbial exploration as the case would be in our particular outreach opportunities). In general, it was thought that this more directed examination (a “situated approach”) would better focus the research.

2. That perhaps a broader framing of science studies literature would better serve the project. Here, the proposal was thought to have good grounding from a sociological perspective, but that it would be beneficial to also explore framing with other areas (such as philosophy, anthropology, history, rhetoric, etc… of sciences).

3. That given the overall goals of the research (towards impacting identities, impacting school science and teaching practices), there may be problems with using one-day fieldtrips as our experiential conduit, where the limited time is likely insufficient. Possibly related to this, one of the reviewer expressed some confusion over our plans for longitudinal data (i.e. returning kids over a three year period).

4. That the research strongly assumes the notions of children thinking that science is “an algorithmic process that always proceeds as a set of research steps resulting in potential loss of scientific identity.” Basically, there was concern that this was too vague a generalization, and that using this to initially frame the studies is premature if not incomplete.

– – –

Anyway, there you have it. I think laying this all out was certainly a good starting point for our next steps, as well as great fodder for potentially thinking about a second application down the road.

And luckily, we were able to find some funding to start the research project in an exploratory way. Partly to see if we can begin to collect some data that can strengthen our proposal, and also to begin logistically working out what processes/techniques/methods may be best suited for our study.

Anyway I’ll start to unpack the build up to this preliminary work in the next few blog posts. Stay tuned!