February 25th, 2024

College leveraging tech tools in research projects

By Alejandra Pulido-Guzman - Lethbridge Herald on December 23, 2023.

Lethbridge College photo by Rob Olson - The Centre for Public Safety Applied Research (CPSAR) works with extended reality (XR) and spatial technologies for many of its applied research projects, including this virtual reality (VR) driving simulator.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDapulido@lethbridgeherald.com

With technological advances such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality being used in many fields from entertainment to education and everything in between, the Lethbridge College is now leveraging some technological tools at their disposal to embark in research that helps multiple organizations.

The Lethbridge College’s Centre for Public Safety Applied Research (CPSAR) focuses on research that is partner driven which benefits local organizations that include policing, corrections and court by finding potential gaps through research and helping their different partners find possible solutions.

“Basically what we’re doing is trying to see what their challenges or their barriers are, and then how can we use applied research and how can we have our research team help them meet the needs they have,” said Kirsten Fantazir, the president’s applied research chair in public safety at Lethbridge College.

She said the college presently has 16 faculty researchers working in three different centres collaboratively on applied research projects based on their partners’ needs.

 “A lot of our partners may be different than the other research centres, they’re not individual companies, they’re not industry people who necessarily have X amount of dollars to put towards research, so a lot of our research in social science research is community driven, it’s partner driven,” said Fantazir.

 She said the research helps their partners not only by gathering data, but also by helping them to access to see some of the projects through.

 Fantazir said the CPSAR works closely with the college’s Spatial Technology Applied Research and Training centre (START) to access the virtual reality and spatial technologies, because their industry and their field, which is part of the justice and human services programs offered at the college is asking for that, to use it for things like assessing new applicants for example.

 “We have a project right now where instead of just doing a traditional interview, we can put people in a (VR) headset, and we can actually see what they would do in a certain situation. Instead of saying to somebody when have you had an experience with an unhoused person and what did you do, and somebody coming back with a canned response that sounds really great, we can put them in an actual scenario,” said Fantazir.

 She said one scenario they have right now is set in a restaurant scene and somebody comes in with a need, and this allows them to see how that applicant actually responds, how long do they look at them, what do they say to them, what are some of their non-verbal and their verbal communications with that person.

 “We’re trying to authentically assess these people,” said Fantazir.

 She said they also have a modular vehicle simulator they are working on with START to help train, not only police but lots of people in first responder fields, how to operate emergency vehicles in a safe manner, using decision making where they can’t simulate it.

 “We don’t want to necessarily have a vehicle out driving around Lethbridge and we can’t make certain things happen and see what they decide because it’s not naturally going to happen, but in virtual reality we can,” said Fantazir. “Virtual reality lets you give people experiences that can be costly, dangerous and hard to simulate regularly.”

 She said they overlap a lot with START because they are looking at the technologies and how they can use them and CPSAR is looking at how they can leverage that technology for things such as training and assessing applicants and even promotional and mentoring programs.

“We also work with Indigenous services quite a bit. We have an Indigenous informed research committee where we’re trying to make sure that when we’re working with our Indigenous partners and organizations, that we’re doing so under reciprocal and respectful way, and trying to make sure that we’re not making the same mistakes that have been done in the past with research and not just Indigenous but marginalized groups in general,” said Fantazir.

Some of the past mistakes they are trying to avoid making now include not being more concerned about the data, the findings and publishing them regardless of what impact it may have, as well as not doing what other researchers in the past did when they sometimes didn’t share findings with the group they were researching.

 “Or they might have a specific intention and not make that intention known to the people that they were working with, so they might partner with an Indigenous organization or a person, and that person might think that their research is going to do something that potentially might help them maybe gain some more resources or solve a problem, but then in the end the researcher just take that information and uses it to write a journal article, stack their resume or CV and that’s really not what we’re all about,” said Fantazir.

She said they do like to publish but they do it in coordination with their partners and the research they are trying to do is to help them and not to exploit them, which is what has been done in the past, not in Lethbridge per se, but it has been an issue across many Indigenous groups and organizations in Australia and Canada among other places.

“We’re learning and that’s what we’re asking for, we’re trying to figure out how is Lethbridge College going to move forward so this is research is done in a respectful way. We don’t have everything figured out, but we’re here to learn,” said Fantazir.

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