Homelessness as a contemporary issue is deceptively complex. Despite its high prevalence, it is not a topic many people have studied formally. As a result, much of what the general public knows, or believes they know, about homelessness comes from public representations shown in the media and encounters with people sleeping outside in urban spaces. These one-dimensional portrayals fail to capture the range and depth of homelessness as something people experience, but also as a social and structural issue that results from decisions we make as a society.
To specifically challenge these perceptions, and encourage learners to think more deeply, a team at Trent University and the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness developed the online higher education resource “Understanding Homelessness in Canada: From the Street to the Classroom.”
Published in February 2022, this multi-functional resource published in Pressbooks has been used as an online course, open-access textbook, video and podcast series, and professional development resource. Key to the success of this initiative is the combining of expert knowledge through recorded interviews with leading researchers, co-authorship of people with lived homelessness experience, and exceptional online learning design and implementation, with multi-media accessibility at its heart.
It is critical in the creation and development of such resource to include authors with lived experiences of homelessness. Two of the e-book’s four co-authors have lived experience of homelessness and now work in community addictions outreach roles. Their experiences and perspectives helped shape the resource throughout, and supported the research in the real-world scenarios provided. The e-book addresses homelessness across Canada, with perspectives from 26 highly regarded homelessness researchers from coast to coast. The companion podcast and YouTube channel were created to allow learners to revisit e-book material in accessible formats which support their learning.Listen to “Introduction 1.2 – How do we know what we know about homelessness?” on Spreaker.
“Understanding Homelessness in Canada” engages learners in critical discussions about real world social issues alongside leading researchers in the field and people with lived experience. Its design is both thoughtful and intentional– the multi-modal and accessible style is an example of best practices in online education. Trent Online e-learning experts Stephanie Ferguson, Josh Andrews, and James Bailey alongside Dr. Kristy Buccieri and Dr. Cyndi Gilmer, Associate Professors in the fields of Sociology/Criminology and Nursing, shepherded this project to completion.
The partnership with the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (COH) and the use of material from the Homeless Hub is an example of how open education resources can extend beyond educational institutions to community, government, not-for-profit and social justice spheres and become catalysts for social change. This partnership has also enabled the sustainability of the open education resource long-term.
This project has impacted my conception of what is possible and what can be achieved both within online education at the post-secondary level as well as the impact that open education can have as a catalyst for changing social views, raising the national consciousness, and pushing the needle toward social justice accross a wide range of fields.Award Nominator
This work shines a spotlight on a population of individuals that is regularly marginalized at best and forgotten at worst but no less worthy of attention than any other humans. Beyond the content, the format is a model for multimodality, engagement, interactivity, and accessibility. And the high number of collaborators who came together to contribute to the work clearly has contributed to its excellence.Award Reviewer