I focus my research on “learning-communities” and psychological sense of community within geographical and relational communities, including virtual (online) communities such as social networking via the web. I have developed a research program that addresses some of the following questions: How do individuals and communities interact? What makes someone feel a part of one or more communities? How do communities promote inclusion and participation? I am particularly interested in how learning-communities integrate (or exclude) individuals. For example, some of my studies have examined how communities support the relation between an individual and places of learning such as schools, adult education programs, alternative learning communities, and early childhood development programs such as Better Beginnings, Better Futures " (see other links on my page to print and video resources). Having conducted research in the U.S., Canada, Switzerland and Madagascar, I have published on psychological sense of community, early childhood development, service-learning in education, and related subjects, including self-help groups, gender and power, socioeconomic class, mentoring, and bilingual education (as it relates to the U.S.). In my writing, conducting research, teaching and mentoring, and consulting I facilitate, negotiate, and synthesize understandings among multiple stakeholders often those with diverse backgrounds and views.
My active research program involves two funded projects one in Canada and one in Madagascar. In Canada, my colleagues and I are engaged in a Pan-Canadian knowledge dissemination of the Better Beginnings, Better Futures model of developing, implementing and sustaining an effective, affordable community project for promoting positive child development by working with government and other funders to integrate service provision from all stakeholders serving early childhood care and education. This information draws on 20 years of rigorous research evidence, including costs savings. Two Canadian charitable foundations, the Max Bell Foundation and the Carthy Foudation, provide financial support for this research.
In Madagascar my colleagues and I are conducting a three-year longitudinal study in the project Preschool for All in Madagascar. Preschool is one form of early childhood education (ECE) that has been shown to foster children's cognitive, social, and emotional development and better prepare children for attending school, but much of the research evidence comes from developed countries such as the U.S., Canada, and Germany. Consequently, government, funders and researchers ask the question "is ECE important to child development for children living in impoverished contexts such as India and many African countries?" There is some convincing evidence on human development that has most, if not everyone, convinced that some form of ECE is important universally. So, the question is not "do we need ECE" but rather "how" do we do it for children and families living in impoverished conditions where the state does not care and powerful and influential NGOs (non-government organizations) have an outsider perspective? To respond to this question I am working with researchers from theInternational Dimensions of Educational Research Team at the University of Geneva, Switzerland through a partnership with the organization Aide et Action International to analyze the impact of and the conditions to improve preschool education in Madagascar in the following regions, Diana, Antanarivo, Toliera, and Sakaraha, which includes schools in either urban or rural settings. Using quasi-experimental research methods with both quantitative and qualitative data, field investigations are focusing on three questions:
1. What are the cognitive gains, educational and social benefits realized by the children attending a preschool?
2. What is the added educational value in early elementary school for children who attend preschool?
3. What are the local factors (school, town, community, family) that impact pre-school outcomes (identified above)?
Findings from this study have implications for the international debate on the relevance of early childhood education in the context of poverty and political instability.
We welcome contact from others who are conducting similar research. The UBS Optimus Foundation provides financial support for this research.