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The Conversation: Culturally-responsive teaching in a globalized world

In increasingly diverse societies, teaching must recognize the importance of affirming students’ cultural backgrounds in all aspects of learning.

 

[Elementary school students in a classroom]
Culturally-responsive student assessment and evaluation is key to student success in diverse, globalized societies. (Photo by Neonbrand/Unsplash)

Classrooms in many parts of the world are increasingly diverse. International migration patterns have significantly changed the cultural make-up of many industrialized societies and, by extension, their school-aged populations.

Such changes are particularly seen in traditional destination countries such as Australia, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, New Zealand, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

In this increasingly globalized landscape, schools face significant challenges. Researchers have documented lower educational outcomes such as student achievement and graduation rates for immigrant students in the majority of countries around the world.

In response to these outcomes, more research is being devoted to understanding and supporting conditions for equitable learning. Culturally responsive teaching (CRT) is one idea to support these conditions. CRT is concerned with teaching methods and practices that recognize the importance of including students’ cultural backgrounds in all aspects of learning.

To date, much focus in the field of CRT draws attention to the need for a greater diversity of role models and learning experiences in the classroom, and an expansion of teachers’ capacities to truly support and affirm diverse students.

As education researchers who have worked with teachers in training, and teachers in K-12 schools as well as teacher educators in Australasia, Africa, Asia, Canada, Europe, U.K. and the U.S., we argue that more attention needs to be paid to an overlooked aspect of CRT: both education systems and individual teachers must develop culturally responsive assessment and evaluation practices to boost student success.

How to recruit and prepare teachers?

CRT is sometimes also called culturally relevant teaching. This mode of teaching aims to be aware of how culture, ethnicity, race, socioeconomic status, language, gender identity and religious background may impact students’ learning experiences.

In many school contexts, student diversity far exceeds the diversity of teachers. Such an imbalance means students do not always encounter educator role models who reflect diverse cultural backgrounds throughout their schooling.

Thus, one aspect of promoting CRT is increasing efforts to attract a more representative demographic of teachers.

Recent analysis from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) suggests that in most OECD countries the typical person who expects a career in teaching at age 15 is a female with no immigrant background.

The findings are based on a question to 15-year-olds on 2006 and 2015 Programme for International Student Assessment surveys: “What kind of job do you expect to have when you are about 30 years old?” (4.5 per cent of non-immigrant respondents said teaching; only 3.1 per cent of immigrant respondents said teaching).

The OECD survey did not capture racialized identity. But more fine-grain analyses within the traditional Western destination countries suggest racialized people and Indigenous groups are particularly underrepresented among teachers.

For example, Canada’s largest and most diverse province (Ontario) has a significant teacher diversity gap as evidenced by fairly recent demographic data.

Racialized people represent 26 per cent of the provincial population, yet comprise only nine per cent of the 117,905 elementary school and kindergarten teachers and 10 per cent of 70,520 secondary school teachers.

Targeted teacher recruitment efforts are one strategy to improve racialized teacher diversity. Enrolment targets or quota admissions are others.

[Student in library]
When teachers don’t represent society’s diversity, students miss the opportunity to encounter educator role models reflecting diverse cultural backgrounds. (Photo by Elliot Reyna/Unsplash)

Specialized programs for Indigenous peoples such as the teacher program focused on Aboriginal Education at Brock University or Maori Medium Teacher Education in New Zealand demonstrate efforts to grow the number of Indigenous peoples in teaching.

But strategies such as as diversified recruiting, quotas or specialized programs would take time and will likely struggle to keep up with changing student demographics.

Hence, providing relevant cultural training and professional development for aspiring and experienced teachers becomes even more important.

Such training needs to extend beyond traditional multicultural education approaches, or what has been called a “tourist” curriculum characterized by occasional or “highlight” additions.

Instead, training for teachers must model a multi-dimensional approach that includes integrating content from diverse cultures and experiences, and critically examining how cultural identity impacts learning.

Our experiences with teachers and teacher education programs globally reaffirm research findings about recognized practices in teacher education that impact student success.

For example, teachers programs should help teacher candidates critically consider their own identities in relationship to societal inequities and prejudice; optimally, with growth and maturity, they learn how to model deep inclusion.

Assessment literacy: The missing link

We also want to draw attention to an area that has been neglected in broader discussions of CRT – namely, assessment and evaluation strategies.

Most educators now accept that student assessment is the beginning point for instruction, not simply the end. That means assessment can be a powerful support when used throughout learning stages to provide meaningful feedback to students. Teachers need to carefully consider assessment and evaluation before they begin a lesson or unit of study and to use assessment to monitor students’ learning.

However, assessment continues to operate in more traditional ways: it continues to be used primarily as a measure of students’ final learning in courses through tests and exams or through large-scale provincial, state or national testing programs.

Teachers’ competency in using assessment to support student learning and to accurately report on it is called “assessment literacy” — so named for the ability to “read” a class to develop fair, relevant and supportive assessment.

Teachers must learn culturally responsive frameworks to develop fair practices for obtaining accurate information about students’ learning. Our research suggests competency in developing assessment can be enhanced through effective professional development.

The issue of fair assessment also raises questions about system-wide standardized testing, often used for accountability purposes. Standardized testing can be biased, for example reflecting foremost the experiences of white middle-class students.

Thus we acknowledge the need to combine the dual movements of CRT as focused in teacher recruiting and training with greater attention to responsive assessment.

Unless that happens, CRT will only find limited success in creating classrooms that ensure learning and achievement is attainable for all.

_____________________________________________________________________

The ConversationLouis Volante, Professor of Education, Brock University; Christopher DeLuca, Associate Professor in Classroom Assessment and Acting Associate Dean, Graduate Studies & Reserch, Faculty of Education, Queen's University, and Don A. Klinger, Pro Vice-Chancellor of Te Kura Toi Tangata Division of Education; Professor of Measurement, Assessment and Evaluation, University of Waikato.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca

IGniting curiosity

IGnite: Research Stories to Inspire Generations will feature talks on oral history and climate change Jan. 31 at The Isabel.  

At its series launch event in November, IGnite captivated its audience with lectures on neutrinos and medical miracles. This Thursday, IGnite: Research Stories to Inspire Generations will showcase local history and research into climate change. 

Laura Murray (English Language and Literature) will take us back in time to Kingston’s historical Swamp Ward district with “History at home: Community research in action in Kingston.” Using research of past environments to illuminate evidence of climate change,

IGnite: Research Stories to Inspire Generations will feature talks on oral history and climate change Jan. 31 at The Isabel. Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change John Smol (Biology) will present “Back to the Future: Using the past to inform environmental policy.”

IGnite is a collaboration between the Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics Research Institute and the University Relations portfolio. Each event features two researchers from different fields discussing their projects and research experiences, while also including interactive demonstrations and poster presentations from students and additional researchers. The series offers a public platform where researchers can share what first ignited their curiosity and motivates them to pursue their research.

Dr. Murray explains that for her IGnite offers an opportunity to share her methodology and how it relates to the community.

“My research draws on the knowledge of the community, and it’s a primary goal of mine to give it back,” she says. “Through oral history we discover the real lives of the city, going far beyond names and dates and buildings and accomplishments to what it has meant to live here in the past, and what it might mean to live here in the future. Oral history is also a wonderful research methodology in that non-academics can do it too.”

For Dr. Smol, it is the emphasis on public engagement that motivates him to participate in the series.

“Events such as this provide an important vehicle for knowledge translation to the public – a group of people who, by and large, paid for the research in the first place,” he says. “In universities we search for evidence - we search for truth.  If facts and information are not prized and communicated, then ideology will trump evidence.  And if you don’t value truth, then you don’t value democracy.”

The event, the second in a three-part series for the 2018-2019 academic year, will take place Thursday, Jan. 31, 6:30-9 pm at The Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts. Registration is free on Eventbrite and light refreshments will be served.

For more information on the series, visit the McDonald Institute’s website

The Conversation: The urgent need for Democrats to embrace progressive policies

The Democratic Party needs a revised image, grounded in a new reality, that will address basic issues of inequality, access, and fairness.
 

[U.S. Capitol Building]
The Democratic Party gained a majority in the House of Representatives following the 2018 midterm elections. (Photo by jomar/Unsplash)

The vigorous agenda of social reform and expanded government services, particularly in health and higher education, promoted by Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primaries, and now by a new class of Democrats in Congress, has much in common with mainstream European social democracy.

That senior Democratic Party politicians perceive it as radical suggests that a big part of the party’s problems lie in its commitment to an ideology of free markets and deregulation of capital, and a concurrent lack of concern for issues of class and inequality.

This has left the Democratic Party’s liberalism excessively focused on issues of equal access for racial and ethnic minorities, women and sexual minorities.

[The ConversationIt’s all created an opening for Republicans and the political right to denounce the party as led by disconnected “liberal elites” promoting “affirmative action” and “political correctness” while ignoring the interests of ordinary working- and middle-class Americans.

The Democratic Party needs a revised image grounded in a new reality that will address basic issues of inequality, access, and fairness. The central focus of a progressive program of reform must be to improve the lives of ordinary Americans, regardless of their race, gender or sexuality, and expand opportunities for personal and social mobility.

Real campaign finance reform will be critical in levelling the playing field. Sanders and other politicians have demonstrated that it’s possible to raise substantial funds by accepting only small donations. It is better for the democratic process to raise $150 million from a million citizens than from 50 or fewer millionaires.

Tax corporations

In terms of economic policy, the value of public goods needs to be recognized again. A necessary first step will be to restore the tax on corporate profits to its previous level and refashion genuinely progressive income tax, returning even to the levels of the 1950s, a period marked by vigorous economic growth and increasing real income for most Americans.

This will make possible a significant increase in public revenue for public purposes.

This should be accompanied by a broad-based increase in the minimum wage and a restoration and reaffirmation of collective bargaining rights for public and private sector workers. A revival of anti-trust laws and a closer regulation of finance capital will restore competition, curb risky speculation and help prevent a repeat of the financial crisis of 2008.

Inequality is the underlying problem that is eroding social trust while devastating the well-being of individuals and communities across the country. After declining in the post-Second World War years, inequality since the 1980s has grown to grotesque proportions that have resulted in a tiny plutocracy with a combined wealth equal of more than 90 per cent of Americans.

In their book The Spirit Level, Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson document the heavy toll that persistent and growing inequality is taking on individuals, communities and on society as a whole.

Eroding prosperity

Further, in his book Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, author Robert D. Putnam vividly demonstrates how growing inequality and declining public resources have eroded the well-being of children and families in a mid-sized American city.

Renewed progressive policies need to make economic equality, health care and education central. The goal must be to eliminate poverty and discrimination that leave a large part of the population incapable of making the necessary productive contributions to tackle the challenges of the next 30 years.

Instead of access to health and education being rationed by cost, it must be enshrined as a fundamental right of citizenship and a critical foundation of the public interest.

[Woman with placard at protest]
A woman holds up a placard during the Women's March protest in New York City ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. (Photo by Mirah Curzer/Unsplash)

In specific policy terms, a number of initiatives would flow from this commitment.

In addition to minimum wage, tax reforms and the restoration of collective bargaining, an educated population equipped with the skills required for the modern world is obviously of critical importance.

Public education must be reinforced with resources and up-to-date facilities. We need to reverse the trend of declining public support for secondary and higher education.

Policies that divert public resources to private schools managed by community groups and provide tax and financing incentives to profit-making companies across a range of trades — from beauty schools to training for medical assistants, paralegals and mechanics, many of which rely on federal funds for tuition — should be curtailed or eliminated.

Fund public education

Instead, public education must be funded in ways that reduce what has become a ruinous trend of student debt.

In its present form, the American health-care system is financed through a ramshackle mess of private and public funding that’s a laughing stock among other advanced countries.

It should be replaced by a coherent single-payer public health- care insurance system that provides quality levels of care for all citizens and regulates the behaviour and costs of the pharmaceutical industry.

A reformed tax system that distributes individual and corporate responsibilities in a fair and equitable fashion would provide growing resources to meet the individual and collective needs of all Americans.

This is the time to begin implementing the policies to meet these urgent priorities.

Commentators on the right often complain that such ideas are too costly, that they’re unaffordable.

And it’s true — these are not priorities for the right. The right’s solution is to push the costs on to users.

But the result is that health care and higher education have become unaffordable for many Americans. And the institutions of U.S. democracy are the collective property of all citizens. A reformed tax system that distributes burdens in a fair and equitable fashion would provide more than enough resources to put health care and education within reach for American citizens.

The time has come for Democrats to start vigorously pushing these urgent priorities and restore the promise of a secure and decent future for all Americans.

________________________________________________The Conversation

Bruce J. Berman is a professor emeritus of Political Studies and History at Queen's University,and Daniel Levine is a professor emeritus at the University of Michigan.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca

The Conversation: Fossil fuel era is ending, but the lawsuits are just beginning

An American coal company is suing the Canadian government over Alberta's plan to combat climate change.

Trucks at a coal mine]
Trucks make their way along a makeshift road at a coal mine in Indonesia. (Photo by Dominik Vanyi/Unsplash)

“Coal is dead.”

These are not the words of a Greenpeace activist or left-wing politician, but of Jim Barry, the global head of the infrastructure investment group at Blackrock — the world’s largest asset manager. Barry made this statement in 2017, but the writing has been on the wall for longer than that.

Banks know it, which is why they are increasingly unwilling to underwrite new coal mines and power plants. Unions and coal workers know it, which is why they are demanding a just transition and new employment opportunities in the clean economy. Even large diversified mining companies are getting out of the business of coal.

The only ones who seem to have remained in denial are President Donald Trump and non-diversified mining companies like Westmoreland Coal. The Denver-based firm made a bad bet in 2013 when it purchased five coal mines in Alberta. Now it wants Canadian taxpayers to pay for its mistake.

Alberta’s coal phaseout

Three years ago, Alberta’s New Democratic Party (NDP) committed to what some have described as “the most ambitious climate plan in North America to date.” In addition to the development of an economy-wide carbon price, the province is phasing out coal-fired power by 2030. Without the infrastructure to export coal, the climate plan has also resulted in a de facto phaseout of local thermal coal mining.

To ensure support for the plan, major utility companies in the province were provided with “transition payments” to facilitate the switch to gas and renewable energy. Westmoreland did not receive a government handout, because coal mining companies have no role to play in the energy transition. The company, which filed for bankruptcy protection for its investments in the United States in October, doesn’t think this is fair.

NAFTA’s investment chapter

Because Westmoreland is an American company, it can rely on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for protection from “unfair” treatment. NAFTA allows a foreign investor to use a process known as “Investor-State Dispute Settlement” (ISDS) when government action harms its business in some way.

ISDS allows foreign investors to bypass local courts and bring claims for monetary compensation to an international tribunal. The system is not unique to NAFTA; it is found in other trade agreements like the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and thousands of bilateral investment treaties (known as Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements in Canada).

ISDS is hugely controversial. Concerns have been raised by a wide range of actors about both the process of ISDS, and the way the system can infringe on the sovereign right of states to regulate to protect public health, human rights and the environment.

More than 900 ISDS cases have been launched by investors since the early 1990s, including 27 against Canada that have so far cost Canadian taxpayers at least $315 million. There is one ongoing dispute that concerns a ban on gas fracking in Québec, but the Westmoreland claim is the first brought in relation to a policy explicitly designed to combat climate change.

Westmoreland argues that part of the reason it invested in Canada in 2013 was to diversify its holdings in response to regulatory risk. At the time, the Obama Administration was taking action under the Clean Power Plan to reduce the reliance of American utilities on coal. The company’s failure to anticipate similar regulatory action by its northern neighbour is remarkable.

A key battleground

If governments respond appropriately to the urgent warning issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in October, efforts to phase out fossil fuels will have to ramp up considerably — and quickly. We should expect the industry to fight these efforts through a variety of means. ISDS may become a key battleground.

The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA or CUSMA, depending on who is talking about it), which may replace NAFTA (it has been signed, but has not been ratified), does not retain the process of ISDS between Canada and the U.S.

While this is good news in the long run, some have suggested that there will be a “rush of filings” before access to ISDS for already established investors expires (three years after USMCA comes into force). Canada will also be exposed to claims from investors under other agreements such as the CPTPP and Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

Other countries, particularly poorer nations, face an even higher risk of ISDS claims and have far less resources available to fight them. It is notable that big oil companies have retained some access to ISDS against Mexico in USMCA, after lobbying hard for it.

[Oil rig works as the sun sets]
An oil rig pumps crude oil as the sun sets. (Photo by Zbynek Burival/Unsplash) 

A climate of fear?

If Westmoreland’s case proceeds to arbitration, it will not have direct implications for Alberta’s climate policy. An investment tribunal cannot require the provincial government to reverse the coal phaseout; it can only award the company damages. Westmoreland is asking for US$470 million. It is the federal government, rather than Alberta, that would have to pay compensation to Westmoreland if the company’s claim was successful. However, Ontario did agree to pay the award in a recent NAFTA case.

What is more concerning than any potential payout is that Westmoreland’s suit could hinder efforts to implement similar plans to combat climate change in other jurisdictions.

Regulatory chill” is a phenomenon that has been observed in several jurisdictions around the world. A notable example is the decision of the New Zealand government to delay the introduction of legislation to require plain packaging of tobacco products until Australia won its ISDS case against the tobacco company Philip Morris International. This delay of regulatory action — out of fear of expensive litigation — may have cost lives.

As recent forest fires and floods have demonstrated, delays in action to combat climate change can also be deadly.

____________________________________________________________The Conversation

Kyla Tienhaara is a Canada Research Chair in Economy and Environment and an assistant professor in the School of Environmental Studies and the Department of Global Development Studies at Queen's University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca

Examining Indigenous rights and the RCMP

New research from Queen’s University examines how the RCMP assess protests.

Queen’s University researcher Miles Howe and co-researcher Jeffrey Monaghan (Carleton University) have revealed in a new report how the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) assess individual activists according to political beliefs, personality traits, and even their ability to use social media.

In line with other criminal justice agencies in Canada, the RCMP are now relying on new models of preemptive governance and risk-mitigating strategies.

PhD candidate Miles Howe.

"My initial interest in the RCMP's profiling methodologies stemmed from my involvement, as a journalist, with anti-shale gas protests in New Brunswick, which lasted for much of 2013,” says Howe (Cultural Studies, Global Development Studies). “In a declassified report, known as Project SITKA, the RCMP had determined that 45 Indigenous rights activists in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia were meritorious of future surveillance, based upon their involvement in this protest event.”

Howe says that although their names were redacted from the report, he felt sure that many of the people who the RCMP listed had been classified as 'volatile' to state security.

“Having first-hand knowledge of the events of 2013, I was immediately curious as to how the RCMP had ranked these individuals, towards determining their 'volatility',” he added.

When co-author Jeffrey Monaghan and Howe received the RCMP's socio-psychological profiling matrices, for both individuals and events, he says the vast majority of risk ranking factors had to do with an individual or group's ability to use social media, to network, to easily convey their message – even their beliefs surrounding the issue. In short, the potential or reality of criminality was not what determined risk ranking; rather it appeared to mostly surround narrative creation and ability to disseminate.

“Though the RCMP regularly claim to protect and facilitate the right to lawful advocacy, protest, and dissent, my new research shows how these practices of strategic incapacitation exhibit highly antagonistic forms of policing,” Howe says.

The research was recently published in the Canadian Journal of Sociology.

Miles Howe arrived at Queen's University as a 2018 Vanier Scholar.

Capturing the Art of Research

The annual photo contest offers prizes for images of research in action at Queen’s in a number of categories. 

[Art of easearch Contest]
Exploring Worlds at Home by James Xie

Researchers … ready your cameras. Returning for its fourth year, the Art of Research photo contest is launching Jan. 14 to celebrate and creatively capture the research conducted by the Queen’s community.

Hosted by the Office of the Vice-Principal (University Relations) and open to Queen’s faculty, staff, students, and alumni, the Art of Research is a competition that provides a unique and accessible method of sharing and celebrating ground-breaking research. Past contest winners have captured stunning images of their research in all settings, from the summit of a mountaintop to a microscope slide.

“The contest embraces the creativity of research across disciplines, and demonstrates the breadth of Queen’s research happening at local, national, and international levels,” says Kimberly Woodhouse, Interim Vice-Principal (Research).

PRIZES

Prizes will be awarded in the categories of “Community Collaborations,” “Invisible Discoveries,” “Out in the Field,” and “Art in Action,” with additional prizes for “Best Description,” and “People’s Choice.” The top submissions in each of these categories will receive $500.  

[Art of easearch Contest]
Unspooling Vermeer by Stephanie Dickey

This year’s contest will also celebrate the significant anniversaries of two of our faculties. The Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science and the Faculty of Education have collaborated with University Relations to sponsor two additional special prizes of $500 each.

To celebrate its 125th anniversary of engineering education at Queen’s, the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science special prize will be awarded to the submission that best demonstrates how engineering-specific pursuits are likely to affect positive change in our daily lives.

Additionally, to celebrate 50 years of excellence, the Queen’s Faculty of Education 50th prize will celebrate the photography of students, faculty, staff or alumni as they pursue research in education.

As with all categories, entries will be considered for these two special prizes regardless of the submitter’s faculty affiliation.

PROMOTION

[Art of easearch Contest]
Platinum Surface Electrochemistry by Derek Esau

All winners also have an opportunity to be featured on the Queen’s Research website and in Queen’s publications. Most recently, as a part of the beauty of research initiative, four past submissions were re-purposed as pennant banners along University Avenue.

The winners of the past three contests are also featured in a travelling pop-up photo exhibit. This exhibit has helped highlight Queen’s research to the Kingston community, on Queen’s campus, and at major research conferences such as the Canadian Science Policy Conference in Ottawa. Throughout the contest the exhibit will be on display at several campus locations, such as the Queen’s Centre, to inspire imaginative submissions.

The contest closes on March 1, 2019. The submission form is available online and information on past contests and photo winners is located on the research website.  

The Conversation: When pets are family, the benefits extend into society

Studies show that living with a pet has positive outcomes when pets are considered family members and not property.

[Man hugs his golden retriever]
In addition to the health benefits of physical activity, walking your dog has many social and community benefits. (Photo by Eric Ward/Unsplash)

There is a growing global trend to consider pets as part of the family. In fact, millions of people around the world love their pets, enjoying their companionship, going for walks, playing and even talking to them. And there is evidence suggesting that attachment to pets is good for human health and even helps build community.

More and more often, animals are included in family events and become important to all members of the family. This can be particularly significant in single-parent families, where a pet can be an important companion to children. Children with pets may have higher levels of empathy and self-esteem compared to those who do not have pets. Thinking of pets as family members can actually make the chores associated with pet care less stressful than they are for those who consider pets as property. Spending more time caring for a pet increases attachment to that animal which in turn reduces stress in owners.

In the research my colleagues and I have done on aging and social participation, we found considerable analysis showing that interactions involving pets, especially if we care about them, can have a health-protective effect. Zooeyia (pronounced zoo-AY-uh) is the idea that pets, also known as companion animals, can be good for human health. In fact, pet owners in Germany and Australia were found to visit their doctor 15 per cent fewer times annually than non-pet owners.

Healthy, emotional connections

Many health benefits to humans occur when there is an emotional attachment to pets. And we tend to care the most for animals that live with us. For example, a study that looked at attachment to dogs found that people tended to care about their house dogs more than those that lived in the yard. Higher levels of attachment to dogs has been associated with a greater likelihood of walking the dog and spending more time on those walks as compared with those with a weaker bond to their dogs.

Sharing your life with a pet has been associated with a decreased risk of coronary artery disease, a reduction in stress levels and increased physical activity (especially through dog walking). The presence of a pet during stressful activities has been shown to lower the blood pressure of couples taking part in a stressful task. In fact, levels of beta-endorphin, oxytocin and dopamine, among other markers, increased in both humans and their dogs during caring interactions, demonstrating that time spent together is physiologically beneficial for both species. And owning a pet has been associated with an improved cardiovascular disease survival among older adults (aged 65 to 84 years old) being treated for hypertension.

[Cat hiding in a blanket]
Research shows that children who grow up with a pet develop higher levels of empathy and lower stress levels. (Photo by Mikhail Vasilyev/Unsplash)

Pets as family and community members

Because pets are considered family members by many people, the loss of a dog or cat is often a cause for deep grief. A missing or dead pet is hard for many to replace because the relationship between the person and pet was specific to those individuals. The attachment between humans and animals is often so strong that it is common to mourn in a way that is very similar to the feelings and behaviours associated with the loss of a human family member.

The bond between humans and animals is not just good for human health, it can also help build community. People with pets often find that activities with their companion animal creates connections with other people. Social networks that are developed based on shared concern over the welfare of animals can lead to increased human-human interaction, as well as activities involving pets (e.g. dog-walking clubs). Walking a dog gets people out of private spaces, which can be isolating, and into public areas where interactions with neighbors and other walkers are possible.

Protecting pets

Societies create laws and institutions to protect companion animals from cruelty and neglect. In most jurisdictions, regulation of shelters and pounds has not evolved to reflect the beloved status of many pets, and instead consider pets as property. If a lost pet is not reunited with an owner within a few days it can be sold to a new family, to a research lab, or be euthanized. However, some countries, such as India, Italy and Taiwan have legislated against the euthanasia of healthy shelter animals.

But in North America euthanasia is still common. In 2017, Humane Canada found that among the shelters they surveyed, over 70 per cent of lost dogs and cats were unclaimed, and tens of thousands of dogs and cats were euthanized. In 2016, 4,308,921 animals were experimented on in Canadian laboratories. Approximately 17,000 were pet dogs and cats who were provided by shelters to research laboratories and later euthanized.

The strength of the human-animal bond has resulted in the creation of not-for-profit animal rescues whose mission is to ‘pull’ lost and abandoned animals from shelters before they are euthanized or sold for research. For example, Marley’s Hope is a Nova Scotia all-breed rescue organization. The organisation also partners with the Sipekne’katik First Nation to help rehome roaming dogs as well as spay and neuter where possible. The Underdog Railroad in Toronto, Ontario, rescues dogs and cats from high-kill shelters as well as those offered “free to a good home” online. And Elderdog provides older adults with help to care for their pets as well as rescuing abandoned older dogs.

The Humane Society International — Canada assists in spay-neuter programs as well as advocating for and rescuing animals, including in the international dog and cat meat industries. They closed three South Korean dog meat farms and two slaughterhouses in 2018, rescuing 512 dogs, many of whom found homes in Canada and the USA.

Mohandas Ghandi understood the importance of the human animal bond. In his autobiography he said “man’s supremacy over the lower animals meant not that the former should prey upon the latter, but that the higher should protect the lower, and that there should be mutual aid between the two.” Recognizing the ways that companion animals enrich human lives, and understanding the depth of the affection between many humans and animals, may be the key to not only better health, but to improving the welfare of society as a whole.The Conversation

___________________________________________

Lisa F. Carver is an adjunct professor in the Faculty of Arts and Science and Post Doctoral Fellow, SSHRC-funded ACTproject at Queen’s University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca

Hormone could slow Alzheimer’s progression

Queen’s University researcher discovers potential new treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

Queen’s University researcher Fernanda De Felice (Psychiatry), along with co-authors from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, have identified an exercise-linked hormone that could slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. This research was recently published in the high-profile publication, Nature Medicine.

Fernanda De Felice has identified a hormone that could slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease. (Supplied photo)

The findings show that irisin, a hormone that is boosted by exercise, plays an important role in the brain and that Alzheimer patients carry less of the hormone. This discovery moves scientists one step closer to developing a medication that reproduces the effects of exercise-induced irisin production in the brain.

“In the past few years, researchers from many places around the world have shown that exercise is an effective tool to prevent different forms of dementia such as Alzheimer’s” says Dr. De Felice, a researcher in the Centre for Neuroscience Studies at Queen’s. “This has led to an intense search for specific molecules that are responsible for the protective actions of exercise in the brain. Because irisin seems to be powerful in rescuing disrupted synapses that allow communication between brain cells and memory formation, it may become a medication to fight memory loss in Alzheimer’s disease.”

The new research is important, explains Dr. De Felice, because curing dementia is one of the greatest current and future health care challenges. Unfortunately, despite 30 years searching for treatment drugs, there is no effective medication for Alzheimer’s disease. She adds it is also important to remember that the vast majority of patients with dementia can be disabled due to other age-related illness (e.g. arthritis, heart disease, obesity, visual problems, and depression). Furthermore, it can be challenging to engage a patient in regular physical activity.

A drug that increases irisin in the brain could be the key.

“It is important to keep in mind that Alzheimer’s is a very complex disease and it is truly hard to treat Alzheimer’s patients before irreversible damage occurs in their brains. This is because when a patient is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, their brain has already been damaged," Dr De Felice says. "Finding new protective routes, such as the identification of an exercise-linked component, may be an optimal strategy to heal the brain before brain cells die and dementia becomes irreversible.”

The next step in Dr. De Felice’s research is investigating the most effective way of delivering irisin to the brain.

Read the full paper here.

The Conversation: The group dynamics that make terrorist teams work

[Twin Towers memorial]
The terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 resulted in the deaths of close to 3,000 people and injured 6,000. (Photo by James McCann/Unsplash)

Acts of terrorism are harrowing and can cause extensive damage and tragic deaths, and they have been occurring with alarming frequency over the last decade.

[The Conversation]On Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaida executed a series of co-ordinated attacks against the United States, killing close to 3,000 people and injuring over 6,000. On March 11, 2004, an extremist Islamist group bombed four commuter trains in Madrid during morning rush hour, killing 191 people and injuring another 2,000. On July 7, 2005, Islamist suicide bombers attacked London’s public transport system, killing 52 people and injuring more than 700 others. The list goes on.

From 2000-2016, global deaths from terrorism increased eight-fold. Seventy-seven countries experienced at least one death due to terrorism in 2016, more than any year since 2000.

Scholars, governments and analysts have spent a lot of time exploring individual motivations of terrorists. However, terrorist activities are typically performed by groups, not isolated individuals. Examining the role of team dynamics in terrorist activities can elucidate how terrorist teams radicalize, organize and make decisions.

There is a common misconception in the West that leaders of al-Qaida and, more recently, Daesh (ISIS) are recruiting and brainwashing people into giving up their lives to establish a new political order. This is an incorrect model that has been vastly exaggerated in the media, based on a western understanding of leadership.

My recent research with Guihyun Park of Singapore Management University seeks to provide a better understanding of what motivates terrorist teams and how they make their decisions. How do terrorist teams combine their local identity with a global mission? How do they organize themselves and co-ordinate attacks in the presence of this fluidity, yet maintain a high level of cohesiveness?

Islamist terrorist teams

Conceptualizing terrorist teams as loosely coupled structures can help us answer these questions. The term loosely coupled systems refers to structures in which the entire system represents a holistic unit, while still preserving the unique identity of the components that make up the entire system.

In other words, team members enjoy a great deal of autonomy, without losing sight of the objectives of the team as a whole. Terrorist teams as systems demonstrate both loose vertical coupling — self-management — and loose horizontal coupling — little interdependence between team members.

Loosely coupled systems bear a number of advantages: they allow individuals to retain their own identity and self-determination; they are highly effective at sensing and responding to changes or opportunities in the environment; and they are better able to respond to breakdowns in the subcomponents of the system.

Our research focused on extremist Islamist terrorist attacks from the last 15 years and built on previous work conducted with researcher John R. Hollenbeck. Drawing on the theories of American organizational scholar Karl Weick, we looked at the literature on group behaviour and team decision-making and leveraged the theories of “loose coupling” in terrorist teams.

Random leadership

An emergent rather than top-down leadership structure is a defining structural feature of extremist Islamist terrorist teams. Scott Atran and Marc Sageman’s analysis of the March 11, 2004, Madrid train bombings which killed 191 people and injured another 2,000 shows how random the leadership structure was among the affiliated terrorist network.

The individuals that gravitated toward a leadership role in the network simply emerged as being the most effective in facilitating the logistics and communication demands of the group. The social system determines the objectives and missions, not the individual leaders.

The strength of terrorist teams does not reside in their leaders, but rather in their complexity. Despite a high degree of familiarity among some team members, connections among the larger network are typically quite loose.

In the case of the terror attacks on four commuter trains in Madrid, a diverse group of individuals was ultimately involved, from the Islamist terrorist team that carried out the attacks and its wider social support network, to petty criminals, Spanish miners and two police informants.

[Soldiers in Budapest]
A pair of armed soldiers patrol the streets of a tourist area in downtown Budapest, Hungary. (Photo by Vlad Tchompalov/Unsplash)

Implications for counterterrorism efforts

The fluid nature of terrorists teams, together with their lack of a traditional leader, make their activities hard to combat. Loosely coupled terrorist teams have a tremendous ability to adapt to local circumstances.

For example, prior to the 2004 Madrid train bombings, Spanish authorities knew the terrorist group involved had been discussing and praising extremist operations worldwide. They also knew the same group had voiced their intent to conduct their own attack on Spanish soil. However, because no ties to al-Qaida could be established, none of the team members were brought in and detained. This suggests that counterterrorism efforts should focus less on external ties to terrorist organizations and more on the actual operations of the terrorist teams.

Leveraging the advantages of loose coupling

The ways in which terrorist teams organized themselves represent one of the best examples we’ve seen of loose coupling. Many of these same principles can be applied to organizations seeking to be more agile and innovative.

An organization, for instance, could assemble a team that has no formal leader. Team members would step up, but then also step back when they may not be the best individual to lead the group in a particular initiative. Establishing fluid boundaries, which let in resources and information from outside the group, could also prove effective, as well as bringing together people from different parts of the organization.

Thankfully, the majority of terrorist teams fail. They either disband before they launch an attack, are discovered during preparations, or the attack itself is not successful. That said, violent group actions have had a profound effect on our world over the last 15 years. Thus, their impact cannot be evaluated by looking at the successes or failures of individual teams, but rather the potential success of the combined attacks.The Conversation

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Matthias Spitzmuller is an associate professor at the Smith School of Business and Toller Family Fellow of Organizational Behaviour

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca

Bell Mental Health Research Chair appointed to Order of Canada

Heather Stuart (Public Health Sciences) is recognized for her commitment to advancing the mental health conversation.

[Heather Stuart]
Heather Stuart, Bell Mental Health and Anti-Stigma Chair, has been appointed as a Member of the Order of Canada. (University Communications)

Queen’s professor and researcher Heather Stuart has been appointed as a Member of the Order of Canada in recognition of her “commitment to advancing the mental health conversation in Canada.”

Governor General Julie Payette announced 103 new appointments – two Companions, 15 Officers, and 86 Members – to the Order of Canada on Thursday, Dec. 27.

A professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences, Dr. Stuart was appointed the inaugural Bell Mental Health and Anti-Stigma Chair, the world’s first anti-stigma research chair, in 2012. She was reappointed in January 2017.

“It is a surprise and a deep honour to be acknowledged for my work in stigma research and advocacy,” Dr. Stuart says. “I hope this acknowledgement provides reinforcement for all of those working in the mental health field, in particular, the people who have worked so closely with me to develop and implement evidence informed practice in this area.”

All recipients will receive their insignia at a ceremony in Rideau Hall at a later date.

“The Order of Canada recognizes outstanding achievement and dedication to the community and to Canada,” says Tom Harris, Interim Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic). “Dr. Stuart is a leader in her field and has contributed greatly to the reduction of stigma around mental illness in Canada and around the world. On behalf of Queen’s, I congratulate Dr. Stuart on this well-deserved recognition.”

Created in 1967, the Order of Canada, is one of the country’s highest civilian honours, and recognizes outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation.

Among those appointed Members of the Order of Canada are six alumni and honorary degree recipients, along with several others with Queen’s connections:

  • Brent Belzberg (Com’72), Senior Managing Partner, Torquest Holdings Inc. Management Services
  • Lyse Doucet (Artsci’80, LLD’15), Presenter and Chief International Correspondent, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)
  • Ross D. Feldman (Artsci’73), Medical Director, Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
  • Gordon Gray (Com’50) former president and chairman of Royal LePage – Established Gordon and Patricia Gray Chair in Particle Astrophysics,
  • Barbara Jackman, President, University of Ottawa, former adjunct lecturer at Queen’s Faculty of Law
  • Alexandra F. Johnston (LLD'84), former lecturer in the Faculty of Arts and Science
  • Marshall Pynkoski, Advisory board member for the Dan School of Drama and Music
  • Pekka Sinervo, former chair of the SNOLAB Institute Board of Management
  • Gregory Zeschuk (MBA’04), Co-founder of video game developer BioWare 

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