The COVID-19 pandemic has posed challenges for traditional methods of outreach that serve to help people maintain and improve their health. “Building Back Better” is a priority across the federal Government, and expanding digital capacity through use of modern technologies is one of the ways that outreach delivery is being adapted to best serve Canadians. In particular, game-based learning on digital platforms has been shown to increase user engagement and comprehension. This may offer an effective method for the outreach to youth, which the Government has identified as a priority group. ROEB EHP-ON, the Transformation Office and the Canada School of Public Service are collaborating on a project under the Solutions Fund to explore the effectiveness and feasibility of game-based learning digital solutions as a tool to increase awareness and motivate behaviour change about environmental health hazards amongst youth. Digital solution technologies under examination include web-based applications, 360o 3D video production, augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed-reality.
The effectiveness of a solution considers user engagement and behaviour change, and feasibility is evaluated based on financial costs, accessibility and learning resource supports. The project adopts a human-centered design approach which optimizes system development by focusing on user needs. Methods involve a review of literature and identification of market trends on game-based learning, consultation with behavioural specialists regarding behaviour change measurement, and facilitated group discussions with stakeholders on digital solutions. The assessment will provide suggestions on game-based learning designs and platforms for new and improved outreach to youth.
Before Project Apollo
Health Canada - Environmental Health Program Ontario
The contents of Project Apollo were derived from previous studies. The primary goal of Environmental Health Program Ontario was to increase awareness on environmental hazards to minimize risks and health impacts to the public. This goal was reached through the Radon Program, the Chemicals Management Plan (CMP), and the Air Program.
- The Radon Program aims to reduce the number of homes and buildings with radon levels above the Canadian Guideline, thereby reducing the number of radon-induced lung cancer incidences.
- The Chemicals Management Plan aims to reduce risks posed by chemicals to individuals and their environment.
- The Air Program provides health-focused leadership to ensure that actions to improve air quality will benefit the health of individuals.
Outreach and Engagement
Interaction with the right audience is an important step in every study and project. Outreach and engagement occurred at various trade shows, conferences, high schools, and universities (including the Toronto Metropolitan University, previously known as Ryerson University). The BORIS- CMP Learning Tool was brought in and used to engage the audience while educating them about their health. However, the team felt that there were more ways to engage individuals and the public about environmental health. The solution was a Healthy Home Virtual Reality Tour.
Healthy Home Virtual Reality Tour
This tour is a rudimentary computer-based virtual reality (VR) outreach tool that provides users with an immersive learning experience that focuses on environmental health hazards. The tour begins by allowing the user to explore any room in a household. By looking around the rooms, informative icons appear, followed by a brief explanation of the common household hazards. The launch of this VR tool was successful, with a lot of positive feedback from participants. However, there were multiple limitations including the cost, software design, and accessibility issues.
Designing Project Apollo
This project is an assessment to explore the type, effectiveness, and feasibility of game-based learning digital solutions as an educational tool to inform Canadian youth about environmental health hazards. EPH-ON hypothesizes that digital solutions designed with game-based learning can increase awareness and motivate behaviour change among Canadian youth about environmental health hazards.
- Digital solution "types" can include but are not limited to the following technologies: virtual reality, augmented reality, mobile devices, and computers.
- The "effectiveness" of a solution will consider user engagement and behaviour change.
- The "feasibility" of a solution will be evaluated based on financial costs, accessibility, learning resource support(s) and other known limitations.
The primary audience originally consisted of youth in Canada from the ages of 13 to 24. It has since been narrowed down to high school students in Canada. Health Canada considers Canadian youth a vulnerable priority demographic because of their comparatively greater biological susceptibility to adverse health effects from exposure to chemicals and pollutants.
The secondary audience consists of educators. Input from these audiences is necessary to ensure the successful creation and implementation of any future prototypes in both classroom and home settings.
Research Report - Completed
The assessment includes a research report on game-based learning and behaviour change. The report identified four common types of digital technologies used in the education sector.
Virtual Reality (VR)
Virtual reality can improve education by providing students with memorable and immersive experiences that would otherwise not be possible. Within a classroom, VR can easily take place while being monitored by teachers. A virtual reality learning session provides active experience rather than just passive information. Students are able to understand complex concepts, subjects, and theories. From another perspective, virtual reality gives teachers the ability to adapt learning to technology and improve the level of engagement that students have on a regular basis.
Augmented Reality (AR)
Augmented reality is less common in the education sector, but more commonly used in higher education. AR can be seen in a wide range of applications to create educational material. Teachers have the opportunity to materialize abstract concepts to help student visualize and understand challenging subjects. This is especially helpful when teachers want to bring science concepts to life.
Education via the Internet or network using personal mobile devices is becoming increasingly common and useful for students. Students are able to learn in a way they are comfortable since mobile devices are part of their daily lives. In addition, they are able to access educational apps and learn at their own pace in the classroom. Smartphones specifically allow for social learning with the advantage of interacting with peers and teachers regarding course work and questions. Mobile devices hold multiple benefits as a teaching aid, including improved learning outcomes, increased engagement among students, and an easier ability to keep students up to date about assignments.
Out of the four common types of digital technologies in the education sector, computers have been around for the longest and have revolutionized learning and the teaching profession in multiple ways. A main advantage is the easy accessibility to online education and research. With the help of the internet, students can find useful information about their projects and assignments while being able to store and organize their notes online. Online resources make learning more convenient and offer students better learning opportunities.
The following list contains the preliminary results in terms of digital technologies in the education sector.
- COVID-19 has accelerated the use of digital technologies in the education sector
- Educational games are complementary learning tools and are not intended to replace human educators or formal lessons
- In all the studies examined, the use of digital tools in the classroom required guidance and instruction from an educator
- Digital technologies can be used to encourage active learning, communication, and collaboration
- Studies on game-based learning have been shown to increase learning motivation, comprehension, critical thinking, and creativity among students
- Digital technologies can be designed to accommodate the needs of various learning styles
The following list contains possible limitations when using digital technologies as a learning tool in the education sector.
- Additional training may need to be provided to educators on how to design and implement lesson plans using digital technologies, as well as how to troubleshoot technical difficulties
- Budget constraints from schools and families to purchase hardware for student learning
- Variable telecommunication infrastructure across Canada (i.e., urban versus rural)
- Age restrictions for certain types of hardware
- Some users of digital technology may experience motion sickness or nausea when engaging with the game
- There is currently limited literature available that discusses the relationship between game-based learning and behaviour change.
Group Discussions - Completed
The assessment includes group discussions with youth on digital technologies through a series of workshops. This stage of the project activities includes surveying schools on IT requirements and restrictions.
Information Technology (IT) Surveys
Surveys were sent to participating high schools. The survey was developed by Canada School of Public Service to determine IT capabilities and limitations in high schools. The surveys were distributed by EcoSchools Canada and the Centre for Global Education.
The survey questions explore the following topics:
- Existing hardware at schools
- Ratio of devices to students
- Internet access and connectivity
- Operating systems
- Internet browser capabilities
- School IT security
- Administrative rights for software installation
Virtual youth workshops were created for 12 participating high schools across Canada. They were facilitated by EcoSchools Canada and the Centre for Global Education. These workshops were held in April 2022. The following key questions were designed for the participating youth in these workshops in order to seek their perspectives concerning their interest in learning about environmental health through digital learning technologies.
- How could content related to environmental health be made more relatable for youth in Canada?
- What types of digital learning technologies are preferred?
- What is the perceived ease of use engaging with digital learning technologies?
- Could digital learning technologies increase student motivation?
- Could digital learning technologies increase student engagement?
Recommendation Reports - Current Stage
The final and current stage of the project activities consists of recommendation reports. It is necessary to provide Health Canada with research evidence to determine the type(s) of digital solutions that it should consider developing in the future.
The final report is planned for June 2022.
According to the timeline for Project Apollo, project partners will submit final reports and recommendations to Health Canada in June 2022. Afterwards, EHP-ON will present Phase 1 findings of Project Apollo to the Solutions Fund Panel in September 2022. Phase 2 of Project Apollo includes prototype development and additional consultation with the target audiences of students and educators
Health Canada – Environmental Health Program Ontario
Canada School of Public Service – Digital Academy
EcoSchools Canada and the Centre for Global Education
Health Canada – Solutions Fund Team
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