Students are Making a Play for Knowledge Translation – Literally

Knowledge Translation Theatre

A uniquely assorted team gathers at the Centre for Communicating Knowledge (CCK) on a frosty Thursday afternoon: Ryerson nursing student Petrina Barbas, professional communication student Selah Edlington, language and theatre expert Dr. Gerd Hauck, professional communication professor Dr. John Shiga and, present digitally (via Skype), nursing professor Dr. Oona St. Amant whose ongoing research on overseas volunteer health work is the focal point of this interdisciplinary project. CCK Project Coordinator Jacky Au Duong rounds out the team; his colleagues credit him and the CCK with the logistical expertise that has been vital to the team’s knowledge mobilization efforts and its successful grant competitions – most recently a Learning and Teaching Enhancement Fund grant to explore theatre as a mode of communicating research to diverse audiences. This diverse group is collaborating on a fascinating interdisciplinary project: a knowledge translation play.

So, what’s knowledge translation?

“It’s the practice of moving research from specialized academic venues like research journals into the hands of a wide and varied audience,” says Oona. “Our project mobilizes knowledge in an innovative way to break down the ‘silo’ aspect typical of academic disciplines.”

So, you’re working on a knowledge translation play?

Petrina and Selah laugh knowingly: they are aware it’s a unique project that, at first glance, might baffle those curious. So Oona starts from the beginning. As a researcher, Oona pursued knowledge translation work around international volunteers. “During my PhD, I went to Tanzania and interviewed volunteers with NGOs – Canadian volunteers – doing community-based work. During a meeting with Gerd and John in England, we envisioned an interdisciplinary team to create an arts-based initiative that mobilizes themes from these interview transcripts. I wrote the idea on a napkin,” Oona says with an easy laugh. “And here we are!”

So it’s a real play?

“Yes, with actors,” Professor Hauck clarifies. “And I’ll be directing.” He favors the Argentinian method pioneered by Augusto Boal, a “consciousness-raising” theatre popular with indigenous populations: a choice that highlights the theme of this piece.

How do you approach this project as a student, Petrina and Selah?

“As a nursing student, I’ve found that this project is an innovative way to interact with the complexities of international health work,” Petrina shares.

Selah adds: “As a ProCom student, and in terms of knowledge translation, the tech aspect really fascinates me. This multimedia piece will change how people will interact with research – for example, Siri is a character in the play!”

This interdisciplinary team plans to use creative means of communication to advance research in the field of knowledge transfer in developing countries. The play explores the cross-cultural and political dimensions of NGO volunteer work, brought to life through theatre. “We want to expand our scope beyond campus and bring arts-based knowledge translation to a larger audience,” Selah shares. John jumps in: “Yes, and we hope to provide insight to researchers in many different fields.”

How does your ProCom education frame this project?

“One huge lesson we learn in ProCom is: know your audience,” Selah shares. “It’s incredibly important to learn how to present information to suit different audiences; from students reading the transcripts to an audience watching the play.” She emphasizes that she’s learned much about other means of relaying information beyond words, from sound to facial expressions.

Do you have any advice for your fellow ProCom students?

Without hesitation, Selah says, “Yes – apply for an RAship. BA students aren’t always aware that RA work is open to BA students, not just Masters students! Don’t be scared and don’t be intimidated. Don’t feel you lack the experience for a creative interdisciplinary project. Always ask your professors and the people around you how you can get involved.”


The play will be staged in April. Learn more about the CCK and their exciting projects!