Skip to main content

How a psychology professor’s research has opened the eyes of three teenagers, two UofGH psychology students, and one government ministry

Lillian Campbell noticed an inequity.

The psychology professor at the University of Guelph-Humber calls herself child-focused; others might say passionate: “There’s an issue in the province of Ontario,” says Campbell.

She explains: “Once a child is deemed unsafe to either themselves or to others, their behaviours essentially get them pushed out of the public school system and into what’s called section classrooms, which fall under a different Ministry within the government.”

“But the primary mandate in these section classrooms is treatment – not education. I see a huge divide between these – and smack in the middle of that divide often fall these children.”

And so she chose to tackle this inequity with research.

"Students in these classrooms don't have the same access"

“We know that in public schools, assistive technology like SMART Boards and other computer-assisted instruction help tremendously. But due to funding structures, students in these section classrooms don’t have the same access – these technologies haven't been available to them.”

On the surface, her research project focuses on math, and specifically on fractions used in real life. “We worked with three 16-year-old girls in a section classroom with severe chronic mental health problems. These are kids that did not understand, What does a quarter of an hour mean? How many minutes before I have to come back from my break? Not being able to tell the time – concepts as simple as these.”

“We wanted to show that the use of assistive technology could help improve fractions learning and student engagement for these kids.”

But the project had a more ambitious goal. Campbell was looking to bridge the divide she’d noticed between treatment and education, and to shine a spotlight on the importance of assistive technology.

“And we believe we did,” says Campbell.


Something that two of her psychology students at UofGH may not have been expecting when they initially volunteered as research assistants – but have since seen first-hand how research can play a role in improving lives.


Lynn Dalgleish is in her third year at UofGH: “I’ve always known that at the root of what I want to do with my life is to help people.”

But what that looked like remained unclear – until this project. “Ironically, I didn’t want to do anything research-related. Now I can see that there are many ways to help people using research.”

Campbell notes that by the end of the 10-week project where SMART Boards and laptops with tailored programs were used to teach fractions, the three 16-year-olds had learned a lot more than basic math: “One of our greatest successes was we provided them with academic success. They realized that they were doing something on their own. In that sense, we were using education as a treatment.”

“We also noticed social interaction between these girls that didn’t exist before – we noticed behavioural improvements,” she adds.

Campbell has since presented her preliminary research findings at a recent annual conference in York Region, for classroom-based day treatment staff.

Kyle Ruiter is also in his third year of psychology at UofGH, and worked alongside Dalgleish as a research assistant: “To have been a part of starting something that can be taken forward to make change – for as corny as it sounds, it’s been interesting to see that a small group of people can make a big change in a person’s life – and potentially in policy for many peoples’ lives.”

He adds that this experience also helped to narrow his area of interest and clarify his next move after graduation: “It’s not just that this experience will help me when applying to graduate school; it’s that it has clarified for me that graduate school is really something that I want. Prior to this, I wasn’t sure. Call it the cherry on top.”

Dalgleish echoes the sentiment: “Before this, I was still feeling a bit lost in terms of what I wanted to do. I was all over the place for a while, to tell you the truth. Should I pursue law? Psychology?”

She continues: “It’s helped me to realize this is what I’m interested in – and that I can do it. Having participated in this research, seeing how the process works and how everything comes together in the bigger picture – I will definitely apply to graduate school, perhaps in clinical psychology.”


Research at UofGH