My Research at a Glance
My primary program of research is located at the intersection of health, aging and place. As a social gerontologist and qualitative health researcher, my work explores aging from a critical perspective to challenge assumptions about aging and disability, re-imagine practices and policies in community and care settings, and develop new ways of knowing that prioritize the lived experience of older adults. Three areas of scholarship summarize my critical health research: community mobility, place, and methodological innovation.
Attention to place and the important role that places – as physical and social spaces – play in health, is a prominent theme in my research. Adopting a critical geographical perspective, I conceptualize place not as simple backdrops to life, but as dynamic spaces where social, cultural, historical and political features coalesce to make up the meaningful context of human life. Guided by the notion that ‘place matters’ i.e., that lives are situated and located, I seek to understand health and aging by anchoring knowledge “in place”.
Communities are my living labs and places of research. Using participatory approaches, I partner with community members asking: What do you need to know? What is the most pressing concern for your community? How can we work together to better understand this problem and affect change? My community labs have included neighbourhoods in, for example, Toronto (Gardner, 2011) and New York City (Gardner, 2012).
Working as a research scientist at Bridgepoint Healthcare, I added hospitals as an important place for health research. Participatory designs that prioritize the place-based (hospital) experience of patients and staff provide the in-depth, contextualized knowledge required to affect real change. Indeed, a major contribution of this work is its application including the development of new hospital procedures related to wheelchair cleaning (Gardner et al., 2014), the implementation of new clinical assessment tools related to balance (Sibley, Brooks, Gardner, et al., 2016), and the establishment of hospital design guidelines that have been adopted by architecture firms and the MOHLTC (Alvaro, Kostovski, Wilkinson, Gardner & Gallant, 2015a, 2015b, 2015c, 2014).
Arriving at Brock, I expanded my research gaze to include the campus-community as a place of research. The increasing prevalence of mental health problems among university students is a major public health concern and one that is shared by students, faculty, staff and administrators at Brock. In partnership with faculty and student groups on campus I have initiated a new program of research to investigate an ‘upstream’ health promotion approach to mental health problems. In The Mindfulness Experiment research, I am examining the integration of mindfulness practices in post-secondary education in order to identify best practices for implementation and the impact on the mental health of students and faculty (Gardner, & Grose, 2015; Gardner, Kerridge & Power, in review).
While still relatively new, I see The Mindfulness Experiment as a significant area of study moving forward. The work has been incredibly well-received by the Brock community, the data is showing a strong and positive impact on student well-being, and interest – both as a mental health promotion strategy and as an effective pedagogical tool – is spreading across the academic and research community. In addition to publishing in this area, I have been awarded a Chancellors Chair for Teaching Excellence Grant to examine how to support faculty interested in integrating mindfulness into their classrooms.
The Mindfulness Experiment
The following two videos were created for the Brock Mental Health and Wellness website. In the first video, I talk about how approaching mental health through mindfulness is a great strategy because of its therapeutic value. Helping students build effective coping and resilience strategies is more important than ever when a vast majority of university students feel overwhelmed. I have been known to include mindfulness in my classrooms, and this is why I do it.
Mindfulness is “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment” (Kabat-Zinn 2003, p.144). Meditation – a practice that uses the breath to bring us into awareness and calm the mind - is one of the most basic mindfulness practices.
Emerging research illustrates the benefits of integrating mindfulness and meditation into teaching practice. Recent studies demonstrate, for example, that these contemplative practices can result in greater psychological well-being for students, a greater degree of concentration, reduced class disruptions, and improved academic performance (Bush, 2011; Shapiro, Brown, & Astin, 2008).
For the past 8 years (while teaching at the City University of New York, the University of Toronto and now at Brock University) I have used meditation as a tool for teaching and observed similar benefit. The practice of beginning each class (undergraduate and graduate) with a short meditation seems to focus students (and myself) as we often arrive to class feeling rushed and scattered. Additionally I’ve noticed that this practice helps to create a positive – more open and trusting – learning environment.
Student’s course evaluations in the past support these observations as many mention the inclass meditation as a valuable experience and a part of the course they not only enjoyed, but felt positively impacted their learning and enhanced the course overall.
While interest in the integration of mindfulness practices into higher education is emerging, to date much of the research and practice is focused at the K-12 level. As such we know much less about how best to integrate meditation into post-secondary classrooms and curriculum, and the impact of doing so.
STUDY PURPOSE & OBJECTIVES:
The overall purpose of The Mindfulness Experiment is to explore mindfulness practices in postsecondary education. There are two key research objectives:
To identify ‘best practices’ / effective strategies for integrating meditation within a university classroom and curriculum
To examine the impact of doing so
Paula's project, A Focus on Faculty: Building a Contemplative Campus One Classroom at a Time is aimed at understanding the challenges of integrating mindfulness into post-secondary classrooms. Read more in this article written by Colleen Patterson for The Brock News, here.
A focus on faculty: Building a contemplative campus one classroom at a time
Funded by: Brock University (Chancellors Chair for Teaching Excellence Award)
Principle Investigator: Paula Gardner, PhD (Brock University)
There is a mental health crisis on university campuses across Canada as students and faculty struggle to balance the many demands of academic life. While campuses increase efforts to support those in crisis, there is a growing need for ‘upstream’ preventative approaches that build resilience and positive mental health among the campus community. Mindfulness and other contemplative practices have been shown to assist students, faculty, and staff, to become more resilient in responding to the day-to-day pressures of academia while improving the teaching and learning experience for instructors and learners. Despite the demonstrated benefits of mindfulness and meditation and growing interest, enthusiasm, and participation in contemplative practice workshops and events provided on campus, knowledge uptake and implementation is limited. The purpose of this project is to understand the challenges of integrating mindfulness into post-secondary classrooms and to use this knowledge to design a set of tools, strategies and resources that make it possible.
The overall aim of A focus on faculty is to promote resilience and positive mental health among the campus community by providing faculty with the tools, strategies and resources they need to integrate mindfulness practices into their classrooms
Design & Timeline:
Year 1 / Research: To understand the challenges to implementing contemplative practices into the classroom environment. What are the barriers to knowledge uptake?
Year 2 / Toolbox Development: To use new knowledge and expertise to develop a set of relevant, effective materials, strategies and resources that support faculty to use, experiment and have fun with these new practices and ways of teaching. What do faculty need to implement mindfulness practices into their classrooms?
Year 3 / Implementation & Evaluation: To implement (i.e., teach/provide/share) the toolbox of mindfulness practices and evaluate their impact. Is knowledge uptake improved? Are faculty using their new skills and knowledge in their classes?
CARE Planning Guide
CARE is an applied research and evaluation consulting firm that specializes in assessing how architecture and the built environment affect behaviour, well-being and health.
This planning guide is your toolkit. It will help you lay the foundation for a successful POE that will assess the impact of the design of your healthcare facility on patient, staff and visitor psychosocial well-being, as well as behavioural and health related outcomes. This guide will be your first steps in understanding how patients feel when they are in various spaces throughout the healthcare facility, what they do in those spaces and how often they frequent these spaces.
Your role is to use this guide to gather all of the required information that your evaluation team has identified as being a priority as they will need it to begin the next stages of the process that will include developing a POE framework and the data collection materials – surveys, interview guides and observations tools.
This workbook includes exercises that will help you understand the steps in the POE processes, outline the type of care that is delivered at your healthcare facility, explain the redevelopment project and the associated timelines, document the design intentions, identify the roles and responsibilities for key individuals, prioritize the spaces in the redevelopment project that require the most attention and plan various communications strategies.
That's Wheelie Gross!
Wheelchair sightings are not uncommon in healthcare institutions. A study conducted by Bridgepoint's Collaboratory for Research and Innovation published in the American Journal of Infection Control revealed there are no clear guidelines for cleaning these complex pieces of equipment.
I, along with a team of researchers, interviewed respondents from 48 healthcare facilities across Canada and discovered that many respondents were concerned about wheelchair cleaning as an infection control issue.
People call me a "walker stalker" because I follow people. I'm really interested in what happens to people in mobility devices once they leave the hospital and go back into their community. What kind of challenges do they face? What are their experiences?
Small ledges can stop people from getting back to their lives or having meaningful social relationships because of these barriers, so I've come together with a team of engineers and this is what we did.