Academic Innovation Fund project taps into student creativity

AIF_Featured image
AIF_Featured image

Student fingerprints are all over the new Communities in Motion web platform that Parissa Safai created using her Academic Innovation Fund grant.

Parissa Safai
Parissa Safai

Safai, an Associate Professor in the School of Kinesiology and Health Science (KHS), wanted to increase the visibility of the excellent community-based research — collaborative research in which all partners in the process share in and contribute to the production of knowledge – and the teaching and service that take place in the school. She chose a web-platform to make her point and involved a group of Kinesiology students and faculty and staff from across campus in creating it.

“We do a lot of innovative community-based research, teaching and service in our school, and it is never adequately publicized,” Safai said. “I wanted to raise awareness among the public, but among our students, too.

“Many students come to the Kinesiology program and think of research and teaching in the classic sense: in laboratories and classrooms. I wanted them to see how to take what we do in our ‘ivory towers’ and connect it to people’s daily lives.”

The result is a web platform that centres on “community-based research and knowledge mobilization with a focus on digital storytelling.” It includes:

  • sophisticated video infographics that highlight community-based research projects undertaken by Safai’s colleagues;
  • these same projects explained in digital stories created by undergraduate students;
  • short lecture-style video podcasts about academic themes created by York faculty and staff members; and
  • a student-compiled database of community-based non-profit organizations across the GTA that offer sport and physical activity programs; and
  • an appendix of text-based research and reports.

Safai hired a team of KHS students to explore five community-based research projects undertaken by KHS faculty.  Students researched these five projects and their data formed the basis for cutting-edge video infographics created by the digital media specialists from York’s Learning Technology Services unit. In parallel, the students took the same data and created their own digital stories to bring them to life.

For example, one video and story focus on the DSkate program, a project designed to make it easier for youth athletes with Type 1 diabetes to participate in sports. The student-created digital stories can be found on the web platform and also on YouTube at

The KHS Communities in Motion YouTube channel also serves as a place to showcase additional digital stories created by KHS students in their courses. To date, 10 different stories are available online with more to come.

Above: A Communities in Motion video created by Monica Lee and Pegah Rahbar, students from the School of Kinesiology and Health Science, York University.

“They did it all themselves and I am floored by the amazing results,” Safai said. “It’s a technique [digital storytelling] that professors can suggest that their students use. It encourages digital literacy, as well as research skills and critical thinking and communication skills.”

The students were also the force behind the database of community sports programs that will be extremely useful to anyone planning to conduct community-based research.

“It was fascinating to see that there are many organizations that their objective is to promote exercise and healthy lifestyle without an intention to make a profit out of it,” said Arvin Ardakani, a third-year KHS student.

In creating the database and the digital stories, the students came to see the value of community-based research.

“Before participating in this project, I was unaware of the importance of community-based research,” said Pegah Rahbar, a third-year KHS student. “I realized how vital community-based research could be. In fact, in community-based research, the focus is on people, not merely producing knowledge.”

Safai is excited about the outcome of the AIF project.

“I hope this website will be a living entity that will grow, change and develop,” said Safai.  “Part of my role will be to promote it as a tool for learning about and conducting community-based research, teaching and service.”

By Elaine Smith, special contributing writer to Innovatus