The pandemic resulted in so many changes to the ways in which we conduct research. For one of our projects, we shifted from in-person to online data collection and workshops. Alysson Rheault, a research assistant with our Creative Practices Lab, recently presented a research poster on this topic at the Canadian Association of Psychosocial Oncology’s Annual Conference (Virtual, June 2021).

She presented preliminary findings from our ongoing visual arts project “Community-based creative practices and visual research methods: Developing new understandings of a good life for people experiencing impairment”. This study aims to explore how creative practices can contribute to new understandings of a good life in the context of cancer survivorship. Given the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to conduct virtual research, we also aimed to explore how qualitative researchers using participatory and art-based methods may deliver similar cancer survivorship programs online.

From January to February 2021, we delivered a series of four online visual arts workshops to four women living in the Ottawa Region who had experienced cancer. The workshops were held via Zoom. Roanne Thomas and Mary Pfaff co-facilitated the workshops which were video recorded in order to produce a film enabling the research team to share our research findings. We also conducted individual pre- and post-workshop interviews. Additionally, field notes were taken to document the research process.

Alysson’s poster features preliminary findings from our study and our lessons learned while delivering arts workshops online. We found that online arts workshops present three main opportunities:

1) Meeting participants where they are. Support was provided to accommodate for varying levels of technological skills and comfortability. We found that while providing support was time- and resource-consuming, it facilitated the workshop delivery.

2) Engaging participants in a supportive space. Participants expressed that despite the online setting, the workshops were an engaging and enjoyable experience. Opportunities to interact in similar ways as during in-person workshops were also observed.

3) Enhancing the participatory nature of research. We found that participants were more included in data collection as they completed tasks research assistants would have done for them during in-person workshops (e.g., setting up their workstations, taking pictures and recording themselves). Consequently, this resulted in higher participation time for participants.

Our previous research and pilot study demonstrates that in-person art workshops can contribute to participants’ wellbeing. Interestingly, online workshop delivery may also offer similar opportunities. For example, participants expressed experiencing a feeling of companionship and synergy within the group. Importantly, this method of delivery may facilitate recruitment of participants who may otherwise be excluded from research thereby broadening access to similar cancer survivorship programs.

Our work on this project continues as we plan the delivery of our second series of workshops. Stay tuned for future updates!

For more information about this project and conference presentation, please email Roanne Thomas at roanne.thomas@uottawa.ca.