Rubber to the road: Can bike sharing work in Halifax?

An applied term project for Dal students

- November 29, 2012

Nathaniel Lewis (centre) talks with students (L to R) Jessica Hutchinson, Kimberly Perryman and Ivit Yakub. (Nick Pearce photo)
Nathaniel Lewis (centre) talks with students (L to R) Jessica Hutchinson, Kimberly Perryman and Ivit Yakub. (Nick Pearce photo)

At the end of a busy, hectic term, many undergraduate students could be forgiven for being excited by the possibility of turning their final projects into fire kindling.

Not the students in Nathaniel Lewis’s Introduction to Research Methods class, though. These third-year Health and Human Performance students at Dalhousie not only have the opportunity to be involved in an ongoing project for the university and Halifax, but they also have the chance to see their final projects actually used in a professional capacity.

The HAHP Introduction to Research Methods class is partnering with Dalhousie’s Office of Sustainability in order for students to conduct several research projects on the health benefits of implementing a bike share program on campus. Students are gaining valuable experience with research methods such as data analysis, literature reviews, and interviewing subject experts. Topics covered are related to the health and human performance aspect of biking which includes everything from how biking effects obesity rates to how it improves bone marrow density.

“I [had been] thinking of changing the course, which had previously been built around proposal writing, which I think is a useful skill but it’s one that not as many of the [Health and Human Performance] students are going to use in their careers,” says Dr. Lewis about his decision to add more practical skills to the course curriculum.

Dr. Lewis, a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Postdoctoral Fellow, began thinking about how he could use the bike share program as part of the research methods class while meeting with Rochelle Owen, director of Dal’s Office of Sustainability. They realized that through the class they had 90 engaged students who could act as potential authors.

Bridging disciplines

Undergraduate students in Health and Human Performance come from three different backgrounds: Kinesiology, Health Promotion and Recreation. According to Dr. Lewis, the bike share projects in his Research Methods course are designed to be inclusive to all three of the HAHP School’s sub-disciplines.

“The projects are related to what kinesiologists do in terms of the actual mechanics of biking and how that can contribute to say improvements in muscular function. For health promoters, it’s something that [can] decrease obesity. For recreation and leisure, it’s fun and improves health outcomes, plus it can be adapted to people in different age groups and people with different levels of ability.”

Maria Saikali, a student in the class, says learning about the implementation of a bike share program was engaging for the class because it’s a subject many students are invested in personally.

“I think it’s a situation that we can all relate to outside of the classroom,” says Saikali. “It’s something that we can learn from and take action with, especially with the universities...there are people who take courses [at both Saint Mary’s and at Dalhousie], if there was a bike share program, it would be so much easier to transport from A to B.”

Even for students like Ivit Yakub, who says she is not much a cyclist and prefers to walk to school, the bike share projects are still informative and provide topics of discussion that extend beyond the biking aspect of the program.

“I found it interesting how Canada is beginning to improve more of the infrastructure to fit the needs of people like cyclists” says Yakub.

At the end of the term, the students will have compiled all their hard work from the projects into a single, presentable executive research summary on the implementation of a bike share program in Halifax. The final report will include overviews of existing literature on the various benefits and barriers of a biking and bike share, an analysis of quantitative research, as well as a section of expert opinions and best practices. It will be handed over to the Office of Sustainability, with hopes that it can be utilized in the future — hopefully with some of the students having a role in pursuing its implementation.

That sort of longer engagement — within the course and beyond — is precisely the point.  

“There are a lot of other opportunities to succeed in the class and to succeed as you're learning distinct skills that you will carry with you into your profession” says Dr. Lewis.

Influencing policy

Jill McSweeny, who is the teaching assistant for the class, agrees that she has noticed far more enthusiasm about the course work from the students in this class.

“I think actually knowing that their work is going to be used for something is probably a really great incentive for them to get involved and be motivated,” she says.

“The fruit of our labour will be a legitimate document used to influence decisions regarding our city, and that is quite exciting,” adds Health Promotion student Eric Hutt.

The most significant thing I will take with me is the importance of context,” says Beth Enman, also a Health Promotion student. “Health behaviour does not exist in a vacuum, and as future health professionals, we need to foster environments that will encourage and support active, balanced lifestyles."


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