Cynthia Lokker is the October 2020 changemaker in the McMaster Women in Tech series. Developed by the Office of the AVP & CTO, ‘McMaster Women in Tech’ is a project that highlights and recognizes women tech changemakers within the McMaster community. Read how our latest changemaker is using technology to enhance and engage new models of healthcare and education.
Name: Cynthia Lokker
Role/Current areas of work (both volunteer & career):
I am an assistant professor in the Department of Health Research Methods, Evidence & Impact, with a leadership role as the Faculty of Health Sciences coordinator for the interdisciplinary graduate eHealth program. In this role, I represent the education program within my department and faculty, teach two graduate courses in eHealth and am academic advisor to about one-third of the eHealth graduate students. My research focus is on applying new and existing research methods to evaluate the efficacy of different health IT applications to improve the evidence base in the field. Two areas I research are mobile health (mHealth) and electronic health (eHealth). mHealth is user-directed health technology delivered via mobile applications, such as phones and tablets, and eHealth is a broader term to describe the use of information and communication technologies in health care. I also collaborate on other aligned projects across campus and across disciplines.
In my volunteer time, I am a member of the Board of Directors and research committee chair for Body Brave, a local charity that provides community-based, accessible eating disorder treatment, support, training and education. I have been involved as a co-lead for the Hacking Health Hamilton Chapter since 2017, a group which holds meetups and hackathons for local health innovators. I am also the publisher of my community newspaper.
Area of Expertise:
Much of my expertise lies in health research methods, the appraisal of the medical literature and improving access to evidence-based medicine. I am growing a research program in applying rigorous research methods to the field of mHealth, and more recently, I have engaged in the application of machine learning to health information.
Higher Ground by UB40.
Every hour of every day I’m learning more
The more I learn, the less I know about before
The less I know, the more I want to look around
Digging deep for clues on higher ground
Alan Alda’s “Clear and Vivid” podcast which focuses on how we communicate, especially within science. I would also recommend “Becoming” by Michelle Obama, specifically the audio book, read in her own voice.
I have two of these: facilitating connections between people with overlapping interests and (oddly) copy editing.
What encouraged you to pursue the research area of eHealth applications?
My interest and activities were spurred by having a strong woman mentor when I joined McMaster as a research assistant. My journey had some twists and turns. I had entered graduate school directly from my undergraduate and earned my PhD in 2000 in biology, specifically “aquatic botany meets population genetics.” By the time I graduated, I was growing and raising my family and was a stay-at-home parent for several years. In 2006, Dr. Ann McKibbon hired me as her assistant to support her research in health informatics and knowledge translation. Dr. McKibbon, herself a newly minted PhD, co-developed the MSc eHealth program in 2008. My involvement in this research field continued as I worked in the Health Information Research Unit at McMaster and completed the MSc eHealth as a part-time student. When Dr. McKibbon retired, I took on her teaching role which has now evolved into a full-time, academic position. During this time, I furthered our research in health informatics and knowledge translation and started my own research program. I am particularly interested in mHealth applications as they are extensively used by people, but we know very little about how well most of them actually help people with their health. Our goal is to build resources on effective apps for clinicians who are looking for better evidence to guide them and their patients.
What has your experience been like using Microsoft 365 tools? How are you sharing teaching use cases with your peers?
I love Microsoft 365 tools. My friends/kids may even say too much. To share one particular use case, I recently joined Christa Morrison’s Teams class. As I jumped from app to file folders to teams one workday, I realized that in Teams I could essentially house all my routine files, folders and work-related apps like Trello in one place. I created a team that I’ve called “My Worklife” where I am the only member of this “Team.” It is a one-stop place for me to have quick access to those files I use to manage my own work tasks and workflow without going through my desktop to find them. Since Teams is open anyways, I can quickly navigate to this space to connect to the tool or file I need.
For the eHealth program, I have championed the use of Teams to manage much of our communication and file sharing, which has really streamlined our document management. We are still finding new ways to incorporate the tools, including as a communication channel for students to reduce the number of emails we send out. I know there is still a lot of untapped potential, so I have joined the McMaster Teams communities of practice to learn from my colleagues as well.
To what degree have you adjusted your approach to teaching technologies during this new phase of remote learning and working?
I have always been open to trying new technologies in course delivery and was planning on using more this fall semester, but the pandemic has certainly accelerated that plan. One approach I have been using is to let students know that there will be some experimenting, and while some of the approaches may fail, we will endeavour to be agile and adapt to both their needs and the course material. I do think it is important to find the balance between identifying and employing new technologies and managing the overwhelm that can come from an abundance of choice.
Within the context of the technology landscape, how can women help other women?
Offering mentorship and support are key to helping each other, as well as modelling the possibilities through our own work. My own journey is the result of such mentorship. There are amazing women on campus in the technology orbit; by collaborating across disciplines we can increase engagement in the use and research of technology. I am constantly amazed by the women that I teach and the ones that I work alongside.
What is one key thing that men can do to be allies of women?
Men can support and advocate for the inclusion of women at every level in the tech industry.
What are some misconceptions that women might have about working within a technology-focused field?
My tech area is in healthcare. I think there is still a misconception that the field will be male-dominated and that women won’t be welcome. My experience has been that the skills and experience that women bring to healthcare technology greatly improves and enriches our work.
As part of McMaster’s IT Strategy, stakeholders across the university shared ‘Digital Moments’ vignettes that capture what technology could look like for Marauders of the future. What does the future of technology at McMaster look like to you?
Technology is a supportive element of the mandate of McMaster. To me, technology will allow us to have accessible education, streamlined communication and increased opportunities for research and collaboration.
New and existing tech will allow us to rethink how we deliver our education programs, how we conduct research and how we manage the administrative aspects of our work. More options for course delivery models for students and faculty; virtual reality labs; adaptive education modules to create your own degree. The possibilities are endless. I am, however, cautious about these kinds of questions because 1) I am sure we’ll end up doing things I cannot yet imagine, and 2) we need to be thoughtful about how, when and where we implement technology. My foundation in healthcare, where there has been a rapid uptake in tech implementation and adoption, makes me mindful of how we incorporate technology and maintain access and inclusivity.