Olive Bryanton 23539
University of Prince Edward Island
September 2015

Author Note

Olive Bryanton, Faculty of Education, University of Prince Edward Island
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to
Olive Bryanton, Faculty of Education, University of Prince Edward Island,
550 University Avenue Charlottetown, PE C1A 4P3


The purpose of this e-portfolio is to document my academic and professional growth, to demonstrate my scholarly development and address the competencies essential for the successful completion of ED 705 – Comprehensive Portfolio.

To provide a baseline to demonstrate my academic growth and development I reviewed my PhD application statement of intent that summarized my motivation, proposed area of research and my future career goals. My purpose for applying to the PhD program was because of my own need to improve critical thinking skills, expand my research skills and to satisfy my lifelong learning goal of obtaining a PhD – this purpose still holds true.

The proposed areas for my dissertation were purposely vague with the need for more research to inform the development of appropriate educational tools to support older adults learning opportunities. A focus on mobility options and driving cessation with an initial concentration on identifying Prince Edward Island policies related to older adults, identifying policy gaps, and investigating the possible impact of myths of aging on the development of policies related to older adults is the area that is changing as my journey progresses.

The difficulty of moving from being an advocate to becoming a researcher has been a struggle that I believe I am mastering. My career goals of enhancing my research skills, increasing my knowledge about methodologies and theories, improving my adult education skills and strengthening my competency as a researcher have been and will continue to be my focus. My growth has been through the exploration of educational inquiry from a variety of quantitative and qualitative methodological orientations, the opportunity to present at an international conference and to develop and teach an eight-week Seniors College course.

I have organized my portfolio in the following areas of competencies: (1) Knowledge of Theory, (2) Research Knowledge, (3) Professional Competencies and (4) Instructional Competencies, and have included nine artefacts to show my competences and to demonstrate my growth as a researcher.  The artefacts I have chosen demonstrate my growing knowledge of theory and research within my area of study, as well as the professional and instructional competencies I have acquired from my participation in the Educational Studies PhD program. The items I include have been from work I have completed since beginning my studies and include course assignments (papers and presentations), a conference paper and presentation, a grant writing submission, an example from an eight week course I developed and taught at Seniors College, a short video of Senior College students actively participating and a CBC interview related to my presenting at an international conference.  The artefacts I have chosen are:

Knowledge of Theory – The PowerPoint presentation I gave in my ED 704 class April 2014 as my artefact illustrates my understanding of theorist Paulo Freire and his approach to adult education;

Research Knowledge – I used two artefacts, my ED 701 Paper – Exploring Qualitative Research Rigour and Credibility that provided me with background for my choice of the qualitative method for my research. Peer Reviewed Malta Paper, ELOA Conference University of Malta, Valletta Campus October 22 and 23 2014, which provided me the opportunity to extract specific data from an existing research study and develop a paper on community dwelling women aged 85 and older.

Professional Competencies – I used three artefacts to demonstrate my competencies including: A PowerPoint presentation about Community Dwelling Women Age 85 and Older for an ELOA Conference at the University of Malta, Valletta Campus October 23, 2014. A Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Proposal Submitted – Olive’s Final Copy of Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Proposal for submission January 6, 2015. A CBC radio interview – following my presentation in Malta, November 2014;

Instructional Competencies – To demonstrate my instructional competencies related to adult and older adult learning I have selected the following three artefacts: highlights of the instructional competencies used through Seniors College, PowerPoint presentation at a Seniors College class and a video example of student engagement at Seniors College.


As an individual who has always been a critical social theorist at heart, I was drawn to critical social theory because its primary objective is the improvement of humanity and is concerned with finding alternatives to existing social conditions that negatively affect older adults,. Critical social theory can facilitate analyzing the experiences of older women and critically examining how existing education, government policies and strategies that support or hinder aging-in-place, and older women’s ability to maintain their independence and social connections.  The critical social theory offers a perspective on community dwelling women age 85 and older and will be enhanced by using critical educational gerontology/geragogy and feminist lenses to ascertain a focus on aging and gender issues. The use of the three concepts will assist in understanding the real-life experiences of older women and enable me to look beyond the individuals, to the social forces that impact on their capacity to do the things they want or need to do.

My research is guided by Paulo Freire’s concept of learning that involves helping people collectively increase their understanding of their place and potential in the world. His concept of identifying limit situations, and problem-posing approach are central to Freire’s praxis that requires dialogue, reflection and action in order to transform limiting situations such as marginalization and oppression of older adults. This is a concept that can be used to understand how the women age 85 and older learn about the social structure and the nature of injustice triggered by specific policies and structures developed for an aging population. Freire argued that the goal of education is to begin to name the world, and to recognize that we are all ‘subjects’ of our own lives and not ‘objects’ in the stories of others. Freire believed that human beings have the ability to change their situation for the better through ‘conscientization’ and ‘praxis’ and suggested people need to become active participants and emerge from their unconscious engagement in the world. He argued that central to the process of emancipation is the need for dialogue, collective reflection and action. In other words, if people work together to critically look at the situation, identify what created the condition and reflect on what needs to happen to change the situation, they demonstrate self-determination and the process of freedom, much like the coping skills many older women demonstrate.

Much of what Freire was saying resonated with my own thinking about the situation of older adults, specifically older women who have the ability to change negative situations but lack belief in their own capability and do not recognize their own abilities. Freire argues that the oppressed are not marginal and not people living outside society but that they have always been inside – inside the structure that made them “beings for others”. For him the solution is not to ‘integrate’ them into the structure of oppression, but to transform the structure so they can become “beings for themselves” (Freire, 2011). Freire’s educational theories and understanding of the marginalized and powerless is a possible framework to examine barriers and enablers that might impact on older women and how they can use their own agency to improve situations they find themselves facing. The artefact I use for this competency is a class presentation I did on a theorist that could support my ongoing work and my growth as a scholar was augmented through further reading, reflection and discussion.

Freire’s concepts of learning resonated with older adult educators Marvin Formosa and Brian Findsen’s notion of education for older adults that focuses on the value of critical education for older adults.  They expand on Freire’s work, through critical educational gerontology and feminist theory. Findsen (2007) explored the relevance of Freirean philosophy and pedagogy to a specific sub-field of adult education and argues that many of Freire’s concepts and principles have direct applicability to the tasks of adult educators working alongside marginalized or oppressed older adults and argues that the new discourse about the education of older adults moves away from a functionalist tradition of adaptation of individuals to society to one which emphasises the agency of older adults, and their collective capacity to empower themselves.

Formosa (2011) argues that the concept of critical geragogy developed as part of the field of critical educational gerontology (CEG) has its origins in that interface between critical gerontology and critical education.  He notes that critical geragogy is a liberating and transforming notion that endorses principles of collectivity and dialogue central to learning and teaching. Central to critical geragogy is its attempt to unsettle the complacency that older people feel about social conditions in the community and wider society and about their conviction that they are too insignificant and powerless to effect any serious change (Formosa, 2011).

An example of the current social conditions that older adults face include the pressures and expectations around ‘positive ageing’. Althougth this iscourse has had many benefits for older people who are able to take advantage of opportunities to continue to engage in society beyond retirement, Breheny & Stephens (2010) argue that not all older people benefit from this encouragement to be active. In particular, those who have fewer material resources, and are consequently less healthy, may be additionally burdened by the demands to age positively, rather than supported by an expectation of care as they age.

Breheny & Stephens (2010) found that older people attend to the imperative to present themselves as positive and engaged in order to position themselves as virtuous members of society within dominant discourses. Accordingly, although they may be excluded from the material conditions on which an active and positive later life are built, they are not excluded from the impact of these dominant constructions of later life on their experience of themselves as older citizen, [suggesting] a focus on individual lifestyle choices for promoting a healthy older age ignores the complexities of life choices and chances and the impact they may have on the later life circumstances of older people (p 46).

These authors note that understanding positive ageing through a focus on the accomplishments of self-reliance and activity may reinforce disadvantage, as there are considerable disparities in health and financial resources that determine self-reliance and activity. This appears to suggest that positive ageing – as with healthy ageing, successful ageing and productive ageing – is not necessarily a wrong policy turn; but that these concepts, approaches, policies and practices require a closer, more critical analysis that incorporates measurable outcomes. In particular, there is a need for critical research that begins from the perspective of older people and how they construct the meaning of ageing well, rather than the discourses generated by government agencies concerned with public spending.

The lens of critical educational gerontology highlights ageing issues and explores the diversity of older people and their interactions with community. Critical gerontology according to Formosa (2005) emerged first from the radical concerns to overcome the oppressions which locked older adults into ignorance, poverty and powerlessness and as a reaction to the uncritical acceptance of the language and the underlying ideological approach employed by older adult education. Merriam & Kee (2014) advocate that the promotion of lifelong learning among older adults can significantly contribute to community wellbeing and noted that several frameworks have been advanced for capturing the links between aging, learning, quality of life, and community wellbeing. Following his field research to accentuate the neglect of both educational gerontology and adult education with older women as an oppressed population, Formosa (2005) suggested principles to situate critical education in a feminist gerontological perspective that sees education becomes more ‘transformative education’ for older women.

Feminist criticism helps us look at literature in a different light. It applies the philosophies and perspectives of feminism to the literature we read. It will help closely examine the portrayal of the characters, the language of the text, the attitude of the author, and the relationship between the characters, and consider the comments the author seems to be making about society as a whole. In other words, a feminist lens is one that focuses on the women of the story, how they are portrayed, and what are their roles in the story –  basically, you focus on the older women’s rights, what rights they do have, and what rights they do not have.

Following a feminist criticism of critical educational gerontology as yet another patriarchal discourse where women are silenced and made passive through their invisibility, Formosa (2005) attempted to construct a critical agenda for feminist educational gerontology and posits that the empowerment of older women is still an unknown and underutilized, and focuses on the ‘empowering’ potential inherent in that interface between feminist gerontology and critical educational gerontology.  Harbison (2008) noted that feminists have failed to challenge this notion of pre-determined decline, or to engage with the self-expressed needs of old women. As with other systems of inequality, an exploration of age relations must begin by listening to those disadvantaged by them.  I like the idea of comfortable aging as suggested by Freixas, Luque, & Reina (2010) which emphasizes the advantages of aging offered by the acceptance of old age as a gift that enables us to enjoy the long period ahead and the incorporation of lifestyles that combine participation and the internal life.



My knowledge claims focus on empowerment, collaboration and emancipation and have lead me to the use of an advocacy/participation form of inquiry. This form of inquiry includes a critical social theory perspective to address social issues such as marginalization, oppression or inequality that may be experienced by women age 85 and older living on Prince Edward Island. I view empowerment as a method that helps people gain control over their own lives and a process that fosters power in people for use in their own lives, their communities and in their society, by acting on issues they define as important. To empower women age 85 and older with a voice to identify, name and illuminate what enables or obstructs their ability to continue their chosen lifestyle, I will use a qualitative method of inquiry known as Photovoice.

The intent is to pay individual attention to the living experiences of these women by providing a non-threatening way to help them tell their story.  Photovoice is a participatory process in which underserved individuals identify, represent, and enhance their lives and communities through photography (Wang, 1999). As a research methodology, the process aims to enable people to identify their personal needs, promote critical dialogue about these experiences, and create a forum by which participants can inform policy with their images and experiences (Catalani &Minkler, 2010). Photovoice is based on the assumption that marginalized community members and their ideas about their health are important and influential. While the method formally emerged on to the community-based participatory research scene as an approach to community health needs assessment, Catalani & Minkler (2010) note that it has since been applied to contexts as diverse as political violence, discrimination, language barriers, and movements. Thus, the process also facilitates empowerment (Wang, 1999; Wang & Burris, 1994). Other researchers focus on photographs as agency, Singhal & Rattine-Flaterty (2006) note that:

an even more empowering, humane and participatory use of photographs is embodied in a strategy commonly referred to as ‘photo voice’, ‘talking pictures’ or ‘visual voices’. In this technique, more generally known as ‘participatory photography’, cameras are put in the hands of the people, who are encouraged to document and co-share their own reality through photos (Singhal and Devi, 2003; Wang, 1999; Wang and Burris, 1994; Wang et al., 1996). The process of taking a photograph provides an opportunity to develop a story that was previously rejected, silenced, or overlooked. Further, the photograph’s narrative becomes a participatory site for wider storytelling, spurring community members to further reflect, discuss and analyze the issues that confront them. (p. 316)

This process integrates Freire’s theory of conscientization and dialogue, and his liberating education concept, where learning is done through examining and understanding situations from the prospective of your own world view and an exchange of views and understandings between researcher and participants to help clarify reality. Photovoice inspires active participation through providing the opportunity to photograph what you see as your realities (your own voice) and using those photographs to present your own understanding of a given situation. Having your own voice heard is empowering, plus collaborating and dialoguing with others leads to greater clarification and understanding which leads to emancipation and greater ability to make positive changes to a given situation when or where necessary.

This process is enhanced by a theoretical framework that includes not only critical social theory, but a critical educational gerontology/geragogy lens and a critical feminist lens to ensure age and gender issues are also addressed. The feminist approach to gerontology examines the stereotypes of ageism and old age and establishes the requirements for a type of research that reflects women’s own experiences of growing older. Freixas, Luque and Reina (2012) suggest that only through an individual revision of ageist stereotypes will it be possible to carry out high-quality research that empowers. Thus by following the ideologies of critical geragogy and critical feminism it is assumed that both the concerns and issues related to women age 85 and older will be taken into consideration.  Freire’s concept of critical consciousness integrated with reality would enable the older women to reflect about their place in the world and about the possibility that they have the power to transform their situation (Freire, 2005).

Qualitative methods are ways of finding out what people do, think and feel about their situation and experiences with life and produce detailed and in depth information but this requires competence and rigor on the part of the researcher. My strategies of inquiry to give voice to community dwelling women age 85 and older will use three phases of qualitative methods for data collection and analysis. Photovoice –  which enables the women to show through photographs their lived experience as community dwelling aging women. Focus groups with the Photovoice participants to explore their learning’s and experiences. A document analysis of specific provincial government policies and strategies related to an aging population to provide an understanding about how the current policies and practices enhance or inhibit Prince Edward Island community dwelling women aged 85 and older in maintaining their independence and community involvement.

My research concentration is on women age 85 years and older, living independently in the community. The study will explore the challenges, experiences and coping strategies of older women as they try to continue to do the things they want and need to do in order to maintain their independence and fulfill the role they envision for themselves.  As my questions are about practical knowledge and how older women can make or create changes to improve their situations, a qualitative approach seemed most appropriate.

The study data will be collected in three phases:; Photovoice, focus groups and critical discourse analysis. Eight to ten community-dwelling women age 85 and older, from across the province of PEI will be recruited for the Photovoice.  The individuals will share their photographs and stories individually with the researcher. This will be followed by two focus groups comprised of the same individuals to first share their stories and to discuss collective findings. The second focus group will discuss their experiences of the process, the impact on them and how this process might be used to enhance their own life. They will also discuss the possibility of informing the community about their experiences using a photographic display and stories. This phase will provide a forum for the participants to communicate with each other, to exchange ideas, and stimulate each other’s thinking, providing an opportunity for the researcher to gather data on their shared perception.

For the third phase I will use critical discourse analysis (CDA) to review a government document related to aging on PEI to recognize or uncover social problems due to power relationships and to encourage people to take corrective actions after disclosure of imbalances and inequalities that might be revealed. Aberdeen and Bye (2011) note that the aim of critical theory is to look beneath the surface of knowledge and reason, in order to see how they are distorted in an exploitative society, and to enable researchers to identify who gains and who loses in specific situations.

In other words critical discourse analysis, as Freire would suggest, requires reflection about what is said and written, reflexivity about how it is being interpreted and dialogue to increase understanding related to policies and strategies related to aging. Critical discourse analysis focuses on social issues that are important and aims to understand the social problems through analysis.

Qualitative thematic analysis will be used for the focus groups and Photovoice using inductive coding (Fereday and Muir-Cocharne, 2006). Qualitative data analysis software (NVivo) will be used to aid in coding and organizing qualitative data. SPSS software will be used to analyse the quantitative data.

These methods of data collection and analysis will bring the voices of the women to the forefront and will empower them to continue being heard in the future.


An Educational Studies PhD student at UPEI is expected to participate in educational opportunities to stimulate growth and to contribute as a scholar and a researcher.  My PhD journey has presented learning opportunities for me in areas such as presenting at conferences both in Canada and internationally and preparing grant proposals. Hence, this journey is informing my identity as a scholar and as an academic in older adult educational endeavors.

To demonstrate my level of professional competence within academia, I have selected three artefacts that have helped me make professional connections with postsecondary educational researchers, administrators, and students.  Professional competencies demonstrate active professional engagement at a scholarly level such as a presentation at an academic, peer-reviewed conference or submission of a proposal for a research grant. My experience in this area includes conference posters, presentations and proposals I chose three artefacts to demonstrate my professional engagement at a scholarly level. The first artefact is a SSHRC proposal that was submitted, the second artefact is the PowerPoint presentation I did at an international conference in Malta and the third artefact is a CBC radio interview which provided a wider audience for my PhD work.


Instructional competencies demonstrate the ability to assume the roles of teacher or educational facilitator, conference presenter, or workshop leader. My teaching/facilitating experience has been primarily in the non-formal areas of older adult education, workshop leader and conference presenter related to adult education. I have taught academic classes at the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) as a sessional instructor and more recently Senior College courses which are non-credit 24 hour/semester sessions.

I have chosen two artefacts to display evidence of my teaching abilities: a PowerPoint Presentation of a class and a video of older student engagement in the learning process.


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