New research chair to explore digital thriving in Franco-Ontarian communities

Faculty of Education
Research and innovation
Collège des Chaires de recherche sur le monde francophone
International and francophonie
Digital learning innovation

By Education

Communications, Faculté d'éducation | Faculty of Education

Megan Cotnam-Kappel
Photo: Bonnie Findley
The Faculty of Education congratulates Professor Megan Cotnam-Kappel, an expert in educational technology and minority-language education, for her appointment as Research Chair on Digital Thriving in Franco-Ontarian Communities.

Ours is a hyper-connected planet. The pace of technological advancements and the rapid rise of generative artificial intelligence are reshaping how we navigate our lives.  It’s an era of unprecedented risk and opportunity. 

The new Chair on Digital Thriving in Franco-Ontarian Communities, an initiative of the Office of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation, and the Collège des chaires de recherche sur le monde francophone, will focus on understanding the issues that affect this evolving digital landscape in minority language settings. 

‘Digital thriving’: A new concept

“Digital thriving is a new concept and an emerging area of research,” says Professor Megan Cotnam-Kappel, the new chairholder. “It goes beyond ensuring equitable access to technology and improving digital literacy skills. Thriving online for a linguistic minority community means cultivating a vibrant digital presence that authentically represents and empowers its members.” 

Cotnam-Kappel adds: “As an engaged Franco-Ontarian, the launch of this chair is a call to action. I am honoured to have this opportunity to expose inequalities that disproportionally impact minority language communities online. This role is a springboard for building a large network of researchers, teachers, students, and members of Franco-Ontarian communities.” 

Bridging the digital divide for francophone communities

“Our Chaires de recherche sur le monde francophone program aims to invigorate scholarly inquiry within the Francophonie, ultimately enriching our province, our nation, and the global community,” says Sylvain Charbonneau, vice-president, research and innovation at the University of Ottawa. 

“Professor Cotnam-Kappel’s dedication to addressing digital inequalities among minority language groups, particularly within Ontario’s French-language schools, is a critical component of our commitment to fostering equitable societies and shaping a digital landscape that serves the greater good of our communities.”

Cotnam-Kappel has worked in the field of educational technology in minority language communities for over a decade. She’s regularly cited in the media for her expertise on pandemic-related social and digital divides, the persistent lack of French-language resources, and the promise of new technologies. 

Her research in the areas of digital citizenship, literacy, and inequality underscores how majority languages, mainly English, dominate digital spaces and exacerbate linguistic divisions. This creates opportunity gaps for minority language speakers in education, employment, health care, and other sectors. 

“Young people are particularly affected by these disparities, and often turn to English online at the expense of French,” she says.

With the emergence of AI — which is trained primarily with data in English — Cotnam-Kappel is concerned about the risks of inaccurate content for and about linguistic minority communities. Yet, this powerful technology also creates opportunities to develop resources in French for Ontarians, which can empower youth to challenge online disinformation or train teachers about the ethical use of AI in classrooms.

Jonathan Paquette, Director of the Collège des chaires de recherche sur le monde francophone, says "the future of French-language education in a minority context is crucial to the vitality of communities in Ontario and the rest of Canada. Everywhere, educational issues are changing rapidly, in a francophonie that is constantly reinventing itself." 

"We are delighted by the creation of this new Chair at the Collège, and by Professor Megan Cotnam-Kappel's commitment to working with us to promote science in French," he adds.

Megan Cotnam-Kappel

“As an engaged Franco-Ontarian, the launch of this chair is a call to action. I am honoured to have this opportunity to expose inequalities that disproportionally impact minority language communities...”

Megan Cotnam-Kappel

— Research Chair on Digital Thriving in Franco-Ontarian Communities

A focus on transformational research in education

As chairholder, Cotnam-Kappel plans to focus on the impact of digital inequalities in Ontario’s French-language schools through collaborative methodologies. In the Faculty's edstudiO (a hub for research, teaching, and community), she and her team will co-develop digital training with and for educators, tailored to their linguistic and pedagogical needs. The chair also will seek to strengthen the digital capacity of Franco-Ontarians, particularly young people, by co-creating open-access educational resources in French. 

Cotnam-Kappel’s contributions are particularly relevant in this post-pandemic context, as we rethink the relationships among schools, teachers, students, tech, and the digital world. 

While Cotnam-Kappel’s focus is on Franco-Ontarian communities, she also plans to establish international collaborations, fostering the exchange of global perspectives on digital thriving for minority language communities.  

Cotnam-Kappel’s work as co-researcher on the Laboratoire vivant sur les technologies d'apprentissage innovantes en enseignement supérieur project is one example of international collaboration. This five-year study (2024–2029), funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Partnership Grant, is exploring the potential of innovative learning technologies such as extended reality, digital creation and fabrication, and artificial intelligence.

About Megan Cotnam-Kappel

Cotnam-Kappel is an associate professor and specialist in educational technology and minority-language education in the Faculty of Education. Over the course of her career, she has received $6 million in research funding, either as a principal investigator or a co-researcher. Her contributions to knowledge have influenced major changes to equity, diversity, and inclusion policies of the Ontario Ministry of Education and UNESCO, and teaching and learning practices in French-language schools in eight Canadian provinces. 

Cotnam-Kappel is a member of the leadership team for the Lego Foundation-funded Canadian Playful Schools Network, and was recently appointed as the first associate to the dean of the Faculty of Education, with a special mandate to work on the Francophone portfolio.

Cotnam-Kappel earned her PhD in education from the University of Ottawa and the Université de Corse Pascal Paoli, and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She received the Faculty of Education’s New Researcher Award in 2019.