This session will present the ongoing innovation project, named Project Fu Xi, which was made possible by the UWCSEA 50th Anniversary Innovation Grants. The presentation will highlight how UWCSEA’s culture of autonomy and innovation made it possible to bring together many parts of our learning programme and members of the wider community to develop a healthcare solution for persons with Alzheimer’s and dementia. This exciting project is a great example of the UWC mission in practice!
Elvind Lodemel: My name is Elvind Lodemel and I first came to UWCSEA in 1999 as the Norwegian National Committee scholar and I graduated class of 2001 after being alumni for a while, I came back in 2012 to work of the East Campus as a music teacher and where I am now the head of High School music. My daughter is soon to become a student here, so I will very soon have seen the college from pretty much every possible angle.
I'm here to talk to you today about an exciting innovation project that I am overseeing where students and teachers and the community work together to solve a problem. This project has been made possible by the 50th Anniversary Innovation Grant, so I'm really, really happy about the way the school has supported us in terms of trying to solve this particular problem. The project itself is based around Alzheimer's and dementia care and is rooted in one of the services that we have been running for the last ten years, which made us aware of a sort of problem, if you like, that we wanted to try to solve using technology and using members of the community. So I'm going to talk to you about that. The purpose of the project overall is, of course, to engage students in really exciting, real life learning where there is an impact and where they can actually make a difference. And as well as supporting people with Alzheimer's and dementia and just as importantly, supporting those that care for them. Those of you that have some personal experiences with Alzheimer's and dementia will be aware of just how challenging a situation it is for those that suffer from the disease, but also from those that care for them. So we have thought long and hard about a way in which we can support them through this kind of technology and through this type of music therapy that I'm going to be talking about. And the innovation grant has made it possible for us to try to pursue that. It is a project that's on the way, but there's some exciting developments happening.
Now I'm hoping that by seeing my presentation today, you're going to hopefully get some ideas and some thoughts around how this is obviously an exciting project for our students and for our community. But also perhaps it opens up some thinking around education and the model of education that we follow and perhaps the need for flexibility in that model. That learning that I'm going to be talking about today does not happen within the confines of a classroom. It really is something that is reaching out and that is flexible, that is involving members of the community and so on. And hopefully it sparked some ideas for everyone in terms of where we might go next as we move on this educational journey together.
Now, a lot of the research that sort of became the ideas for this project comes from reading the writings of Oliver Sacks and also this movie here called the Alive Inside. Now, in this movie you see here, Henry is generally sort of disoriented, unable to engage in conversation. You see his physicality, his body language. He is depressed and generally feeling out of it. And the moment that the music comes on, he becomes much more engaged physically. He becomes more animated. You can see him moving and singing and there's a whole change to his state. The exciting thing about when this therapy works is that this extends beyond just listening to the music itself. And when you remove the music, the person maintains some of this alertness for a few minutes after the music is removed. And so in these moments, the person is able to engage in conversation more successfully. They become more animated. And it's just generally sort of restoring a sense of dignity for the person. And this is something that we're really excited about because we have started seeing some of these effects ourselves in the work that we have been doing so far. And we believe that we are going to be able to create even more opportunities for people to engage with music and see this kind of impact with persons with dementia and Alzheimer's.
Through our service programme, we have been able to go to Apex Harmony Lodge. You can see one of our students here working with one of the residents there and we have been able to develop and create a programme similar to the one of music and memory, which is the one that we've seen in the movie Alive Inside, but where we are able to have the students then administer this therapy and they do it through sort of working with the residents on a weekly basis, and as they listen to music together, they sort of they the students are able to see which which music is working and which isn't. And then they take notes on that. And essentially we develop a playlist through this activity. The key thing about this type of treatment, which makes it somewhat challenging, is that you do have to have the right music for the person. It has to be music they already remember. And that can be a challenge when you're working with persons with dementia because they're not always able to answer if you want to ask them about what kind of music they would have heard previously. So this becomes a kind of detective work where the student sort of tries lots and lots of different music. We have a massive library of local music that we use, and then as they figure out what works for that person, eventually you see the impact. That sometimes can take as much as five or six months of trial and error before you suddenly get the kind of reaction that we saw with Henry in the previous video.
Our collaboration with Apex Harmony Lodge has been really successful. And a few years ago, they awarded us the Synergistic Partner Award, which you see here. It was presented by Singapore's president, Halimah Yacob. Unfortunately, we were unable to bring students to this particular event. But here is Rick and I accepting the award on the student's behalf. The programme with Apex Harmony Lodge has evolved through many different stages. And one of the things that has been great about the partnership is that by listening to the needs of of Apex Harmony Lodge and about their sort of need for accountability, we have collected a fair bit of data on the music therapy programme and the sort of effectiveness of it, and which has provided us with the sort of statistical data based on observation, showing that there is an improvement in well-being over time for the residents that are working with our students.
Now, there were many things that we learned through running this programme for the last ten years, and the students and the staff involved and the residents and all the conversations made us aware of a couple of different things. The first one was that this therapy is amazing in terms of what it can do. It's fairly simple as a sort of model and it produces real sort of visible impact and improvement to the lives of those that are engaged with it. But it is also labour intensive. You need to sit one on one with the person. You need to observe. You need to play the music. You need to take notes and keep track, all of that kind of stuff. Now, for our students, that is great because that is an opportunity for them to engage one on one with someone with dementia and the learning is profound. And of course the impact is very significant for the person with dementia that is benefitting from taking part in the programme.
However, we wanted to scale it. We wanted to make this available to more people. And what we realised was, of course, that not everyone has the luxury of the amount of time that we can give when we are bringing our students to a centre like Apex Harmony Lodge. And we wanted to make this type of therapy available also for caregivers in places like Apex Harmony Lodge, and they are in a situation where they have to attend to lots of people all throughout the day, and they do not have the ability to sit for half an hour or 45 minutes with someone on an individual basis. But we also wanted to make it available for those looking after someone at home in Singapore and elsewhere around the world. People are, of course, very anxious and unwilling to send a parent or grandparent to stay in a care home. People enjoy taking care of them at home and keeping them at home for as long as possible. But that comes with severe sacrifice and severe challenge. And for someone who is a caregiver at home, they need to do all of the normal things that you would do in a day. So they need to wash the clothes and do the dishes and run errands and so on. And looking after someone with dementia, as you know, such a full time job.
So we thought, what about being able to create a way of engaging with this programme that is a little bit less labour intensive, where perhaps technology can do some of the work that our students are currently doing. Now, this is not and I should say this very clearly, this is not to encourage people to let technology do the caregiving. Of course, one on one interaction is always preferable. Engaging with someone on a personal level is always preferable. But we know it's not always possible 100% of the time. And if this can provide a meaningful way to engage with a programme like this that is a little bit easier, a little bit more manageable, we might be able to create opportunities for centres and for care homes like Apex Harmony Lodge to use it much more, and also for caregivers at home to use it much more. That way they get the benefits of it without necessarily having quite as much investment in terms of time. It also might allow for people to have a little bit more flexibility in their day and in the way in which they are caring for their loved ones.
Now, this is the point in the story where things come together beautifully in the way that they sometimes do. Through my work as a musician, I had met someone called Justin Baird, and Justin Baird was at that time the head of innovation at DHL Asia-Pacific, and then later moved on to become one of the CTOs at Microsoft, Singapore. In conversation with him, it came out that he had worked on a similar solution to what we had been thinking about in Australia before arriving at Singapore. So this was the point when we suddenly now had the person that might be able to help us realise the vision that the students and I had developed over these ten years. And just at that same time, Nick Alchin opened up applications for this 50th anniversary innovation grant. And of course we applied with our idea and were successful and we're really, really pleased to see this now be the beginning of some really exciting work.
Now, I think the background of this innovation grant is really significant in how this all comes together, because as we try to think about different ways of of structuring education, having more innovative approaches, being able to have projects and interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary learning you have to kind of change the way in which you create the structure or in the way in which you set up the structure.
So I spoke to Nick about the thinking behind all of this. And so I'm going to let him explain the sort of the thinking behind the innovation grant and how that application process was structured in order to make it successful and open-ended enough so that people could really pursue the things that they were passionate about.
Nick Alchin: We wanted to combine a flexibility of approach with a really ground up, what are the ideas in the community. And we thought having a project based system rather than courses or responsibilities, but just projects where people had passions. We thought that was the best way of doing it. We wanted some criteria because we knew we'd have to select because our resources are finite, but we wanted the criteria to be quite general and quite open to encourage the creativity and innovation. I mean, restrictive criteria would be ironic in this area, but we wanted to make sure it was mission aligned. So we did come up with a few criteria and we wanted to make sure that it was in line with good practice. So the first criterion was we wanted to have a specific focus on one of our strategic initiatives. So peace, sustainability, inclusion, concept-based pedagogies, that kind of thing. So it made sense that these were absolutely integrated with our focus across the school.
We also wanted to have very clear intended outcomes and a very clear timeline, and we knew that timelines would be flexible. And after COVID, of course it's proven to be that. But just to come in with some sense of the scope of the project seemed sensible, knowing that we'd be flexible. We also wanted to look at the potential depth and breadth of the project outside the college or inside the college. Inevitably, when you have a lot of good projects to choose from, one that will affect 100 kids or has the potential to go global must be preferable to one that affects one or two students. So there's a pragmatic reality there. We wanted to be able to showcase innovation here today, which is why I'm speaking now but that was one thing that was a factor in our minds.
And finally, we wanted to engage not just numbers but different categories of our community. So not just teachers but parents, students, alumni. I mean, in some cases much broader than that. I mean, the project that you're looking at today might be about reaching out to patients with dementia, for example. That's a whole new category of partnership that we can create. And that for us was a really big feature.
I think the criteria was successful, but also I recognise they're intentionally loose. And I think what we're really doing there is a classic sort of I hope the classic leadership thing. We're not trying to tie people down. We're trying to direct their attention to an area, you know, whether or not they fall within the area or outside the area you know, there's a bit of negotiation there, but really in this big scope of projects, we're just saying there's the direction we're interested in. So the criteria were, by their nature, fairly broad.
Elvind Lodemel: So with our focus set on innovation, inclusion and partnerships, and as you can see with lots and lots of autonomy and freedom and trust from the leadership, we were ready to assemble a leadership team. The leadership team is what you see here on the screen. And Aranav on the left, a student that is involved in lots and lots of projects, has lots of connections with the mathematics department and does a lot of great work there, but also a musician and someone that really understands the sort of the impact of music on well-being. Tarini, In the middle, was the leader for the Apex Harmony Service and was with the service for several years. Usually students try out lots of different programmes but she has stuck with us for a long time and then on the right we have Justin Baird, who I mentioned before, who had experience dealing with a similar kind of problem, and that brought all of the sort of technological expertise that we needed in order to make this project a reality.
As the coding work was progressing, we were also trying to create more partnerships and more collaborations with other groups. We made a connection with Music and Memory. Actually, they are the original sort of creators of the movie Alive Inside, but also we met with Spotify and this was actually one of those things where the student leadership really took place. Tarini, who you saw earlier, was actually the one that not only created the opportunity for this meeting, but she also facilitated the meeting and led the meeting where we sort of spoke to Spotify about different ways in which we could engage with them and different ways in which we might be able to access the rights for the music in order to sort of take into account things like copyright and so on. So this meeting with Spotify was particularly exciting because it was entirely student led and organised by a student. The partnership is still ongoing. We are using Spotify as our platform right now to get the music, but we are still exploring ways in which we might be able to make this even cheaper and more accessible for more people without necessarily paying a full Spotify subscription to access.
The next step in the process was getting the Coding for Good group together for a weekend hackathon. So this was a chance for them to sit for many hours to really start solving the problems of the user interface, the layout and the technology that's going to be able to learn and develop these playlists. One of the things about this clip, which excites me is that this shows a truly authentic sort of student leadership taking place. So obviously the teachers involved and Justin as well gave guidance at the beginning of the day to sort of get things set up. But by the time the day had gone on for a bit, the students were really sort of spontaneously without any prompt taking on these leadership roles. And that is what you can see here in this example. So at this point now, it's like the students are really taking charge of the project. They are taking on leadership because they're motivated to do so because they see a problem that they want to solve and they have the know-how to solve it on their own. And so this is where we can really see the success of the project starting to take shape because it's now becoming entirely student-led and the students are providing expertise that in some cases even teachers or staff don't have. And they're able to find those innovative solutions to help support the people with Alzheimer's and dementia.
Now, once there was an energy around the project, there's all kinds of other things that started happening. So Aranav who was part of our leadership team, was also involved in one of the other innovation grant projects called Project Zero, which is based in the mathematics department. Now, what they were doing is that they were using EEG headbands to look at some things around concussion and data analysis of that information. What Aranav realised was that this might have some kind of application to what we were doing, which of course was an excellent idea. Because one of the things is that we can't always know whether the music is having an impact, especially when you're looking at sort of late stage dementia, physical interaction, speech, movement are really affected. And you can't always know if the music is having an impact. However, what we know from some of the work we've been doing over the last ten years is that you can reach even those that are bedbound and unable to communicate with you. So this idea, this sudden sort of spontaneous innovative idea of using EEG headbands to possibly get some kind of insight became a really important starting point. And now the ability for us to connect our project with one of the other innovation grant projects as well.
Justin reached out to Emotiv, a company that creates these headsets, and one of the exciting things we found out is that they were currently developing a headset that wasn't yet for sale, but this headset is literally a pair of headphones with EEG sensors inside. What you're seeing on screen now is as Patrick Flanagan giving a demonstration of how that works. So this is live information actually from the headset that he's wearing, showing different indicators of wellness and calm and so on, and that we would be able to use. So we have, through the innovation grant, we have been able to now order several sets of these and software solution that allows us to sort of interpret that information, which we can now actually share between our music and dementia project and project zero as well.
I hope this presentation has given you some insight into the amazing work that happens here at UWCSEA. One of the things that I love about this project is that I feel that it sort of embodies many of the sort of intentions of why UWC was created in the first place. Through a project like ours we can see a need, we can see people in need, we can see something that needs to happen. And then through the way our school and our education system within the school is set up, we are given the opportunity to go and try to solve this with our students. And sometimes even the students will then take on that leadership and be able to almost solve the problem entirely on their own.
The great things about what has happened in this and through this innovation grant especially, and through the focus on innovation at UWCSEA, is that it allows a more flexible structure. Looking at what Nick was saying and also through the experiences of this project, if you want to have innovative education, if you want to have student led education, there needs to be a kind of flexibility of system that allows it to spontaneously grow and manifest. That is what has happened in this project. And, you know, we're still on the journey in many, many ways. But I feel like already there is so much learning that has taken place for the students. There is so much partnership that has been allowed to develop and so much collaboration and just excitement around the idea of trying to help people with dementia and Alzheimer's.
This project is, of course, still ongoing and we are excited about the learning and the collaboration and the partnerships that are still to come. The next steps for us is about finalising and finishing the technology itself, testing it, and then reaching out further in terms of getting this technology to the people that need it. We are currently exploring a partnership with SMU, Singapore Management University, which is going to be crucial and which will allow our students to collaborate yet with another group of people and another part of our community in Singapore.
Please keep an eye on our project. Please help spread the word as well, because the more people know about this, the more opportunities arise as well. So I want to thank the school for supporting us and creating this exciting project and the sort of autonomy and freedom that they've given us. And I want to thank you for listening and for being interested in innovation and service learning at UWCSEA. Hopefully, as this progresses on, we will be able to support the whole community in Singapore of people living with dementia and those that care for them.