Public Ponderings & Perspectives
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I have learned that my gift as a teacher is the ability to dance with my students, to co-create with them a context in which all of us teach and learn. -- Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach (1998, p. 72)


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Setting the Context

While learning can be challenging at the best of times, few would dispute that effective learning requires effective teaching as a precursor. Karbasi and Ghanizadeh describe teachers as being "the backbone of the educational institutes and [that the] future of our nation lies in their hands" (2017, p. 299). Teachers, however, are not the only facet of effective teaching. They require two additional components: curriculum and pedagogy. Curriculum refers to the planning, design and development of a course, for example, including the definition of all learning outcomes, content, learning activities, and methods of assessment (UNESCO, 2019). Pedagogy refers to the interactions and relationships between teachers, students, curriculum and the learning environment (P. Murphy, 1996).


What happens to teaching and learning effectiveness when the curriculum seems overshadowed by other factors? What happens when a student’s mind becomes so preoccupied with other concerns and worries that they cannot focus attention on academic success? What happens when a student’s resilience erodes to the point that their hope for the future begins to evaporate? Indeed, this is a reality in Canada, as well as other jurisdictions, where research has linked chronic and excessive stress, including that experienced on a student’s academic journey, to an increasing occurrence of mental illness and decreasing academic performance (Baik et al., 2017; Grøtan et al., 2019; Kratt, 2018; Lane et al., 2018; Linden & Stuart, 2019).


Curriculum

“Regardless of jurisdiction, institution, program, status, or any other factor, every learner interacts with curriculum and the pedagogy that was used to [deliver] it” (White, 2019, u.p.). For student experiences increasingly dependant on curriculum (Baik et al., 2017), it may be time to explore in more detail at the intersection of curriculum development and instructional design with student mental health, as I intend to do in my upcoming research project ‘Minding Their Minds: Adapting Universal Design for Learning in Support of Student Mental Health, Resilience and Hope for the Future.’ Engaging in intentional design of curriculum and learning environments that are “psychologically resource-rich for students” (Baik et al., 2017, p. 11) is likely to produce outcomes that are universally beneficial – to students, teachers, schools and communities.


Curriculum supports student well-being when it offers opportunities for self‑motivation, competence, positive relationships, and a sense of belonging (Baik et al., 2017). There are three primary components to curriculum: formal, informal, and hidden. Formal curriculum is delivered directly through courses. Informal learning is acquired through participation in co-curricular activities. The hidden curriculum materializes in the form of indirect messaging rooted in the formal curriculum about “desired values, beliefs, behaviours” (Baik et al., 2017, p. 16) and ways of knowing and being. The latter can have a powerful effect on the levels of motivation and engagement experienced by students.


As I have noted in my practice, student motivation and performance are boosted when students ‘see’ themselves in the curriculum, which must be both academically and culturally relevant. In Canada, where educators are taking to heart the recent recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, considerable work is being done to indigenize and decolonize curricula. A key learning from this that I am weaving into my practice as both educator and researcher is Etuaptmumk, or two-eyed seeing. This is a broadening of personal perspectives in which one learns to “see from one eye with the strengths of Indigenous knowledges and ways of knowing, and from the other eye with the strengths of Western knowledges and ways of knowing, and to using both these eyes together, for the benefit of all” (Bartlett et al., 2012, p. 335).


In some cases, it may even be beneficial to become more overt with hidden curricula. Citing the successful use of practices such as cognitive behavioural therapy and social emotional learning in supporting students with challenges to their mental health, Hayden (2016) argues that a more explicit teaching of these practices within the context of the formal curriculum would be beneficial for all students in helping them to develop a positive self-concept and in their interactions with others.


Pedagogy

Yu (2017) speculates about the importance of the relationships teachers have with their students as having tremendous influence on both the mental health of individual students and the well-being of the school in general. In a study about student perceptions regarding their well-being, Lane et al. (2018) found that relationships, or connections, with both teachers and peers supported their well-being. They also perceive that their well-being is supported when teachers recognize that academics are not the only important component of a student’s life. Moreover, they identified that students felt supported when they participated in engaging learning experiences for which expectations were clearly articulated.


“School personnel are the most common providers of service to [students] who have mental health disorders” (Kratt, 2018, p. 23), but most teachers believe that their effectiveness as teachers is limited due to a lack of training and awareness related to mental health (Kratt, 2018). Embedding mental health awareness and competencies, knowledge about broader support systems, and self-care practices within the training and preparation of teachers, both pre-service and in-service, could lead to teachers becoming and feeling more effective in the classroom (Kratt, 2018). However, as Kratt’s findings indicate, some teachers feel overburdened and lack sufficient time to add the role of mental health provider to their teaching role, and some find it challenging to support others when struggling with issues affecting their own mental well-being. While teachers generally support the concept of additional mental health training, they stress that it must be relevant to their context. For example, they maintain that training regarding legislation and policy frameworks regarding student mental health is outside the purview of a classroom teacher, preferring that any additional training be focused on more meaningful support aspects such as working with people, support systems and communication strategies (Kratt, 2018).


Baik et al. (2017) suggest that teachers can play a significant role in creating learning environments that promote autonomous motivation. This can be achieved by focusing on learning objectives and being prepared for class, by treating students with respect, by setting high expectations and genuinely believing in students, and by creating supportive yet challenging opportunities for students to take control of their education. Referring to this as a “whole-of-curriculum approach to wellbeing,” Brooker et al. (2019, p. 55), offer that any student support initiative should be something that can be maintained within the school context. Failing to do so could diminish well-being.


Praxis

The concept of praxis is generally attributed to educationalist Paulo Freire (2000). He described it as an iterative practice of action/reflection in such a way that people come together in dialogue, act to transform their world, then reflect before further action.


Weare argues that effective teachers are those who know how to “embody and model” (2018, p. 395) both the formal curriculum as well as hidden curriculum. In a recent study, specific teaching practices that appear to support student mental health were identified (Lane et al., 2018) and work is underway to determine their efficacy with a plan to incorporate them more meaningfully into teacher practice. In their work with undergraduate students in Australia, Brooker et al (2019) suggest that changes made to curriculum and pedagogy that support student well-being, and adopted by teachers, will result in more time available for teachers to focus on other means of effective engagement.


In their study of Iranian English as a Foreign Language instructors, Karbasi & Ghanizadeh (2017) found that there was a significant relationship between teaching effectiveness and a teacher’s intrinsic appreciation for and interest in the subject they taught. Likewise, a similar significant relationship emerged from their work between goal setting and teaching effectiveness. They found that teachers who modelled these behaviours – setting clearly articulated goals and demonstrated an interest in their work – were motivated toward “pedagogical success” (Karbasi & Ghanizadeh, 2017, p. 298). This, in turn, was found to have a positive effect on student performance and accomplishment.


Similarly, adopting and embedding student-centred tools such as The Learning Thermometer (Stallman & King, 2016) can help to improve mental health awareness and teaching effectiveness by integrating mental health support within the curriculum. “The Learning Thermometer is a web-based tool that not only provides grounded, relevant feedback to teaching staff, but also encourages students to proactively reflect on their own learning and wellbeing, and consider implementing changes to be more successful” (Stallman & King, 2016, p. 3). The Learning Thermometer promotes self-sufficiency, self‑efficacy, self-management, and problem-solving. By providing a tool that allows students autonomy over management of their lives, particularly an aspect still subject to intense stigma, they gain and develop personal agency.


Linden & Stuart (2019) also explored use and refinement of a student-centred tool to help students evaluate their exposure to stress. Developed by students for students, participants engaged in the survey/interview component of the Post‑secondary Student Stressors Index (PSSI) to yield the evidence needed for the researchers to refine, test, and validate the tool. The PSSI assesses 46 stressors within a number of post-secondary domains: “academics, the learning environment, campus culture, the interpersonal, and the personal. The tool evaluates each stressor by both severity and frequency” (Linden & Stuart, 2019, p. 9). This allows institutions to identify academic and operational areas creating the highest levels of stress enabling them to focus mitigation efforts.


Final Comments

“Mental health and well-being are at the heart of the effective school” (Weare, 2018, p. 397) which is predicated by an environment that fosters effective learning as result of effective teaching, effective curriculum and effective pedagogy. Learning is integral to life and there is always more to learn and discover. Drawing from the metaphor on the opening page, if life is a dance, we always have more steps to learn. To do so effectively, respectfully and inclusively means that the dance between teacher, curriculum and pedagogy remain one step ahead.


References

Baik, C., Larcombe, W., Brooker, A., Wyn, J., Allen, L., Brett, M., Field, R., & James, R. (2017). Enhancing student mental wellbeing: A handbook for academic educators. Melbourne, AU: Australia Education and Training. https://melbourne-cshe.unimelb.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/2408604/MCSHE-Student-Wellbeing-Handbook-FINAL.pdf


Bartlett, C., Marshall, M., & Marshall, A. (2012). Two-Eyed Seeing and other lessons learned within a co-learning journey of bringing together indigenous and mainstream knowledges and ways of knowing. Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, 2(4), 331–340. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13412-012-0086-8


Brooker, A., McKague, M., & Phillips, L. (2019). Implementing a whole-of-curriculum approach to student wellbeing. Student Success, 10(3), 55–63. https://doi.org/10.5204/ssj.v10i3.1417


Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York, NY: Continuum.


Grøtan, K., Sund, E. R., & Bjerkeset, O. (2019). Mental health, academic self-efficacy and study progress among college students – The SHoT Study, Norway. Frontiers in Psychology, 10(45), 1–11. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00045


Hayden, C. (2016). Student anxiety and depression in our schools. SELU Research Review Journal, 1(2), 29–48. https://selu.usask.ca/documents/research-and-publications/srrj/SRRJ-1-2-Hayden.pdf


Karbasi, F., & Ghanizadeh, A. (2017). The motivational dynamics of EFL teachers: Goal‑setting, intrinsic interest, and teaching effectiveness. European Journal of Education Studies, 3(6), 286–302. https://zenodo.org/badge/DOI/10.5281/zenodo.581823.svg


Kratt, D. (2018). Teachers’ perspectives on educator mental health competencies: A qualitative case study. American Journal of Qualitative Research, 2(1), 22–40. http://www.ejecs.org/index.php/AJQR/article/download/159/102


Lane, K., Teng, M. Y., Barnes, S. J., Moore, K., Smith, K., & Lee, M. (2018). Using Appreciative Inquiry to understand the role of teaching rractices in student well-being at a research-intensive university. The Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 9(2), Article 2. https://doi.org/10.5206/cjsotl-rcacea.2018.2.10


Linden, B., & Stuart, H. (2019). Psychometric assessment of the Post- Secondary Student Stressors Index (PSSI). BMC Public Health, 19(1), 1139. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-019-7472-z


Murphy, P. (1996). Defining pedagogy. In P. F. Murphy & C. V. Gipps (Eds.), Equity in the Classroom: Towards Effective Pedagogy for Girls and Boys (pp. 28–39). UNESCO. https://in.sagepub.com/sites/default/files/upm-binaries/32079_Murphy(OU_Reader_2)_Rev_Final_Proof.pdf


Stallman, H. M., & King, S. (2016). The Learning Thermometer: Closing the loop between teaching, learning, wellbeing and support in universities. Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 13(5), 13. https://ro.uow.edu.au/jutlp/vol13/iss5/22


UNESCO. (2019). Curriculum and expected learning outcomes. Learning Portal. https://learningportal.iiep.unesco.org/en/issue-briefs/improve-learning/curriculum-and-materials/curriculum-and-expected-learning-outcomes


Weare, K. (2018). Promoting mental health and well-being: What can schools do? In D. Bhugra, K. Bhui, S. Y. S. Wong, & S. E. Gilman (Eds.), Oxford Textbook of Public Mental Health (1st ed., pp. 389–398). Oxford University Press. https://www.mindandlife-europe.org/fileadmin/user_upload/Weare_2019_Promoting_mental_health.pdf


White, L. A. (2019, u.p.). Minding their minds: Adapting universal design for learning in support of student mental health, resilience and hope for the future.


Yu, M. (2017). Looking through the teacher’s lens: Ontario secondary teachers’ experiences of addressing the needs of students with a mental health problem [Masters Thesis, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto]. https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/bitstream/1807/77097/1/Lu_May_201706_MT_MTRP.pdf


Setting the Research Context

Canadians face a steep learning curve in the age of truth and reconciliation. Indeed, in recent years, there has been little meaningful dialogue in the academic community that neglects the critical role that education and education research play with regard to acknowledging and internalizing the injustices endured by Indigenous peoples at the hands of successive Canadian governments and non-indigenous citizens (Bartlett et al., 2012; Tilley, 2019; Todd Ormiston, 2010; Toulouse, 2016). Considerable attention has been accorded to initiatives such as indigenizing and decolonizing curricula (Hogue, 2016; Tilley, 2019; Todd Ormiston, 2010), but that is only the beginning.


Research is vital to reconciliation. It provides insights and practical examples of why and how educating Canadians about the diverse concepts, principles, and practices of reconciliation contributes to healing and transformative social change (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015, p. 242).

Two-eyed seeing, or Etuaptmumk in its original Mi’kmaq, is a broadening of personal perspectives in which one learns to “see from one eye with the strengths of Indigenous knowledges and ways of knowing, and from the other eye with the strengths of Western knowledges and ways of knowing, and to using both these eyes together, for the benefit of all” (Bartlett et al., 2012, p. 335).


Implicit in two-eyed seeing are the core researcher responsibilities of reciprocity, accountability, and co-learning (Hogue, 2016; Peltier, 2018; Todd Ormiston, 2010). These can only be effectively achieved when the researcher mindfully establishes ongoing, dynamic, and respectful relationships with those participating in the research, including communities, participants, and other partners (Harder et al., 2018; Kilian et al., 2019; Peltier, 2018). Through these relationships, researchers are able to inform themselves regarding how best to proceed in a manner that is both culturally relevant and safe, and that provides support for the development and growth of all researchers toward a multi-perspective approach (Harder et al., 2018; Hogue, 2016; Kilian et al., 2019; Peltier, 2018).


In locating myself within this discussion, I must acknowledge the potential that viewing research methodologies through the lens of two-eyed seeing borders on aspects of cultural appropriation for academic purposes (Hogue, 2016; Kurtz, 2013; May-Derbyshire, 2019). I am not an Indigenous person and make no claim to understanding concepts such as two-eyed seeing in the depth and with the levels of internalization and deep personal meaning as would an Indigenous person. However, given the current discourse about this topic within a contemporary Canadian context, indeed in an age of truth and reconciliation, I believe that researchers have been given a form of implied consent to respectfully explore (Hogue, 2016; Kurtz, 2013) means by which to integrate insights from Indigenous and Western ways of knowing.


Research Problem Statement

In its Constitution, the World Health Organization inextricably includes mental health and wellness as integrated components and determinants of overall health: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (World Health Organization, 2013, p. 7). For its part, Canada’s working definition of mental health is “the capacities of each and all of us to feel, think, and act in ways that enhance our ability to enjoy life and deal with the challenges we face. It is a positive sense of emotional and spiritual well-being that respects the importance of culture, equity, social justice, interconnections, and personal dignity” (Government of Canada, 2016, p. 2).


For those working in the field of education, especially those in post-secondary education, connections seem obvious between health, mental health, and the role of education in society (Canadian Association of College & University Student Services & Canadian Mental Health Association, 2013). Indeed, in an emergent knowledge society (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 2005), colleges and universities have a pivotal role as the generators, sharers, and implementers of research and knowledge in order to support, enhance, and transform the life and health of global citizens and the communities in which they live (Okanagan Charter: An International Charter for Health Promoting Universities and Colleges, 2015).


There are barriers to success in achieving this aspiration. Some are systemic and deep-rooted organizational and operational challenges, while others arise in the form of external pressures on the organization. Because of the diversity of personal characteristics, beliefs, values, needs, and expectations, challenges posed by people or groups of people can be among the most demanding. Arguably, the most critical of these is student academic success (International Conference on Health Promoting Universities & Colleges, 2015).

Individual academic success is challenged by a variety of matters, such as the transition learners make into post-secondary education. This often includes unfamiliar experiences and expectations in unknown environments; conflicting demands, deadlines, and priorities; pressures to perform well (Cunningham & Duffy, 2019; Linden & Stuart, 2019; Rosvall, 2019), and use of learning technologies (Taylor et al., 2018). One study (Poole et al., 2017) also explores the academic stressors created by time away from studies, such as the recently-implemented fall break week at Canadian colleges and universities. On their own or when combined with other stressors, such as living away from home, peer pressure, changing personal relationships, and financial matters, they can be daunting, intimidating, and even paralyzing as they erode one’s resilience (Cunningham & Duffy, 2019; Linden & Stuart, 2019; Rosvall, 2019). They can have implications beyond academic performance, potentially leading to unemployment, underemployment, and other financial challenges (da Silva et al., 2017).


It is necessary, therefore, to problematize the factors and circumstances that, increasingly, inhibit academic success by adversely affecting the mental health, resilience, and confidence of post-secondary learners. It is incumbent on educators, academics, and learning professionals, to experiment and explore to find new ways of helping learners mitigate these challenges in order to focus on the goal of academic success (White, 2019).


Research Purpose Statement

Regardless of jurisdiction, institution, program, status, or any other factor, every learner interacts with curriculum and the pedagogy that was used to create it (White, 2019). Much the same as Universal Design for Learning (UDL) has been adopted as the defacto standard in instructional design (Courey et al., 2012; White, 2019), it has been adapted over the years to support learner academic success in a variety of situations, such as in supporting the specific learning needs of Indigenous learners (Green, 2010), first generation learners (House et al., 2019), newcomers and refugees (Stewart & Martin, 2018).


It is the purpose of this grounded theory study, therefore, to consider ways to improve academic success by probing and exploring at the intersection of instructional design with learner mental health to determine the efficacy of mindfully supporting learner mental health at the stages of curriculum development and instructional design, without sacrificing academic quality or rigour.


Selected Research Method and Justification

Faced with the challenge of exploring the relationships between three fundamental variables characteristic of post-secondary education – student mental health, curriculum, and academic success – grounded theory provides the best opportunity to explore these relationships and then to extrapolate relevant theories arising from the data. Grounded theory also lends itself well to the incorporation of Indigenous research practices.


Kovach (2005) argues that the fundamental aspects of any Indigenous research methodology are that they arise from holistic Indigenous knowledge systems, that results are shared using Indigenous methods, and that they focus on receptivity and collectivity in the relationships between the researcher and participants and between the researcher and the community.


Indigenous knowledge has been described as having a deep-rooted and intimate association with nature (Bartlett et al., 2012; Harder et al., 2018; Skrivanos, 2017) and that the act of actually conducting research is only as effective at its conclusion as the relationships with its stakeholders are solid (Harder et al., 2018; Kilian et al., 2019; Peltier, 2018; Skrivanos, 2017; Todd Ormiston, 2010).


Charmaz (2006) focuses attention on flexibility as one of the most important characteristics of grounded theory arguing that its flexibility allows the effective use of grounded theory with almost any epistemology. The very nature of grounded theory permits researchers to reshape and revise the trajectory of the study as new data is observed or shared. For example, flexibility provides avenues to open new lines of inquiry (Madden, 2019), such as into the effects that the Residential School program or the Sixties Scoop still have on defining the relationship between study participants and study topic.


An Indigenous perspective on research relies significantly on researchers acquiring first-hand experiences, internalizing the process of meaning-making, and conveying learnings arising from these experiences through appropriate means such as ritual and storytelling, supported by mindfully selected technologies (Kilian et al., 2019; Peltier, 2018; Skrivanos, 2017).


Reflexivity is another important characteristic of grounded theory research that involves understanding and making transparent any and all relevant relationships the researchers have with others involved with the study (Aspers & Corte, 2019; Engward & Davis, 2015; Gentles et al., 2014; Tracy, 2010).


A grounded theory approach encourages researchers to remain close to their studied worlds and to develop an integrated set of theoretical concepts from their empirical materials that not only synthesize and interpret them but also show processual relationships (Charmaz, 2006, p. 507).

An outcome of maintaining close cognitive or spatial proximity during any research, and with Indigenous research through the development and strengthening of relationships, is that researchers find themselves on a journey of learning and growth (Bartlett et al., 2012; Madden, 2019), whose outcomes may include redefined perspectives related to the research topic or reshaped worldviews.


Research Questions or Hypotheses

Whereas quantitative research tends to ask a specific question and sets out to test a specific hypothesis, qualitative research questions, in contrast, can be described as necessarily vague and generative (Agee, 2009). In defining a means to formulate qualitative questions, Agee (2009, p. 432) uses a journey metaphor: “it is helpful to think of research questions as navigational tools that can help a researcher map possible directions but also to inquire about the unexpected.” By ensuring that questions are more “discovery-oriented” (Agee, 2009, p. 434), researchers can avoid developing a “tunnel vision” approach (Maxwell, 2005, 67; cited in Agee, 2009) that limits rigour and reflexivity.


When involved in research seeking to uncover and weave together stories of individuals’ experiences and relationships with the study topic, it is critical that consideration be given to ethics in question development (Agee, 2009). Questions should be crafted to capitalize on the richness of qualitative methodologies and, at the same time, honour the perspectives of study participants and acknowledge the close relationship between researcher and participant (Agee, 2009; Korstjens & Moser, 2017), 2017). Pilarska speaks to the benefits of a researcher who is “culturally sensitive” (2019, 157) as being one who demonstrates cognitive flexibility, self-awareness and other skills that foster the kindling of trust with research participants. Developing the skills associated with cultural sensitivity may also be the precursor to adopting an emic approach in conducting research, the ability to understand and relate participants’ stories and ways of knowing and being that respects the individual and cultural contexts within which they are shared (Korstjens & Moser, 2017; Pilarska, 2019). This creates an environment of co-learning similar to that espoused by the guiding principle of Etuaptmumk, or two-eyed seeing (Bartlett et al., 2012; Chapman & Schott, 2020; Czuy & Hogarth, 2019).


Given that this study seeks to understand personal experiences of people related to the study topic and the meanings associated with their experiences, an idiographic approach to planning the study is appropriate. While this study seeks to determine the efficacy of using Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles as a tool to mitigate or soften the effects of stressors that inhibit academic success, it is rooted in the perceptions of post-secondary learners about their own mental health and about factors that affect their mental wellness.


In attempting to honour these relationships and to provide for the open and generative nature of qualitative study, I arrived at this initial question:


Preliminary Research Question: How do undergraduate level post-secondary students perceive the effects of factors associated with their academic journey on their own mental health?


Of course, “it is valuable to ‘listen’ out for answers that contain alternative interpretations, descriptions and explanations” (Reddy, 2019, p. 272). This maximizes the generative power of a research question and honours relationships with study participants. This can provide over-arching guidance and direction to the study. Therefore, subsidiary questions that may be explored and that might help inform the preliminary question include:


Subsidiary Question 1: What is the relationship between student mental health and academic success?

Subsidiary Question 2: In what situations have UDL principles been used or adapted to help overcome challenges to student academic success and to what extent were these adaptations effective?

Subsidiary Question 3: Are there any promising or best practices in UDL adaptations that may be transferable to supporting student mental health and, by association, to improving student academic success?


Intended Data Collection Tool and Analysis

Two methods of qualitative data collection I plan to use in the study are focus groups, during which I intend to collect new data for reflexive thematic analysis, and secondary analysis of existing research to strengthen the credibility of my work (Rivaz et al., 2019) and to provide insights into the subsidiary research questions.


Focus groups offer a means by which in-depth data can be gathered from a group, enabling researchers to extract rich details regarding common understandings, unique perspectives, and individual experiences related to the research question (Baillie, 2019). Their flexible nature allows participants to draw from and build on each others’ insights making it possible to uncover unexpected ideas warranting further exploration (Baillie, 2019; Rothwell et al., 2016). Rothwell et al (2016) equate focus groups with public opinion suggesting that perspectives arising are reflective of current social-environmental factors as well as pre-existing knowledge and attitudes. It is important to remember that focus groups are not necessarily reflective of a population, so it may be problematic to generalize. The efficacy of data arising from a focus group may also be subject to the researcher’s skill at group moderation (Rothwell et al, 2016) and to the level of engagement and knowledge of the participants (Rothwell et al, 2016).


Once data collection begins (Moser & Korstjens, 2018), the data will be analyzed using reflexive thematic analysis to discover patterns of meaning that speak to the research question (Braun & Clarke, 2019). More specifically, a latent approach to thematic analysis will help identify the underlying assumptions and beliefs connected with the patterns of meaning (Braun & Clarke, 2019).


Secondary analysis is “the use of existing data sets to answer new questions” (Clarke & Cossette, 2000, p. 109). This method allows researchers to capitalize on existing data resources without additional costs to funders, often the public purse (Clarke & Cossette, 2000; Johnston, 2013; Sherif, 2018). The use of secondary analysis is on the rise, particularly among doctoral students embarking on their research journey (Clarke & Cosette, 2009; Johnston, 2014) by helping to broaden and deepen their knowledge about the research question (Sherif, 2018). It can also add to the body of knowledge without intrusion into vulnerable populations (Sherif, 2018). However, the use of this method can be an issue given a limited availability of research employing this method as a model (Clarke & Cosette, 2009) and given that the researcher cannot attest to the rigour of the process used for initial data collection (Johnston, 2014). The use of existing data may also represent the biases of those doing the collection (Johnston, 2014; Sherif, 2018). This underscores the criticality of thoroughness in the research planning stages (Johnston, 2014).


Secondary analysis will be employed during two simultaneous and overlapping literature reviews, querying (a) the relationship between academic success and student mental health, and (b) the use and adaptation of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles in supporting the academic success of identified learner sub-groups. Specifically, this analysis hopes to reveal best or promising practices in the use of UDL for this purpose.


One of the fundamental and overarching principles of ethics, researchers or anyone involved in data collection must remain non-judgmental while capturing the depth and full meaning of participants’ stories (American Psychological Association, 2017; Bartlett et al., 2012; Vanclay et al., 2013). Respect extends to acknowledging the relationship that exists and evolves between researcher and participants (Agee, 2009; American Psychological Association, 2017; Chong & Yeo, 2015; Department of Health, Education and Welfare, 1979; Korstjens & Moser, 2017) and to demonstrating cultural sensitivity (Pilarska, 2019). Respect is especially critical in situations in which participants require special protection, such as those with diminished autonomy and those who are vulnerable or marginalized (American Psychological Association, 2017; Department of Health, Education and Welfare, 1979; Vanclay et al., 2013). It also includes researchers restricting their inquiry to the research question(s) at hand and not intruding unnecessarily on the private lives of participants (Vanclay et al., 2013).


This is also the case for Indigenous participants when respect must be broadened to include acceptance of the validity of Indigenous ways of knowing and being (Bartlett et al., 2012; Pilarska, 2019), adherence to community protocols (Bannister, 2018; Brant Castellano, 2004, 2008), and on researchers acquiring first-hand experiences, internalizing the process of meaning-making, and conveying learnings arising from these experiences through appropriate means such as ritual and storytelling, supported by mindfully selected technologies (Bannister, 2018; Kilian et al., 2019; Peltier, 2018). Researchers must also respect “both rights of self‑determination and responsibilities of care to past, present and future ancestors and to other sentient beings through stewardship of lands, airways, and waterways(Bannister, 2018, p. 218).


The second fundamental and overarching principle of ethics, informed consent, as its name implies, indicates that participants must be provided sufficient relevant information about the study, including funding sources, and the implications of their participations so that they can make an informed, voluntary decision about their contribution (American Psychological Association, 2017; Chong & Yeo, 2015; Department of Health, Education and Welfare, 1979; Vanclay et al., 2013).


Researchers must disclose all details regarding the risks of participation including the disposition of the data collected (Vanclay et al., 2013). Typically captured as signed documents, informed consent forms, including specific and separate permissions received for audio or video recording, should be retained by researchers for up to several years in the event an audit or other questions arise (American Psychological Association, 2017; Vanclay et al., 2013).


Sampling Method to be Used

The approach to sampling is dependent on and informed by the research methodology and question(s) to be answered (Charmaz, 2006; Tracy, 2013). In seeking insights into the research questions, this study will follow a grounded theory research methodology employing focus groups and reflexive thematic analysis to collect and analyse the data, respectively. Secondary analysis of existing research will help to strengthen my understanding of key concepts in the study and provide insights into the subsidiary research questions.


Therefore, it is imperative that I employ integrity and ethical rigour during each step in the research process, including when identifying focus group participants and informing them responsibly about the study. It is equally essential that I am authentic and that I demonstrate a genuine interest in the well-being of participants.


The population to be studied is post-secondary learners in Canada. Post-secondary learners are typically spread across a variety of programs both in publicly funded and private colleges and universities. This study will focus on post-secondary learners currently registered in an equivalent-to-undergraduate program, regardless of full- or part-time status, at a Canadian publicly funded college or university.


Due to the foundation for the primary research question and the direct nature of the subsidiary questions, focus groups will also be conducted with participants who may be able to provide additional data related to curriculum development and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles. Therefore, at least one focus group will be held with faculty, one with instructional designers and curriculum specialists, and one with health care professionals who are specialists in supporting the mental health needs of post-secondary learners.


In all, at least as initially planned at the research design phase, I anticipate conducting seven focus groups as follows:


1. One face-to-face focus group at Queens University comprised of post-secondary learners currently registered in an equivalent-to-undergraduate program, regardless of full- or part-time status.

2. One face-to-face focus group at Queens University comprised of faculty teaching in an equivalent-to-undergraduate program.

3. One face-to-face focus group at Queens University comprised of instructional designers and curriculum specialists.

4. One face-to-face focus group at the British Columbia Institute of Technology comprised of post-secondary learners currently registered in an equivalent-to-undergraduate program, regardless of full- or part-time status.

5. One face-to-face focus group at the British Columbia Institute of Technology comprised of faculty teaching in an equivalent-to-undergraduate program.

6. One face-to-face focus group at the British Columbia Institute of Technology comprised of instructional designers and curriculum specialists.

7. One face-to-face or video conference focus group with health care professionals who are specialists in supporting the mental health needs of post-secondary learners.


Queens University is a mid-size university located in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, having a 2019 fall registered learner population of 25,260 including 18,367 undergraduate first degree learners. Approximately 95% of Queens’ learner population comes from outside Kingston and about 10% of the learner population represent more than 100 nationalities. Queens University also has an active, well-developed Centre for Teaching and Learning providing educational development, instructional design, and other curriculum support services to faculty and administrators at the university (Queens University, 2020).


With 50,087 learners in 2017/18 of which 19,535 learners have declared themselves to be in equivalent-to-undergraduate programs, the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) is in Burnaby, British Columbia, and is one of the largest colleges in Canada. There are 5,700 international learners studying at BCIT representing 120 nationalities. The large remainder of learners represents primarily those who are part-time and have not declared their programs. BCIT also has a well-developed Learning and Teaching Centre (British Columbia Institute of Technology, 2018, 2020).


I have professional colleagues at both Queens University and BCIT and, with their assistance, subsequent to receiving approvals from each institution’s respective research and ethics board, I would seek and identify focus group participants for each of the focus groups noted above. My colleagues may also be able to assist me to identify participants for the health care providers focus group.


This study will adhere to all relevant policy statements regarding the ethical conduct of research that involves human participants. Specifically, this study will adhere to policy statements contained in the following:

1. Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (2010) This policy statement governs the ethical conduct of research involving human participants. It is developed, interpreted and implemented by the Interagency Advisory Panel on Research Ethics (PRE). PRE was created in 2001 by the Government of Canada as a collaboration between three federal research agencies: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC). All human-centred research in Canada must conform to this policy statement.


2. International Ethical Guidelines for Health-related Research Involving Humans (2016) In collaboration, the Council for International Organizations of Medical Sciences (CIOMS) and the World Health Organization (WHO) transformed the principles arising in the Declaration of Helsinki of the World Medical Association into applied practice. Unicaf University ascribes to these ethical guidelines.


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Ethics in Research

Humans are a curious lot. We seek to learn and know more about ourselves, the world around us, and the worlds beyond our world. By engaging in research, we have “enriched and improved our lives and human society as a whole” (Secretariat on Responsible Conduct of Research (Canada), 2016, p. 1).


In Canada, research involving the study of humans is subject to and governed by the ethical standards outlined in the Tri-Agency Framework: Responsible Conduct of Research (Secretariat on Responsible Conduct of Research (Canada), 2016). In general, the Framework requires that such research be conducted in a positive environment such that, for researchers, it connotes professionalism and the use of professional standards in their obligation to ensure honesty, integrity, thoughtful inquiry and rigorous analysis when sharing findings (Secretariat on Responsible Conduct of Research (Canada), 2016).


Braun (2017) outlines key considerations in this regard, namely being diligent during the consent-acquiring process; applying fairness, equity and inclusivity in the participant selection process; maintaining confidentiality and privacy of participant identity throughout; safeguarding data before, during and after the study; and mitigating the effects of conflict of interest and power dynamics in situations in which the researcher holds a dual role as the teacher. Etuaptmumk, or two-eyed seeing, also suggests that researchers develop an awareness about the evolving and meaningful relationship they have with study participants and that they work toward respecting and honouring that relationship (Bartlett et al., 2012).


This paper offers a critical analysis regarding the major ethical principles that underlie all research.


The Need for Ethics

For the purposes of most research, ‘ethics’ refers to “culturally driven choice making around the moral values that drive behaviour in the specific context of commissioning and undertaking evaluation and research” (Groves Williams, 2015, p. 2).


Brant Castellano (2008) relates the story of a researcher who was engaged in sampling blood from members of the British Columbia communities of Nuu Chah Nulth for diabetes research. Finding no new insights, the researcher then made use of the samples for other purposes without permission, resulting in releasing findings regarding the genetic ancestry of the Nuu Chah Nulth that were misaligned with community members’ sense of identity and community history. This is but one of many examples in which researchers violated their own personal integrity as well as host community rules of behaviour (Brant Castellano, 2008).


In order to avoid scenarios like this, researchers are obligated to respect human dignity by adhering to ethical principles (American Psychological Association, 2017; Brant Castellano, 2008; Vanclay et al., 2013). Principles of ethics, therefore, provide context for researchers and decision-makers about the “’right’ behaviour” (Groves Williams, 2015, p. 2) in which to engage when conducting research. Moreover, given the non-dichotomous nature of ethical issues in studies involving humans (Guillemin & Gillam, 2004, as cited in Vanclay et al., 2013), it is imperative that researchers demonstrate an active awareness to inform their reflexive practice (American Psychological Association, 2017; Fisher, 2008, as cited in Vanclay et al., 2013).


Respect for Participants

One of the fundamental and overarching principles of ethics, researchers or anyone involved in data collection must remain non-judgmental while capturing the depth and full meaning of participants’ stories (American Psychological Association, 2017; Bartlett et al., 2012; Vanclay et al., 2013). Respect extends to acknowledging the relationship that exists and evolves between researcher and participants (Agee, 2009; American Psychological Association, 2017; Department of Health, Education and Welfare, 1979; Korstjens & Moser, 2017) and to demonstrating cultural sensitivity (Pilarska, 2019). Respect is especially critical in situations in which participants require special protection, such as those with diminished autonomy and those who are vulnerable or marginalized (American Psychological Association, 2017; Department of Health, Education and Welfare, 1979; Vanclay et al., 2013). Respect also includes researchers restricting their inquiry to the research question(s) at hand and not intruding unnecessarily on the private lives of participants (Vanclay et al., 2013).


This is also the case for Indigenous participants when respect must be broadened to include acceptance of the validity of Indigenous ways of knowing and being (Bartlett et al., 2012; Pilarska, 2019), adherence to community protocols (Bannister, 2018; Brant Castellano, 2004, 2008), and on researchers acquiring first-hand experiences, internalizing the process of meaning-making, and conveying learnings arising from these experiences through appropriate means such as ritual and storytelling, supported by mindfully selected technologies (Bannister, 2018; Kilian et al., 2019; Peltier, 2018). Researchers must also respect “both rights of self‑determination and responsibilities of care to past, present and future ancestors and to other sentient beings through stewardship of lands, airways, and waterways” (Bannister, 2018, p. 218).


Informed Consent

The second fundamental and overarching principle of ethics, informed consent, as its name implies, indicates that participants must be provided sufficient relevant information about the study, including funding sources, and the implications of their participations so that they can make an informed, voluntary decision about their involvement (American Psychological Association, 2017; Department of Health, Education and Welfare, 1979; Vanclay et al., 2013). Researchers must disclose all details regarding the risks of participation including the disposition of the data collected (Vanclay et al., 2013). Typically captured as signed documents, informed consent forms, including specific permissions received for audio or video recording, should be retained by researchers for up to several years in the event an audit or other questions arise (American Psychological Association, 2017; Vanclay et al., 2013).


Voluntary Participation

As implied by informed consent, participation must be voluntary and free from any form of coercion or threat (American Psychological Association, 2017; Department of Health, Education and Welfare, 1979; Vanclay et al., 2013). Any stipend or honourarium that is given must be fair and equitable, respecting participants’ time engaged in the study (American Psychological Association, 2017; Vanclay et al., 2013), must not be unduly withheld in the form of a threat, and must not be excessive so as to constitute a bribe (Vanclay et al., 2013). Voluntary participation by default also implies voluntary withdrawal at any time, for any reason, without any repercussions (Vanclay et al., 2013). Participants may also request that their data be withdrawn (Vanclay et al., 2013).


No Harm to Participants

Related to both respect and informed consent, researchers must ensure that no harm befalls any participant. This includes both physical and psychological harm as well as ensuring that participants experience no adverse consequences related to their involvement in the study (American Psychological Association, 2017; Department of Health, Education and Welfare, 1979; Head, 2020; Vanclay et al., 2013). Anonymizing data is one of the means by which researchers can try to ensure the latter (Vanclay et al., 2013). Given that some research has the potential to spark emotions or memories resulting in distress, researchers are obligated to follow the interaction to resolution up to and including the potential need for assistive support or counselling (American Psychological Association, 2017; Vanclay et al., 2013). The concept of no harm extends to the protection and preservation of data from any nefarious access as well as ensuring proper disposal when necessary (American Psychological Association, 2017; Vanclay et al., 2013).


No Deception

Related to respect and the concept of full disclosure, researchers should refrain from the use of deception or surreptitious practices, except in rare circumstances specifically approved by a research ethics board (American Psychological Association, 2017; Head, 2020; Vanclay et al., 2013).


Anonymity and Accuracy

Unless provided permission to the contrary by a participant, researchers are obligated to ensure and protect the anonymity of all participants as well as the data collected (Head, 2020; Vanclay et al., 2013). In some jurisdictions, participants also have the right to review and have corrected an errors they identify in the transcription of their data (Vanclay et al., 2013) and to ensure that their intended meaning is captured in full (Bartlett et al., 2012). Researchers must often make judgements about which data is appropriate to disclose. Any other data collected must remain in complete confidence (Head, 2020; Vanclay et al., 2013).


Validity, Reliability and Reproducibility of Findings

Sampling is critical to the credibility and reliability of any research project (Bhardwaj, 2019; Martínez-Mesa et al., 2016). Given that inferences are derived from data collected from a sample, it is imperative that sampling efficacy be paramount in the process. Employing a purposive approach to identifying a representative sample provides dependable conditions for credible and reliable meaning making and inference finding (Department of Health, Education and Welfare, 1979; Head, 2020; Schreuder & Gregoire, 2001; Tracy, 2013).


Ethical Space

The concept of ethical space was introduced into research ethics discourse by Willie Ermine, Cree philosopher and educator, referring to it as the “place between worldviews, an ‘abstract space’ created when the intentions of Indigenous and Western worldviews confront each other” (Ermine, 2000, as cited in Bannister, 2018, p. 222). Ethical space requires ongoing and deferential negotiation and cross-cultural collaboration (Bannister, 2018) and has come to denote an interaction of spiritual significance ( Ermine, 2015, as cited in Bannister, 2018, p. 223):


[E]thics has to do with the human spirit – which is unseen, and the unseen is the unknown. ... so we have a hard time working with it. Nevertheless, when we look at the spiritual level, a spirit inside each and every one of you can see the spirit of another person. These are the teachings that we go through with our old people, our spiritualists. ... if we can do this [relate to one another] at that level, then we have a different paradigm or a different formulation that we can work with. ... When we’re talking about the ethics, it’s at this level that things really start to happen, that the critical mass of energies, of spiritual people working together, can produce profound results.

Ethical space is not about combining Indigenous and Western perspectives. Rather, it is about looking at both worlds long enough to identify connections and then meaningfully creating a new story linking both original perspectives (Bannister, 2018), very much like two-eyed seeing.


Challenges to Ethics Compliance

Increasingly, the global scope of research creates a challenge for researchers intent on compliance with ethics principles (Head, 2020). This is due to varying requirements and perspectives on concepts such as vulnerability and respect resulting from multi-team, multi‑country, multi-sectoral and multicultural research projects (Guerra et al., 2019; Head, 2020). The World Health Organization (2015, as cited in Guerra et al., 2019) highlights the additional challenges of obtaining informed consent and ensuring the safety and anonymity of participants given the potential interference of politics and economics. At the same time, as Froomkin (2019) and Head (2020) argue, big data makes it increasingly difficult for researchers to fully disclose during the informed consent process since information that has been de‑identified can, in some cases, be re-identified, “when DNA is collected” (Froomkin, 2019, p. 1). Head (2020) refers to full disclosure in such cases as a growing issue of deontology, persistence with a given policy or rule, such as assurances of anonymity, without consideration for the effects of doing so.


At times, researchers may find themselves in the dilemma of conflicting ethics – between the ethical principles of a research organization (i.e. university), the ethical principals of the community or participants being studied, and their own personal ethical principles (Amundsen & Msoroka, 2019; Head, 2020). In response, researchers have been encouraged to adopt the practice of situated ethics in which greater weight is given to socio-political considerations than to traditional ethical principles (Amundsen & Msoroka, 2019).


With the recent surge of developments in the field of artificial intelligence, Floridi argues that the discourse related to ethical principles has shifted from “the what to the how: not just what ethics is needed but also how ethics can be effectively and successfully applied and implemented in order to make a positive difference” (2019, p. 185). As one example, he cites the malpractrice of digital ethics shopping: “choosing, adapting, or revising… ethical principles, guidelines, codes, frameworks, or other similar standards… from a variety of available offers, in order to retrofit some pre-existing behaviours… and hence justify them a posteriori, instead of implementing or improving new behaviours by benchmarking them against public, ethical standards” (Floridi, 2019, p. 186).


In Closing: Debrief

Implicit in two-eyed seeing are the core researcher responsibilities of reciprocity, accountability and co-learning (Hogue, 2016; Peltier, 2018; Todd Ormiston, 2010). These can only be effectively achieved when the researcher mindfully establishes ongoing, dynamic and respectful relationships with those participating in the research, including communities, participants and other partners (Harder et al., 2018; Head, 2020; Hogue, 2016; Kilian et al., 2019; Peltier, 2018). From an Indigenous perspective, the act of actually conducting research is only as effective at its conclusion as the relationships with its stakeholders are solid (Harder et al., 2018; Kilian et al., 2019; Peltier, 2018; Todd Ormiston, 2010).


Part of the ongoing relationship is the responsibility of researchers to close the loop by providing an opportunity for participants to learn “about the nature, results, and conclusions of the research” (American Psychological Association, 2017, p. 11) and to remedy any participant misunderstandings (American Psychological Association, 2017; Bartlett et al., 2012; Kilian et al., 2019; Todd Ormiston, 2010).


REFERENCES


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