Public Ponderings & Perspectives

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Setting the 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, Marshall & Marshall, 2012; Madden, 2019; Tilley, 2019; Todd Ormiston, 2010; Toulouse, 2016). Considerable attention has been accorded to initiatives such as indigenizing and decolonizing curricula (Hogue, 2017; 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, 2015, p. 242).

As a new and emerging researcher in the field of education and, within that, one focused on the role that mindfully considered and reshaped instructional design principles might have in mitigating some of the mental health stressors that students invariably experience on their academic journey, I am challenged with making a decision regarding the methodological approach that best supports my intended research. Typically viewed as a dichotomous choice between positivist/quantitative and interpretivist/qualitative approaches, my values, sense of ethics and responsibility as an educator, and my national pride motivate me to make this selection informed in as much as is possible through a lens approximating two-eyed seeing, an intertwining of Indigenous and Western worldviews.

Research Through a Two-eyed Lens

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, Marshall & Marshall, 2012, p. 335).

Implicit in two-eyed seeing are the core researcher responsibilities of reciprocity, accountability and co-learning (Hogue, 2017; 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; Hogue, 2017; 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, 2017; 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, 2017; 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, 2017; Kurtz, 2013) means by which to integrate insights from Indigenous and Western ways of knowing.

Developing Problem and Purpose Statements

Educators, practitioners and other professionals working in post-secondary education, especially in the most recent decade, have borne witness to the almost ubiquitous acknowledgement that the mental health of students is a serious concern of tremendous importance. Mental health correlates with academic performance and success (Canadian Association of College & University Student Services and Canadian Mental Health Association, 2013; Linden & Stuart, 2019).

As I wrote in my preliminary research proposal submitted to my university (White, 2019, u.p.):

"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 students. It is incumbent on educators, academics and learning professionals, to experiment, explore and find new ways of helping students mitigate these challenges in order to focus on the goal of academic success.

"Regardless of jurisdiction, institution, program, status, or any other factor, every student interacts with curriculum and the pedagogy that was used to create it. …

"It is the purpose of this study, therefore, to examine and explore at the intersection of instructional design with student mental health. There is a potential opportunity to adapt UDL principles at the very core of what every student experiences – the curriculum – in order to be mindfully supportive of student mental health, thereby helping to mitigate the barriers to academic success that they create. The ultimate aim of this study is to determine the efficacy of supporting student mental health, indeed in fostering the resilience needed to navigate life, at the stages of curriculum development and instructional design, without sacrificing academic quality or rigour."

Grounded Theory and Discovery

Faced with the challenge of exploring the relationships between three fundamental variables characteristic of post-secondary education – student mental health, curriculum and academic success –, I believe that the qualitative research approach of grounded theory provides the best opportunity to explore these relationships and then to extrapolate relevant theories arising from the data. I believe further that grounded theory lends itself well to the incorporation of Indigenous ways of knowing into the research process.

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, Marshall & Marshall, 2012; Harder et al, 2018; Skrivanos, 2009) 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, 2009; 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 the researcher 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, 2009).

Reflexivity is another important characteristic of grounded theory research that involves understanding and making transparent any and all relevant relationships the researchers has with others who may relate to 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, 2005, 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, Marshall & Marshall, 2012; Madden, 2019), not the least of which may be redefined perspectives related to the research topic or reshaped worldviews.

Final Thoughts

I come to this research with motivations related to my personal growth and development: not only as a researcher (this may seem obvious), but also as a person whose life journey has been anything but linear. In addition to the characteristics of grounded theory as a viable methodology for the proposed research; such factors as immersion, flexibility and reflexivity; there is a certain level of triangulation and congruence between grounded theory, indigenous ways of knowing and my own worldview which, among other considerations, seeks involvement with others knowing that both they and these experiences play a fundamental role in shaping who I am as a person.


Aspers, P. & Corte, U. (2019). What is Qualitative in Qualitative Research? Qualitative Sociology, 42(2): 139-160. doi: 10.1007/s11133-019-9413-7.

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, 331-340. doi: 10.1007/s13412-012-0086-8.

Canadian Association of College & University Student Services and Canadian Mental Health Association. (2013). Post-Secondary Student Mental Health: Guide to a Systemic Approach. Vancouver, BC: Author.

Charmaz, K. (2006). Constructing Grounded Theory: A practical guide through qualitative analysis. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Charmaz, K. (2017). Special Invited Paper: Continuities, Contradictions, and Critical Inquiry in Grounded Theory. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 16(1): 1-8. doi: 10.1177/1609406917719350.

Engward, H., & Davis, G. (2015). Being Reflexive in Qualitative Grounded Theory: Discussion and application of a model of reflexivity. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 71(7): 1530-1538. doi: 10.1111/jan.12653.

Gelo, O., Braakmann, D., & Benetka, G. (2008). Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science, 42(3): 266-290. doi: 10.1007/s12124-008-9078-3.

Gentles, S. J., Jack, S. M., Nicholas, D. B., & McKibbon, K. A. (2014). A Critical Approach to Reflexivity in Grounded Theory. The Qualitative Report, 19(44): 1-14.

Graveline, F. J. (2000). Circle as Methodology: Enacting an aboriginal paradigm. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 13(4): 361-370. doi: 10.1080/095183900413304.

Harder, M., Johnson, J., MacDonald, C., Ingstrup, A., & Piche, M. (2018). A “two-eyed seeing” approach to Indigenizing nursing curricula. International Journal of Healthcare, 5(1): 23-28. doi: 10.5430/ijh.v5n1p23.

Hogue, M. M. (2016). Aboriginal Ways of Knowing and Learning, 21st Century Learners, and STEM Success. IN Education, 22(1): 161-172. Retrieved from

Kilian, A., Fellows, T., Giroux, R., Pennington, J., Kuper, A., Whitehead, C., & Richardson, L. (2019). Exploring the approaches of non-Indigenous researchers to Indigenous research: A qualitative study. CMAJ Open, 7(2): E504-E509. doi: 10.9778/cmajo.20180204.

Kovach, M. (2005). Emerging from the Margins: Indigenous methodologies. In L. Brown & S. Strega (Eds.), Research as Resistance: Critical, Indigenous and Anti-oppressive Approaches (pp. 19–36). Toronto, ON: Canadian Scholars’ Press.

Kovach, M. (2011). Indigenous Methodologies and Modified Grounded Theory Method. Retrieved from

Kurtz, D. L. M. (2013). Indigenous Methodologies: Traversing Indigenous and Western worldviews in research. AlterNative: An International Journal of Indigenous Peoples, 9(3): 217–229. doi: 10.1177/117718011300900303.

Linden, B., & Stuart, H. (2019). Psychometric Assessment of the Post- Secondary Student Stressors Index (PSSI). BMC Public Health, 19(1): 1139-1150. doi: 10.1186/s12889-019-7472-z.

Madden, B. (2019). A De/Colonizing Theory of Truth and Reconciliation Education. Curriculum Inquiry, 49(3): 284-312. doi: 10.1080/03626784.2019.1624478.

May-Derbyshire, P. (2019). Two-Eyed Seeing. Trauma-wise Curriculum: Siksikees’tsuhkoom (Blackfoot Lands) & human ecology. International Journal of Home Economics, 12(2): 33-45. Retrieved from

Peltier, C. (2018). An Application of Two-Eyed Seeing: Indigenous research methods with participatory action research. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 17(1): 1-12. doi: 10.1177/1609406918812346.

Skrivanos, J. A. (2009). Fostering Culturally Responsive Pedagogy using Aboriginal Resources in the Science Curriculum [unpublished Masters thesis]. Retrieved from

Tilley, S. (2019). The Role of Critical Qualitative Research in Educational Contexts: A Canadian perspective. Educar em Revista, 35(75): 155-180. doi: 10.1590/0104-4060.66806.

Todd Ormiston, N. (2010). Re-Conceptualizing Research: An Indigenous perspective. First People’s Child & Family Review, 5(1): 50-56. Retrieved from

Toulouse, P. (2016). What Matters in Indigenous Education: Implementing a vision committed to holism, diversity and engagement. Retrieved from

Tracy, S. J. (2010). Qualitative Quality: Eight ''Big-Tent'' criteria for excellent qualitative research. Qualitative Inquiry, 16(10): 837-851. doi: 10.1177/1077800410383121.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (2015). Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future: Summary of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Winnipeg, MB. Retrieved from

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.

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Good for Canadian medical students!

Following a recent comprehensive study and series of media stories, such as the one appearing in Times Colonist on January 11, 2020, the Canadian Federation of Medical Students argues that "climate change is inextricably linked to public health" and calls on schools across Canada to weave the health of our planet and climate change into and across all medical curricula.

This is something for which I have long advocated.

In the past, I've always spoken about developing curriculum for programs/courses with their defined program/course learning outcomes PLUS underlying thematic outcomes that address climate change, corporate social responsibility, cultural awareness and inclusivity, and indigenous ways of knowing and being.

Much as the argument has been made that we can no longer separate environment from the economy in political discourse, I believe that we can no longer separate discipline-specific curriculum from the planet on which it resides. The time is right now, if not already past, for the entire academic community to step, collectively, on a path toward graduating students who are both experts in their respective fields AND who have a good sense of their place in the world around them and their responsibility to protecting that place.

For example, in recent work I completed for a Canadian college in the development of two online workshops, part of a series of workshops intended to help Canadians who are unemployed or underemployed prepare for the changing nature of work in the future, students begin by exploring climate change as a global trend that is affecting and changing jobs in Canada and, therefore, affecting and changing the manner in which they need to search for work or future-proof their careers.

We must be overt in our actions and purpose. Academic planning, instructional design and curriculum development practices must change. As the creators of learning for citizens of the future, it is our obligation to ensure that learners receive an education that is professional, meaningful, insightful and responsible. Indeed, it is our duty.

Come on, academia! Let’s get this right!

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Updated: Oct 20, 2019

In the recently published opinion piece The Costs of Overpromising, Billie Wright Dziech argues that "it is impossible to identify and treat all the college students who experience anxiety and depression, and we must determine which groups we can effectively assist."

Hmmmmm... I’m definitely pausing for thought on this. I'm not sure that I agree with Dr. Wright Dziech.

It is true and well documented that instances of mental illness are on the rise in the post‑secondary education (PSE) community, among both students and staff/faculty (Gorczynski, 2018; Linden, u.d.). But, I'm not certain that the best approach is to withdraw or limit services and supports simply because we are not trained clinicians.

I will go out on a limb and make the statement that I believe that a good proportion of mental illness being experienced in our world is a factor of simply living in the societies that we have created over the years/decades/centuries. We all must assume some responsibility for the making of our current global and local situations and, because of that, I believe that we must all assume some accountability for resolving the problems that arise - including the rise in mental illness in the PSE community.

Just think about any typical student for a moment.

They leave home to go to college or university (I will refer just to colleges from this point but mean both) because economics of geography limit the viability of placing a college in every community. They might be carrying the baggage of growing up in a dysfunctional family, perhaps even suffering physical, sexual, emotional or other abuse. The education system they grew up with has not prepared them to live on their own.

When they arrive at city or town in which their college resides, many have left their entire support structure, their entire world, behind them and find themselves alone in an unfamiliar environment. They are often responsible for preparing their own meals for the first time, paying bills for the first time and having to navigate and comprehend complex and binding agreements, such as signing a lease to rent an apartment, for the first time.

Then they arrive on campus.

They face a schedule with as many as six courses per term, many with rigorous assignments and culminating assessments that have conflicting obligations and deadlines. They face the challenge of making unwanted decisions about which course should have priority over another in order to be successful, putting them directly at odds with the system that places mostly equal value on each and every course. They face growing angst about their own decisions in this regard because their abilities are not reflected in their grades, simply because they had to make a prioritizing decision in order to remain afloat.

Oh, and grades… don’t get me started on the pressures they cause – the competition, the vying for jobs, the erroneous need instilled in us as we grow up to impress others. All of these externalities internalized when our ultimate purpose should be to foster a genuine love for learning.

… and a whole host of other first-time-ever-experienced challenges that no one warned them about; that no one ever taught them to address; that they find on their own; alone.


Colleges play a role in creating the society we live in. Therefore, colleges must play a role in helping to resolve the social problems that arise, including providing supports to students experiencing depression, anxiety and other types of mental illness.

I’ve never read an account in which someone has argued that colleges should not help to solve the problem of climate change, or the problem of urban sprawl, or the problem of cancer, or the problem of providing education for all. So, why are we seeming to draw a line in the sand at colleges helping to solve the problem of mental illness?

Let’s take a step back for a moment and think about the commonalities among students. The fact that each comes from a different history and is living their own unique story makes finding any commonality a challenge. Sure, some attend the same college, but others don’t. Some attend the same programs, but not all.

In fact, when you give it some thought, there really is only one commonality for all students. Regardless of jurisdiction, institution, program, status, or any other factor, every student interacts with curriculum and the pedagogy that was used to create it.

I should re-emphasize this thought: Regardless of jurisdiction, institution, program, status, or any other factor, every student interacts with curriculum and the pedagogy that was used to create it.

There is clearly a role to play for the clinicians, therapists and other student services specialists engaged by colleges to support students’ mental health. There is clearly a role to play for faculty and staff at colleges to develop an awareness and watchfulness, indeed an obligation (as does everyone in a community), regarding signs of mental illness and the supportive actions to follow.

But, as Dr. Wright Dziech indicates, these resources are limited, and I agree. So, what next?

Given the commonality of student interaction with curriculum and pedagogy, should we not be giving some thought as to how we might capitalize on both and how they could be supportive of student mental health?

Much the same as Universal Design for Learning (UDL) has been adopted as the defacto standard in instructional design, it has been adapted over the years to support student academic success in a variety of situations, such as in supporting the specific learning needs of indigenous students (Green, 2010), supporting the specific learning needs of first generation students (House, Neal & Kolb, 2019), and supporting the learning needs of newcomers and refugees (Stewart & Martin, 2018), among other communities.

Indeed, in an emergent knowledge society (UNESCO, 2005), colleges 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 (International Conference on Health Promoting Universities & Colleges, 2015).

I believe that there is benefit in examining and exploring at the intersection of instructional design and student mental health. There is a potential opportunity to adapt UDL principles at the very core of what every student experiences – the curriculum – in order to be mindfully supportive of student mental health, thereby helping to mitigate some of the stressors to mental wellness and barriers to academic success that they create.

In fact, I am exploring this very intersection in my EdD research. The ultimate aim of my study is to determine the efficacy of supporting student mental health, indeed in fostering the resilience needed to navigate life, at the stages of curriculum development and instructional design, without sacrificing academic quality or rigour.

Before we give up, before we pass the baton to others, before we adopt the belief that we hold no accountability or responsibility, is it not our obligation as part of a learning community to, at the very least, explore all options and possibilities? After all, in order for our global community to thrive, we all must thrive. We are all interconnected.


Canadian Association of College & University Student Services and Canadian Mental Health Association. (2013). Post-Secondary Student Mental Health: Guide to a Systemic Approach. Vancouver, BC: Author.

Gorczynski, P. (2018). More academics and students have mental health problems than ever before. The Conversation. Retrieved May 15, 2019 at

Green, B. L. (2010). Culture is treatment: Considering pedagogy in the care of aboriginal people. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services, 48(7):27-34.

House, l. A., Neal, C. & Kolb, J. (2019). Supporting the Mental Health Needs of First Generation College Students, Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, DOI: 10.1080/87568225.2019.1578940.

International Conference on Health Promoting Universities & Colleges. (7th: 2015: Kelowna, BC). Okanagan Charter: An International Charter for Health Promoting Universities and Colleges. Retrieved May 15, 2019 at

Linden, B. (u.d.). Understanding Post-Secondary Student Stress: A Qualitative Analysis.

Stewart, S. & Martin, L. (2018). Bridging Two Worlds: Supporting Newcomer and Refugee Youth. Toronto, ON: CERIC.

Wright Dziech, B. (2019: October 8). The Costs of Overpromising. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved October 10, 2019 at

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