JOURNEYING THROUGH A NEW LENS: EDUCATION RESEARCH IN THE AGE OF TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION
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.
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.
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