Aboriginal higher learner success factors at vancouver community college

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This chapter examined the existing literature regarding educational systems as it affects Aboriginal learners, the factors and barriers that impact Aboriginal higher learner success current integration strategies that support greater representation of Aboriginal peoples in VCC. This literature informed the research approach, methods, tools, and ethics outlined in the next chapter to examine what factors contribute to the success of Aboriginal higher learners.


Research Approach

The research methodology and approach for this research are reviewed in this section, which includes identifying the participants who were involved in my research, the methods and tools that were used to collect data, and analysis of the data. The methodology and approach for this research were planned to effectively examine: What factors contribute to the success of Aboriginal learners at VCC? Secondary questions that contributed to a deeper understanding of the research included:

1. Who are Aboriginal learners at VCC and how are they supported?

2. How does the traditional Aboriginal education system contrast with contemporary educational systems?

3. What are Aboriginal defined indicators of success in post-secondary education?

4. What currently works well to support Aboriginal learner success and what are the current barriers?

5. What would work well in the future to meet the needs of Aboriginal learners to succeed at VCC?

The indigenous research methodology I have chosen for this research is based upon the theory of Tsawalk, which has been described by Atleo (2004) as: “In the Nuu-chah-nulth language, hershook-ish tsawalk means everything is one that includes all reality, both physical and metaphysical” (p. xi). Consistent with the theory of Tsawalk, this research was guided by several Indigenous research principles, including understanding of local Indigenous community ontology and axiology, which includes relationality, respect, and connection with the physical and metaphysical world. These principles also included ensuring Aboriginal people themselves and Aboriginal communities approved the research and research methods. Participation of Elders as traditional knowledge keepers and respect for customary laws was also ensured as part of the research process. These principles are based upon a the foundational value of listening and observing self and others in relationship and in community, acting with humility, demonstrating peaceful listening, deep observation, and genuine non-judgemental interest to understand research participants. Finally, these principles included respecting that gained knowledge for the purpose of understanding is a timeless process experienced in relationship.

This methodology has been consistent with the cyclical four-step process of action research outlined by Coghlan and Brannick (2007): “consciously and deliberately: planning; taking action; evaluating the action; leading to further planning, and so on” (p. 4). This methodology was also consistent with action research, which Stringer (2007) defined as “a systematic approach to investigation that enables people to find effective solutions” (p. 1) that includes directly involving subject and stakeholder in the research (p. 6). Such involvement allows participants to “construct and use their own knowledge” (Coghlan & Brannick, 2007, p. 15), using an Indigenous methodology that “cannot undermine the integrity of indigenous persons or communities because it is grounded in that integrity” (Wilson, 2008, p. 60). This ensures that the shared aspects of relationality and relational accountability are put into practice through “choice of research topic, methods of data collection, form of analysis and presentation of information” (p. 7).

The objective of this action research project was to develop specific localized solutions (Stringer, 2007, p. 1) that would ultimately result in “the flourishing of the individual person and their communities (Reason & Bradbury, as cited in Coghlan & Brannick, 2007, p. 1). This complements the indigenous research methodology important for VCC and the Consortium because “action research is central to theory and practice of organizational development” (Coghlan & Brannick, 2007, p. 14) to “resolve issues within the dynamic complexity of organizational systems “multiple causes and effects over time” (Senge, 2006, p. 71).

A secondary methodology of appreciative inquiry used was to “focus on what already works in a system, rather than a focus on what is deficient” (Cooperrider & Srivastva, as cited in Coghlan & Brannick, 2007, p. 18). “[Appreciative inquiry] involves, in a central way, the art and practice of asking questions that strengthen a system’s capacity to apprehend, anticipate, and heighten positive potential” (Steinbach, 2005, para. 16). This approach was also consistent with the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development founded by Cornell and Kalt in 1987 (Cornell & Kalt, 2010), which is a theoretical model of First Nation’s social and economic development that includes cultural revitalization as a core element. The Harvard Nation Building model also utilizes a strengths-based, appreciative inquiry methodology.


As the research lead, I worked with a research team, which included my project sponsor, my academic supervisor, and the Consortium Manager of Operations. The research team also included the VP Human Resources and Student Affairs, who has since left VCC, with the replacing project sponsor being the President of VCC, who continues to support this project. Research team members signed a letter of agreement prior to commencing our research process (see Appendix A).

To obtain a representative sampling, research participants included Aboriginal learners who were invited from existing Aboriginal programs currently being offered at VCC and where there was an above average participation rate by Aboriginal students in other program areas. The intent of using a representative sampling was to “minimize sampling error” (Palys & Atchison, 2008, p. 111). According to Patton (as cited in Glesne, 2006), “The logic and power of purposeful sampling . . . leads to selecting information rich cases for study in depth . . . from which one can learn a great deal about issues of central importance” (p. 24). Participants were selected from the VCC Aboriginal Gateways to Health Program, Aboriginal Culinary Arts and Culinary Arts Programs, Aboriginal learners in Adult Basic Education, and other courses where a high percentage of Aboriginal learners are currently enrolled. For each of these program areas, four focus groups were conducted with an average of four learners participating at each session, with a total of fifteen participants.

Participants were informed about the scheduled focus groups through a letter of invitation (see Appendix B). At the same time, consent forms were provided, which included the background of the focus group session intent, session meeting details, Elder participation, and ethical considerations (see Appendix C). The ethical considerations included volunteer consent, the ability to withdraw from the session at any time, and the respect that was afforded to participants for individual privacy and confidentiality. Instructors were advised about the planned focus groups, purpose, and intended outcomes. The focus groups had on average four to six participants each, and consistent with Aboriginal protocol, a meal was provided.

As a secondary phase in the design and delivery of the process used for this research, three senior leaders from the college were invited to participate in interviews (see Appendix D). They were asked to review findings from the focus groups, to finalize data themes, and collectively determine how the college can commit to supporting the success of Aboriginal learners.

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