Prior to initiating research, I completed a literature review to update understandings from the Consortium research on Exemplary Practices in Accessibility for Aboriginal Higher Learners (Mixon, 2008a) to generate new thoughts and understandings and to inform the research design process and effectiveness of the research, focus group, and interviews. Team members were carefully chosen to have a deep level of understanding of the issues and challenges informed by their experience with the Aboriginal learners and phenomena of the research topic. This approach helped to ensure that their feedback in the development of the questions were appropriately anchored in the learner’s cultural reality, revealed new insights, expanded understandings, and offered insight (Glesne, 2006, p. 85). The focus group questions were pilot tested with VCC Aboriginal students, Elders, and the Manager of Operations, who critically analyzed the process and focus group questions (see Appendix G). Focus group and interview processes were revised accordingly in preparation for the research to be initiated, emphasizing the “emancipator qualities if the topic is such that the discussion gives voice to silenced experiences” (Morgan, as cited in Glesne, 2006, p. 104).
The focus group sessions were scheduled at times convenient for Aboriginal learners. They were approximately one hour long and held in the VCC Aboriginal Gathering Spaces, where participants were asked questions that were designed to allow them to engage in a dialogue to explore the factors that contribute to their success at VCC and detail their vision of achieving the education goals (see Appendix G). The findings were recorded with a digital recording device that was used to check accuracy during the transcription process, which I undertook. Participants discussed a wide range of issues, informed by the findings of the literature review that were shared when relevant issues were discussed, where “themes are only visible (and thus discoverable) through the manifestation of expressions in data. And conversely, expressions are meaningless without some reference to themes” (Opler, as cited in Ryan & Bernard, 2003, p. 87). Participants also discussed their feedback and priorities, wherein common themes were identified throughout the four focus groups that helped to validate the overall focus group findings. Once all data were analyzed and written up in draft form, focus group participants were asked to review the data to validate the information.
Interviews with senior leaders were scheduled for approximately one hour, at times convenient to their schedule, and in leaders’ offices to ensure comfort, safety, and confidentiality. Interviewees signed a consent form prior to commencing the interview (see Appendix F). The interviews were recorded with a digital recording device that was used to check accuracy during the transcription process. Interview participants were provided with a copy of the interview questions (see Appendix E) and a background of the focus group and literature review findings. Interview participants also discussed themed findings, priorities, and their recommendations of what VCC could do to support Aboriginal learner success.
The most serious and central difficulty in the use of qualitative data is that methods of analysis are not well formulated. For quantitative data, there are clear conventions the researcher can use. But the analyst faced with a bank of qualitative data has very few guidelines for protection against self-delusion, let alone the presentation of unreliable or invalid conclusions. (Miles & Huberman, 1994, p. 2)
Using a blended phenomenological, priori knowledge, and collaborative social research approach, focus groups participants contributed to initiating data reduction, drawing conclusions, and theming data findings to ensure validity and “theoretical sensitivity” (Ryan & Bernard, 2003. p. 88). In preparation for this draft report, focus group and interview data was then input into matrices based upon focus group participant identified themes and those identified by repetition within the literature review to develop generalizations “that cover the consistencies discerned” (Miles & Huberman, 1994, p. 9).
Focus group data was shared with key stakeholders in senior leadership during interviews, with the goal of finalizing themes and engaging leadership into the important decision of identifying what the college can do to support learners and mitigating resistance. The draft report was also shared with a sampling of focus group participants and both interview participants to validate findings prior to submission. As noted by Wilson (2008),
[One way] authenticity or credibility may be ensured is through continuous feedback with all the research participants. This allows each person in the research to not only check the accuracy of the analysis but also to give back the ideas they presented to review . . . [and] get the opportunity to listen and to interpret concepts presented by others. (p. 121)
The principles for this ethical research were taken from the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (Interagency Advisory Panel on Research Ethics, 2009; see also Royal Roads University [RRU], 2007). These principles include: respect for human dignity, justice and inclusiveness, free and informed consent, respect for privacy and confidentiality, conflict of interest, balancing harms and benefits, minimizing harms, and maximizing benefits (RRU, 2007, Section D, para. 2).
Respect for Human Dignity
As a researcher, I was placed in a position of trust with the participants. As such, it was imperative that I created and maintained an environment that was sensitive to the inherent worth of all human beings, respectful, and concern for welfare and justice was present. Consistent with the social value of community responsibility inherent within Aboriginal peoples, respect for human dignity was expressed through concern for the welfare of others (e.g., physical, social, economic, and cultural environments). The scope of research undertaken and finalized was shared with senior leaders who participated in interviews and VCC Consortium partners to support community capacity development, authority and decision making, and facilitate Aboriginal learner success.