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Lost in Translation

A large part of my teaching pedagogy involves incorporating First Nations views into my lesson plans, activities, and learning outcomes.

When I was in my PDPP education program, we had an Indigenous Education course that included history, curriculum, and current practices of First Nations ways of knowing. Overall, it is a wholistic view that knowledge should come from people, places, and things and can be from a historical, current, natural, supernatural, spiritual, or scientific background. An example of this is using myths and origin stories to explain natural phenomena such as earthquakes and mountain formations. This knowledge and knowledge keeping is embedded with the notion that information and history is best remembered in a story form, with meaning, emotion, and context.

Western science and knowledge is routed in facts, hypothesis, tests, and data which can be collected in experiments, recorded in textbooks, and studied by anyone who has access to these papers and texts. This data is studied out of written textbooks and papers, which can be compared to the First Nations knowledge which is largely verbal and passed down through sharing circles, ceremony, and conversations between people and communities.

There has been a large push from First Nations researchers to have the validity of their science and ways of knowing acknowledged by the Western World, in order for progress to be made in understanding the world today. It is common for Western Science to dominate our field, with quantitative research, structured experiments, and widely distributed papers; it is no wonder that Western Science is seen as the more valid, and right, way of knowing.

As the Reader

While reading the paper Understanding and Describing Quantitative Data, I focused my reader lens on how this type of research could be transferred to First Nations knowledge and science. Is quantitative information on First Nations knowledge restricted because of the method that information is shared? Respect, conversation, oral sharing, and reciprocity are values carried through when sharing knowledge in First Nations communities. Sharing ideas in exchange for hearing someone else’s is common, and is how culture is maintained in First Nations groups. It is difficult to collect quantitative data when their knowledge is spoken, passed on through song, told through stories, not written in books, or recorded on a numerical scale. As the reader, when most scientific papers focus on quantitative data, and believe it to be the best way of recording findings and information, I can’t help but think about all of the other information that will be lost or unexplored when the qualitative lens or First Nations oral tradition is excluded. How can these interviews, stories, and songs be converted into quantitative information without the value of the ideas and thoughts being compromised? It is similar to taking a photograph on film, copying it to your computer, transferring it onto a hard drive, and then posting it to Facebook or Instagram. While it is relatively the same photograph, the quality of the photo has been lost. If we continue to favour converting our findings to quantitative data, then First Nations knowledge and its quality will be diminished over time. It is important, as the reader, to recognize the prevalent bias in our Western society that Western Science, and research methodologies, are seen as “better” and more credible than other ways of knowing.

The Researcher

Cathy Lewin, the author of this paper, has research and education that includes education technology, digital pedagogy, and innovation. Most of their (I am using the term “their” not in the plural sense, but more as a gender neutral term) articles are centred around including more technology in schools, innovations in education with tech, and explore education from a European perspective. Her thorough, straightforward, universal outline for conducting quantitative research plays very well into the structure of Western Science. As a researcher with a deep sense and recognition of Western Science, I believe they are in strong favour of quantitative methodology being the most sound approach for research, compared to qualitative or First Nations ways of knowing. With her research being based in the UK, out of the Manchester Metropolitan University, it would be easy to access information supporting quantitative research, and Western Science, because First Nations culture and communities are not common in their region.

The Research

The research provides a clear framework for conducting, analyzing, and reporting on an area of study and collecting data that is quantitative, easily documented, and clearly measured. When conducting a study where you would like to analyze your results correctly, it would be tempting to use this quantitative method because it provides a clear guideline and methods to analyze the validity of your findings. The quality of your data and research can be numerically measured through statistics including P-values, lines of best fit, and probability. If the data that is being collected is numerical, and quantifiable, then this method is desirable. If your research involves emotion, differing opinions, conversations, and unwritten historical data, then there can be errors which occur when this information is translated into numbers and quantities.

The Researched

The research and quantitative methods model was used in a UK study to gather information on topics such as shoe size and cigarette consumption. This data is easy to gather, measure, and record using numbers. These numbers can be then inserted into statistical programming to display commonalities, trends, and other information about the UK population. The paper did not go into detail on how to collect non-numerical and qualitative information such as opinions, interviews, or emotional connectedness. The examples used to describe the quantitative process were unemotional, required only one type of numerical information, and was easily translated and statistically analyzed. This method and scaffolding is very useful for individuals collected quantitative information.

What Next?

In BC, First Nations knowledge and ways of knowing are gaining respect and validity in the lens of science and research. I can see that there is a change in perspective, and that Western Science is soon going to meld with other ways of knowing. I am curious to explore effective ways of translating interviews, stories, songs, and other qualitative information into quantitative data without losing the quality and perspective that information has.

1 Comment

  1. I really enjoyed reading your post and thoroughly agree with your points. This change in perspective is exciting as people are beginning to see the value of other ways of knowing,

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