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Research 101

What is research? Why is it important?

Research is a collection of steps which allow for information to be collected and analyzed, with the goal of understanding a topic. (Creswell, 2012). If done correctly, research provides a basis for making decisions based on data and evidence, rather than personal bias. Moreover, successful research should be returned to again to review the questions, methods, and data, which can lead to new ideas and revisions. When re-examined from different perspectives, research continues to transform through a process which may not have an end. Consequently, informed research should be contextualized within a larger body of research. Through research, new and important findings continue to appear in fields which are both well established

, and fields that appear through the process of research itself.

As a tool for building knowledge and assisting learning, research is an important part of academia. Research helps explore both ideas that are well established but continue to foster questions, and new ideas which produce unique information. Research facilitates the processes of understanding issues, engaging critical thinking skills, and helps to increase public awareness of issues. Research, however, is also important as it is the vehicle which drives us to learn about life. Research provides people with a way to nurture their thoughts and ideas, and transform perspectives into concrete ideas and answers.

Peer Reviewed Research?

My interest in Traditional Ecological Knowledge in Northern Canada began during my MA, where I investigated the Berger Inquiry of 1975. Listening to old recordings of Dene men and women retelling stories from their lives, and the stories passed down to them by Elders, piqued my interest in how Dene cultures have learned sustainable practices without the help of western science. Traditional Ecological Knowledge is born through direct contact with the environment, and after sifting through pages of transcripts form the inquiry, it seemed almost obvious that there was innate truth in the importance of TEK in contemporary sciences. I had the wonderful experience of working with two leading researchers out of Memorial University on my PhD, which investigated the mining industry in the three territories and their legacies on Indigenous women. My PhD, while it led to a much more social historical and sociological route, still required research into TEK.

My supervisors penned the original article “Aboriginal communities, traditional knowledge, and the environmental legacies of extractive development in Canada”. Published in 2016 following my time at MUN, this paper synthesized ideas about contaminated sites in the circumpolar north which I had the pleasure of bouncing around with them during the program. Arguably, I believe it is one of the most significant pieces of research which discusses the TEK and its role in remediation and restoration of former extractive sites. It provides history on how TEK has been incorporated (or often, ignored) in the clean up of contaminated sites. It also provides contemporary environmental assessments which reflect the significance of ignoring TEK in the past and in the present. It additionally highlights the benefits of using TEK. I believe this paper has made a significant contribution to the field of Northern Indigenous history, as well as fields relating to extractive industries and Northern development. It succinctly outlines the significance of TEK with hard hitting evidence. If I had access to this paper only a few years before, I believe it would have helped make my masters thesis much stronger as it could have provided me with ‘back-up’ for what I had learned for myself through reading actual oral history. I believe that it will be a cornerstone for further research on the industrial north and the importance (and significance) of including Indigenous voice. Moreover, it provides evidence which highlights that oral history ishistory, a fact which remains disputed in the Canadian court system during land claim negotiations.

Creswell’s six steps in the process of research are as follows:

1. Identifying a research problem

a. This step involves the researcher identifying a topic to study which is likely an issue or problem which needs to be resolved. Through specifying a problem, the research limits the subject matter and focus of the study to a specific aspect. In introductory sentences of a report, the ‘statement of the problem’ provides a justification for the problem and the importance of studying it.

2. Reviewing the literature

a. In reviewing the literature, researchers are able to examine who has studied and what has already been studied in their chosen field. Reviewing the literature requires locating summaries, books, journals, and other publications in a field. Reviewing the literature is important so researchers do not replicate other studies.

3. Specifying a purpose for research

a. The major intent or objective for a study needs to be narrowed into specific research questions. Researchers provide a focused restatement of their problem, which will introduce the entire study, signal the procedures for data collection, and indicate the results which hope to be found.

4. Collecting data

a. Data collection allows for researchers to find evidence to provide answers to the research questions. Researches identify and select individuals for a study, obtain permission to study them, and gathering information by asking questions or observations.

5. Analyzing and interpreting the data

a. Once data is collected, researchers need to make sense of the information collected. Analysis takes data apart to determine individual responses, and put it back together to summarize it. Researchers draw conclusions and represent them in tables, figures, pictures, and of course words.

6. Reporting and evaluating research

a. A written report provides audiences with the details and conclusions drawn through the research process. Reporting research involves deciding the audiences and structuring the report in an acceptable format. Evaluating research involves the assessment of the study by the audience, usually in an academic research community.

What I want to research...

I plan to research trauma-informed and culture-based curriculum in Northern Indigenous community schools. My identified problem is the lower grades, outcomes, and standards which exist in Northern community schools. Through evidence, I believe I will ascertain that this problem is a result of the disconnect between western-rooted curriculum and Indigenous traditional practices, and intergenerational trauma, in Northern Indigenous communities. Canada is home to some of the world’s top educational institutions, priding itself in its well-funded system with consistently high standards. It needs to be researched why then, Indigenous communities in the North find themselves with consistently low grades and low standards for Indigenous students – and why this is acceptable to the Canadian Government, and Canadian people at large. This research will help provide evidence and information as to why Northern Indigenous students do not experience education the same way southern Canadian children do, and how these gaps can be mediated.

Qualitative? Quantitative?

The research problem and the questions asked to address the problem delineate whether the research track will be quantitative or qualitative. Quantitative research produces data that can be converted into numbers, whereas qualitative research generates non-numerical data.

Quantitative research specifies what is measured and how it is measured to uncover patterns. Purpose statements, research questions, and hypotheses are narrow, measurable, and specific. Quantitative research uses numbers and figures to explain opinions, attitudes, or other defined variables and how they impact each other. Common sources of quantitative data include surveys, observations, and secondary data. The results are then contextualized in a research report using standard evaluation criteria.

Example: Wilk, P. , A Maltby, and M Cooke (2017) “Residential schools and the effects on Indigenous health and well-being in Canada” in Public Health Reviews 38:8.

· Use of databases (Stats Can, Canadian Health Research Portal)

· Research looked at numbers of Indigenous identity group, geography, age, sex, Residential School attendance

· The article states it is empirical research which is often done forming clearly defined and answerable questions, reflective of quantitative research

Qualitative research is used to discover an understanding of thoughts, experiences, opinions, and trends. Researchers study things in their natural settings in order to make sense of phenomena in terms of the meanings people bring to them. Purpose and research questions are stated in a general way to allow for multiple experiences from the participants. Much of the information comes from exploration, and results are reported using flexible structures.

Example: Keeling, Arn, and John Sandlos (2009). “Environmental justice goes underground? Historical notes from Canada’s northern mining frontier” in Environmental Justice 2:3(117-125).

· It is difficult to analyze historic mining activity, so much of their research comes from interviews

· In working with Indigenous groups, a lot of the evidence is oral – which many researchers disagree is not quantifiable

· A lot of evidence is supported by other historical articles and research works

· Focuses on thoughts, experiences, and opinions relating to historical environmental injustice to understand contemporary environmental justice

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