A Multidisciplinary Approach

The “M” in the IMPDET Phd acronym stands for Multidisciplinary. As I have found, this can at times be a bit of a curse. As I have consistently found in my research though, there is a distinct lack of multidisciplinary knowledge in this domain of indigenous epistemology, pedagogy, knowledge and learning. It is a world of research data silos, which is unfortunate as it seems that many research projects in each discipline are running in parallel without any knowledge of each other.  I have developed a diagram to try and understand and to bridge the gap between these disciplines, starting with:

A Multidisciplinary Approach


When thinking about the concept of using technological innovations for indigenous knowledge transfer in culturally inclusive education, multiple disciplines must be tied together in order to provide for authentic learning outcomes for learners.? Why is this so complicated? Isn’t it just a matter of asking a community what is relevant to them? Then create the learning materials in a way that is authentic by providing relevant community examples where needed?
Well, yes, and no.  In an individual situation, with the appropriate knowledge and expertise, this process may work just fine. I’ve done it before myself, with some success, and other times with little success.  From experience, many concerns came up in the process of instructional design and delivery of learning outcomes. For example, in regards to:

The Instructional Designer:
Current Model: Many communities bring in outside educational expertise for instructional design and delivery of learning modules to community members.
Concern: Many educators do not come with cultural sensitivity in mind, and even it they do, their knowledge of a particular cultural context may be quite limited. Cultural sensitivity training and community knowledge acquirement requires pre-planning in order to educate educators about the community or communities in which they are visiting and instructing in.
Main Discipline: Philosophical and Epistemological Research

The Content:
Current Model: When an educator arrives in a community to deliver learning materials, they may arrive only with “status quo” materials, usually gleaned from a standardized Eurocentric learning model.
Concern: Even if the instructional designer had time and budget to integrate relevant community knowledge into the learning materials, the community may not have a system of creating repositories of local, community, and indigenous knowledge for them to draw from. Additionally, even if they do have this knowledge, it may not be accessible to the designer in a meaningful, time-efficient manner.  Creating authentic learning then requires some pre-planning from the instructional designer, including a methodology in which to access community knowledge to be incorporated into the learning material.
Main Discipline: Indigenous/Traditional Knowledge Research

The Educator:
Current Model: Many learning materials that are currently delivered to remote rural indigenous communities have been designed according to Eurocentric learning pedagogies. This includes lectures (consisting mostly of written knowledge), textbooks, and written assignments.
Concern: Learning styles of learners in remote rural indigenous communities may be quite different than learning styles of learners that follow a conventional Eurocentric learning pedagogy. For example, many communities are traditionally oral in the way in which they pass on knowledge to other community members.
Main Discipline: Educational Curriculum and Pedagogy Research

The Learner:
Current Model: Many remote rural communities are small and have varying levels of knowledge. When delivering learning to these communities, it is important to have prior knowledge of the learners in order to create learning outcomes that are representative of the learner’s knowledge.
Concern: Assessing the knowledge level of a disparate group that are geographically distant requires pre-planning by the instructional designer and is difficult to acquire due to the distance of the learners
Main Discipline: Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Research

When you put this all together, there is little or no thought that goes in to how the learning will best fit into the daily context of an indigenous person’s life. For example, a course may be scheduled to occur during an important food-gathering season, using a lecture format, with non-relevant, dated examples that are at too low of a level according to the knowledge of the learner.
There is a need then to design a model that utilizes a multi-disciplinary approach in order to create relevant, authentic learning materials to indigenous learners in remote, rural communities. The advantage of creating a model is that if adopted, it will lead to a way of creating learning objects that integrate indigenous knowledge into learning materials in a standardized, repeatable, reusable manner.

From this perspective the question of  “What does this model look like?” arises.
Well, that is my  next research step.



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The Narrowing of Focus

So my last post to this site was a long time ago, back in September. Since that time I have managed to make some headway in narrowing the focus in this PhD journey, but it is still multi-lane freeway rather than a nice narrow single-lane one-way. I was told early on in the process that the PhD journey would involve periods of elation followed by periods of deep despair. I am on that journey and I am no different than the others. The biggest challenge has been narrowing the focus to a reasonable realm of knowledge. It is a delicate balance between providing something useful (in other words, having high expectations) and finishing the PhD. As someone more knowledgeable than me said “First you finish the PhD, then you start your research”. In other words, the PhD is a learning process on how to perform good research. I tell myself that when I look in the mirror in the morning. Sometimes it works.

So this is the initial post in which to start making more public my thinking about how all of the pieces fit together. “The narrowing of the focus”, so to speak. In my mind, there is no doubt that the majority of learning materials delivered to remote indigenous communities are not serving those communities in any relevant way. How can learning materials developed by an oppressor using oppressive language (simple example: “Columbus discovered America in 1492”) be considered relevant to a society that was already here? That is not their story. That is not authentic learning. It seems to me in fact to be quite insulting.
So then, how to change this thinking?? Well, an instructional designer can create learning materials that reflect the realities of today’s world, and that also allow for the POSSIBILITY of a different world view. That would be a great start, but man, that is deep as it requires stepping right up to the highest level of abstraction, and asks many of us (me included), as western-paradigm thinkers to question our linear, timeline way of thinking. That’s heavy stuff. So what is this alternative world-view malarkey? What is this holistic model mumbo-jombo? I’m not a philosopher (can you tell?), and before this journey, I could say that my knowledge on formal language around theories of epistemology or ontology was pretty minimal. Who in normal society does think deeply about other ways of thinking? Not very many; fortunately though, most of the ones that do are really, really smart. One of my favorites, Paulo Friere put my head in the right place early on, stating:

“Pedagogy must be created with, not for the oppressed” – Friere (1993)

And when I was asking the question of “what IS indigenous thought?” I came across another really smart person, Celia Haig-Brown, who states:

“Indigenous thought is founded in a deep understanding that we all live in relation to land. Whether we are city dwellers in profound denial or Aboriginal people drawing on old ways to regenerate new knowledge, we live in relation to the land – we bundle up when the snow comes, we fuss when spring is late, we breath deeply and restore our souls when the sun warms us into a new season.”

And finally, to give further weight to this paradigm, Haig-Brown draws on the knowledge of Maori scholar Makere Stewart-Harawira, summarizing that with indigenous thought;

“a refusal to divide and compartmentalize in any reductionist way is accompanied by adherence to recognizing all things existing in relation to one another”

So wow, there really are two different approaches at play here, a fundamentally different way of approaching the world. Holistic thinking vs. reductionist thinking. The whole vs the sum of its parts. Hoo boy, well that certainly has narrowed things down. Am I being sarcastic here? I don’t think so. In a round-about way it has hit the nail on the head, as it has been the path of others, on parallel (albeit deeper) trains of thought that has guided me to a stronger rooting, to a place perhaps a little closer to providing a narrower focus. Closer, I said, and that’s something.

What’s next? Defining a framework in which to integrate this way of thinking, in a reusable way, into the instructional design process. One step at a time…


Haig-Brown, C. (2008). Taking Indigenous thought seriously: A rant on globalization with some cautionary notes. Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies, 6(2).

Friere, P. (1993). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. London: Penguin.

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Next Steps, Joensuu Finland

I have arrived here in Finland and am now ready to fully dedicate my time to this PhD pursuit. I definitely enjoyed some relaxing time this summer visiting with both my family, and with my partner Allison’s family. Joensuu is a beautiful little town (pop. 57,000) on Lake Saimaa in the central-east area of Finland, near the border to Russia.

Upon arriving here, I have at times felt completely overwhelmed by the tasks ahead of me. Tomorrow is my first day of class in the Research Methodologies for Computer Science course and I am very much looking forward to spending some time on better defining my path for the next 3 years of my life. I have defined the desperate feeling to whoever will listen as the process of starting out with my hands and arms spread wide as they will go, and then moving them forward and gradually closer together, as defining a path forward that is at first chasmic, then narrowing to a fine point when the research is specifically defined. Right now I feel that my arms are still wide stretched, but not completely.

I have sifted and read through the abstracts of probably 1000 articles, have fully read a few hundred, and I know have 25-30 pages of Literature review (rough) and 150 entries in EndNote (which is a life-saver). What I feel that I am lacking at this point is much for original thought. My research questions are still there, but right now I look at them with a bit of a blank stare. The stare is a little less blank than before but still pretty vapid. No twinkle, that is for sure. I hope tomorrow for a little less vapidity (is that a word? it should be).

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The Beginning – A Guide to Formalizing the Literature Review

An improperly designed literature review can derail a dissertation. With this in mind (under the guidance of Dr. Kinshuk), I have created a document that outlines a formal process for completing my PhD Literature review.

Please refer to the following page: IMPDET PhD Literature Review Guide

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