Assessing Student Awareness of Indigenous Peoples Project

Assessing Student Awareness of Indigenous Peoples Project

Assessing Student Awareness of Indigenous Peoples Project

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  • Co-designers for the Awareness Project work together at the Aboriginal Student Centre at Wilfred Laurier University, Ontario.

    Co-design meeting at the Aboriginal Student Centre at Wilfred Laurier University, Ontario. 

  • Two Awareness Project researchers visit members of the Newfoundland Aboriginal Women's Network in Stephenville, Newfoundland and Labrador.

    In 2013, two Awareness Project researchers visit members of the Newfoundland Aboriginal Women's Network in Stephenville, Newfoundland and Labrador. 

  • Awareness Project team member Laura Schaefli with Tom Brophy, Director of Student Success Memorial University, Newfoundland and Labrador.

    Awareness Project team member Laura Schaefli with Tom Brophy, Director of Student Success Memorial University, Newfoundland and Labrador.  

  • Nunatsiavut Government offices, Newfoundland and Labrador.

    Nunatsiavut Government offices, Newfoundland and Labrador. 

The Awareness Project involves curriculum analysis, questionnaire design, survey implementation, and survey analysis. 

Curriculum Analysis 

While there are similarities in curriculum between educational jurisdictions, there are also important differences. Although our research is most concerned with measuring how effectively students are learning what FNMI leaders, Elders and educators feel is important to learn, we are also interested in how well students are learning what Ministries of Education-mandated documents purport they are being taught. We analyze curriculum (including curricular guides) and textbooks used in K-12 schools prior to designing the questionnaire to ensure that a component of curriculum-related knowledge is on our questionnaire. We analyze the curriculum paying close attention to contradiction within and between texts, courses, and grade levels, the subtle (or not so subtle) insertion of settler voice and values, silences and misinformation, and undermining strategies including placement, juxtaposition and decontextualization (Anderson, 2012; Bannerji, 2000; Bickmore, 2006; Castagno & Brayboy, 2008; Lipsitz, 1998; Ng, 1993; Schick & St. Denis, 2005; Willinsky, 1998).

Questionnaire Design 

The first version of the questionnaire was developed in consultation with local FNMI people, educators and academics and in part based on the questionnaire developed by (CAAS, 2004). We ran it in geography and education classes at Queen’s University and after further consultations we moved to an on-line questionnaire to improve the feasibility and reach of the study. This second version was piloted with a 100% survey of all first-year students at Queen’s (A. Godlewska, et al., 2013). The Queen’s survey was the starting point for the Memorial University survey but underwent significant modification as a result of a co-design process with specialists in the university and in six FNMI communities across Newfoundland and Labrador (totalling consultations over 60 people). Our knowledge and the quality of the survey increased exponentially through these co-design meetings as the questions, wording, and our thinking were challenged and new questions emerged. The process we followed taught us that the best way to reach FNMI knowledge holders was through the university’s Aboriginal education officer, who had the necessary contacts and credibility with communities and could translate academic and community concerns back and forth. This third version of the survey was delivered to all first-year students at Memorial University in 2013. In keeping with our policy mandate of knowledge sharing, the data generated by the survey were delivered to Memorial for internal program review, as were publications generated through our analysis of the curriculum and the Memorial data. The fourth version of the questionnaire was developed through a similar process of co-design with 10 universities in Ontario (Guelph, Lakehead, Laurentian, Laurier, McMaster, Ottawa, Queen's, Toronto, Trent, Windsor) from October 2013 to August 2014 and was disseminated to 42,000 first year students in September and October. Consultations were of two kinds: 1) negotiation with the universities to secure their cooperation and participation (including securing ethics approval, institutional research approval, fitting the survey to the institution, and gaining general administrative support). 2) The content co-design sessions involved over 200 FNMI council members and knowledge holders from communities near these institutions, as well as academics, staff members and students. The test portion of the Ontario-wide questionnaire has 36 test questions across 6 subscales (governance, culture, geography, history, current events and provincial curriculum), and includes questions on self-assessment of knowledge, sources of knowledge, interest level, social attitudes and demographics, with many text boxes for possible comment. We have since moved to conducting surveys in classrooms. Surveys conducted in classes with the support of Deans, heads of department and instructors tell students that Indigenous content and ways of being are important. In-class surveys also ensure high quality data across a broad range of disciplines and enhance the educational experience of taking the survey (students receive answers to the questions). Elders are present for cultural safety and to engage students in discussion about the issues raised by the questionnaire. In 2016, we partnered with St. Lawrence College to conduct entering and exiting surveys in service provider programs. In winter 2018, we conducted exit surveys at three Ontario universities. We are also currently working in British Columbia and Manitoba (2018-2019). 

Survey Implementation 

Implementing the survey requires negotiation with universities and colleges to access first year and fourth year classes. In each university or college the Indigenous education (or resource) office, the research ethics committee, the office of institutional research and planning and upper-level administration must deem the research important and pass all aspects of it. 

Survey Analysis 

Arguably, we already know that students know little about First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples and topics, but do we know what best predicts this knowledge: education (what kind, at what levels, where), social attitudes, gender, age, identity, where they grew up, etc.? We use quantitative and qualitative analysis methodologies to assess students’ knowledge.