Decolonizing the Scientific Method in a First-year Breadth Science Course

Grant program: Disrupting Colonialism through Teaching: An Integrated Seminar Series and Grants Program

Grant recipient: Nienke van Houten, Faculty of Health Sciences

Project team: Mark Lechner and Ian Tietjen, Faculty of Health Sciences, and Stephen Thomson and Lindsay Heller, research assistants

Timeframe: September 2018 to January 2022

Funding: $6000

Course addressed: HSCI 100 – Human Biology

Final report: View Nienke van Houten's Final Report (PDF) >> 

Description: We plan to design a set of lessons that provides a counter-narrative to the dominant Western or Eurocentric biomedical science model. The module will be implemented in HSCI 100 - Human Biology and will focus on answering the question “how do we know?” and will broadly compare and contrast the “classic” scientific method and local Indigenous knowledge gathering approaches. Students will also consider how the environment (and to some extent culture) inform and influence these practices. The context for this module will consider how knowledge is gained with respect to the use of medicinal or native plants in both Indigenous and Western contexts. At SFU, we have the resource of a western academy as a model for the scientific method and the traditional lands of Burnaby Mountain to explore Indigenous knowledge building systems.

Questions addressed:

  • How do students describe the similarities and differences between a Western/Eurocentric approach to science and an Indigenous approach to science or way of knowing?
  • To what extent and in what ways are students able identify examples of good and bad Western/Eurocentric or Indigenous science and knowledge gathering practices?
  • What misconceptions do students have about Western/Eurocentric approach to science and an Indigenous approach to science or way of knowing? And how do they change over the semester?
  • Are students able to identify how knowledge systems are shaped by their history, environment, and culture?
  • Do students achieve or increase an aggregate systemic view of the human body?
  • Do students gain an affective change in how they view the relationship between their bodies/health and the local environment?

Knowledge sharing: We will use the Undergraduate Studies Committee in the Faculty Health Sciences (FHS), Faculty Council and special events organized around teaching and learning initiatives in FHS to share our findings. This has been a routine practice for the TLDGs undertaken by faculty in FHS. 

Our study findings could impact how other natural science courses and instructors approach the way in which they cover science, human biology and human health. The project does fit within the larger goals of the FHS curriculum renewal and its upcoming five-year Academic Plan, which includes items found within the recommendations from the SFU Aboriginal Reconciliation Council. These recommendations and plans call for indigenizing and decolonizing our curriculum, of which “Human Biology” is one element. A modified “Human Biology” class as we are proposing may be suitable for the SFU Aboriginal University Preparation Program.