faculty at awa ceremony
Lelemia Irvine (fourth from left in blue), Kauʻi Merritt (center left in green), Lynette Williamson (fourth from right in blue) and Bradley Ashburn (second from right in red) pictured at the new faculty and staff ʻawa ceremony last fall.

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting many teachers nationwide, and the kumu of Hawaiian cultural classes are no exception. To further identify the way the pandemic has transformed the classroom for these indigenous instructors, a team of four University of Hawaiʻi–West Oʻahu faculty members constructed a COVID-19 related research project, “Indigenous Knowledge Education (IKE) and the Rapid Remote Learning Pivot.”

The project received support from The Spencer Foundation, who awarded the team a $50,000 grant for further research. The research will begin this fall and continue until summer of 2022.

Conducted by Kauʻi Merritt, Bradley Ashburn, Lelemia Irvine and Lynette Williamson—all from UH West Oʻahu’s Mathematics, Natural and Health Sciences Division—the team’s project will involve key informant interviews of university- and community-based kumu to explore the logistic and pedagogical impacts of pivoting Hawaiian cultural classes to remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This award was in response to a rapid call for proposals, with only a few weeks turn around time we had to work quickly and efficiently to take inventory of our collective knowledge and skill sets in order to design a culturally-responsive project that would provide benefit to both the University of Hawaiʻi–West Oʻahu community as well as the Native Hawaiian community as a whole,” said Merritt, assistant professor of Indigenous health sciences. “We are so honored to be one of 20 awards out of 1,369 proposal submissions.”

Jeffrey Moniz, vice chancellor for academic affairs at UH West Oʻahu, emphasized that in the realm of education research, a Spencer Grant is very prestigious and highly coveted. “It’s a testament to the high quality of our faculty and the importance of their project that they were chosen for funding from an extremely competitive pool of applicants,” Moniz said.

First steps and research goals

The team’s research project will involve conducting several in-depth interviews with kumu who are based either in the UH System or in the community, starting in spring 2021.

“Initially, we will reach out to kumu that we have personal connections with and then ask them for recommendations for other kumu who might be willing to speak with us—all over Zoom, of course!” Merritt said. “After we have finished our interviews at the end of 2021, we will analyze the data and report what we have learned in a community presentation before submitting a manuscript to an academic journal for publication during the summer of 2022.”

The team will evaluate why kumu chose to shift to online learning and how they came to that decision; the challenges the instructors and students faced in the online transition and what solutions they created to overcome them; and what cultural implications online learning has for teaching Hawaiian culture online.

Merritt said, “Ultimately, we hope that we can learn lessons about teaching culture in a way that maintains cultural integrity while also maintaining the health of our community.”

Read the full story at E Kamakani Hou.

—By Zenaida Serrano Arvman