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Complexities, challenges and affordances of ethnographic and literacies research in the digital university: Contextualised perspectives. Lynn Coleman and Sally Baker – IET The Open University. Theorising ‘the digital’: a brief outline.

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Lynn coleman and sally baker iet the open university

Complexities, challenges and affordances of ethnographic and literacies research in the digital university: Contextualised perspectives

Lynn Coleman and Sally Baker – IET

The Open University


Theorising the digital a brief outline

Theorising ‘the digital’: a brief outline

  • Drawing on the work of Hine (2000, 2005), we offer a dichotomous view of how the digital is used in the context of ethnographic and/or literacies research:


Unravelling assumptions of the digital in academic literacies research in the south african context

Unravelling assumptions of the ‘digital’ in academic literacies research in the South African context

Lynn Coleman


A literacy practice

A literacy practice

  • A substantial period of text production time was devoted to what students described as ‘research’... Students’ research activities predominantly comprised of using the internet to source and evaluate appropriate images, design ideas and templates, sample code and/or action script and finding solutions to code or scripting errors.

    • Coleman, 2009

Digital technologies and applications play a significant role for students as they draw upon varied texts in the resources they use for study and assessment. For example, when questioned about their practices around the use of the web in terms of accessing sources for their assignments, students nearly always began the discussions by naming a specific technological application, such as google, wikipedia or the university library portal.

Lea and Jones, forthcoming, 2011

  • In the context of the study, this resulted in the unique way in which academic research is recontextualised to mean ‘search’.

    • Coleman, 2010


Lynn coleman and sally baker iet the open university

Context

In the context of the study, this resulted in the unique way in which academic research is recontextualised to mean ‘search’. Coleman, 2010

Representation

...students nearly always began the discussions by naming a specific technological application, such as google, wikipedia or the university library portal.

Lea and Jones, forthcoming, 2011


What about the context

What about the context

  • ICT infrastructural at South African universities

    • Differentiation across institutions and disciplines

    • Digital Divide argument?

  • Disciplinary uniqueness


Representation in ethnographic research

Representation in ethnographic research

  • Places stress on contextual realities

  • Accentuation of differences

    • Use of ‘unique’ to define students literacy practices

  • But does this apply equally to all contexts and are there consequences?

    “ careful that ethnography does not reinforce the geography of difference”

  • Researchers working in post colonial contexts

    “...work is marked as African and remembered for its strangeness, or it is otherwise judged as not African enough” Lucia Thesen, 2010


Pulling the threads together

Pulling the threads together

  • Challenges associated with usage of concepts ‘digital’ and ‘literacies’

    • Contextualised conceptualisations

    • Pitfalls of ‘contextualisation’

    • Paying attention to representation


Sally baker

Sally Baker

Using Facebook as a communication tool in longitudinal ethnographic research

with young adults


Researching students writing and the transition from school to university

Researching students’ writing and the transition from school to university

  • My study seeks to explore real-time learning journeys from school to university – 2 year data collection period, 12 participants

  • Multiple data sources: interviews, texts, curriculum documents, literacy logs, ??? (who knows what else may emerge)

  • The participants were sampled from 3 geographic/ socio-economically diverse institutions: a comprehensive secondary 6th form, an FE college and an independent school


Why use facebook

Why use Facebook?

  • It soon became apparent that email and texting were ineffective methods of communicating with my participants

  • The primary mode of communication needed to be (a) personally salient for the young people and (b) likely to be used beyond the last year of school/college

  • This lead me to explore the most effective way of maintaining communication with geographically dispersed participants over 2 years?

  • Facebook was my answer


How am i using facebook for my research

How am I using Facebook for my research?

  • Set up a new ‘researcher’ account

  • Requested ‘friendship’ from participants

  • Email participants to organise meetings, follow up questions, remind participants to give information

  • Generate pseudo-discussion boards by group mailing

  • Appropriating relevant pictures

  • Opportunistic online chat


The affordances of facebook

The affordances of Facebook

  • Facebook is trendy, dynamic and widely used (400 million people worldwide – Facebook, 05/02/2010) – all my participants are regular Facebook users

  • Has diverse range of uses: email (asynchronous), online chat (synchronous), picture repository,

  • Ability to create anonymous profile (researcher, potentially for participants)

  • Facebook users have a degree of control over their own pages


Lynn coleman and sally baker iet the open university

But…

Ethical challenges with using Facebook as a channel of communication

  • Lack of privacy – all ‘friends’ can be seen by other ‘friends’ – leading to possible “narrative appropriation” (Sharf, 1999)

  • Inability to guarantee anonymity of participants to participants during the data collection period

  • Visibility of their ‘private’ spaces to others

  • Inequality of access between researcher and researched – although the same can be argued of offline communication as well


The benefits of blending online and offline communication

The benefits of blending online and offline communication

  • Blending asynchronic and synchronic forms of communication/ interviewing provides two levels of response from participants: personal and thoughtful (email, asynchronic) & embodied and spontaneous (face – face interviews, synchronic)

  • Facebook communication allows me to scope and develop the background details and observe (as a participant of their Facebook ‘community’) while face-face interviews provide opportunities for more probing

  • Captures ‘both sides of the screen’ (Orgad, 2005)


Challenges with online offline ethnographic research

Challenges with online-offline ethnographic research

  • Two questions I am currently considering in the context of my research project:

  • Analytic frames: how to treat the blend online and offline data – as equal parts? different modes of analysis?

  • Do I need to stake a position for ‘online ethnography’ or is the digital implicitly understood if foregrounding the Internet as artefact, rather than Internet as context?


Final word

Final word

  • Hine (2005) reminds us that conducting ethnographic research in digital contexts is complicated by the inability to assume that the ‘digital’ means the same thing to us (as researchers) as it does to our participants. Therefore, it is impossible to offer prescriptive or generic rules for appropriating the digital/ ‘digital behaviour’ in ethnographic/ literacies research – rather we have to be guided by the research context and the research aims


References

References

  • 1. Brown, C. & Czerniewicz, L., 2008. Trends in student use of ICT’s in higher education in South Africa. 10th Annual Conference of WWW Applications. Cape Town. 3-6 September 2008.

  • 2. Brown, C., Thomas, H., van derMerwe, A., and Dyyk, L. 2008. The impact of South African’s ICT infrastructure on higher education. Conference proceedings, Remenyi, D (ed) 3rd International Conference of E-Learning. Cape Town: Academic Publishing Limited.

  • 3. Coleman, L., 2009. Student academic literacy practices in a South African vocational web design higher education course. Unpublished dissertation. The Open University.

  • 4. Czerniewicz, L., 2004. Cape of Storms or Cape of Good Hope? Educational technology in a changing environment. British Journal of Educational Technology. 35 (2) 145-158

  • 5. Hine, C. ,2000. Virtual Ethnography, London: SAGE

  • 6. Hine, C. ,2005. ‘Virtual Methods and the Sociology of Cyber-Social-Scientific Knowledge’. In Hine, C. (Ed) Virtual Methods, Oxford: Berg, 1 – 17

  • 7. Jones, S. and Lea, M.R., 2008. Digital literacies in the lives of undergraduate students: Exploring personal and curricular spheres of practice. The Electronic Journal of e-Learning. 6(3) 207-216

  • 8. Lea, M. R.,1999. Academic literacies and learning in higher education: Constructing knowledge through texts and experiences, in: C. Jones, J. Turner & B. V. Street (Eds) Student writing in the university: Cultural and epistemological issues. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

  • 9. Lea, M. R and Jones, S., Forthcoming,2011. Digital literacies in higher education. Exploring textual and technological practice. Studies in Higher Education. 36 (3)

  • 10.Orgad, S. ,2005. ‘From Online to Offline and Back: Moving from Online to Offline Relationships with Research Informants’. In Hine, C. (Ed) Virtual Methods, Oxford: Berg, 51 – 6

  • 11. Sharf, B. ,1999. ‘Beyond Netiquette: The Ethics of Doing Naturalistic Discourse Research on the Internet’. In Jones, S. (Ed) Doing Internet Research: Critical Issues and Methods for Examining the Net, SAGE: London: 243 – 256

  • 12. Thesen, L., 2010. Academic literacies, risk and the politics of place. Conference presentation. Ethnographies of academic writing. Milton Keynes: The Open University.


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