Chapter 4: Assembling methods #1

Chapter 4 introductory graphic

Pilot study

Early on in the research I conducted a pilot study to to reveal issues and barriers related to recruiting potential participants, to explore the use of oneself as a researcher in a culturally appropriate way and to test and modify interview questions. Although familiar with Twitter as a participant, conducting a pilot study also allowed me to gain familiarisation as a researcher. I tested six different methods which I describe in more detail here. The table below reflects on the outcomes of the pilot methods.Read More »

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Visualising ‘what I do’ … again!

One of the questions I’ve found the toughest to answer throughout my study is ‘what do you do when you do Twitter?’ Or, more specifically, ‘what does participant observation look like in the context of your research?’ I’ve previously responded at length, and have been trying to capture  a sense of what I do within a single visualisation. I’m still not convinced I’ve quite managed it, but here’s the final version which made it into the thesis:

“What I do when I do Twitter” flickr photo by IaninSheffield https://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/44602792592 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

 

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#CreativeMethods18

Had the great good fortune to attend the Creative Research Methods Symposium at the University of Derby today.

With the majority of participants (it seemed) coming from creative, art-influenced disciplines, I wasn’t sure whether this was the right arena to talk about my research. I needn’t have worried. Apart from the main speakers, many of us were doctoral students, so had that instant shared sense of experience. And of course we were talking about our methods, which arguably has a more universal appeal.Read More »

Getting it out there

I’m in the midst of a modest attempt and first few tentative steps at getting my work out there. Over the past couple of months, the details of several symposia aimed particularly at early career researchers have dropped into my Inbox. I submitted abstracts for three and was fortunate enough to have them accepted. In each case, the theme spoke to a specific aspect of my work, thereby providing an opportunity to focus on several, small aspects of my thesis.

At the beginning of June I attended “Adaptive Ethnographies for a 21st Century Sociology” arranged by the British Sociological Association at Royal Holloway, University of London. I spoke about how I’d employed visualisation for data recording and analysis as a strand within my ethnographic approach, rather than how the vis is commonly purely a presentation device. I tried to argue that analysis was an element which receives less attention than the conducting and writing of ethnographies, and that producing visualisations can be one way of supporting the analytical and interpretive processes..

“Royal Holloway facade” flickr photo by IaninSheffield https://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/42971539431 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

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Interviewing the nonhumans

“Researching a Posthuman World” flickr photo by IaninSheffield https://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/39930805522 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

Choosing to approach my research with a sociomaterial sensibility requires me to challenge the division between the human and material elements I encounter and with which I work. Since Twitter and the online world is highly mediated, it would be remiss, I’d argue, to fail to adequately account for the material actors. Bringing actor-network theory (ANT) to bear does not, however, mean that I should consider the social and then the material. Instead they are completely entangled and mutually constitutive (Fenwick, 2014), so what they are and what they do is not in isolation, but co-constituted. Herein lies somewhat of a dilemma, since at some points it might be necessary to talk about the effect of particular practice on a teacher or what a specific aspect of materiality (like a hashtag) achieves. What’s important though is not to forget that both of these are themselves actor-networks, or assemblages, and are also part of other actor-networks. For the purposes of analysis, it is sometimes necessary to narrow the focus to a single entity, provided we don’t forget the assemblage that is also being performed.

In the methods section of my thesis I’ve discussed the semi-structured in depth interviews, participant observation (as it is manifest in this context), the blog posts I read and the exchanges with their authors. In reviewing this section and how it fits into the thesis as a whole, it’s clear how anthropocentric my writing was. The transcripts, blogs and even tweets were the words of the human participants … but where was the materiality? To be fair, I hope I’ve managed to surface some of that as a result of my observations and ‘following the actors,’ but once more it’s the (my) human voice that is privileged. How then to do justice to the nonhumans? How to give them a voice?Read More »

The PLDBot comes out…

The problem I faced was that Twitter changed the name from ‘Favourite’ to ‘Like.’

One of the things that prompted the focus of my study was the number of people who tweeted how important Twitter was in supporting their professional learning. So even before I began the PhD, I started ‘collecting’ tweets which illustrated this by ‘Favouriting’ them; favouriting rather than bookmarking them or archiving them elsewhere, simply because of the ease with which the ‘Favourite’ button could be clicked, whichever interface was being used to view the tweets. The idea of bookmarking tweets by favouriting is common practice and was found to be the dominant functional use of this feature (Meier et al, 2014). I was also aware that there was an IFTTT recipe which could automatically record your favourited tweets directly to a Google sheet; this meant that should I need to, I would have access to those tweets outside of Twitter. Then in late 2015, Twitter changed the Favourite to ‘Like’ and its icon, the star, to a heart.Read More »

What do I do when I do Twitter – Summary

“Approaching a dead end” by will_cyclist https://flickr.com/photos/willj/14477194158 is licensed under CC BY-NC

If you’re going to undertake a research study, you have to become adept at recognising when you’ve gone down a dead-end. You then need to be prepared to retrace your steps and consider alternative pathways. This happens in your thinking, your writing and sometimes even your speaking. On this occasion, it was after completing a map/chart which supposedly summarised the discussion in the previous post. I needed a single-page summary for my supervisors; they’re not in a position to read through my 2000+ word rambles. In any case, I suspect I can’t afford to spare (waste?) 2000 words of my thesis for what ought to be a much more brief section.Read More »

What do I do when I do Twitter #2

“steps” by mr. rollers https://flickr.com/photos/mr-rollers/8258681682 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND

In following up my previous post, I now need to outline what the actual steps are which constitute my ethnographic approach on Twitter. My supervisor suggested I might produce it in the form of a summary which another researcher could use to conduct a similar study, however, I feel the need to set things out long-form in the first instance.Read More »

What do I do when I do Twitter? #1

“still asking questions” flickr photo by stewit https://flickr.com/photos/98277793@N00/100512763 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

Another outcome from the last supervisory meeting was that it would be useful for me to produce a summary of what I actually do when I’m on Twitter – how does my activity generate data? In a conventional ethnographic approach, one would be attempting to answer the broad question “What’s going on here?”, doubtless supplemented by who, how, where, when and why. If the setting is the digital realm, those questions could be the same, but what one would attend to might be rather different.Read More »

Time to drop Anchor already?!

“Dropped Anchor” by j.casey.oneill https://flickr.com/photos/dirkoneill/7333619288 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND

Oh dear! It looks like I got burned on Anchor, shortly after getting things under way. It’s only a few days since one of my interviewees remarked that those who take up new technologies are often marked by being able to take the hits when things go awry. Resilience I guess. So in the spirit of sucking it up …

[Jump to the questions]

Summary

It seemed that Anchor would be a good way to enable participants to join in a conversation, at times convenient for them, and without having to commit more than a minute or so at once. So I got things started … and then v2 of Anchor was released (without a warning that I noticed) and everything went pear-shaped when in the new release, the architecture and workflow changed completely. Instead of one in which contributions were threaded together, could be published through a web browser and subsequently downloaded, the new workflow seems to be more about transience. Each contribution you make to your ‘station’ and any responses it attracts are only broadcast for 24 hours, during which you can archive them so they don’t disappear for ever. Unfortunately that’s not very helpful when, like me, you want to post a question which people can discuss over a period of months.Read More »