“It’s that time again…”

It’s that time again, yes, time for another reflection. In my past reflection I talked mostly of my fear of failure, which I felt did transfer over to the assessment that the participants and I have just completed. In this final assessment for BCM240 – Media, Audience, and Place, I leaped back into the realm of TV, deciding to focus on television in space as stimuli for eliciting emotion and spatial memory. To view this project, please click here. Overall, I would say that this research project went well, as the final metamorphosis of the project emerged as a somewhat coherent whole.

However, I cannot say that the steps taken to reach this final metamorphosis have been smooth, as the path has been at times, laden with shards of glass. There were various elements that got in the way with this assessment, the first being my own stupidity. As we entered week 13, I realised that the assessment date was the 2nd of November and not the 6th, which ended up with me panicking because in my mind, I had just lost 5 days to work on this assessment. This resulted in me working under pressure, which I have often done before, but at least on those occasions I actually knew the correct due date.

Pressure can be hard to work with, as it can burden you with unnecessary mental distress which can be further influenced by time constraints, the difficulty of the task, insufficient knowledge, or unforeseen problems (Employability Skills: Working Under Pressure 2015). This project definitely burdened me with unnecessary pressure, which was due to my own fault because of my original perceived abundance of time. I would say that there were three main sources of pressure, the time issue pressure, the direction of the research project, and the research projects collaborative ethnographic element.

The direction of the research project bothered me initially from the outset, as I was interested in exploring two different areas. This indecision on my part caused me to suffer as I had not clearly defined the goals of my project, which in turn made the project suffer because I needed to take time out to define its trajectory. When the goals of a project are undefined, it can cause the people working on it and the project itself to suffer, something I ended up learning first-hand (University Alliance 2015).

The collaborative ethnographic element of this assessment, while I enjoyed it, proved to be a factor that I underestimated. Lassiter (2005) says that collaborative ethnography is an “…approach to ethnography that deliberately and explicitly emphasizes collaboration at every point in the ethnographic process, without veiling it—from project conceptualization, to fieldwork, and, especially, through the writing process.” The parts that I underestimated about this process fell into the areas of coordination and intellectual costs.

Coordination costs involve the time and energy that goes into group work that isn’t present in individual work, as the coordination cost can involve arranging meetings with the others involved and meeting up to complete work (What are the Challenges of Group Work and How Can I Address Them?). This is an area where I had trouble as I had to meet a participant to conduct an interview, which had to be taken a second time as I forgot to switch on the microphone.

The intellectual cost of this project involved the phenomenon known as transparency illusion, which involves a research member’s tendency to assume their thoughts, attitudes, and reasons are more obvious than they actually are (What are the Challenges of Group Work and How Can I Address Them?). This was a trap I fell headfirst into when conducting my interviews, as I needed to contact the participants afterwards to confirm some details that I found confusing.

Working within the framework of collaborative ethnography is something that I enjoy, but I feel that I have operated within this framework better in the past. I have no one to blame but myself as I believe it was the pressure that I put myself under which became my undoing. Although, keeping within the foundations of collaborative ethnography, I have included the participants of this research project in every process that has taken place, and they are happy with its outcome, as am I, to a degree. In the future, I think the important thing for me to remember is to get my dates right, so that I don’t create another slew of issues that will effectively derail my assessments from start to end.

References:

Ashley, D 2012, A Healthy Fear is Sometimes in Order and Even Wise…, Image, Flickr, viewed 02 November 2015, https://goo.gl/QYuOZL

Employability Skills: Working Under Pressure 2015, University of Leeds Careers Centre, viewed 02 November 2015, http://careerweb.leeds.ac.uk/info/4/make_yourself_employable/202/employability_skills/13

Lassiter, L.E. 2005, The Chicago Guide to Collaborative Ethnography, University of Chicago Press, viewed 02 November 2015, http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/468909.html

University Alliance 2015, Top 10 Project Management Challenges, Villanova University, viewed 02 November 2015, http://www.villanovau.com/resources/project-management/top-10-challenges/#.VjbT0S_oudA

What are the Challenges of Group Work and How Can I Address Them?, Carnegie Mellon University, viewed 02 November 2015, https://www.cmu.edu/teaching/designteach/design/instructionalstrategies/groupprojects/challenges.html

It’s about the best method for discovering it!

How can collaborative ethnographic research be used to analyse contemporary media use in the home? This is the question that I will attempt to answer in this blog, but first, what is ethnographic research? According to the Oxford Dictionaries (2015), ethnography is “the scientific description of peoples and cultures with their customs, habits, and mutual differences.”

Now, what is collaborative ethnographic research?

Lassiter (2005) says that ethnography itself can be defined as collaborative, but what sets collaborative ethnography apart from regular ethnography is that the researcher and their subjects meet at every level of the “ethnographic process, without veiling it – from project conceptualisation, to fieldwork, and, especially, through the writing process.” In essence, the researcher/s invites his/their subjects and consultants to directly add to the ethnographic text by incorporating their direct commentary, resulting in a co-conceived text written with collaborators from the local community, which in the end will create a text for multiple audiences, not a text that is solely limited to academic institutions or local constituencies (Lassiter 2005).

Is this kind of research possible for the analysis of contemporary media use in the home? It is hard to say, as quantitative research is favoured over qualitative research in this area. Take for example the study conducted by Nie and Hillygus into the impact of the internet on people’s social lives. Nie and Hillygus were interested in the debate on whether the internet enhanced or inhibited sociability, and so, decided to conduct a study that could possibly put an end to the argument. Their study showed that the displacement hypothesis had a greater bearing, their research revealing that “the more time spent on the Internet at home the less time spent with friends, family and on social activities (Nie & Hillygus 2005, pg. 11).”

Nie and Hillygus took a quantitative approach in this study by utilising what is called a time diary, involving the members of a family to fill out a short survey every week, asking them to detail six specific hours during the day and whether they were interacting with family members/friends or whether they were accessing the internet. This method of study is very impersonal and does not factor into collaborative ethnography at all, but, quantitative methods are favoured by some researchers and companies because it is much easier to look at and act on collected data distributed across graphs rather than spending masses of time interacting with people face-to-face, collecting field notes that detail the lives of these individuals.

The avenue of research, in the end, dictates what type of research methodologies you will use to obtain data. Because collaborative ethnography involves researcher and subject working in tandem, qualitative research methods work much better in its framework as qualitative research involves “examining the personal meanings of individuals’ experiences and actions in the context of their social and cultural environment (Qualitative Research Methods, pg. 197).” An example of what qualitative research might look like would include the subject of my last blog post, involving an interview with my dad on his memories of television from childhood days. We collaborated throughout the process by Tim giving me access to his memories which I worked into a blog post before we edited the final product, adding information he had forgotten to include during the initial interview.

In terms of using collaborative ethnographic research to analyse contemporary media, I would say it depends on the type of research you are conducting and what you want to reveal. If you simply want to measure how much time people spend on devices, then quantitative methods would probably be best. But because collaborative ethnography is more concerned with culture and people’s customs, habits, and differences, than qualitative research methods would be more appropriate. But you shouldn’t discount quantitative research either, it is better to think of the two as harmonising in that together they can help to form a better understanding of a research area (Qualitative Research Methods, pg. 196). In the end, it all comes down to what you want to discover and what is the best method for discovering it.

References:

Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74105777@N00/6153558098

Lassiter, L.E. 2005, The Chicago Guide to Collaborative Ethonography, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Nie, N.H., Hillygus, D.S. 2002, ‘The Impact of Internet Use on Sociability: Time-Diary Findings,’ IT&Society, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 01-20.

Oxford University Press 2015, Ethnography, Oxford Dictionaries, viewed 12 August 2015, http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/ethnography

‘Qualitative Research Methods,’ Mother and Child Health: Research Methods, pp. 196-211.

Are Research Ethics Important?

Why are research ethics important? Before we answer this, we should define what research is. The Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) et al (2007) defines research as “original investigation undertaken to gain knowledge, understanding and insight (pg. 6).” However, research that involves humans cannot be undertaken unless the methods for data collection are approved by an ethics committee/council.

NHMRC et al, Tinkler, and Weerakkody (2007; 2013; 2008) all mention that research projects must be approved by such a committee before they can begin to perform research or have their project funded by institutions. If research projects that involve humans cannot be conducted until the ethical nature and methods of these projects are analysed, then surely ethics are very important in the research process. If research projects were not approved by ethics committees there would be no funding, and without funding, there would be no project.

If ethics are important then researchers have a duty to “…foster and maintain a research environment of intellectual honesty and integrity, and scholarly and scientific rigour (NHMRC et al 2007 pg. 10).” According to NHMRC et al (2007 pg. 10), researchers have a duty to be respectful of their participants and their rights. This means that subjects need to be shown courtesy and have their choices respected in the research process if they wish to remain anonymous, be censored in photographs, etc.

Tinkler (2013 pp. 197-198) uses Rolph, Johnson, and Smith’s study on the elderly and residential care as an example of ethical research, highlighting their methods which included: deleting photos of nurses and residents upon request after showing them their photos, censoring residents faces in photos upon request, avoiding taking photos of residents that could be deemed as undignified, and taking the time to explain to and gain consent from residents of frail mind or who had dementia. These methods can be considered ethical because the researchers treated their subjects and their decisions with respect, gained consent from their subjects to involve them in their project, and avoided presenting their subjects in undignified ways.

In deference to The Nuremberg Code, Weerakkody (2008) says “…research should avoid the possibility of causing unnecessary physical or psychological suffering, nor should it inflict pain, trauma, injury or harm to subjects (pg. 77).” To emphasise this, Weerakkody (2008) uses the example of an American university instructor who organised a simulation where he had an acquaintance take his class hostage with an unloaded gun so he could observe the behavior and actions of his students (pg. 78). The instructor did not receive approval for this experiment from his superiors or an ethics committee, it was also later revealed a regular student of that class brought a gun with them but happened to be absent that day (Weerakkody 2008 pg. 78). This experiment was human based yet received no approval from an ethics committee automatically making it an unethical experiment, but apart from this, the experiment not only had the propensity to cause psychological trauma, but also physical harm and even death.

Ethics are undoubtedly important in research and researchers need to follow the correct procedures to act ethically so they do not break laws or cause harm to those they are involving in their projects.

References:

National Health and Medical Research Council, Australian Council, Universities Australia 2007, Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research, National Health and Medical Research Council, Canberra, pp. 01-41

Tinkler, P 2013, ‘Ethical Issues and Legalities’, Using Photographs in Social and Historical Research, SAGE Publications, London, pp. 195-208

Weerakkody, N 2008, ‘Research ethics in media and communication’, Research Methods for Media and Communications, Oxford University Press Australia and New Zealand, South Melbourne, Victoria, pp. 73-91