Saturday, February 28, 2009

Week 8: Ethnographies

Blog Question: What distinguishes ethnographies from case studies, how does “triangulation” impact data collection and analysis, and what must ethnographers do to ensure their work is both reliable and valid?

Ethnographies require a much longer and deeper immersion with the subjects in their natural environment, but Case Studies are often performed in a slightly more sterile environment, or as broader and shallower research with individuals or groups. As a result ethnographers are faced with a mountain of data about a fairly narrow topic. Case Studies look for variables, whereas Ethnographies try to capture the process and the “feel” of people and their environment and look to find similarities and trends in the data.

Ethnographies use triangulation to go through and notice consistencies within the data to find the “truth” through a variety of research methods, subjects, on across time. Triangulation is used to ensure that ethnographer's findings are both reliable and valid, although it does have limitations.

Dohney & Farhina: Writing in an Emerging Organization
Research Question: How do writing processes shape the organizational structure of an emerging organization?

Subject Selection: The software company was picked because it was an emerging organization.

Data Collection: The ethnographer visited the company 3 to 5 times a week for 8 months and attended meetings. They collected field notes, tape-recorded meetings, open ended interviews, and discourse-based interviews.

Data Analysis: Data analysis followed the constant comparison method. The ethnographer developed categories for different events and linked them to form major themes for the study.

Beaufort: Learning the Trade
Research Question: What are the ways in which particular configurations of roles aid or hinder a writer’s socialization process in becoming a productive member of a community of practice? What differentiated simpler from more complex writing tasks? What determined writer’s social roles in this community? What methods of socialization were used for writers new to this organization and to what effect?

Subject Selection: The ethnographer chose the research site because of an overriding concern with issues of transfer of learning; in particular she wanted to examine the contrasts between academic and workplace settings for composition.

Data Collection: The ethnographer interviewed each woman almost weekly, kept records of their writing, and attended business and informal meetings between them and their colleagues.

Data Analysis: The ethnographer looked at field notes, transcripts, and writing samples for patterns and themes in relation to social roles for texts and for writers within the discourse community of the company.

Sheeny: The Social Life of an Essay
Research Question: Seeks to understand the standardization processes involved in the writing done by a class of seventh grade students, half of whom did not do well in school or on tests.

Subject Selection: The researcher picked seventh graders in a science classroom at the only middle school in a large city. Many of these students had a history of performing poorly in school and many were from underprivileged backgrounds.

Data Collection: The researcher collected data from two focus groups and from the class as a whole. She collected field notes, voice recordings, community surveys, and samples of the students writing; both from class assignments and from journals.

Data Analysis: The researcher didn’t really seem to have a very concrete idea of data analysis. She used triangulation to determine the results from her data collection.

Ellis: Shattered Lives
This research explored disastrous events using the author's own experience on a flight on September 11th, and used the methods of autoethnography to do so. The researcher did not explain subject selection, data collection, and data analysis.

Anderson: Analytic Autoethnography
This article did not seem to have as much focus on research as the other research papers we have read this week. The author discusses the history of autoethnography, it’s impacts on research, and it’s virtues and limitations. The author argues that autoethnography fits well into the larger group of ethnography and uses similar techniques of the researcher being actively involved with the subjects.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Week 7: Surveys

Surveys are a commonly used research technique and are relatively inexpensive to implement. If used correctly, surveys can be generalizable and can allow researchers to gather information about a very large population. To do so, the sample chosen from a population must be randomized. Even when choosing a random sample, a large enough sample size must be found for the results to be reliable. According to Lauer and Asher, "The precision of information is directly related to the sample size." There are several methods to approximate a random sample group including systematic (e.g. every 10th subject is chosen), quota (e.g. including 10% of a certain group in your sample, if the entire population has 10% of that same group), stratified sampling (e.g. focusing your sample on one specific group, but still studying the larger population in which that group resides), and cluster sampling (e.g. choosing an entire classroom to study a population of the whole school rather than randomly selecting students across the school).

Another important part of surveys that researchers must keep in mind is to make sure that they have specific definitions for their sample, units, population, and their measurement methods. If possible, it may be a good idea to use a pre-existing, proven measurement technique. Lauer and Asher also warn that a low response rate can make a study's results unreliable and that if a new measurement method (a new survey) does need to be created, it should be tested on a representative group before hand, so that it can be adjusted for the best results in the real survey.

This chapter is especially useful to the research group that I am currently in for this class. As of right now, our plan is to survey undergraduate students at Clemson to get their opinions on possible methods of communicating to students that they have an upcoming tuition bill. Before reading this chapter, I did not think of the fact that a low response rate would lead to unreliable results, but just thought that it was an unavoidable, but unimportant part of the surveying process. Additionally, I did not think it was necessary to find a sample group from our sample group to do a test run of our initial survey, but upon reading this, I can certainly see the importance of such an activity. We would hate to either spend hours collecting survey answers or even worse, spend our one chance at getting the university to send out a survey on our behalf, only to find out that our questions were not properly worded. These issues pose even more challenges to our project in class. Frankly, I'm a little worried, but this chapter was certainly necessary for our group to read before conducting our research.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Week 6: Case Studies

Case studies are appropriate for many different situations. This kind of qualitative descriptive research tries to describe the overall situation and attempts to define the variables involved. Quantitative research, on the other hand, attempts to find relationships among variables. Oftentimes, qualitative research will discover what variables need to be further explored in additional qualitative or quantitative research. Case studies are appropriate for situations that are complex or highly contextual.

Case study subjects are often chosen from a group of volunteers. Researchers should attempt to gather subjects with varied backgrounds. These background differences between subjects can be differences in sex, race, experience level, knowledge level, socioeconomic status, etc. Unlike quantitative research, qualitative research does not seek to control any of these variables that may effect outcomes.

In case studies, data is collected in a variety of ways. The researcher's memory, notes, tape recordings, interviews, subjects talking aloud through their thought processes, relevant records and past research can all be used in case studies. All of these methods can bring new information and insights into the research, but each new method carries additional risk of not being seen as valid or reliable.

Case studies don't seek to find "facts" in the same sense that quantitative research does. Instead they "report results in the form of extensive descriptions, conclusions, hypotheses, and questions for further research." Generalizations are limited because researchers do not want to assume that the results of a case study will apply to every case. But when supported by other research, case studies can support certain findings and results.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Week 5: Internet Research - Bryan Ricke

Question: How does conducting research on the Internet impact the ways that researchers must deal with human subjects?

As with anything else that the Internet has touched, it has fundamentally altered research with human subjects via the Internet. In some ways this has opened up new opportunities, both in the availability of research subjects and in research design. It can also cause a few problems. Some of the opportunities are for researchers to be able to inexpensively contact a large number of people, for researchers to be able to reach subjects outside of their local community, and for researchers to see how subjects behave while on the Internet and how this may be different than their behavior in the "real world." The problems it may cause are just as prevalent.

Researchers need to decide whether or not an item posted on the Internet constitutes a "public" document and can therefore be used for research. This is a tricky subject because not everything posted on the Internet is meant to be seen by everyone, but at least most posters know that it may be possible for the document to be seen by a large number of people. Unless a document is posted on a password-protected website, I can't really see how the author can expect that it couldn't be studied and used for social or behavioral research. Furthermore researchers must document these findings anonymously, so even should someone post something embarrassing on the Internet and not want it to be further dissected by a researcher, at least their name will be left out of the paper.

Another possible problem is that it is difficult to tell if a subject is old enough and has the mental capacity to be participating in the research effectively. Not only could this give the researcher incorrect results, but it bring the researcher a host of other problems, calling in to question their research design. Furthermore it is more difficult to tell if a subject is simply lying about their gender, age, or any other information that may be relevant to the test. This of course could be a problem in traditional research designs as well.

Using the Internet as a research tool can be very powerful as it allows researchers to perform research on larger groups of people, and can find subjects outside of their area. However it can introduce more variables and other problems into the research. It must be planned and implemented carefully.