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Research Proposal Open Thread

I know we don’t technically need to keep blogging these next couple of weeks, but given that our big final assignment is coming up I thought we might all need a space to discuss, ask questions, and maybe vent our frustrations every once in a while.

Personally, I haven’t reached the writing (or even outlining) stage yet, but I’ve taken a bit of time to read up on research methods and to scope out sources for my lit review, as well as some content to analyze. Since my research is going to be primarily historical I’ve been reading up on historical research methods, mainly in Historical Research: A Guide by W. H. McDowell (a pretty good book, though I’m unsure of its audience at times – parts of it seem to be geared towards undergrads, but others seem like they would be completely inaccessible to anyone without at least some graduate-level education) and David Landes and Charles Tilly’s History as Social Science, which I haven’t had a chance to really get into yet, but which looks interesting so far. I’m also hoping to read more about the type of qualitative content analysis that we did last week, since that seems like it will be very relevant to the research I’m hoping to do. The empirical methods are less relevant to me, though I’m not ruling them out just yet.

How’s everyone else’s work going so far? Almost finished? Almost started? Somewhere in between?

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Research Ethics

I liked how today’s guest speaker discussed the historical perspective of research ethics. It showed why showed the importance of why it is necessary to have such standards in research. It provides protection to the researcher but more importantly the participant. Some studies that are conducted involve very controversial issues that can be very sensitive to the individual, which is why it is important to have ethical guidelines that researchers should follow in order to not exploit the vulnerable individual. As discussed in some of the lectures and readings this term was the controversy of conducting online and offline research has been debated about whether researchers should hold the same standards and merit for the digital community as in the non-digital one. It was refreshing to hear that online research should follow the same ethical standards as offline ones. I feel that ethics should be in all research studies despite them being online. All research conducted should be accountable and lawfully done. The idea that anything on the Internet is fair game or “anything goes” because it is all public disregards the ethic issues involved in research. Unless one is just observing and not interacting with then consent on the participant’s part is necessary. According to the University of Toronto Guidelines and Practices Manual for Research Involving Human Subjects, research participants who choose to participate in a survey have the same rights as any participant who signed a consent form so they are enabled to withdraw at any time. Based on Section 2A of the Tri-Council Policy Statement, a researcher that conducts a study involving human subjects must be consensual, voluntary, and informed throughout the process. Throughout the study the research subjects are entitled to respect and autonomy, which is seen through the dialogue, information sharing, and general process that the subjects chosen to participate in. I found the ethics lecture to be very insightful and useful for how to go about research in the future, as well as the final assignment.

“(some participants are disturbing people)”

I don’t have too much to say on the readings for this week other than that I am pretty interested in research ethics –  especially in regards to interviewing.  One of the things that stood out to me in Knight’s chapter was when he said that researchers should not become too involved with the participants because they can be “disturbing people.” Obviously Knight is writing from the perspective of the researcher, so that is who he is sympathizing with, but that is still a bit of a funny (awkward) statement.  I did like the suggestion that the researcher might carry pamphlets or other resources for the participants if sensitive subjects such as illness or crime might be discussed – that seems like good advice, but perhaps not maintaining an appropriate distance from the subject. 

Another thing that I found interesting was that the U of T REB was primarily concerned with respect from human dignity in Research Involving Human Subjects. Of course respecting and maintaining the dignity of the participants is paramount, but it is also quite vague – I expected that it would go into more detail. I’m sure that these issues will be addressed in class so this is a bit of a ramble, but I look forward to learning more about this.

A couple thoughts on audio

Hi everyone,

This week’s readings seem more practical than theoretical, but there were two things that caught my attention in the Knight reading.

First, it was always drilled into my head that one should never rely on audio recordings for interviews, because sooner or later something will go wrong and you’ll be out of luck.  Even if the batteries are fresh and the record light is on, you sometimes have to ask: Does the microphone have a switch on it?  Is it plugged into the right jack?  Does the input have a volume control?  Does the device have a monitoring feature where everything looks right but nothing is actually being recorded?  etc, etc.

Knight mentions that having two recorders saves time on duplicating tapes, but it’s also good insurance.  In any case, in any interview I try to take notes as if it’s all I’ll have to rely on later, even if there is a tape recorder running.

Second thing — on the subject of transcriptions, I was wondering if anyone has had experience with dictation software, and if any of it is any good?  What with Siri and all, it seems like something software engineers have been working on a lot in the last few years.  It would be really interesting to try writing with speech, too.

Offline and Online Data

Offline and online data is important for understanding Internet use and online participation. Not every research project combines virtual methodology with non-digital methods, as it is oriented to specific research questions. Originally data used to be just one thing and there was no differentiation until the creation of the Internet. In regards to analysing and interpreting the data collected by both methods it can be hard to differentiate them. Orgad discusses that a distinction needs to be made between the two as it is being analyzed and interpreted. When one is discussing the data do they have to distinguish that this portion was from one method or the other or can they lump it together and say that these two methods was used to gather this data? Both online and offline data is highly beneficial for studies but it is interesting how Orgad says that there is a tendency to imply that online data is not as authentic as offline. If online data is not authentic then it leads to the question of credibility. It the data the researcher gathers online reliable? A researcher cannot control the virtual environment in the same manner than one can a physical and controlled environment. People have a tendency of showing or acting a specific way online but in the non-virtual environment they are completely different.

Case Studies

I find it interesting how Miles stated that case studies are not rational and therefore they are less scientific. Despite this view Yin points out that case studies can be conducted by either qualitative or quantitative methods. Yet, mixed-methods have been used in case studies, which yields positive results. If case studies are thought to be so unscientific then why are researchers using them? What could they possibly offer the field that the so-call scientific methods cannot? This reminds me of something Luker said about how canonical social scientists do not like methods that are unscientific in nature, which is why they do not study the phenomenon but rather the population being sampled.

Case studies can be explanatory, descriptive, and exploratory. It is safe to assume that based on this idea of what case studies are is why some researchers consider them to be unscientific. When one conducts several case studies he or she is looking for patterns amongst them to see if they have anything in common, which enables a well founded explanation for why or why not things seem to be this way. Case studies can be conducted using participation observation or ethnology but it can also use other methods to collect and analyze the data. They are beneficial for collecting data that requires open-ended questions that is limited to a particular research intent.

I like how Yin uses a detective analogy as a comparison to how a researcher would conduct a case study. Based on the data collected the researcher may have to adjust the theory or framework of the case study. The research tailors his or her decisions based on the relevancy of the data. In order to do so the researcher needs to take good notes and after the interview or observation is done he or she should quickly write down everything that took place to the best of his or her memory or else he or she will forget later down the road. This helps when one is completing the final research product, especially if it is several months after the data was collected.