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James Robson - Digital and Online Ethnography
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  • 1. Digital and Online Ethnography James Robson
  • 2. Being a teacher in the digital age: a digital ethnography of religious education teachers’ engagement in online social spaces
  • 3. Research Questions Aim: To investigate the meanings, related to their professional lives and identities, that Religious Education (RE) teachers derive from their engagement in online social spaces. How are RE teachers’ professional identities performed through their engagement in online social spaces? How are RE teachers professional identities constructed through their engagement in online social spaces? How is the engagement of RE teachers in online social spaces influenced by power structures and the agendas of related institutions, organizations, stakeholders and interest groups?
  • 4. Ethnography Now embedded in academic culture as an appropriate method of exploring the ways in which people use, interact, engage and construct meanings on the Internet (Hine, 2008:260) Examination of use in a natural setting. A method that valued users’ own perspectives and the meanings they derived from their online engagement. Enabling the researcher to place that within the context of wider social and professional structures and academic theory.
  • 5. Ethnography of online contexts Debate over how ethnography should be undertaken in relation to online social spaces. Novel methodology (virtual ethnography, netnography) vs an extension of traditional anthropological approach (Digital ethnography)
  • 6. Field Boundaries: Online vs Offline Early studies focused solely on online communities (Markham, 1998; Baym, 2000). But the Internet is rarely a separate domain of virtual experience (Miller and Slater, 2000). Sharp dichotomous distinctions should be avoided between online and offline (Horst, 2012). The Internet and offline worlds are mutually related, intersecting contexts. Internet research takes place in embedded contexts (Bruckman, 2002). Therefore including offline contexts improves understanding of phenomena within their ethnographic context and add credibility to research findings.
  • 7. Field as Multi-sited A network of intersecting online and offline sites (Marcus, 1995; Wittel, 2000) A primary online site, with a wider field conceptualized, linking other online spaces and offline ones (Orgad, 2006)
  • 8. Digital Ethnography to me I prefer the term digital ethnography as it avoids some of the context specific connotations of more loaded terms: netnography, virtual ethnography etc. An extension of traditional anthropological ethnography flexibly extending methods to fit changing contexts rather than something novel. Focused on online contexts, but conceptualizing the wider field as including other online and offline sites.
  • 9. Defining the Field TES RE Forum NATRE Facebook Page Save RE Facebook Group Offline sites (if not actually studied to be related to primary field site when conceptually mapping the field) – classrooms, schools, conferences, homes etc.
  • 10. Entering the Field Getting passed the gate keepers  Started lurking  Commercial interests in the project Ongoing negotiations with the community  Reminder posts; establishing ID as a researcher through questionnaires etc.  Using websites/ blogs to communicate with participants
  • 11.  How much to participate  Possibility of covert research online  Participation risks influencing the nature, ethos or culture of field site  It risks loss of analytical clarity/ going native  But  Deepen experiences of sites  Test concepts through direct experience  Expose oneself to critique  Ethical issues  Peripheral-member researcher (DeWalt and DeWalt, 2002) – overt presence, but maintaining sense of being an outsider Data Collection Methods: Participant Observation
  • 12. Data Collection Methods: Participant Observation A year in the field: September 2011 – September 2012 Observing and participating in the spaces on a daily basis for a year: reading posts, responding to posts, starting threads, asking questions, privately messaging users, forging contacts etc. Checked three times a day (9:30am, 1pm, 8pm), using desktop, laptop, iPad and iPhone. Date as: fieldnotes, analyzable text (three 8 week long samples), descriptive statistics
  • 13. Data Collection: Interviews  Semi-structured online and offline narrative interviews, rooted in both ethnographic contexts.  Modified life history approach  Start online focused on people’s often rehearsed life stories, co- constructing narratives that are jointly analysed and interrogated with time and space for analytical insights to emerge.  Moved offline where participants can be more spontaneous and vulnerable.  Builds trust, aids transition between ethnographic contexts, links online and offline field sites  Participants were recruited online, linked with observations, through open calls or were specifically targeted. (8,7,5)
  • 14. Other Sources of Data Questionnaires Conference attendance as a participant observer Analysis of ‘grey literature’: main media outlets; opinion pieces, political and educational blogs; Twitter Elite interviews: NATRE executive committee; chair of REC; Chair of REC PR sub-committee; Chair of NASACRE; RE consultants and teacher trainers etc.
  • 15. Analysis Not necessarily a distinct stage of the research process: embodied in the ethnographer throughout fieldwork informing recruitment, interviews and direction of fieldwork. Data holistically analysed using Miles and Huberman three main analytical steps: data reduction, data display, drawing and verifying conclusion. Nvivo, iAnnotate, Word Outline display
  • 16. Group Task Look at an online group/ community/ social space and discuss: What research questions you might ask/ what aspects of that community would you study? What data would you gather and what data collection methods would you use? What ethical issues might you encounter? What can you tell about the community – what is its social structure, what hierarchies exist, where are the power relations etc?
  • 17. Suggested communities Wranglerstar YouTube Channel: http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMIjEnXruVHtvgSVf6TgfUg Homebrew Forum: http://www.thehomebrewforum.co.uk/ Mudcat forum: http://mudcat.org/