Friday, December 10, 2010

Final Post

This has been a very interesting experience! I enjoyed learning the different ways to approach research proposals, and how much work goes into writing one! The two required texts were great and aided greatly in the final proposal, especially Luker's "Nitty-Gritty" chapter.

The Peer Review Assignment
An educated person is one who has learned that information almost always turns out to be at best incomplete and very often false, misleading, fictitious, mendacious - just dead wrong.
---Russell Baker

The Peer Review assignment was quite the eye-opener. When reading and utilizing articles for assignments and papers, I tend to go through them and find what I need without much thought. By conducting the peer review, and actually analyzing and dissecting the methods used by the researcher, it was surprising to see how inaccurate, or biased the information in some journal articles could be. While I think the Russell Baker quote is a little harsh in some also is quite true...information is almost always must be argued, it must be fleshed out, it must be researched and researched and researched! This assignment has aided in my other assignments, as I am now more aware of looking for biases, looking for inconsistencies, and looking for other problems in an "academic" journal article.

The proposal...oh the proposal!!! It ended up not being as bad as I thought. Once I was able to flesh out my ideas (and deleted two drafts) it was smooth sailing! I thoroughly enjoyed my topic, and if I ever pursue research, I would explore this topic again!

However, for right now....I plan on finishing my last assignments and be finished my MI degree as of Tuesday December 14th.

So in closing I shall end with a favourite quote of mine, and wish all you first year MI students an excellent progression through this degree program!

An education isn't how much you have committed to memory, or even how much you know. It's being able to differentiate between what you know and what you don't.
---Anatole France

Christie :)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Theoretical Frameworks...

On the off chance that anyone is still reading this blog, I thought I'd post something our group went over in class today. There was a bit of concern around the idea of a theoretical framework, and how to situate your research in one. I know this is discussed in our readings, but at this late moment in the semester, sometimes a fresh voice makes all the difference. As such, I'm going to quote the rather straightforward article I found on this very topic (by Dana L. Zeidler, Ph.D.
Science Education, University of South Florida, no date that I can find...) which reminds me quite a bit of Luker's voice...

"What is a Theoretical Framework?: A Practical Answer

Doctoral students live in fear of hearing those now famous
words: "That sounds like a promising study, but what is your
theoretical framework?” These words instantly send the harried
doctoral student to the library in search of a theory to satisfy
his/her advisor. The search is often unsuccessful because of the
student’s misconception of what constitutes a “theoretical
framework.” The framework may actually be a theory, but this is
usually restricted to research which is attempting to ‘test the
validity’ of an existing theory. Most doctoral research (i.e.,
original research) does not fit into this rubric. So, what is a
theoretical framework?

It is, perhaps, easier to understand the nature and
function of a theoretical framework if it is viewed as the answer
to two basic questions:

1. What is the problem?

2. Why is your approach a feasible solution?

Indeed, the answers to these questions are the substance
and culmination of chapters 1 and 2 of the proposal and completed
dissertation. The answers to these questions can come from only
one source, a thorough review of the literature. Perhaps, a
hypothetical situation can best illustrate the development and
role of the theoretical framework in the formalization of a
dissertation topic.

As an interested reader of educational literature, a
doctoral student becomes intrigued by the importance of
questioning in the secondary classroom. The student immediately
begins a manual and computer search of the literature on
questioning in the classroom. The student notices that the
research findings on the effectiveness of questioning strategies
are rather equivocal. In particular, much of the research focuses
on the cognitive levels of the questions asked by the teacher and
how these questions influence student achievement. It appears
that the research findings exhibit no clear pattern. That is, in
some studies, frequent questioning at higher cognitive levels has
led to more achievement than frequent questioning at the lower
cognitive levels. However, an equal number of investigations have
shown no differences between the achievement of students who are
exposed to questions at distinctly different cognitive levels.

The doctoral student becomes intrigued by these equivocal
findings and begins to speculate about some possible
explanations. In a blinding flash of insight, the student
remembers hearing somewhere that an eccentric Frenchman called
Piaget said something about student being categorized into levels
of cognitive development. Could it be that a student’s cognitive
level has something to do with how much he/she learns? The
student heads back to the library and methodically searches
through the literature on cognitive development and its
relationship to achievement.

At this point, the doctoral student has become quite
familiar with two distinct lines of educational research. The
research on the effectiveness of questioning has established that
there is a problem. That is, does questioning have any effect on
achievement and does the cognitive level of questions make a
difference? The research on the cognitive development of students
has provided an answer to the second question which was specified
at the beginning of this soliloquy. That is, could it be possible
that students of different cognitive levels are affected
differently by questions of different cognitive levels? If so, an
answer to the problem concerning the effectiveness questioning
may be at hand. At this point, the student has narrowed his/her
interests as a result of reviewing the literature. Note that the
doctoral student is now ready to write down a specific research
question and that this is only possible after having conducted a
thorough review of the literature.

The student writes down the following research hypotheses:

1. Both high and low cognitive level pupils will
benefit from both high and low cognitive level
questions as opposed to no questions at all.

2. Only pupils categorized at the high cognitive level
will benefit more from the high cognitive level
questions than from the low level questions.

These research questions still need to be transformed into
testable statistical hypotheses, but they are ready to be
presented to the dissertation advisor. The advisor looks at the
questions and says: “This looks like a promising study, but what
is your theoretical framework?” There is no need, however, for a
sprint to the library. The doctoral student has a theoretical
framework. The literature on questioning has established that
there is a problem and the literature on cognitive development
has provided the rationale for performing the specific
investigation that is being proposed. ALL IS WELL !"

Taken from:

With this, I'll sign off.
Hope this helps anyone still working on this section of their proposal.

Thanks everyone for a great term... and good luck on the rest of it!


Sunday, December 5, 2010

The End

Well ... I guess this is my last blog post. It was a great semester, everyone :)

I am currently working on my research proposal. Extensions are bittersweet. You love them, because you get more time on your assignment. But then again, I'm not going to be done tomorrow and all I keep thinking is ... "Mary ... you could have been done already..." I am totally jealous of the people who are already done. I am interested in my topic, but apparently not passionate enough because 6000 words seems like a loooooong way away.

Good luck everyone!

Bittersweet Ending!!!

I can't believe this term is already over!!!
I was really excited to start working on my research proposal as I am very interested in my topic. When I started writing, I wondered how I was ever going to write a 6,000 word. However, when I started to outline what I plan to do, I began to worry that the 6,500 word limit might be too little. Only when I started to read more about research methods did I begin to understand the amount of details that you need in research. For example, I thought that using an observational method would be the simplest to write about however, it was the hard. I had to figure out how I would observe people and how I would deal with the ethical situations. Until I wrote this proposal I did not really understand this details or the work that actually have to go into conducting research. Regardless, I really did enjoy this project as writing it felt like trying to complete a puzzle.
Anyways....back to paper writing!!!
Ah, Rebecca- I know how you feel. I'm a bit unsure about the lit review as well... and have also taken the "camps" approach. It is exactly times like this when I regret my science degree-- lit reviews? What's a lit review? In a science degree, it's so... straightforward. Here, it's like I'm trying to weave something together without a pattern (yes, yes, I know the pattern is the method... still). How much depth is right? Too much? Etc. I'm right there with you. And I'm so glad for tomorrow.

And Varsha-- me too, in spades. I've always loved writing, but keeping a blog/journal of schoolwork and writing? It seemed... silly at first. Generally speaking anything that has to be done consistently makes me think busy work (elementary school reading journals, anyone?)... which is ridiculous, given that my all-time favourite blog to follow is by a technology expert who writes about... oh... wait... technology. Not a hobby-ist, not really- but writing about what he does and why he does it and things he's heard and learnt from and been inspired by... which is sort of the point (at least as I understand it now). And going back through your own thoughts... there are a couple things I wish I'd written down as soon as I had the idea, because there's something in the wording, or the magic of that moment, or the energy, or something, that I wish I had captured. For future reference. Like finishing up details of a proposal before it's due.

So yes. This has been a strangely valuable lesson. Even if it reminds me, every time I log in, of that Ray Bradbury quote: "You must write every single day of your life... You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads..."



Still Posting?

Hi All,

I thought we were done with the posting last week.

Well, since you're all still here, I should take advantage and post a few comments/questions about the research proposal process.

1) Is anyone getting completely carried away with the "Background" portion? I have read a few posts from people who are feeling luke-warm about their projects, and I have to say that there is one advantage to that, and that is that you aren't consumed by intemperate enthusiasm. I feel very strongly about my subject, and am having a very hard time controlling my exuberance. When it comes down to actually explaining how I'm going to pull it off on the other hand, well, I'm a bit out to lunch.

2) How much of a lit-review is the mini-lit review supposed to be, exactly? In proposals I have had to submit in the past, the lit-review portion of the proposal was little more than a list of the things we intended to read and review, but I get the sense that here we need more. But how much more? Currently I am managing this issue by breaking the lit into camps, providing a list of readings in each camp and discussing why being well-versed in each area is important to the research, but not really going into further detail than that.

Now that I've posted these, I can at least refer to them in our workshop tomorrow, and as an added bonus anyone who reads this can be comforted by the whole "misery [or at least, befuddlement] loves company" principle.

Final Thoughts...

I'm actually kind of happy with my topic and the way my research proposal is turning out. I changed the topic almost completely from the SSHRC proposal and I think I made the right choice.
Maybe I'm not as panicked about it because I have no intention of doing this research?? But then again, that could mean I'm glossing over some pretty big holes... but let's not think about that.. ^_^

Maybe I shouldn't say this but for the first few weeks I really did not want to write this blog. I didn't think I had anything to add and I wasn't convinced that it would help me at all. Was I ever wrong. In the course of writing my research proposal I've come back to this blog maybe 2 or 3 times to look at what I said about a certain reading or concept. In all of those instances I was able to incorporate my blog post into my paper!

That was a great lesson to learn and if I'm organized enough I might start keeping a journal/blog for all of my courses, but that's a pretty big if.

Good luck on your proposals! And enjoy your holidays, when we finally get to them!

Saturday, December 4, 2010


This, right here, is the moment that I start to wonder if that *other*, really cool idea, that I've sort-of-had-in-the-back-of-my-mind-since-October ... is actually way cooler than my current idea.

Oh proposals. As some of the class know, SSHRC is a bit of a pain, and our proposals are only now just going to SGS, and then may eventually make it to SSHRC proper... and we don't get to know if we've made it or not for months. I guess this is all part of the learning experience... I know most academics apply for grants and then sit with fingers crossed as they wait- heck, most governments and not-for-profits work the same way too. But there is something in the waiting that makes you want to second guess every bloody bit of what you've decided on.

Nervous doesn't begin to describe it. Some of you have been talking about how anxious you are-- and it's funny, because I know I shouldn't be: I know this topic. But getting that across to someone... that is an entirely different can of worms. And I'm nervous that I'm not saying it properly, or writing it right, or phrasing it well, or whatever. My concerns aren't really the method, or the topic... but rather with the selling of the whole thing.

I have issues 'selling' something. It's like when you write a cover letter for a job- isn't it rather awkward to explain how you're better than other candidates, even when you *know* you bring something important to the job? I suppose I could psychoanalyze myself and say it's because I've got 5 brothers and sisters and oh, you toot your horn at your own expense in big families like that. But I feel the same with the proposal, and it's worse when it's in third person, because then it feels like I'm trying to make it "more important" or valid or weighty or something. Reasons to cite Latour, I suppose.

Is anyone else still hitting the "maybe this idea isn't so fabulous after all" moment? And if the lit review isn't making you think "wow"... where do you go from there?

After the panic attack...

Ever look at something you've written, truly despise it and erase almost all of it in a fit of rage, anger and frustration??

Well, that was me at about 6 pm last night. I actually got rid of most of what I had written in my proposal, keeping only the bare bones. I have never been more frustrated with a paper since maybe my very last English paper in undergrad...and even then it was more about the subjectivity of the marking then the writing of the paper itself. I always strive to be a perfectionist in my writing and maybe that is what is frustrating me the most right now...

So last night, after I erased the majority of the research proposal in a fit of insanity and panic, I resigned to stop looking at it! I closed my computer and decided that I would not look at it until today....

well it is today...

...I'm still worried, but also in a strange way refreshed and energized. I've decided to change my proposal slightly and hope that with the new adjustments I'll be raring to go!

In my SSHRC proposal I proposed to critically examine the effectiveness of librarians in
three patient libraries in Toronto, Ontario, which are slated to lose their public

I gave myself 5 research objectives:

(a) examine the current patient libraries;
(b) determine the importance of having a full-time librarian on staff at each hospital;
(c) explore the benefits a patient library will have on patients, their families and the
hospitals as a whole;
(d) establish the challenges that staff and patients face should the libraries be
downsized or closed;
(e) explore alternative ways the city?s main library system can continue to fund patient
libraries so that they may have a librarian on staff.

I've decided to revamp these objectives into research questions as described by Knight, p 10 to aid with the literature review:

a) What are patient libraries?
b) What are the benefits of a patient library on patients?
c) Why are librarians important to patient hospitals?
d) What are the challenges facing patient hospitals, their staff and the patients?
e) What alternatives to downsizing or closing a patient library can be implemented by the hospital, city and province?

Okay...I think I'm on the right track!

...I need a coffee!


"I have CDO: It's like OCD...only the letters are in alphabetical order they should be!"

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Ruminations Part 3 - valid invalid?

I keep worrying that my research won't be considered internally valid, let alone externally (actually I'm pretty sure that's no on the external). I keep trying to think of all the angles and research-y ways that I could make it more internally valid but its turning into a monster! Even if I was doing a thesis there is no feasible way I could do this on my own within say a year, I'd need like five or a large staff. I'm begining to wonder if the entire topic isn't just to big, or if I'm making it to big because I want to go off into the wilderness and explore this one area that everyone seems to be ignoring, maybe there was a reason for this ignoring in the first place, or not and I'm just making this bigger than it needs to be because that just what I do.
Brain work now!!!!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Taking a break to blog

Well i am currently surrounded by a pile of books...literally! I am sitting on the floor with books ALL around me!! It is scary and yet strangely comforting...

I am currently in the process of detailing my mini-literature review of the book sources I have chosen and will be tackling the
online journal and article sources tomorrow or Friday. I must say, while this proposal can be difficult at times, the hardest part for me is using APA formatting. I know...weird right??

I think it stems from my undergrad. I never liked the imbedded citations and once I was a history major, we were not to use APA style, but rather Chicago or MLA. Once I began using footnotes, I was hooked! I like the way my paper looks with footnotes, I like writing footnotes, I like how clean and easy to read the paper is, but alas!

I have to keep stopping myself from entering footnotes when I am writing this proposal, and write the works cited in their proper format...

*sigh* anyone else feel the same way??? or is simply exclusive to me?

Happy December 1st!!


"I have CDO: It's like OCD...only the letters are in alphabetical order they should be!"

Ruminations Part 3

Going over my notes as I begin to map out my research proposal I soon realized that I am apparently engaging a form of historical-comparative model. I say a form because I'm not sure if I'm following Luker exactly in her explanation on the subject, but considering my question/thesis (in this case they are practically one and the same) its largely dependent on examining past events in relation to present events and assessing the variables, and here I thought I'd be struggling to come up with a method. So let that be a lesson to all of you go over your notes again you'd be supprised at what you've forgotten.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ruminations Part 2

I found this week’s guest speaker (who’s name I now regretfully forget) to be extremely helpful in clarifying my thinking and giving me some not previously even considered information, when it comes to the interviews I plan to propose. I had already decided to talk/interview a selection of “experts” or as he referred to “elite interviews” but I hadn’t even considered that they too would have a set of rules and guidelines that you were expected to follow. I had simply assumed that because they would be interviews with professionals, who were over the age of majority and not in a vulnerable group, that there wouldn’t be any guidelines when dealing with them other than the obvious disclosure of what I was doing and that I’d like to interview them with regard to my research.

I have also been thinking about my subject matter, what kind of reactions will my line of questioning provoke. Admittedly my topic is, probably, not capable of triggering a violent or extreme emotional reaction I do recognise that my topic has the potential for making people a bit hot under the collar. Although in my case, I think it might end up being beneficial to my paper but I suppose I’ll have to see.

I also started to think about doing peer or unelite interviews, I had originally wanted to do a snowball effect method but I think because I am looking for opinions and experience this might not be that effective since it won’t be a random enough sample. Meaning that if I rely on a word of mouth recruitment I might only be getting a sample from one pool in which they all might have similar opinions or opinions so I’m going to have to rethinking how I’m going to get my sample. Or maybe I might not suggest doing a random sample opinion poll I don’t know. I need to think about it more.

Fallen behind in blogs

You know when you focus so much on the essays, the analysis papers, the mini-exams, and the group work....and you forget about your participation mark? Well that is what has happened to me this semester. It has been a tough semester for me both personally and academically, and while that is no excuse for my poor blogging and what will surely be a poor participation grade, I extend that my lack of posting is not because of the course.

As such, I will now be giving a daily dose of Christie!! (Meaning, a daily blog about my progress and my struggles with the research proposal.)

My research proposal builds on my SSHRC mock proposal; patient libraries as useful and necessary in hospital environments, and asks the question "are librarians needed in a patient library?" My research proposal builds on former research. Patient libraries have been around for centuries and have been proven to aid in rehabilitation. However, while this research was good for the shortened SSHRC proposal, I have had to expand on the topic for the purposes of this assignment. Not only will I now build on former research detailing why patient libraries are necessary in hospitals for rehabilitation purposes, I will be researching if the traditional patient library should be upgraded to a digitized "library" (books, stories on iPads, Kindles and their equivalents; portable laptops with wireless connection to take into patient rooms etc.)

Since I argued that librarians are vital in patient libraries in my SSHRC mock proposal, I will build them into the new research questions as well by questioning if they would be more as beneficial to a new "digitized" patient library as they are in the traditional one.

All in all, this proposal is extending and I feel that if I'm not careful I'm going to go off-track.

I will be looking closely into the materials provided by Dean Sharpe over the next few days as I am feeling slightly overwhelmed by this assignment. I am currently sifting through the guidelines on key informant interviews ( I find that recognizing the "degree to which individuals are in the public eye," and their "Degree of vulnerability" in a public personality to be of particular interest. Many of the interviewees that I feel are necessary to interview for this proposal would be the Toronto Public Library City Librarian, and several key employees of the hospital boards. a lot of work to do!


"I have CDO: It's like OCD...only the letters are in alphabetical order they should be!"


Knight’s Chapter 7 provides useful advice for issues that can arise when performing research. These he categorized into three areas; pragmatics, data collection and disclosure. Within each case, Knight addresses situations and incidents that I wouldn’t have even considered possible to occur. Simple things like bringing spare batteries are often overlooked. Therefore, Knight raises the importance of always planning ahead and attempting to consider and prepare for situations from all perspectives.

In addition, I found his 9 responses to mishaps of great use (p. 162). Often, if caught off guard and not planning for every situation, researchers (especially those lacking experience) may fail to solve problems (on the spot) that arise. Nevertheless, in his 4th solution, “an intervention is compromised,” links appear to exist with our per review assignment. We were required to spot the issues with research papers (Yes it seems to be normal that papers can’t be perfect). Researchers may fret that if variables are accidentally not controlled all their work fails. However, such papers are necessary to spark ideas and further knowledge in a particular field of study. We learn from the past and our (or others) mistakes. Overall, Knight seems to instil the notion that ‘practice makes perfect’. For us (or anyone) to become a good researcher, we need to gain experience to be diligent and thoughtful of all issues that may arise when performing research.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The ethics of asking for disclosure

Since we did some reading on ethics this week, I've been thinking about some of the "ethics" of the methodologies I am proposing. None of them are unethical, really, so don't misunderstand me. But I do have the suspicion that my research could be seriously hindered by the necessity that I stick to all these pesky ethics rules.  It would be easier if we could all just be sneaky information detectives. I doubt that I'll be able to "build relationships" with market researchers, as Knight suggests, who seem to keep their cards pretty close to their chest and probably won't sit me down and explain to me exactly how they go about socially sorting their customer base. As Knight talks about "disclosure and harm", I realize that it's not the typical "disclosure" problems he lists that will be a problem for me, but rather an institutional problem. I've been thinking about this a lot lately because the "disclosure" issue will definitely prevent me from getting data in the way that would be most direct.

Knight’s chapter 7 is the exact sort of chapter that I know would be very helpful should I one day actually do a research project. The box he includes on pages 162 and 163 would be quite helpful if faced with any of these problems or even when considering how to deal with potential problem later on. Reading this chapter finally allowed me to figure out how I use and will continue to use Knight and Luker. Luker was very helpful in coming up with an idea for a project and working through its beginning stages. However Knight will really be useful when starting the project and dealing with the more pragmatic aspects of the project. Having these two very different sources therefore will be extremely helpful.

Once again ...

I think my thoughts about this past week's readings are similar to what a few of you have posted about. In reading Knight Ch. 5 this sentence immediately popped up: "This chapter reinstates the concern with mindfulness and gives guidance on putting methods together to design a study that is fit for the research purpose." (114). I must admit that I was so happy to read this as I frantically try to piece together my research proposal. I think one of my biggest obstacles is that I am not really doing this project. If I was I would be constantly thinking about it, and ideas would be popping up all over the place. Instead, I only tend to think about it when I sit down purposely to work on the proposal. When i do try to work on it (especially my exact methodology which will never actually happen) I feel overwhelmed. Knight's summary of research methods is no nonesense, to-the-point and helpful ... just what I needed!

Strange thinking?

In thinking about ethics this week, I can't help but think about how many details you need to be concerned about when dealing with humans (or animals). How much easier, I thought, would it be just to study things?
And then I thought, well, there must be a good reason to study people.
And I started to think.
Isn't it odd that we can make claims (like Luker does) that we don't know what we're thinking until we write it down? It seems to me to be a common trend in academia, that we don't consider something properly thought-through until it's been committed to paper (well, computer. whatever). We may defend papers orally, and present in front of groups, but what we're presenting/defending are already written down. If we're so good with that, and uncomfortable speaking without reference to written work, how strange is it that we're so comfortable interviewing people, doing focus groups, and observing behaviour... without giving our "subjects" time to prepare? I've had discussions with people who are doing follow-up interviews with people following a workshop or some other initial-contact thing, and they truly expect different responses the second time-- and the implication is always there that the second time around, the information is somehow less valuable.
I can't help but think that there's an odd sort of thinking that goes on if we can expect more "honest" or "true" (note the lack of the capital 'T') or whatever it is we're going after by not allowing people to prepare, and then refuse to follow this up with our own 'unprepared' dialogue with each other.
Is our dependence on written work a product of this age, where we can go back and "check the facts"? Is our fascination with making sure the people we study aren't really prepared themselves a left over nod to Socrates?
We've talked a little bit about rhetoric in class, and I think at least a couple people have some actual background in this field. I don't. It's not even something that was remotely discussed in my undergrad- in science, everything comes down to the numbers, and the numbers are written down. End of story. Has this sort of "validated" scientific-method had such an effect on other disciplines that we are truly not comfortable talking - off the cuff - among our peers, but not enough of an effect to make us think that we're not missing out if we allow people to prep in our own studies?
I'm not sure I'm articulating this very well (in fact, I'm pretty sure I'm not).
But I'm struck with the idea that there's something... contradictory in that set-up. Strange.


While my research does involve human communication and interaction, I never thought of my research as intrusive or possibly harmful to the research subjects. But, when reading the U of T's Research Ethics Manual, something stuck out to me that made me change my mind:

"Persons may not be treated solely as a means to an end, because doing so fails to respect their intrinsic human dignity and thus impoverishes all of humanity."

Students who have not done extensive human research before, like me, might fall into the trap of using a human research subject the way we use textbooks. We take the valuable information we need and toss the book aside.

If I follow through with this research proposal, I'm going to make sure I do not make that mistake.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Saved by my readings....

Reading Knight's chapter this week was definitely helpful. I have been so excited about writing my proposal that I might have overlooked the "human" component of my research question. My research is focused on health and people and while the health part seems to be straight forward, the people part isn't so easy. Before reading Knight, I never considered how sensitive people might be health, specifically illnesses, especially if they might have lost a family member etc. Individual sensitivities in research are so important that a special ethics code exists when researchers use people in their research. With a science background, people have always appeared as numbers to me in the form of data. However, now approaching my research from a social science perspective, I, as a researcher need to learn to be more sensitive towards my study participants. Reading Knight this week definitely saved me from making a critical error in my proposal.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

It's all downhill from here!

As my fellow bloggers posted, Luker’s Chapter 7 “Getting Down to the Nitty-Gritty” provides a useful ‘Big Picture’ of performing research using the salsa-dancing method. [Although at times, throughout the semester, the readings may have felt insignificant focusing on a broad range of research methods (and its various components), Knight’s and Luker’s books are all in all useful and comprehensive tools for learning about researching.] As usual, it is always nice to have a summary (instead of a whole book) to sum up ideas. This chapter nicely outlines, like solutions in a math equation, the steps in using the ‘salsa method’. It becomes quite evident the step that I am at for the final assignment within this course and the things that I still need to accomplish. However, as useful as this seems, I cannot help but feel overwhelmed about whether my paper will turn out the way I want it to. This feeling becomes worse as I realize its crunch time! Nevertheless, Luker assures that “when anxiety rears its ugly little head, start practicing telling the difference between useful anxiety (‘Look out! There are problems!”) from false anxiety (“No one has ever done this exactly this way before”) (154). As much as this seems encouraging, I can’t help but have my gut speak that it is the latter anxiety

Good luck to all! (at least I know that I am not the only one out there)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thank Goodness for Relevant Readings

Although initially intimidated by the number of readings for this week, it was in the end a pleasure to read them. A common trend that I have noticed in first-year courses at the iSchool is a disconnect between the expectations of students as outlined in assignments and the rather tangential ways in which the assigned readings relate to them. Not so in Research Methods, and especially in reference to last week's (see my entry on Hine and Orgad) and this week's readings. In particular, Luker's step-by step walkthrough of constructing a research project in chapter 7, and Knight's table of research methods combined with the concept of combining methods like pigments to produce particular results (Chapter 5) have direct application to assignment 4. It is refreshing to be handed a set of tools that have clear utility in completing a course's deliverables, and it is great to get a wider view of constructing a research project from both Luker and Knight at a time when we all need it.

Scope and Interpretation of Internet Ethnography

Apologies for the late (late!) posting.

Last week's (i.e., Nov 15th) readings from internet inquiry, written by Christine Hine and Shani Orgad, respectively, were notably relevant to my peer review of Deborah Wheeler's “Information (without) Revolution? Ethnography and the Study of New Media Enabled Change in the Middle East” - I sure do wish I had read them ahead of my review! In my review I criticized Wheeler for how she both explicitly and implicitly set her study's boundaries (which Hine touches on in relation to ethnographies involving the internet) and more specifically I took issue with Wheeler's unjustified choice not to involve herself with online aspects of the culture she was studying (a choice all internet ethnographers must consider and which Orgad talks about at length). To a certain extent reading Hine's and Orgad's pieces simply added their voices to the common assertions I was reading in other sources, namely that most ethnographic study in media-saturated cultures requires that attention be paid to online contexts and that in general all ethnographic study relating to internet use should involve observation of/participation in online exchange. On the other hand, both articles go into deeper, more methodologically-based rationales for these opinions, and Orgad in particular provided more in-depth consideration of what factors contributed to choosing a blend of online and offline data, as well as how these data should be considered in relation to each other.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Narrative Research, Seniors, and all of *those* stories

I couldn't help but think of all of my own interests in research this week when reading the article
Narrative Research: A Comparison of Two Restorying Data Analysis Approaches. I have been working with seniors for the last number of years, and hearing their stories was one of the biggest highlights of my job. It was also the highlight of many of their days-- and often made appointments go way, way over their allotted time.
It also made me wonder- the stories the authors use (and most of the discussion of the article allude to the same) relate to made-up stories-- where does that leave the semi-made up or creatively-remembered stories so commonly told within families? So many families have 'lineage stories' and the like- which have been filtered, sometimes, through many generations. How much of the 'restorying' has already been done for you, when you are hearing something that has been filtered and changed and reprocessed through members of the family and retellings in family gatherings?

The Friends of Veterans Canada has been advertising their campaign to tape veterans' stories. What a fascinating collection that will be.
With options like that-- how could you not want to be involved in narrative research?

Reading "open-heartedly"

This week I was struck by Luker’s comment, “I spent lots of years forbidding myself to read things that my heart wanted me to read, because it ‘wasn’t relevant.’…I’m trying to teach you a new practice (how to read open-heartedly, at a new level of generality, by making a list of the elements of your inquiry), while leaving behind an old practice (reading in a mechanical way everything that either your adviser or Google tells you might be relevant), while situating both of them in a historical, social, and yes, political context” (p. 133-134). I personally found this to be true when doing research in the past, but often needed a reminder that just because something didn’t seem “relevant” at first glance didn’t mean that it wouldn’t end up being quite important. Some of the most important articles and books I found for my past research were ones that might not have immediately seemed relevant—fortunately my adviser encouraged me to read anything that struck me as interesting. Reading Luker this week reinforced this idea and hopefully will be able to keep this in mind as I do research in the future because as Luker explains it allows for more context, which is always helpful.

Coding data

I like that Luker calls the "exercise" at the end of chapter 10 "easy." It makes me feel additionally inadequate, as if my weekend of nonstop sleeping (seriously, I think I slept 20 hours this weekend) wasn't enough. My research involves some odd data collection, but the problem isn't so much that I don't know how to code the data -- I can't even process that problem yet -- but that I don't know how to get the data. I've been working on this for a while with the end project in mind, and I'm not really feeling any more capable than I do right now. This is one of those things that I'll have to account for but not do in the research proposal, and if I make some unfounded claim that I can code the data (using CAQDAS, etc.) that I don't yet know how I'm going to get, I think I'll be in trouble. I'm frustrated, troubled, and ready to sleep for another 10 hours.

Maybe some motivation?

Like Christina, I feel more motivated and inspired to work on this massive research paper after reading Luker's chapter 7, Getting Down to the Nitty Gritty.

She gave a great jump off point for getting through this massive research proposal. Even though she's been saying these things over and over throughout the book, it helped to have it written down in the step by step way that she did. I must admit I was feeling a bit overwhelmed before this chapter.

Since reading the chapter (on Thursday) I've defined some clear elements, defined my category, done some research on the elements individually and have even found ways that the elements interrelate.

Now it's just to start writing...

Saturday, November 20, 2010

spam spam spam

This past week I read "Detecting Spam in a Twitter Network" by Yardi et. al., which is unsual as I do not normally read supplementary readings. I was intrigued for two reasons.

1) Who isn't tired of receiving Viagara commercials or invites from [insert ethnicity here] girls ready for a good time. I wanted to learn more about how spam originates and ...

2) I wanted to take the opportunity to learn about Twitter.

I do not twitter, so am fairly unfamiliar with it. In relation to my post last week, I think keeping up with the latest online trends/ways to gather information is important. As a librarian, you may have patrons asking you about these social networking sites and their reliability. Librarians need to understand these phenomena and the challenges that may arise in conducting online research. It's no good having younger patrons thinking librarians are 'old' and that they don't know about cool things (as my little sister once accused me of :'( ...)

Their study of the #robotpickuplines hastag was really interesting. I will admit that I found following their research a little difficult as it was very number-oriented (I don't know much about algorithms) but I think this brought forward a positive aspect of their presentation. Yardi et. al provided a lot of great diagrams that helped me understand their numbers/research methods better. If used properly, this seems like a great strategy for presenting your work. I usually stay away from diagrams/visualizations and focus on descriptive text instead, but this article put a little reminder in the back of my brain. Visualizing your work might help people understand your work better and help reinforce its importance. How useful is your research, after all, if nobody understands what you're saying??

Friday, November 19, 2010

Going the distance....

I really enjoyed reading Luker’s chapter 7 as it helped me focus on my research project for this class but also forced me to re-examine my research methods. She explains 3 main ideas: 1. Figuring out what you think you know 2. Figuring out what you need to know and 3. Figuring out where to get it (p. 142-145). After doing some in depth research on my topic, I realized that I didn’t actually know as much as I thought I knew and that my research questions covers many fields; not just library science. This obviously caused problems as I had to re-educate myself on the topic. However this delay allowed me to determine what I needed to know to write an amazing proposal. On the other hand, the problem now is that I’ve narrowed my research question so much, that I am having difficulty locating sources. At the same time after reading Knight, I realized I might need to use a different approach….perhaps a “multi-method design” (p. 127) and my topic for the proposal covers not only the role of librarians and public libraries but also health research and government. Reading both articles allowed me to grasp a better understanding of how to best design my research method.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Yin and Yang of Research

Shani Orgad posed an interesting question in her article relating to qualitative internet research. This being “what does ‘the internet’ stand for in a particular context, for particular agents?” (34) In answering such a question, data must be obtained. Presently, two main types of sources exist, online and offline data. This combination is a phenomenon that is just recently emerging and has never been made in the research of older communication media (36). It is quite fascinating the potential that the internet has provided becoming a medium in our world. We are now able to view and study various dimensions of an entity from a perspective we would have never considered (i.e. before the creation of the internet).

I enjoyed the parallels that Orgad’s article had with Zimmer’s article about data (i.e. Facebook) being public. In the article, through access to profile data on Facebook, a “snapshot of an entire class over its 4 years in college, including supplementary information about where students lived on campus, makes it possible to pose diverse questions about the relationships between social networks, online and offline” (313). Although the article does address the frequent and raging issue of privacy, the potential of data to be gathered from two polar sources is like a balance of yin and yang (although this may be the extreme example). Both online and offline data can be viewed as outwardly contrary forces that are interconnected and interdependent in the world. In turn, each can give rise to the other. This raises the potential of the power instilled on a researcher to be able to access and utilize such a multitude of source and information. While this novice field can present challenges, the window of opportunity can present endless possibilities for research.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The final paper

After reading the previous post, I couldn't help but laugh...

...I have had a similar dream over and over again!!

It's crunch time!
As such it is also the time when every possible 5000 word paper is due within two days of each other. As such, I have had a recurring nightmare in which my research proposal (why librarians are vital to patient libraries) is in the starring role.

I dream up the most fabulous paper!! It has everything! Graphs, floor plans, citations galore! And then it happens: My perfect and almost completed proposal disappears...the computer crashes....and will not turn back on!

(You know you are stressed out when you have recurring nightmares of your computer crashing, or dreaming up your perfect thesis only to forget it in the morning.)

However, I thought it poignant to share this with you all, as funny enough, this "nightmare" of mine is listed in Knight's book in Box 7.1 pp. 162-163:

Pragmatic responses to nine common mishaps:

8. Your computer or web connection crashes: Sometimes I think that every student doing a small-scale study uses a computer programmed to crash the day before the report is due in. Anticipate the problem and know what you will do if it happens.

This might be a gentle reminder to all of us...that computers are only our friends until the day before an assignment is due!!!

My solution? I keep emailing myself EVERYTHING! Every little paragraph I add to a document I save and send it via email....

OCD much???


"I have CDO: It's like OCD...only the letters are in alphabetical order they should be!"

I just had to share...

Last night, or I suppose early morning, I had a dream about writing this paper! I was talking to someone about my research, I don’t remember who, and writing it down while I spoke. The person I was talking to thought it was brilliant and I thought what I was writing was brilliant. Seriously, you know those epiphany moments you can sometimes get when doing research or writing a paper and you can’t actually believe you thought of something so brilliant and your just so enormously pleased with yourself, well it was like that. So upon waking I sat up with the full intent of writing down all these brilliant dream induced ideas, but in the time it took for me to sit up and grab a pen and paper, something I always have by the bed for just such occasions, I managed to forget what I was writing/speaking about in the dream. I was so mad/upset with myself!

So my plan tonight is to go back into the dream and remember what I was talking about. I guess we’ll see if that works out.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Ad hoc boundaries, ethics, and other discussion inspired thoughts...

This probably won't be the most well laid out blog post, but thoughts and comments and questions from today's discussion in class keep swirling around in my head, so I figured better here where someone might expand and explain and comment than in my head where only I contribute.

We talked quite a bit about Hine's boundaries thing, and how some people are pro setting them beforehand and being relatively rigid about it, and some prefer a more negotiable approach. On either end, aren't there dangers? I'm not trying to play devil's advocate, but if you set them before you begin actual research, how can boundaries be any less than arbitrary? And if you 'renegotiate' to set them after... hello ad hoc boundary creation. Or a little more texas sharpshooting, please. How can you avoid BOTH criticisms in your work? Is being self-reflexive enough? And if not, which is the lesser of the two evils in the world of your peers?

We also talked about framing and validity. The point was raised that perhaps findings validate your method, but of course poor method = poor finding validity, and furthermore, sometimes the findings (most of the time, that is) are inconclusive, so what does that say about your method? But we moved into discussions of framing, and the suggestion was made that framing the question appropriately can make a set of findings more or less valid (this is where Brian's discussion of the trolling DIY conference presenter and his anti-hack-lab talk come in).
Can really fantastically well done framing make up for not-so-solid-and-fabulous-methodology?

Last but not least... we didn't really touch on this point, and maybe we won't ever, but Christina's discussion of stats- when they're valid, when they're not, etc. etc., certainly raised an issue I've had for a long time. Full disclosure: I love stats, and took a whack of stuff about stats in undergrad, and am still the obnoxious person in presentations who asks after people's alpha levels. But what gets me the most is that in all of my classes, as I came to better understand how much (and how very, very, very little) stats actually tell us, the more I came to realise how much faith people put into them. I'll never forget the quote written in to the front cover of my first stats class second-hand-text: "There are lies, there are damn lies, and then there are statistics." (which according to Wikipedia goes back to an article in Nature in Nov 26, 1885: :"A well-known lawyer, now a judge, once grouped witnesses into three classes: simple liars, damned liars, and experts." ).
In any case, when you're reporting your findings, and writing your lovely abstract... what are your responsibilities as an author and researcher, ethically? Do you assume no one will actually read your entire piece, and therefore make sure the abstract doesn't overstate? Do you avoid any mention of stats (specifically awkward "false stats") knowing how misleading they are to most of the population? In an abstract, when people read "88 % said ... ", I think it's fair to say many people will decontextualize (even without meaning to do so) and assume that applies to 88% of EVERYONE EVER RELATED TO THIS TOPIC. Of course people make this assumption- otherwise advertisers wouldn't use creepy true-ish "stats" like "9 out of 10 dentists" and "80% of Moms use". This may also be because of some of that discussion Mike and Rebecca had around rhetoric and numbers being "neutral".
So knowing all this-- where do your ethical responsibilities lie?
And given how many sensational news headings come from not-at-all-well-represented-studies (ridiculous things like "X Gives You Cancer!" (did you know there was conclusive proof? Me either), and "Fact: New Scientific Study Says X")... do you have a responsibility to try to minimize this potential misuse of your work?

Ruminations Part 1

Thinking on my research project, proposal, thing?, again and trying to puzzle a few things out in my head. The most pressing being that how do I make my researchy thing valid, do I even have to bother with that? Maybe not, but I’m thinking about it none the less since the whole issue of validity and truthiness keeps coming up. In my mind my project is as valid and truthy as possible because of the resources I intend to use and the research I intend to propose. I’ve expounded before on how I don’t really believe in an objective truth yet I find myself thinking in those absolutes and I can’t help thinking that I might be leading myself into a trap. They say good research is being able to think objectively where you fall short, or where people can poke big holes in your arguments yet I’m finding it hard keeping that in mind. Admittedly even the best research will fall under the knife of criticism for something, that seems to be rather the point after all, but in order to be considered good you have to think about these things ahead of time. So this is me trying to think about those things but not getting where I want to be. Of course at this point it might be more prudent to hash out my plan of attack, so to speak, before I start thinking about its weaknesses but whatever.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Like Mary mentioned I too have had people ask me why I’m taking Research Methods, as I haven’t yet decided if I’m going to do a thesis, but I too have found that the concepts we have been studying are very helpful in evaluating other articles.

Last week I spent a good deal of time working on an annotated bibliography for Foundations of Library and Information Science. My sources were varied in methodology, so having this overview of different methodologies was extremely helpful in examining the relevance and strength of the papers. It allowed me to rule out papers that were not going to be helpful based on methodology flaws. Then when it came time to review the papers, I felt like I was able to say things more substantial due to my understanding of research methods.

"Interpretive flexibility"

I actually really liked the Christine Hine chapter, which I think I did a disservice to by reading online. I like the idea that the chapter combines science and technology studies with ethnography. It's interesting to think that even a supposedly "concrete" issue like whether or not a bush pump works can be highly contextual based on what "role" the pump is playing in your life. I think a central point of the article is summed up in the idea that ethnography is thought of as a researcher studying social situations "on their own terms" yet highlighting the necessity of a "highly reflexive process" when writing. I suspect (although what do I know) that this reflexivity is one of the hardest things to come by as a researcher. In fact, when I was going through articles for my peer review, it was often one of the key things that seemed to be missing. Reflexivity is difficult even when  you're aware of the NEED to be reflexive, as I discovered last week while trying to work out the "assumptions" I'd made when designing my unified command centre for INF 1003. Assumptions are difficult identify, and to that end it seems very important to have another party involved-yet-distant from the process. Or at least I am finding that to be an important part of designing my research.

The internet and ethnography

I was intrigued by Hine's article about the internet and ethnography. Before reading her article, I never thought to use an ethnography approach when research online environments or the internet in general. As Hine states in her article, classic ethnography required the researcher going off into some distant location to study the people who live in it. I guess that researchers would have to be an active member in a group or online chat in order to understand the dynamics. This type of research method could serve to be more beneficial as more research can be conducted without actually visiting these far off places.

Research Methods...?

I had an interesting experience this week that I thought I would share with everyone.

One of my friends was asking me about the different courses I was taking to obtain this degree. When I mentioned research methods they were very confused. Why would I need to take a class on research methods when a) I am not doing a thesis, and b) I am in the LIS stream. What do research methods have to do with being a librarian?

My perception is that understanding research methods, their strengths and weaknesses, is important for collection development. Before you add a resource to your library, you want to ensure that it contains research that is valid and reliable. Understanding research methods allows you to evaluate these sources. Also, it is important to have this knowledge if you will be working directly with students at a library. You would want to point them out to the best resources, which are those with the excellent research. You should be able to explain the differences to them, or if they ask why a source is good be able to identify its research methods.

Personally, ever since I have learned about research methods I have been questioning the methodology of academic work more often. I explained all of this to my friend, and she then understood why this was an important class. I thought it was great that she asked, because it was not something I had considered before. A basic question, but an important one!

Online Bodies.

After I finished reading Taylor's paper Life in Virtual Worlds I realized that I almost overlooked an important aspect in for my research - plural existence.

I always thought the differences between online self and offline self could only exist where there was an avatar in place. For example, on Habbo Hotel, my avatar's name was Zidla and looked nothing like me. But, now I'm wondering if plural existence can be if the online self representation is the same as the offline representation (ex. a vlogger who films himself doing everyday things).

Even though the vlogger is filming his everyday life, he still has to decide what to edit out and what to keep. It may very well be that the parts he chooses to include construct a different version of who he actually is.

This seems really obvious now but I think I didn't pick up on this possibility before because the difference between online self and offline self is much more recognizable with the aid of an avatar. For example, this was me on HabboHotel, 5 years ago.
Very different from the real me, I'd say.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thoughts on Case Studies...

Yin states in his article that “Everything is always, in the end, a case study” (673). As fallible as this statement may be at first glance, it is interesting to view the world through this perspective. In a way, are we not always performing our own internal ‘case studies’ as we truck through our lives and encounter our numerous obstacles and speed bumps? For instance, when we argue with our significant others over the phone and hang up on them, do we not often wait for them to call back to test their commitment (ie. to see if they love you enough to look past silly arguments and actions?) and thus the relationship as a whole? Therefore, we perform our own in-depth investigation and the results we obtain we record in our own thoughts for future consideration. As much as this real-life example appears to go off tangent with ‘research methods’ (not providing all the qualitative and quantitative mambo-jumbo that we are encouraged to utilize) it starts to become obvious how many parallels exist with case studies and life. Maybe in reality everything IS ALWAYS a case study?

In addition, something else that really caught my attention in Yin’s article was that the researcher chose, instead of providing just the findings, the reasoning (i.e. the “why” and “how”) behind utilizing a case study. This seems to be an interesting approach that maybe others should also choose to adopt. It is appealing to read a research article with a glimpse into the thought process of the decisions they chose to make. Through this we gain our own insight from the findings they provide and also a different lens to peer through. Therefore, we are provided with two paths; our own understandings and the original thoughts through the ‘eye of the beholder’ (i.e. the researcher).

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Maybe a case study?

One of the comments on my mock SSHRC proposal was that my research question was interesting but too broad and I thought "oh great, now I'll have to change it for the final assignment". But, after listening in class and reading Yin's article I think I've found a way to narrow my scope without changing directions completely -- a case study!

As Yin described, a case study can be done using qualitative and quantitative data, which is exactly how I wanted to attack my research question.

So this is what I'm thinking... have any of you heard of vlogs? They're basically video-blogs. There is a guy on YouTube named Shay Carl who has been making a vlog every single day for a year and a half and he has quite a following.

Because of these daily vlogs I could do a case study on his life without actually meeting the guy.

This is all really rough and still churning in my head, but I'm getting excited!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Problems with coding.

So as I was reading Yin's article on case studies, it occurred to me that the discourse analysis I just peer reviewed is possibly a case study in that they attempt to examine "a contemporary phenomenon in its real-life context, especially when... the boundaries between the phenomenon and its context are not clearly evident" (59).Yin's article also mentions the case study which required field workers to "code" quantitative data into 202 categories (sounds labour-intensive), and this issue of "counting and coding" (more generally, I guess, just coding) also came up in the discourse analysis paper. Producing "coding" categories has to be tricky, because, as Yin says, those producing the categories often come up with too many categories to account for every detail, but I'd say researchers might also run the risk of producing too few categories and overgeneralizing. "Coding" seems to be an odd thing to do when you have very few categories, as they did in the discourse analysis paper. (I actually didn't really write about this in my peer review, but it occurs to me now that I've read the Yin article.) Their categories seemed entirely obvious -- support, opposition, neutral  -- and therefore the "coding" seemed a bit unnecessary. Perhaps if they'd included more examples of "problem" categories it would've seemed more "complete."

Rose coloured glasses. Or something like that.

Sometimes I feel like I was ruined in those philosophy logic classes they forced on us in high school and undergrad. I spent all of my time reading the article going (as I always do now) "really? What premise was that based on?". My roommate (whenever we're watching TV or reading billboard signs) always asks "what? Did they cite that? What sources are they using?", and we both always comment about how those stats aren't really saying that, but my own contribution centres around how that the premise is faulty (or, my personal favourite: "that's a Texas sharpshooter fallacy"). Sometimes I wonder how anyone ever watches TV with us anymore.

When writing the peer review paper, that's all I could think about. Even when they laid out their assumptions, I kept stumbling across other ones buried in the analysis that made me stop and think "what? What premise is that based on??". Hopefully I tied the questions into the whole 'hey-we're supposed to be talking about the research methods' part of the paper.

Makes me wonder, sometimes, though. There are all kinds of things we're trained to do, to the point that they become second nature and entirely automatic. Sometimes I'm afraid to take theoretical classes (like research methods) for fear that I will add yet another reason my family wishes I'd keep my mouth shut while home for the holidays.

I already point my toes when I jump over puddles. I already think to myself that it's "me" sometimes, and "I" other times, and it's ALWAYS the other person before you. I already wonder about if they're fooling anyone with those totally ridiculous "statistics" which don't actually say anything. And I already ask, far too often, what that argument is based on. If these are filters through which I see the world, then I'm far past "rose" and into full on "burgandy" by now.

Ethnography and New Media Studies to the Rescue!

Hi everyone,

Surprise! I'm blogging about the peer review. Good for you Laura, for taking advantage of this pedagogical experience. I took the other route, and chose the "ethnography" paper, given that we've been talking about ethnography in INF1001 as well this year. I'm actually pretty surprised that no one else who's blogged yet chose to do the same (or at least not that I can tell). Therefore, my only real contribution this week may not interest anyone, but here it is anyways:

"Useful resources: ethnography through the internet" by Giampietro Gobo and Andrea Diotti.

The name pretty much says it all; it's a list (comprehensive or not, I'm not qualified to say) of various journals, archives, famous speeches/interviews, newsletters, and whathaveyou, for doing ethnography through the internet. Not ethnography OF the internet, mind you.

And as a closing remark, I'd like to implore everyone to respect the humble hyphen. As Wheeler's article title (as well as the rest of her article) demonstrates, the hyphen is important. "Ethnography and the Study of New Media-Enabled Change in the Middle East" is clearly a paper about change enabled by new media. What Wheeler actually wrote, "Ethnography and the Study of New Media Enabled Change in the Middle East", reads like a newspaper headline announcing how by the miraculous powers of the academic fields of Ethnography and the Study of New Media, political reform has been brought to the Middle East. Just saying, if it's a character on your phone's slide-out keyboard, it must be important.

Peer Review

For the peer review, I purposely picked a paper that was outside my comfort zone, one focused on data (Danaher et al.). As I’ve said before, I’m more comfortable with the discourse analysis we discussed last week, but I decided I’d see how an article was written that was based on data. Plus the Danaher article was about television piracy, so I thought the subject matter would be at least mildly interesting.

The article was interesting enough to read, and did expose me to ways in which to write up a study based on data. Incidentally, I have taken statistics classes (and actually enjoyed them), but I haven’t read many articles that analyzed data, so while I at least vaguely understood the data itself, the way it was discussed was new. So I think choosing an article that I typically would not choose because it focused on data was helpful. I still may not do this sort of research myself in the future, but if I ever do, now I have somewhere to start.

Not the only one ...

Alisha, I'm glad that I looked at your blog post before I decided to write. My thoughts are very similar to yours (paranoia-wise)!!

I'm just completing my peer-review (Bergman) and I must admit I am feeling slightly inadequate. That's mostly because, as I've mentioned a million times before, this is my first experience with social science research. Also, there are so many methods and so many little details that need to be remembered. I just feel like 8 (almost 9 now) weeks isn't enough time for me to "master" research methods. Then I think, well who am I to criticize this author when they have way more experience and knowledge that I do.

I had the same problem with the interview we did for INF1300. While I was giving the interview I felt like some kind of fake. It was especially bad because they had us interview a friend or family member and they knew that this was my first interview (ever) and even though I was acting like I knew what I was doing -- that I really didn't. These skills seem like something that really develops with time and experience. I hope that with time I will gain confidence in using these methods.

We're All Mad Here!

I think I’m going mad. Well madder, I guess. I find myself in constant fear of accidentally plagiarizing. The reason for this is that is these days I can never seem to remember who said what and where it was said. Honestly, all the class readings and personal research is just starting to run together to the point where I don’t know which way is up anymore. The worst of it is I can’t figure out which ones are my own original thoughts! I mean, obviously all my thoughts, original or not, are invariably influenced by something I’ve read, seen or heard but its getting harder and harder to tell where my collected research/readings stops and I begin. To the point that twice now I have been absolutely positive that I read a really great point in a particular article yet when I look over the notes and couldn’t find it, basically reread the whole article and still couldn’t find it, until I read that one little section that made me realize it was my own bloody idea! It was simply that article that made me think it in the first place! Then of course I have the obligatory moment of existential panic in which I begin to wonder is this really my idea then, if its drawing upon someone else conclusions, should I sight it as theirs?! Its mad I tell you!

Oh BTW, did anyone see this?

I read it an all I could think of is “I wonder what kind of research they used”.

Again madness.

Bulletproof your papers!

I think I have been so focused on finishing the peer review assignment that it has been consuming my mind! I looked at Barbara Bergman's paper for the assignment and was disappointed with her lack of data. After reading Robert Yin's article, I realized that the data we present as scholars must be "aggressive", if not our work will be criticized. This was the case with Bergman as her lacked validity as her chosen research method was weak. Her work would have been must stronger and her data more aggressive if she would have taken a quantitative approach and used more than one research method. This demonstrates how any work that is written by anyone truly needs to be "bulletproof" if not, it can come under heavy is the case with my review of Bergman's work.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Critical Discourse Analysis

Reading Teun A. van Dijk’s “Principles of critical discourse analysis” I was struck by the attention that the author paid to power relations. In my past experience with discourse analysis (finally, something I have experience with), I have found this focus on power relations to be pertinent.

The following quotation seemed to me to sum up the most important part of the relationship between discourse and power relations: “Critical scholars should not worry about the interests or perspectives of those in power, who are best placed to take care of their own interests anyway. Most male or white scholars have been shown to despise or discredit such partisanship, and thereby show how partisan they are in the first place, e.g. by ignoring, mitigating, excluding or denying inequality” (Dijk 253).

The idea that male scholars would “discredit such partisanship” is one that I personally found true in my own research. In undergrad, I spent a fair amount of time taking English classes in the women’s studies field and researching in the field. Frequently my male classmates (and once in a while male teachers) would claim that my research into the marginalization of female writers was not necessary--they claimed just as van Dijk explains in the above quotation that their was no inequality in the way women writers were treated throughout history. This attempt to ignore an existing inequality, in addition to their frequent attempts to discredit a field like women’s studies illustrates the author’s point about the importance of power relations and critical discourse analysis.

About research diaries ...

Happy Halloween :)

Just a quick thought on research diaries to end the week. After the class discussion this week, I have become uneasy with the thought of keeping a research diary. The example of the man who died, and whose diary was read and research subsequently reanalyzed really made me think. To me, this situation ruins the research. It is the author that becomes a research topic, rather than the actual work s/he did.

Knight on Reflective Inquiry, Image-Based Research Techniques

Knight's short discussion about reflective inquiry was interesting to me as a former literature student. I know that Knight, along with most of our other readings, are coming from the field of social sciences specifically, but it is interesting to me to think about the great extent to which certain fields within the arts, like English , are largely performed through what might be called reflective analysis (except in most undergrad courses where the ease of teaching fledgeling scholars some form of "new criticism" results in little to no secondary reading).

It would be interesting to take a close look at how funding affects the ways in which producing brand-new findings in the art vs the sciences. Sciences usually require a large budget, and stakeholders want to see where their money is going. Having original findings to justify a budget would be preferable in this case.

Finally, I also felt that Knight's treatment of image-based research was scant; considering that my research area is heavily concerned with using digital images as scholarly aids, I was excited when I saw the heading, but was quickly disappointed to read nothing that was relevant to my interests. All in all, considering how popular image-based research such as visualization techniques is getting, I expected much more coverage in this area.

Titles are for people who are creatively able

I actually thought the Knight material this week was a little slim, and the two articles (the artifact one and the critical discourse analysis one) were great supplements. (Is the Knight coverage of DA slim and the Luker coverage nonexistent because they privately think discourse analysis is unimportant?) I found it thoroughly amusing that discourse analysis is allegedly thought of so poorly in the social sciences (can this be true?), since it sounds much more manageable to me than field work of any kind. ("Field" work always conjures up images, in my mind, of strapping on your hiking boots for a three-week stay in the wilderness, struggling to figure out which plants can be used medicinally and which will kill you. No one here gets out alive, etc., but perhaps I am just lazy.)

Two thoughts about the readings this week: My first thought while reading Knight and then the Thomas (artifacts) article was how simply the criticisms she alleges are levelled against artifact analysis could be levelled agianst ethnography, focus groups, or any other research method we've talked about.  To this extent, I thought her assertion that research methods "only provide data that may be interpreted as reflecting [an individual's meaning-making-and-subsequent-application] processes" (685) to be an important recognition for any researcher seeking to de-legitimize discourse analysis or artifact studies.

[Insert personal anecdote: I was once part of a research study that combined interviews and focus groups. The researchers had sought out people in a "support group" setting who were dealing with a sensitive issue. Nearly every person interviewed and/or in the focus group told the researcher some combination of the "truth," what they thought the researcher wanted her to hear and what they thought presented themselves in the best light. I came away wondering what sort of research this could possibly produce, or if social science researchers were somehow trained to detect when a group of people are lying through their teeth. I was wondering if this is what Knight meant when he said that research participants might "fake good" (108). End anecdote.]

Although discourse analysis still requires the researcher to take into account the "positioning" (can't think of a better word) done by the subject/producer of the discourse/artifact/etc, the process of dealing with a "researcher" in any official way (being interviewed, being studied, etc.) is typically removed. This might eliminate some aspect of power-positioning that happens when people are faced with someone that looks/sounds/seems "authoritative." (This isn't to say the two are in any way equal, or that one can be a substitute for the other. It's just a different set of problems, I suppose.)

Second thought: Whereas "artifact study" might be a method of discourse analysis, critical discourse analysis doesn't seem like a "method" on its own. It seems that one might incorporate any number of discourse analysis "methods" to produce a critical discourse analysis? For example, it would be possible to incorporate image or artifact study or document analysis to produce a critical discourse analysis. This is probably totally obvious but by virtue of it having popped into my head it is being recorded here for all to see.

FINALLY: What are the rules around the ethics of discourse analysis? I'm thinking of the paper given to us for Assignment 3. I imagine that with a little bit of determination it would be pretty easy to find this Facebook group, presuming it still exists, and locate all of the people the authors were talking about. I don't think consent was mentioned in the article, and since the group is "public" perhaps it isn't necessary. I know this is only one particular kind of discourse analysis, but it kind of stood out to me.

Image-based Research

After reading Knight's article, I was shocked to see just how little he focused on image-based research. I was even more shocked to discover that he did not even mention artifact research as some students at the iSchool are in the Archives or Museum stream, where exhibits and research are drawn from images and artifacts. Although a History major myself, I never really saw the usefulness of images but after reading Thomas I began to understand the importance they could hold. Also, I believed that artifacts were limited to material that was found on archeological digs and didn't even consider using other cultural material for research, such as Thomas mentions TV shows etc. This type of research method would be valuable to use in order to strengthen your research and give the reader prime and current examples.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

People thinking about people

Sorry for the ramlyness and possible lack of sense, my brain short-circuited three days ago and the electrician hasn’t been in to fix it yet…

I found Thomas’ article to be wonderfully relevant for me as it dealt with the study of artifacts, which as a historian has always been my favourite method of study for obvious reasons. I found Thomas’s criticism of scholars like Mead - who assert that the study of artifacts is insufficient in studying human culture in comparison to ethnographic studies that measures behaviour - to be very pertinent as Thomas once more touches upon the recurring theme of this course, the issue of truthiness. Thomas specifically points out that the criticism by other scholars of the study of artifacts, in reference to them as reliable sources for attributing cultural meaning, is an issue of interpretation in relation to the data. Yet as Thomas astutely demonstrates all data regardless if its gathered from ethnographic studies or artifacts is subject to interpretation. A notion I have always personally believed; everything is subjective and in turn interpretive. As such it always makes me wonder why some people choose to attribute greater value to one method over another with the belief that it offers more objective results when it is the context, as Thomas says, which alters the value of the method.

Sometimes I think that interpretation or rather the lens/rules through which we interpret data is of greater importance than the method of its collection. To that end I’d like to share with you a quote by Douglas Adams from his Mostly Harmless that I found relevant … and I just thought it was funny and wanted to share.

“I know that astrology isn't a science,” said Gail. “Of course it isn't. It's just an arbitrary set of rules like chess or tennis or, what's the strange thing you British play?” “Er, cricket? Self-loathing?” “Parliamentary democracy.” The rules just kind of got there. They don't make any kind of sense except in terms of themselves. But when you start to exercise those rules, all sorts of processes start to happen and you start to find out all sorts of stuff about people. In astrology the rules happen to be about stars and planets, but they could be about ducks and drakes for all difference it would make. It's just a way thinking about a problem which lets the shape of that problem begin emerge. The more rules, the tinier the rules, the more arbitrary they are, the better. It's like throwing a handful of fine graphite dust on a piece of paper to see where the hidden indentations are. It lets you see the words that were written on the piece of the paper above it that's now been taken away and hidden. The graphite's not important. It's just the means of revealing their indentations. So you see, astrology's nothing to do with astronomy. It's just to do with people thinking about people...”

Monday, October 25, 2010

A descriptive science...

As a bear of very little brain I continue to be somewhat uncomfortable with ethnography. That's after having covered some aspect of it in almost all of my classes, mind you. Despite Luker's nod to Foucault and acknowledgement of doxa, etc., the notion of "field" research somehow rings a little false in my mind. (Although I will acknowledge the two assumptions I was making when reading this chapter: First, that "field" research meant human-human interaction. I was somewhat surprised when Luker mentioned her friend who was a primatologist doing ethnographic work with baboons. I think part of my discomfort with the notion of "field" research is that it seems a little bit like putting the human "other" in the zoo. I suppose that, of course, I could extrapolate that ethnography could include animals or any number of other environments, but I keep focussing on the human environments. Second, although Luker has made acknowledgements aplenty of the need for social scientists to be careful about exerting the "special kind of power" that social science has over readers/consumers of the research, I was encouraged by the Shaffir article which says that ethnography is meant to be descriptive, and "attempts to... diminish the subjective component" of that research are folly. Equally interesting is the expansion of ethnographic research to include the researcher's motivations for pursuing the study, which does seem to remove some of my concern about the possibility of privileging the account of the researcher at the expense of "the whole story." I'm an English student, and I guess my concern is that an ethnography runs the risk of reading like a good novel.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Content Analysis

Reading through Luker this week, I was pleased to see the section on content analysis. Finally after all these weeks, I see something that is a little more familiar and relevant to my project. I have a background in humanities, English and French specifically, so while I understand the experiments and interviews, they aren’t concepts that I’ve dealt with in this capacity before. Content analysis is more similar to what I would do when analyzing a novel or poem in undergrad and likely will play a part in research I do in the future. It’s comforting to know that there are options other than face-to-face research, which is not my cup of tea.

I though it was interesting to note that Luker says that content analysis has “a long and honorable history,” but has “fallen somewhat into disuse these days” (187). Despite her claim that it”can be useful for making points that are difficult to make in other ways,” she only spends a little over two pages discussing it. Whereas she devotes 6+ pages to focus groups, app. 13 pages on interviews, and 11 pages on participant observation. Her lack of attention to content analysis seems to reflect its state of disuse.

Ack... the joys (?) of volunteering as a guinea pig...

And every time I think I've got everything organized... something else comes up.
Writing the proposal for last week helped - made?- me focus on something. But as I mentioned in class, it's ridiculously difficult to decide how much of the 'method' is important to flesh out in the actual proposal. The more I talk with various profs and other thesis students, the more I figure this section is actually sort of critical (and yes, I know it's silly to think it isn't, but so little focus lands here when you're explaining things to people that it's also easy to just... not... think... about... it). In speaking with one just-finished thesis student, I learned that she had a "thesis group" to bounce her methods ideas (and fine-tunings) off of all the way through. No wonder. The number of issues that must come up... I imagine that even in the best case scenario, the kinks that develop would be almost heart-stopping.
How indeed do I anticipate problems with a methodology that hasn't even been published as such yet?


This week I have decided to post a short summary of what I found most interesting about sampling. Like most topics in this course, I had underestimated the complexity of sampling. It seemed so simple ... grab some random people and off you go! Wrong... One aspect of sampling that I found most interesting came from the Luker reading for this past week (Ch. 6 p. 100). That is, undertaking a huge (think national) sample is very expensive. As we know from our SSHRC proposals, research is highly dependent upon grants. Therefore money is often limited. I thought it was interesting that many projects choose to use already existing data on populations. By doing this, the research is forced to take on whatever bias accompanies a specific organization's data. Luker gives a great example of a survey which was so outdated it had only three options for race: white, black and other. I will not be conducting research on this scale, but I think it is some food for thought. Choosing to use an organization's existing data would be a very difficult decision, because it will set the foundation for the rest of your research and could make or break your project. Will this bring into question the validity of your results or the neutrality of your position as a researcher?

Happy Sunday,

Ethnographic Profiling

I believe a few others voiced this opinion in a different context, but I agree nonetheless that this week's readings really helped put work in other courses into perspective. As most of us know all too well, assignment 2 in INF1001 (due last week) was to analyze Susan Leigh Star's article "The Ethnography of Infrastructure" (American Behavioral Scientist, 43.3 (1999): 377-391). One of the questions that seemed to be coming up frequently among other INF1001 students I spoke to was "ok, so what exactly IS the ethnography of infrastructure?" Indeed, in Star's article it is very difficult to tell what her methodology really is, despite the fact that she suggests that methodology is the focus of her entire paper. It was nice to have readings this week that looked at ethnography from different angles, and especially to read Luker's distinction between full-fledged ethnography on the one side and participant observer on the other, to actually get a sense of how ethnography can be carried out, and, more importantly, in relation to Star's article at least, what constitutes doing ethnography and what doesn't.