Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Netnography, Virtual Worlds, and Tool Adoptions

Since the last class, I've been thinking a lot about my love for digital tools and whether I need to put my attitude about tool adopters vs. non-adopters in check. The best I can say is...maybe.

I didn't grow up around computers. I'm not a digital native. The first computer I owned arrived when I was a senior in high school, and I didn't get Internet service at home (dial-up) until after my Freshman year of college. My first laptop came after I graduated college. That was followed by a cell phone after I was married and a smartphone after I started my second career as a teacher. So technology hasn't always been a part of my life, but as I've experienced ways that it could make my life better and less complicated, I've embraced it. I'm pretty open-minded about playing with new tools, and if something doesn't work for me, I'm okay with abandoning it. The beauty of the digital playground is that there are always more toys.

So here's the issue for me: if tools exist to make the research process more efficient, transparent, and accessible, then why shouldn't they be widely used?

I appreciate that some people have found strategies that work for them and that tools may be difficult to learn, but I don't know if those reasons are good enough to warrant resistance. I think it comes down to a fundamental question of what is the purpose of research? If research is intended to be a primarily researcher-focused act--which it very well may be given that the researcher decides every aspect of the study--then the researcher should just use whatever works, digital or not. But if the purpose of research is to contribute more broadly to society and our understandings of the world or our fields of study, then I think digital tools are a necessary part of that. They allow closer and more verifiable examination of research, and they provide better data trails to assist novice researchers understand research practices. In this worldview, it seems selfish to resist using digital tools out of convenience.

I'm not saying that researchers have to learn and use every digital tool available. There are some that will be a better fit for the research and the researcher than others (I'm looking at you, EndNote...). But I don't think general ignorance of the tools or resistance to them is acceptable among those who want to do research professionally (i.e., academics). Tools are becoming more accessible and intuitive all the time, and even if a particular tool is rejected for one reason or another, researchers should at least consider them with an open mind.

So yeah, I guess I'm still on Team CAQDAS. Pretty passionately so...

Speaking of my CAQDAS passions, I was disappointed to see that the new Netnography book (Netnography: Redefined) isn't coming out until June. I've been having regular Amazon deliveries of books introduced through this class every Friday since the beginning of the semester. It will be weird not to race home on Friday to hide another package of qualitative research books before my husband sees it... I need to get better at reading nonfiction books on the Kindle...

I'll be curious to see how much of the Netnography book is actually "redefined." There are so many fascinating issues in the chapters we read that I can see applying to my own research of teacher bloggers. My research is going to examine experiences of bloggers and lurkers and see if there is any difference in how the quantify (with survey data) or account for (with interview data) their self-efficacy beliefs as teachers. I can imagine worlds in which aspects of Kozinets's four A's (adaptation, anonymity, accessibility, and archiving) could be relevant. For example, maybe adaptation differentiates those who blog vs. those who lurk. Maybe the bloggers are better able to adapt to the different types of technology involved in blogging. Anonymity is definitely an issue; teachers are highly public figures, so they have to be careful about any digital footprints they lead. Some will only blog or comment under pseudonyms while others are identifiable but careful about the types of information they share. Accessibility seems to be decreasing as an issue (and maybe the new book will speak to that since there are more recent Pew Internet Reports reflecting these trends). Archiving also factors in since everything is preserved on the many blogging platforms, and once something is published, it's hard to undo it. I want to explore more of the Netnography methodology to see exactly how it will fit into my research.

Finally, I enjoyed reading chunks of Holt's World of Warcraft dissertation. I didn't have a chance to read all of it, but it was interesting to learn about his research methodology. I think it would be incredibly challenging to research a MMORPG while immersed as a player. How do you juggle the research experience with the player experience? It seems like it would be hard to set playing goals such as getting to the raider/end-of-game level without letting that consume you or overshadow the research. But at the same time, I can't imagine any other way to study that culture. Similarly, I wondered about the possible ethical issues that could arise from having multiple identities (alts) within the game. It's definitely a possibility that is unique to the online world, and I wonder what issues that might present and how those are handled in the research. As always, there's a lot to consider.

1 comment:

  1. "So here's the issue for me: if tools exist to make the research process more efficient, transparent, and accessible, then why shouldn't they be widely used?" Well, some people would say this is a great research question, but that until there is evidence that they really DO (for everyone) then it's still an open question.

    "I was disappointed to see that the new Netnography book (Netnography: Redefined) isn't coming out until June." Oh, and I didn't even know one was in the works! Yay! Also take a look at this week's Google site for another recent publication on digital ethnography.