Saturday, February 28, 2009

Week 8, Ethnographies

What distinguishes ethnographies from case studies, how does triangulation impact data collection and analysis, and what must ethnographers do to ensure their work is both reliable and valid?
The ethnographies, unlike case studies, “examines entire environment, looking at subjects in context,” instead of only concentrating on the subjects. So, the “context” is the single most important factor in ethnographic research.
Triangulation gives validity and reliability to their work. Data collection has to be done from multiple perspecitives (using different methods) over a long period of time (repeatedly) to accurately identify and correlate the variables in the rich context and to offer a “thick description.” The collection of data through multiple methods gives validity to the work and the collection and analysis of those data by more than one observer-researcher makes it more reliable. The choice of the site and sample selection also affects validity (they have to be more representative to be generalizable).
Analysis of sample research studies
Purpose/Research Questions:
1. In a given non-academic setting, how are writers’ conceptions of rhetorical situation formulated over time and how are they affected by their perceptions of their social and organizational setting?
2. What are the social/organizational elements of writers’ composing processes and how do these elements influence those processes?
3. How do writing processes shape the organizational structure of an emerging organization?
So, the writer’s overall purpose of this research is to examine how contexts and writing processes in a nonacademic setting influence each other.
Subject/setting selection
Microware, Inc., an emerging organization. The writer makes a detailed study of the writing processes of Microware’s 1983 business plan.
Data Collection
Regular collection (three to five days a week) of data for eight months. He collected data from both formal and informal discussions. The data collection methods were 1) field notes, 2) tape-recorded meetings, 3) open-ended interviews, 4) discourse-based interviews
Data analysis
He established analytical categories and the properties of those categories and linked them to form the major theme and subtheme. (where is interrater reliability?)
The writer is careful enough not to make a sweeping generalization. His findings are:
a. Social and organizational contexts influence rhetorical contexts.
b. Rhetorical activity influences the company’s organizational structure.
However, the writer clearly says that this finding is provisional. He also suggests the necessity of further research.
Farina’s study is a good example of ethnographic research. His selection of setting helps him clearly demonstrate how writing also affects organizational structure. However, he is quite aware that his model may not totally apply to the more established organizations. His use of multiple methods of data collection over a long period of time gives validity and reliability to his work. One weakness, if it is so, is that he does not seem to involve other observers and analysts to create analytical categories to achieve reliability.
Research Questions:
How does the social roles of the (novice) writers affect their socialization process and their learning? How do writers handle transitions from one writing context to the other? The particular set of questions the writer raises is:
a. What differentiated simpler from more complex (and higher status) writing tasks?
b. What determined writers’ social roles in this particular community of practice?
c. What methods of socialization were used for writers new to this organization, and to what effect?
Subject/site selection
The site of study is Job Resources Center (JRC). The writer is studying writing in this non-profit ogramization located in the heart of an urban area. It offers trainings and English language classes to nonnative speakers. The writer concentrates on the learning processes of Pam and Ursula, newcomers to the o, organization from the academy (from universities ranked in the top 10).
Data Collection:
1. Weekly interviews with Pam and Ursula, audio-taping the conversation and photocopying all of the writing each did week to week, including drafts of texts and the subsequent revisions.
2. Observing client programs, talking to other staff members, and watching the activities going on like collaborative writing sessions, …
3. Interviewed the executive directors and more experienced writers both inside and outside JRC to get their perspectives on similar writing tasks.
Data Analysis
The writer studied her data iteratively to find out patterns and themes in relation to social roles of the writers within the discourse community of JRC. She operationalized the concept of discourse community in terms of its essential elements and used triangulation to assure validity.
The writer is aware that it is difficult to test reliability in her ethnographic study and the generalizability of her finding. However, towards the end of her essay, while talking about writing instruction, she seems to be making more generalized claim about the importance of collaboration and social context of writing.
Seventh graders’ science and social studies classroom at SMS, the only middle school in a big city. Most of the students were from economically disadvantaged families. The subjects were 30 students, teachers Jade, Audrie, and Sarah, and an adult community organizer. The writers also provides the racial and gender composition of the subject population. She defines her role as participant observer, though sometimes she would change her role.
Data collection
8 months period. The writer collected data from the whole class and the focus groups. (she chose two focus groups based on her rapport). Data collection methods were: a. field notes, b. audio- and video-tapings, c. transcriptions of them, d. participant interviews, e. the community surveys, f. speech drafts, g. other texts used for projects, h. students’ notes and journaling. The writer has triangulated her data very well though her selection of focus group may raise some problem.
Data Analysis
She develops two levels of analysis. The first level involves charting production, consumption, and distribution as articulation of the building project. The second level of analysis involves centripetal and centrifugal forces in writing.
The writer does not make a broader generalization and is aware of the limitations of her findings.
Problems: selecting those with whom she has good rapport.
Also, she fails to code the data well. Her categories like production, consumption, and distribution are not clear. So, methodologically flawed.
Carolyn Ellis
Her writing gave me a relief from numbers and charts of other readings of the week. We should not judge her writing from the framework used to analyze other research studies. Her autoethnography offers a different perspective to look at the events like September 11 other than the data oriented studies that hide or fail to account for the intensity of the suffering and pain undergone by the victims. The subject of her study fits well to the methodology of autoethnography.
Question: What about scholarship?
replication: methodologically, yes.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Sampling and Surveys

What are appropriate purposes for survey, how are subjects selected, how is data collected and analyzed, and what kinds of generalizations are possible?
Unlike case studies and ethnography, survey is intended to “obtain descriptive information about readily observed or recalled behavior of very large populations” instead of making an in-depth study of a phenomenon to identify certain variables. Survey done with random sampling can be used to “achieve representativeness of large population.” Its purpose is to reduce the cost and efforts in conducting research on large population and still obtain representativeness. The researcher has to determine the large population and the appropriate size of the sample population (subjects). Size of the sample has to be balanced (neither too big nor too small) to achieve both representativeness and not to lose the quality of the data. The best way to achieve representativeness is to use random sampling so that every member of the large population has equal chance to be selected in the sample.
In survey different data collection methods can be used from questionnaire to interviews, but careful attention is required in the construction of survey and questionnaire. They have to be clear and unambiguous. As far as possible, the tested methods in the field of research have to be used and if any new method or instrument is used, that has to be pretested, edited, and reviewed to establish its validity and reliability. The main consideration has to be given in the method’s capability of eliciting high response rate. After data is collected, the major variables of it are determined and tabulated in terms of nominal, interval, or rank order data. The researchers may also use the measures of central tendency or dispersion to analyze the data. The results of sampling survey are largely generalizable to the population (N). However, it is difficult to claim cause-effect relationship as this is a descriptive research. Overall, sampling and survey are important in making the study of large population manageable and representative as well. But the researcher needs to be careful in subject selection, selection of methods/instruments of data collection, and data analysis.
Let’s examine Blokzijl and Naeff’s research. They conclude that the result of the survey suggests to keep the PowerPoint presentation sober. They are careful enough not to make a sweeping generalization on students’ preference about PowerPoint presentation. However, the researchers could have taken a much larger population, (N) incorporating students with varying levels familiarity with technology. Their results do not become generalizable to or representative of any students other than the ones they studied. They do not define the large population and the proportion of sampling size with the large population. The five-scale point may have affected the result of the research as it has a tendency to draw the responses towards the center.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Case Studies

What are appropriate purposes of case studies, how are subjects selected, how is data collected and analysed, and what kinds of generalizations are possible?
Research designs have to be chosen in terms of the purpose of the research. Sometimes quantitative research will be more appropriate than qualitative research if the purpose is to identify the reasons behind certain problem and to make a generalization about on that phenomenon applicable to a larger population. However, in certain cases qualitative research designs can be more appropriate if the purpose is to make an in-depth study of a specific phenomenon and to investigate the variables affecting it. In the field of writing and communication where complex issues like writing process have to be studied, qualitative research designs become mostly unavoidable. Quantitative research can be a step after qualitative research identifies major variables.
Case study is a major kind of qualitative descriptive research. Its major purpose is to identify the variables affecting a certain phenomenon and to “investigate a few cases in great depth” (Farina). It tries to determine the key variables that are important to study a certain issue. In addition, it also studies the relationship between different variables, but the relationship is not that of cause and effect.
The subjects selection in case studies is quite different from quantitative research where subjects are selected through random sampling. But in case studies, a few subjects are selected to represent the major sections of the population to be studied. For instance, to study the composing process of the students (phenomenon), Emig selected eight “twelfth graders” from “a variety of types of schools: an all-white upper-middle-class suburban school, an all-black ghetto school, a racially mixed lower-middle-class school, an economically and racially mixed good school.” Graves chose eight students who were taken as “normal” by their instructors. So, what this shows is that, as a few subjects are selected in case studies, they have to be carefully chosen to best represent the phenomenon at hand.
According to the purpose of the research, data are differently collected and analyzed in case studies. The data collection methods can range from direct observation to protocol analysis, from interview to taking data from institutional records. After data is collected from different sources, the major task of its analysis is to identify the important variables. For this purpose, the researchers have to label and divide the data into different categories, which become the variables of the study. In addition, to maintain reliability, coding has to be done by more than one observers.
However, due to its focus on depth rather than on breadth, its results are not normally generalizable to a larger population. In other words, case studies enable the researchers to know “how some users act.” Its results can lead to further quantitative research. But even the case studies can at times provide generalizable results to some extent. For instance, in Janet Emig’s case, she has taken subjects from various backgrounds making her result generalizable to a reasonably larger population. Yet, since case studies do not have a broader data base as in quantitative research, its generalization is limited.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Week 5: Internet Research

First my personal feeling: I have found the regulations concerning research with human subjects really important. I was not aware at all about these provisions. This was first because I used to make research only on literary issues, and second I don’t know whether there are such provisions in my country about the research with human subjects in the humanities and social sciences.

Internet research provides both the unique opportunities for research with human subjects and the heightened possibility of the violation of the principles of privacy and confidentiality. It can make surveys less expensive, include diverse population, and maintain more anonymity than in normal research situation. However, as Curtis’s quote suggests there are several possibilities that the important personal and confidential information are manipulated and misused in internet environment. The information collected through emails can leak if the researcher does not make sure that the proper security provision is adopted. There are equally the possibilities that the information on the computer of the research subject can be accessed and monitored by family members or others. So, the researcher should clearly mention to the participants that it is the responsibility of the subjects to protect their information in their location.

One puzzling thing is the idea of private versus public regarding the information kept on the open websites. The module says: “ One view is that the act of posting to an open site, accessible to millions, constitutes public behavior and may be observed and recorded without consent. According to this view, if no identifiers are recorded, such observations may not even meet the definition of research with human subjects. An opposing view is that, in spite of the accessibility of their communications, people participating in some of these groups make certain assumptions about privacy, and that investigators should honor those assumptions. If one subscribes to this second view, either consent would be required or it would have to be waived in accordance to the regulations.” I think when we can access data or some information about the persons in an open place, that should not require any consent. How can someone claim the privacy of something publicly displayed? That sounds strange to me. This is quite different from individuals having some personal activity in the public places like parks or restaurants due to the nature of online environment.

Another issue I often find intriguing in the internet environment is that of taking consent of the subjects by telling them to click on “I agree” where the subject may find it quite monotonous to read a long statements. I think in such cases the researchers should clarify the conditions that the subjects should comply with in some other modes.