[Air-L] Exercises for teaching digital ethnographic methods (remotely)

Annette Markham amarkham at gmail.com
Tue Mar 17 01:39:56 PDT 2020

I like the idea of focusing on current issues as Jill mentions, but in general, I think this would be difficult in a 30 minute exercise.  Maybe that could be built into the main lecture more than the exercise.... In any case, I think 30 minutes is too short for designing a study. And if I understand correctly, Carwyn, you're giving a single lecture on the topic, right? So how would they get feedback on their research design? 

Two key questions I would be asking if I were doing this: What is the desired learning outcome for this 30-minute exercise? And will it fit into their current skillset? 

Do you want them to understand the steps in designing a research project? (are they skilled at creating research design generally, so that they can translate this into whatever you're framing as 'digital?) Or do you want them to feel how tough it is to design a study in a short period of time? (cuz 30 minutes is super short). Or to review basic ethical principles?  Do you want them to practice some techniques? Or consider the size and scope of a possible study? These different goals require different setup.

In this situation, you  might ask yourself a different question: What do you really want them to *feel or experience* during this 30 minutes? If you don't know your audience, maybe you could have them do something that makes them think about research design in a more creative and ethical way. The outcome might be 'to raise questions,' rather than to 'build skill' or 'apply'. This is what I would do, but then again, I like exercises that are more provocative than anything else. 

Anyway here are some exercises that take around 30 minutes that I do:

To get people to consider how much their own perspective matters in what they will see as 'the field,' or what they will notice in whatever they see as the field, I use an exercise called "write the room." The goal is to do three timed writing exercises with the verbal prompt, "write the room" and no further instruction. I disrupt their viewpoint in the second and third iteration in different ways so that they might understand the challenges of trying to understand culture in the first place. Hopefully, the exercise helps them appreciate the sensibilities underpinning a qualitative perspective. And helps them consider the power of observing, and the ethical responsibilities that could go along with this power. [I've written this up and am happy to share if it's interesting to you]

To get people to think about ethics, I show or discuss a specific case and have them write a reflection essay in response to it, choosing one of the ethical guidelines from a reading like the AoIR ethics guidelines or an ethics article by one of our many AoIR members who write about ethics

To get people to think about emic versus etic perspectives, I show a clip from Nightmare Before Christmas, when Jack the Pumpkin King is trying to describe the concept and feeling of Christmas to Halloween Town. And then, when he fails, he goes to his lab to dissect stuffed bears, analyze the chemical makeup of a Christmas ornament, and reads a book called "scientific method" to try to understand what makes Christmas so special (this only works with certain audiences, and in regions where Christmas is the big celebration)

To get people to translate traditional ethnographic techniques to digital environments, I have them choose a typical technique X (interview, observe, participate, examine artifacts) and list what is desired from each of these activities, asking the question "why do we X in the first place?" What does X yield?". Then, taking the case of a specific app/platform, reverse engineer the "what is desired" into a set of research actions/activities that would have a similar yield and would fit the actual context of study. E.g., we do interviews to elicit. One thing we desire from interviews to hear information from people directly. Interviews give us an individual's perceptions, more than information of their actual behaviors. So interviews are good for learning how people feel or what they perceive. How would we achieve these goals in wechat? Twitter? ....

I'm happy to talk more about these, 


On 3/17/20, 08:22, "Air-L on behalf of Jill Walker Rettberg" <air-l-bounces at listserv.aoir.org on behalf of Jill.Walker.Rettberg at uib.no> wrote:

    What about asking them to design an ethical research methodology for researching how people are using technology during the pandemic, or something like that? I think they're more likely to be able to focus on coursework if it's directly relevant to the worries and anxieties of their current digital life, and this might even help them feel slightly more in control of their situation. And maybe some of them will keep going and do really interesting research?
    Other resources:
    Deborah Lupton started a crowdsourced collection of resources for Doing Fieldwork in a Pandemic: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1clGjGABB2h2qbduTgfqribHmog9B6P0NvMgVuiHZCl8/edit?fbclid=IwAR3mwwrXMlKTMkJxjPtQaDaHJcTtLGSC49oupIChpSWI2_bnwOtCLolZ04w
    The Selfie Research Network set up an online syllabus with lesson plans that would mostly work online from home. It was developed in 2014 but I think you could still use some of this.
    On 17/03/2020, 00:16, "Air-L on behalf of Morris,CJ (pgr)" <air-l-bounces at listserv.aoir.org on behalf of C.J.Morris at lse.ac.uk> wrote:
        Hi all,
        I'm now putting together lectures on digital qualitative/ethnographic/field methods for my departments undergraduate and postgraduate students. This seems like one of the few ways they will be able to safely do some of their assignments. I'll be giving this lecture via Zoom, a digital classroom.
        The current lecture design is: Intro -> My research background (digital ethnography of WeChat/Weibo activism) -> Understanding the digital field -> Ethics -> Q&A -> Doing ethnography in... (FB, WhatsApp, Weibo, Twitter, WeChat, Douyin/TikTok, Reddit, Insta, hashtags) -> being playful in the field -> exercise -> feedback -> final Q&A.
        I'm putting together a 30 minute exercise, but i was wondering if anyone had examples of successful digital, ethno/qualitative research methods exercises they've done. Particularly those that reflect on ethics, research design and methods.
        I'm currently planning on going basic, asking them putting together the research plan of a digitally centred study. This is open to change, but if I continue with this, does anyone have any recommendations for topics that they could do the plan for? I'd rather assign topics to the groups to help focus them in the short time period we have.
        Carwyn Morris
        PhD Candidate in Human Geography and Urban Studies
        Department of Geography and Environment
        London School of Economics
        Co-organiser LSE China Reading Group
        Tweeting @carwyn<https://twitter.com/carwyn>
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