Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Virtual Ethnography, the Reading Group and our research

I thought last weeks reading group on Virtual Ethnography was particularly good and interesting. The passages were taken from Christine Hine's Virtual Ethnography and it was a fairly substantial read. Since I am not too hot in terms of my knowledge of Ethnography it was a good introduction to the underlying principles of the method. Virtual Ethnography necessarily differs in terms of its method in that the principles of 'being there' within the community of study in terms of geography and time are very different. There was also some discussion on virtual reality and actual reality and the cross over between the two worlds.

As a result of this reading group the OpenLearn researchers (me, Andreia and Patrick) have decided to conduct an ethnographic research study ourselves where we will become users of OpenLearn, picking a number of units to study and recording, perhaps by blogging our experiences.

During my work on the Mellon supported project I acted as a participant observer by taking the Open University Astronomy course S282 - a 30 point unit. This was a great course and I was looking at its interactive elements. I was hesistant to call it ethnography however because I was not fully aware of the principles of ethnography in doing the research. Rather I considered it participant observation and S282 was a case study within our overall research on the Mellon project. We used Yin's Case Study text as a guide to structuring the research. Being a participant myself however gave me a very different understanding of the course and I could see how people responded the way they did to some of the technological evidence. The research however also involved other sources of data such as interviews with other students, staff members involved in setting up the course, and statistical data from our own research and the University archives.

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