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H809 – Gillen’s Schome Park (A13.4c)

May 20, 2011

Here is the second set of questions I answered regarding Gillen and the Schome Park.

To what extent do you think the “new synthesis of methods” (p.72) is actually new?

Gillen claims that new technologies require new research methods was her claim, but I think although she introduces new terminology talking e.g. about virtual literacy ethnography, textual ethnography or corpus linguistic analysis, is the methodology behind not really new. The corpus linguistic analysis and the creation of a frequency list, strongly reminded me on Wegerif and Mercer’s count of key word usage and/or key words in context and that was 1997. So nothing really new. After reading  Wegerif and Mercer (1997) or Roschelle (Block 1), who also analysed talk  using computer-based analysis of collaborative learning, respectively Roschelle using the more traditional coding schemes to analyse talk I had a relative good idea what the results of their study were and which methods they used.

Tracking and recording of chat logs, or wikis, or forum messages is as well not new. The environment, Teen Second Life, is a relative new environment as well as that the observer is represented by an Avatar, but the methods itself are not really new (Table 11.2).

Would your methods have been any different? / What do you think of the researcher’s avatar having the message “logging chat” above her head?

An ethnographic approach is mainly based on observation and provided that Gillen’s methods are appropriate, as she acts as observer or participant observer. However, the observations she make may be biased by the fact that her avatar displays “logging chat” above her head. Her avatars presence might influence the behaviour of the children she interacts with. They might construct an online identity which they assume the observer wans to see, they might be not as upfront as they would be without knowing that she is the observer or they might act out/show off hoping to impress her. Therefore the display of the message might distort results. However, traditional participant observer who lived with a tribe where also easily identifiable.  From an ethical view, parents and children might wish that the observer is labelled as observer.

How does Gillen’s approach relate to the account of ethnography provided by Hammersley in Reading 15? Can the research be considered an ethnography?

Gillen pays great attention to the context. She describes e.g. the surrounding environment and her avatar meticulously as well as e.g. the wiki environment. Hammerley (2006) argues there is an ongoing discussion between researchers how context should be taken into account and whether a micro or macro perspective on context is applied and whether context is discovered or constructed. Some apply a macro perspective, taking the context of wider society into account, thus the real-world not only the virtual world, or if a micro perspective on context is applied focusing mainly on what goes on inside a particular environment, like Schome Park, within the context of the local community and within the enclosed environment. Gillen observes what is going on in-world, but compares the frequency list of words with a 4-million reference corpus from the real world.

Gillen employs the view that context is generated by the people being studied and not by the analyst.

Given the limitations of space, the discussion of ethics in the paper is brief, but you will have come across other papers about researching Second Life in earlier weeks. Try to list the key ethical issues for such research.

I think Gillen covered the ethical issues pretty good. Informed consent from parents, children and schools were obtained, anonymity was preserved as only a few staff members had access to the data base with the personal and contact information.

In week 6 we discussed ethical issues and I found the OU ethics side really interesting, in particular the ‘Ethics Principles for Research Involving Human Participants‘. Here in short their 6 principles:

  1. Compliance with protocol
  2. Informed consent
  3. Openness and integrity
  4. Protection from harm
  5. Confidentiality
  6. Professional codes of practice and ethics

As far as I learned from Gillen’s paper she covers informed consent, confidentiality, protect from harm. Insofar she complies with the three other ethical issues is unapparent.

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