Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Carmen Lee's talk at Seminar 3

Slides and recordings from Carmen's talk are on the website at: http://www.open.ac.uk/researchprojects/lidu/p4_3.shtml (Friday 10.20 in the timetable). The Olympus recorder was feeling keen that morning and caught the whole session, including the questions afterwards, so it's all there.

I've divided the recording up into 3 sections - one with Carmen's discussion of the methodological background to her research, one with her description of her studies of Hong Kong students' textual practices with Instant Messaging and Facebook status updates, and one with the audience's questions and her replies.

Carmen revealed herself as a reader of this blog when she quoted an earlier discussion we had on why talk about texts (that post actually got 3 comments - a record!) - she answered the question herself by pointing to the ubiquity of writing online and the way it is implicated in in almost all interaction. Her association of 'text' with 'writing' is part of her methodological approach - writing is also data for a linguist - but of course there are others who might use the term in a wider sense, to include other modalities too. Nevertheless, I for one am completely convinced that a 'literacies' approach to learning with technology is always going to have at least one eye on the written word, as it is so often the 'bottom line' where social action grounds out (especially in formal education and scholarly practice: assessments, evaluations, appraisals, arguments, evidence, reflection, etc.).

Eventually she described herself as doing 'discourse-centred online ethnography' which allows for all sorts of non-textual (in the writing sense) meaning-making as well. This was effectively evidenced by some of her examples of Chinese-speaking students' facebook updates, and her account of the process of 'turning her research sites into research tools' by progressively engaging participants in reflection on their own practices.

During the subsequent question-and-answer session, Carmen's responsive methodology led some of the audience to question how far participants in this kind of online ethnography can be said to be 'informed' in what they consent to revealing for research purpose. This issue had come up the day before in Sally Baker's talk about doing research using Facebook too. Is the 'tell all' ethos of social networking an adequate ethical justification for reporting anything that participants write or do?

Personally I felt quite comfortable with this, as with all of Carmen's ideas in this talk - it seemed to me pretty paradigmatic of qualitative, ethnographic, literacies research. Principled, thoughtful, and respectful of informants, especially if they are students (with the 'structural' relationship to the academic researcher that this often implies). It is true that Facebook participants might not have much idea of is going to be done with their words and their identities later, in the name of research, but that must be the case with most informants in ethnographic studies. In the end they, and we, trust the researcher to be like Carmen.

I felt hoist by my own petard when, just as I was looking forward to her telling us what kinds of variation in individual practice she had uncovered, she announced that she wouldn't be talking about findings as this was a methodology seminar. That had been my own insistence (vindicated too I reckon by the quality of all the presentations) - but a peek at what she found would have been nice.

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