Exploring online research methods - Incorporating TRI-ORM

Online learning frameworks and e-tivities

This page contains a range of activities drawn from the TRI-ORM project online course which was an advanced training course at postgraduate level. This course was informed by Gilly Salmon's E-tivities framework (2002) for facilitating active learning in an online environment.  

In each case, the following information is given:

  • Description
  • Suggested task rubric
  • Original context of use
  • Tutor notes

Click on the headings below to access the information.


Synchronous discussion framework for participants who may be engaging in this for the first time.

Description

This e-tivity aims to provide a framework for collaborative interaction in a synchronous chat. It is designed to provide experience of synchronous discussion for participants who may be engaging in this for the first time.

Suggested task rubric

This synchronous meeting is designed to introduce you to synchronous discussions and to get you thinking about how you interact with others in an online synchronous environment.  You will be working in groups of three or four to undertake this e-tivity.

You have been charged with organising the pentathlon event for the Online Olympics. This glitzy international competition will test online "athletes" from across the world to discover who the world's best web users are.

You have been tasked with choosing the designing the pentathlon which will be the main showcase event around which the Online Olympics will be marketed. This should include five activities which will be the ultimate test of the online "athlete". This might include popular/favourite online games (online poker, chess, tetris etc), competitive versions of other online or IT activities (e.g. fastest googlewacker, endurance facebooking, most accurate spellchecker) or something completely strange and off the wall.


As a group you need to identify the five events and to write a 50-100 word press release advertising the pentathlon.

Original context of use

This e-tivity was used in week 1 of the online course. Prior to this synchronous session, participants were given an introduction to the course and the use of the synchronous software used (Adobe Connect). They were also tasked with creating an introductory blog posting. Following the session, they were individually tasked with posting a blog reflection on their experiences in the discussion.

Tutor notes

This activity has worked well as an introduction to the use of synchronous conferencing. It provides a clear focus for discussion and offers plenty of scope for variety of approach and creativity. The press releases tend to be short and interesting and, when posted for the whole group to read, participants have generally been keen to do so. Depending on the context of use a competitive element could be added either through the tutor selection of a 'winning' press release or through a peer review process.

A follow-up activity may be useful providing a framework for review and reflection on the experience. This can be done either through a discussion board posting or blog entry.

 

 

Discussion framework exploring Social Networking Software, identity and privacy

Description

This e-tivity aims to prompt discussion of how online identities are developed and controlled and what impact Social Networking Software is having on online identity and privacy. Participants are encouraged to consider their own approach to presenting themselves online and to identify and explore the implications for research. They are encouraged to read and consider the following paper before taking part:

Gross, R. and Acquisti, A. (2005) Information Revelation and Privacy in Online Social Networks (The Facebook case). Pre-proceedings version. ACM Workshop on Privacy in the Electronic Society (WPES).
[External Link - opens in a new window] http://www.heinz.cmu.edu/~acquisti/papers/ privacy-facebook-gross-acquisti.pdf.

Suggested task rubric

This E-tivity is designed to get you to think about how you construct your online identity in different places and to consider whether SNS offer opportunities for the researcher.

Make a post on the blog discussing how you approached the blog post in which you introduced yourself and considering how you represent your identity online. You might want to think about some of the following things:

  • Where do you currently appear on-line? Are you an avid user of social networking sites? Do you use just one site or more than one? Do you use them for different purposes?
  • How careful are you about how you appear online? What do you do about privacy?
  • How might these concerns impact on people who you are trying to engage in online research projects?
  • Do social networking sites provide a good forum for undertaking online research? 

Original context of use

This e-tivity was used in week 2 of the online course. It followed a synchronous discussion in which participants were tasked as follows:

We will be discussing the role of the researcher in online research and thinking about how you connect with participants, build rapport and where appropriate boundaries are. Questions you might want to think about are:

  • How present are you on the internet? Is your identity available to anyone with access to Google?
  • Why do people engage with online communities and how do they present themselves?
  • What are the implications for researchers of the privacy issues discussed by Gross and Acuisti?
  • How are researchers perceived by online communities?

Tutor notes

This activity was carried out through the use of blog postings, but it could equally be done through asynchronous discussion boards. In this case, it may be useful to allocate participants to groups and encourage them to consider similarities and differences in their experiences and/or to present a list of key implications for online research.

It follows naturally from an introductory activity in which participants introduce themselves online, as reflection on this activity provides a context for beginning to consider the issues involved in presentation and online identity creation.

If participants do not have experience of the use of Social Networking Software, a task to join Facebook or similar and post a reflection to a Facebook group may be appropriate. A possible task framework for this is as follows:

  • If you're not already on Facebook, create yourself an account. If needed, refer to the 'Getting started on Facebook' guide at
    [External Link - opens in a new window] http://www.facebook.com/help/new_user_guide.php
  • Find the course  group and join it. 
  • Make a posting on the group discussion board explaining your experience of using social networking software.
    Have you used Facebook before? If not why not?
  • Are interactions on Facebook different from those on the course site, email or other ways that you interact online?
  • If you are a Facebook user what would be the advantages/disadvantages to undertaking research online in this environment?

 

 

Discussion framework for considering when it might be appropriate to conduct research using online research methods and what the advantages and disadvantages of different types of online methods are.

Description

This e-tivity is a synchronous discussion framework in which participants consider the issues raised in case studies of online research. Preparation involves the selection and reading of a case study. The framework allows participants to share their insights into their case studies with other participants. Participants meet in pairs to discuss their case study and produce a summary of their discussion, identifying any issues it raises about the use of online research methods in general. They then join up with another pair to share their summaries and explore any common themes that have emerged.   

Suggested task rubric

Preparatory reading

Choose one or two articles and read them as case studies in ways to undertake online research. All of the articles on this page are freely available online.  We will discuss the articles at the synchronous meeting. You should post a comment at the bottom of this page letting us know which article or articles you have chosen to focus on.

[External Link - opens in a new window] Balci & Soran (2006) Students' Opinions on Blended Learning, Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education, 10, 1.

[External Link - opens in a new window] Beusch, D. (2007) Textual Interaction as Sexual Interaction: Sexuality And/in the Online Interview. Sociological Research Online, 12, 5.

[External Link - opens in a new window] Hau-nung Chan A . (2008) Motherhood Performance: Hong Kong's Middle Class Working Mothers On- and Off-Line. Sociological Research Online, 13, 4.

[External Link - opens in a new window] Illingworth, N. (2001) The Internet Matters: Exploring the Use of the Internet as a Research Tool. Sociological Research Online, 6, 2.

[External Link - opens in a new window] Lapinsky et al (2008)  Survey of information technology in Intensive Care Units in Ontario, Canada, BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making, 8, 5.

[External Link - opens in a new window] Livingstone  S., and Bober M. (2004) UK Children Go Online: surveying the experiences of young people and their parents. London: LSE Research Online.

[External Link - opens in a new window] O'Connor, H. and Madge C. (2001) Cyber-mothers: online synchronous interviewing using conferencing software.  Sociological Research Online, 5, 4.

[External Link - opens in a new window] Yee, N. (2006). The Demographics, Motivations and Derived Experiences of Users of Massively-Multiuser Online Graphical Environments. PRESENCE: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments, 15.

As you are reading your case study you may want to consider:

  • Why the researchers chose the methods that they did
  • How appropriate were they to address the research questions
  • Whether the research could have been carried out using traditional research methods

Synchronous session

Working in pairs/threes spend 30 minutes in a synchronous meeting to discuss the case studies that you have read. You may be in groups with people who haven't read all of the same articles as you, so come prepared to describe what you have read. 

In your meeting you may wish to consider:

  • Why the researchers chose the methods that they did;
  • How appropriate were they to address the research questions; and
  • Whether the research could have been carried out using traditional research methods.

You will then have 5 minutes to summarise your discussion and the issues that the case study raised for you before meeting up with another pair to share your summaries and identify any common themes that emerge.

Original context of use

This e-tivity was used in week 3 of the online course, following consideration of online presence and privacy. It brings the focus onto the range of online methods available as a broad introduction before more detailed work on synchronous and asynchronous methods. It was carried out synchronously.

Tutor notes

This activity emphasises individual choice in the selection of case studies, allowing participants to focus on their own priorities. Where appropriate, the choice of case studies could be limited further to place the focus on particular methods. It was carried out synchronously, but the same groupings and task development could be used to structure an asynchronous e-tivity. Either way, a task to make a final posting of the summaries from the case studies could be included to allow course participants to learn from each other through reading the summaries relating to other case studies.

 

 

Asynchronous discussion framework to allow participants to practice interviewing using discussion boards and to reflect on their experiences.

Description

This e-tivity aims to provide a framework for participants to gain hands-on experience of using discussion boards for research.

Suggested task rubric

In groups we will ask you to take part in an asynchronous group interview. One of you will be chosen to take the role of the interviewer and the rest will be the subjects. You will need to look at this e-tivity a number of times throughout the week.

Notes for interviewer: You are asked to run an asynchronous group interview over the course of the week. The topic is the research interests and experience of course participants. We would like you to encourage people to share their interests and probe where there particular interest in online research methods has come from.

Notes for interviewees: You should take part in the online discussion and follow the lead of your interviewer. Be co-operative, but don't spoon feed them everything in one go.

Original context of use

This e-tivity was used in week 4 of the online course when the focus of the course was on specific methods. Participants were organised into groups of five (4 interviewees and an interviewer). The topic of the interviews was chosen as an authentic topic which would keep the focus on research methods. Prior to the discussion, they were encouraged to watch the following video lectures on asynchronous interviewing and online questionnaires, and to read the relevant sections of the 'Questionnaires' and 'Interviews' modules of this website.

Online asynchronous interviewing (Clare Madge)

Using a questionnaire for a student survey (parts 1 and 2) (Jane Wellens and Tristram Hooley)

  

These videos can be embedded into webpages using the following HTML:

Online asynchronous interviewing (Clare Madge)

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Using a questionaire for a student survey (part 1)

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Using a questionaire for a student survey (part 2)

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Tutor notes

Any topic could be chosen for the interviews. It is important to ensure that there is an opportunity for reflection on the process through a follow-up discussion board or blog. Regardless of how successful the interview process is, it is likely to draw attention to some of the key issues involved in asynchronous interviewing.

 

 

Task encouraging research-based contribution to the Online Research Methods Wikipedia entries.

Description

This e-tivity provides a framework for participants to make a contribution to the Wikipedia entries on online research methods. It should only be encouraged with students capable of making serious research-informed contributions, and preparatory work on the importance of referencing and the 'rules' of Wikipedia should be carried out if necessary.   

Suggested task rubric

We would like you to look at the Wikipedia entries on aspects of online research methods. See  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Online_research_methods

Over the next two weeks we would like everyone to make at least one change or amendment to Wikipedia’s entry on Online Research Methods and/or the pages linked to from that page detailing the different methodologies. You are welcome to make more than one entry and to continue to improve the entry after your initial post.

Reflect on, and publicise, the changes that you make on your blogs.

Original context of use

This e-tivity was used in weeks 4 and 5 of the online course when the focus was on specific asynchronous and synchronous methods. It aims to provide an authentic purposeful framework for research and consideration of specific methods. It also aims to provide a framework for participants to experience the use of wikis and to consider their impact and their potential applications for research. The participants on the course were experienced users of online research methods at postgraduate level.

Tutor notes

Participants should be provided with an opportunity for reflection on the process through a follow-up discussion board or blog. They could be encouraged to consider the long-term development of Wikis and of the 'ownership' of information by making ongoing reference to the activity and asking participants to update the group on any further additions or changes that they make or that are made by others in relation to their own entries.


 

Synchronous discussion framework for participants to experience synchronous interview moderation, consider differences between online and face-to-face interviewing, and to reflect on their experiences.

Description

This e-tivity takes advice for face-to-face interviewing as the start-point for discussion leading to the creation of tips for online interviewing and online focus groups. This aims to provide a framework for consideration of the differences between face-to-face and online interviewing as well as to allow participants to engage in and reflect on online interviews.

Suggested task rubric

Below we have summarised some typical advice that is given for people undertaking face to face interviews and focus groups. In this weeks e-tivity we will be discussing how this kind of advice translates into the online environment and attempting to come up with similar lists for online interviewing and focus groups.

Interviews Focus groups
   

Try to dress in a similar way to the people you are interviewing.

Develop a clear question schedule before you start

Make it clear why you are undertaking the interview at the start of the interview

Start with a neutral question to facilitate free flow of information

Use open-ended questions

If you have not understood something ask for more information/explanation

Smile and be encouraging during the interview

Think carefully about how you are going to record, store and retrieve your data 

Plan your focus group carefully 

Manage the recruitment process to be sure you get the right people in your group

Confirm attendance before your focus group takes place

Don't make assumptions about your participants based on their clothes or accent

You are not expected to be an expert. Ask questions to clarify things that you don't understand.

Try to create an atmosphere where it is OK for different group members to disagree.

Encourage participants with non-verbal gestures

Be prepared to intervene if one person is dominating the group.

This list is necessarily reductive. However we have drawn it from the following places as well as our own experience.

[External Link - opens in a new window] 10 Tips for Running Effective Focus Groups

[External Link - opens in a new window] Focus Group Tips for Beginners 1

[External Link - opens in a new window] How to get beneath the surface in focus groups

[External Link - opens in a new window] Interviews

[External Link - opens in a new window] Tips for effective research interviews

Original context of use

This e-tivity was used in week 5 of the online course when the focus of the course was on specific methods. Participants were organised into groups of five. Prior to the discussion, they were encouraged to watch the following video lecture, and to read the 'Interviews' module of this website.

Synchronous online methods (Clare Madge)

This video can be embedded into webpages using the following HTML:

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Tutor notes

The final tips could be posted in a discussion board or blog to the shared and for comparison. A further step could be added in which a final list of good practice tips are agreed in larger groups or by the cohort as a whole. An opportunity can also be provided for participants to reflect on their experiences in the synchronous discussions in a discussion board or blog task.

 

 

Discussion framework for the development of an idea for a research proposal employing online experiments or virtual ethnography.

Description

This e-tivity provides a framework for participants to come up with a research idea for a research project using online experiments or virtual ethnography. Participants work in groups to consider a wide range of methodological, technical and ethical issues involved.   

Suggested task rubric

During this week's synchronous discussion we would like you to work in small groups in order to develop an outline project proposal for

either:

(a) An online experiment

This should be designed in order to examine the issue of how people weigh up a range of information in order to make decisions about resource allocation in a professional context.  In particular your experiment should investigate what kinds of information have the biggest impact on decision making and the speed with which people make their decision.

You may approach this experiment in any way you choose but you may find it helpful to use a scenario based approach i.e. asking people to consider what they would do in particular hypothetical situations.

or:

(b) An ethnographic study

This should be designed to investigate how recently separated 30 - 50 year-olds establish and develop relationships through online dating communities. In particular your study should investigate the way in which people construct their own online profile and initiate communication with other community members based on the information in their profile.

During the the online seminar your group should:

  1. Agree whether you will design an online experiment or ethnographic study
  2. Identify the main aims and research questions to be addressed by your proposed experiment/study
  3. Summarise the methods you will use to address these aims/questions
  4. Consider how you would achieve this technically. You don't have to be able to solve all of the technical issues but should be able to develop some questions that you might want to ask technical support i.e. "can we do...?"
  5. Identify any particular ethical issues that arise from your proposed research and discuss how you would address these issues

Original context of use

This e-tivity was used in weeks 6 of the online course when the focus was on specific asynchronous and synchronous methods. Participants carried out the activity synchronously in groups of five.

Tutor notes

Participants should be provided with an opportunity for reflection on the process through a follow-up discussion board or blog. The task could be carried out asynchronously and, if appropriate, different group members could be tasked with exploring and researching different issues for discussion. The final proposals could be posted in a discussion board or blog to the shared and for comparison / summary of key issues.

 

 

A framework for discussion of possible ethical issues emerging from research project ideas

Description

This e-tivity provides a framework for participants to consider ethical issues as they relate to specific research contexts.    

Suggested task rubric

We would like you to discuss your proposed research, identifying any ethical issues which present particular difficulties and which you would welcome input/advice from your fellow course members.  You may find it helpful to consider the checklist of issues that Eysenbach and Till (2001), recommend should be discussed before studying an internet community.  Clearly, there are many other issues, dependent on the particular research project but this list provides good starting point.

  1. Intrusiveness. Discuss the extent to which the research is intrusive (will it involve passive analysis of internet postings or more active involvement in the community by participating?)
  2. Perceived privacy. Discuss (preferably in consultation with members of the community) the level of perceived privacy of the community (Is it a closed group requiring registration? What is its membership size? What are the group norms?)
  3. Vulnerability. Discuss how vulnerable the community is
  4. Potential harm. As a result of the above, discuss whether the intrusion of the researcher or publication of the results has potential to harm individuals or the community as a whole
  5. Informed consent. Discuss whether informed consent is required and how it will be obtained
  6. Confidentiality. How can the anonymity of participants be protected?
  7. Intellectual property rights. In some cases participants may not seek anonymity, but publicity, so the use of postings without attribution may not be appropriate.

Original context of use

This e-tivity was used in weeks 7 of the online course during which participants were developing pilot research projects for the course assessment. These provided an authentic context for the discussion of ethical issues. Prior to the discussion, they were tasked with posting a brief description of their pilot project , including the following information:

  • The online methodologies you intend to use
  • Your recruitment strategy (for your actual participants - not the piloting)
  • What technology you will be employing
  • Any ethical issues that your project raises

They were also tasked with reading the postings made by other participants. The groups for the discussion were assigned according to these postings so that participants with broadly similar proposals worked together.

Before the discussion, they were encouraged to watch the following video lecture, and to read the 'Ethics' module of this website.

Online research ethics (Tristram Hooley)

This video can be embedded into webpages using the following HTML:

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Tutor notes

Though this e-tivity was closely tied to the assessment for the course, it could be used as a framework for discussion of ethical issues based on case studies. The following case studies which were used in the TRI-ORM workshops could be used for this purpose:

Ethics case studies: Iraq (pdf, 62KB), miscarriage (pdf, 62KB) and facebook (pdf, 64KB)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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