Wednesday, 5 December 2012

reflections on my time with Knight and Luker

This week’s readings from Knight and Luker really helped to bring everything together for my research proposal, perhaps most importantly the connections were made for me between designing a research project, analyzing the data gleaned, and making sense of everything.

Over the course of the semester we have read about research methods from a number of individuals, including articles about specific research methods, but the books written by Knight and Luker have been constant and familiar. In a blog I wrote earlier in the semester, I commented that I preferred Luker’s readings to Knight’s because I found Knight to be very theory heavy, and sometimes found it challenging to fully grasp the main points. As the semester progressed, however, I actually began to enjoy Knight for the same reason I struggled with him early on: heavy on theory. When we began examining specific research methods (e.g. face-to-face, surveys, content analysis), I actually enjoyed how he got right into the discussion of the particular method - laying out how to go about utilizing the method, and pros and cons. I still found Luker to be helpful in learning about the research process and preparing my research proposal. Knight and Luker utilized vastly different writing styles and brought different perspectives on the world of research methods, which made learning about research methods more enjoyable and well-rounded then depending on one constant author. 

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Analysis Starts on Day 1

Both of the readings from Luker and Knight this week helped me add the finishing touches to my research proposal. What stood out to me in this week's readings was Luker's point about how the analysis portion of our research project is done throughout the entire data collection process. I was able to relate this point to one of the research methods that I have chosen to use for my project; which was the email interviews. The article that I consulted was called “Research Interviews in Cyberspace” by Reid, Petocz and Gordon (2008). In this article, the authors give suggestions in how to make effective use of this style of interview. How this article can relate to Luker is when they talk about how the researcher should spend a bit of time in reading and interpreting their respondents’ answers, before sending them another set of questions (Reid, Petocz, & Gordon, 2008, p. 54). This approach to me seems like an analysis-type of activity, because you are encouraged to look at your data right away so that you can start teasing out patterns or interesting ideas that you may want your respondents to continue to elaborate on. From an interpersonal level, it can also show your respondent that you are paying attention to their answers and taking them seriously. Overall, I think that there are benefits to doing the analysis of your data throughout the collection process, because you may find interesting patterns that you can quickly address since you are still in the process of figuring out what you research is telling you about the thing you are studying. And, as Luker states, there is less analysis work to do at the end.


Reid, A., Petocz, P., & Gordon, S. (2008). Research interviews in cyberspace. Qualitative Research Journal, 8(1), 47-61.

Reflection on the research proposal

When I started writing the research proposal, I too found the structure a little baffling. I wasn't sure how to separate the background form literature review. And I was more comfortable with proposing hypothesis right after the lit review, which often makes sense logically to come to research questions after the theoretical frameworks and previous research. Then after giving it a thought, I started to realize what this assignment really wanted me to do. I've never written a research proposal before, so my idea about a proposal was something more like the journal articles I read. I initially thought this proposal would somewhat resemble the intro, lit review and method sections of journal articles in terms of structure, style and length. However, this proposal is more like a scholarly paper plus an action plan, laying out what I know about this topic, what's been done, what's the question I want to study, how I'm going to do about it, and the details of the procedures and actions of doing it. No wonder the expected results and potential biases are left to the end.....
In terms of the methodology portion, I struggled a lot since my topic has been studied in many other disciplines but almost none in information studies. I tried to think about what's unique about this topic when it is examined in the context of LIS and how I could address that uniqueness in research design or distinguish this research from what's been done. The Knight's reading chapter 5 has been really helpful on that. In general, I found the Luker book is great on approaching a research idea and the conceptual design, whereas when I have difficulties with pragmatic concerns or specific questions about methodology I found myself often go to Knight for help.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

proportional structure

I am dealing with the same challenge as Colin about the structural guidelines given.  I am trying to make sure each section should be roughly around the same length but of course some sections would have to be longer in order to cover what is needed.  It is without a doubt that the methodology section would be the body of the proposal and that would be lengthier and written with depth.  I find it awkward that the hypothesis is put last in the paper.  Coming from a science background, the hypothesis has always been at the beginning right after the topic is introduced.  After giving some thoughts to it, it does make logical sense for it to be at the bottom.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Trouble with structure

Is anybody else having trouble making use of the structure provided for the research proposals? I remember Davidson talking about how he wasn't sure how to introduce his topic without covering the same material as the literature review. I'm having the same problem, but with my theoretical framework. My framework is based on the research and theories of other researchers in the field I'm writing about. I talk about their work in the literature review, but that comes after the background, which is supposed to contain the framework. I feel like I can either have a theoretical framework that won't make much sense until you read my literature review, or I can transplant large sections of my literature review and end up with a less clearly structured work.

I'm also having a little trouble determining exactly how to allocate my word limit. 4000-5000 is a lot of words to fill, to be honest, and while I can easily write that much, I don't want one of my sections to be overwhelmingly dominant in terms of length. I'm around 3000 now, and I suspect my stronger material will peter out by about 3500. I can make up the rest in more extensive literature review, more background, or more introduction, but I'm not sure how ideal that is.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Flexibility in proposal writing

While putting finishing touches on my research proposal for assignment 4, I realized that proposal writing is actually a fairly flexible process.  The MI thesis proposal requirements for the Faculty of Information for example simply states to submit a proposal that is 7-8 pages long. It is really up to me to decide how much or how little I want to include. I found that I condensed my proposal significantly for my actual thesis, whereas, what I submitted for assignment 4 was far more detailed. It really depends on how I think I can convince the person reading my proposal that I have put in enough effort into thinking through the details of the proposed research. Similarly, I found the requirements for the SSHRC proposal to be far too stringent in terms of the amount of information requested within the given page limits. It all seems so subjective. But perhaps proposal/grant writing is also something that comes with experience and after writing a couple different versions of research proposals, I supposed one gets enough experience to make objective decisions about how much or how little needs to be written. 

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Knight Chapter 5.

So as I sit down to write assignment 4 I'm struggling to find a research methodology that accurately answers my research thesis and questions.  Since there isn't much on my research thesis and question I am unable to find many other studies that have studied my topic.  If others had studied my topic and published research on it I would be able to consider their research design and perhaps be inspired or build upon their design.   This week's chapter 5 Knight reading was particularly useful because multiple research methods were outlined along with what they are often used to answer as well as their limitations. Sampling was also outlined including theoretical, systematic, stratified, site, opportunity as well as snowball sampling.  The benefits and drawbacks of multi-method design was also explored.  Interestingly Knight mentions that triangulation produces greater uncertainty.  I was originally considering a complex research multi-method design; however, after reading the section on costs of complexity I am seriously rethinking my method.  As a result I think this chapter is definitely worth a read through before starting assignment 4.  So it's back to the drawing board for me-how's everyone else doing?

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

I like my salsa "mild"

I was at first apprehensive and then glad to read Luker's chapter on Data Reduction and Analysis this week. I was apprehensive as I was reading it after writing the section of my proposal about data analysis, but I was glad to find that I had already considered and included much of what she was saying! The part that surprised me the most of this chapter was that of having someone else code your data after you do to ensure that you aren't being biased towards your hypothesis. This had never occurred to me as a possibility. I have several questions about this process. Who are these mysterious coders? Where do you find them? Do you have to pay them? If not, why would they want to spend their time coding for you? It seems to be lacking some context. I generally like the idea of coding, it makes qualitative data seem more quantitative in a way and definitely more manageable. As a generally numbers/logic oriented person, I think that this would be a soothing way to deal with a lot of words. As Luker states, patterns will also emerge and become clearer through this process.

 In the end, I think that my research proposal falls somewhere in the middle between the canonicals and the salsa dancers. I am not as free-flying as Luker would advocate, partially due to the nature of the assignment (needing our research questions solidified for the proposal before the research has been done), and partially due to my personal nature, which generally likes to have my ducks in a row and have things move linearly. I think that the nature of my research, though, is more exploratory and therefore needs some room to grow and shift as the data unfolds. Maybe I need a dance that is a little more contained than salsa... suggestions??

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Research Ethics at U of T

It is interesting to me that this topic of ethics at U of T came up.  I am aware that there are ethic issues or concerns with researching and such.  But I never came to think that there were different policies and guidelines that are formalized from different organizations.  I am glad this topic was brought at the right time because it relates to my research proposal.  Coincidentally my research proposal involves U of T as my organization and it would be critical to incorporate ethics into my research design and method that will adhere to U of T's specific policies and guidelines. 


During my undergrad, I become aware that if you were doing research you needed to make sure you were following the school’s ethics policy guidelines and also have a supervisor who is overseeing your research.  I never thought I would be doing my own research until now; therefore U of T’s research Ethics Manual is a great guideline to follow when trying to determine your research practice.  For my research project, U of T‘s guidelines for human subject provided a great view of how a student researcher should be conducting their research with respect to human subjects for example protecting confidentiality. However there is one thing I want to make sure, is explain to the human subject my reason and purpose of the research. Also, give them an opportunity to ask questions in order to them clarification and also make them feel valued.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Research Ethics

I found the Knight reading particularly useful this week.  Knight offered pragmatic ways to get around common mishaps such as participants withdrawing, lost data or low response rates.  He also offers useful ways to capture data with table 7.1 being quite useful outlining the method of data capture and how the method influences the complexity of the information as well as costs of data capture.   Most interesting was the section on disclosure and harm.  Even through my own personal research proposal will likely lead to intrusive and sensitive questions it is very interesting to learn about ways of collecting data regarding sensitive subjects.  I also found it interesting to learn that some researchers advocate that one can only get real trust by becoming accepted as an insider which will put researchers in a position to hear real stories, behaviours, and thinking processes.  Page 170 outlines about 12 ways that researchers can facilitate becoming an insider.  Additionally, Hammersly offers interesting critiques of insider research.  

The informed consent article was also quite interesting. It reminded me a bit of this article.

While it is not quite the same since the Macleans article is not dealing with research methods.  The core concern is the same.  When are children and youth able to make their own mind up and advocate for themselves? At what age, if any age are they able opt in and opt out of research or decide that they don't want to be exposed to a particular world view?

ethnography of infrastructure

An analysis of the infrastructure of the Canadian Postal Service according to Star's (1999) ethnographic analytical framework:

Embeddedness: Canada Post is embedded into our Canadian postal system as well as the international postal service. Canada Post is embedded into our infrastructure as it is subsidized by tax dollars and is not a private company.  Canada Post mailboxes and service centers are accessible throughout the country in both small towns and major cities.  Mailboxes can be found on street corners and mail centers are found in shopping malls, pharmacies, among other locations.

Transparency: The postal service provides consistent service for each user, the same fees, packaging options, and delivery methods are available.

Reach or Scope: Canada Post is a recognizable service provided throughout Canada. It has mail trucks, planes, and people (mailmen/mailwomen) who provide the routine service. In addition, Canada Post has online access, and phone services for customer assistance.

Learned as part of membership: While the postal service can initially seem confusing for new members, it becomes a relatively easy system to use with practice, once the rules and procedures are learned. The system is straightforward, and with the guidance of a postal service worker, can be managed simply.  

Links with conventions of practice: There are standard fees for mailing letters, additional costs depend on the size and weight of the item, the base price will vary significantly across nations (for example Canada and the United States). It is convention that letters use an envelope and stamp, that packages by well taped, and everything mailed must be clearly labeled or the item will be returned to the sender.

Embodiment of standards: As a government service, Canada Post has standards for their employees and for the people using the service.  In order to use the service people must abide by the rules (including employees).

Built on installed base: Canada Post has developed over time and with advances in technology has modified the services they are able to provide, including speed and method of delivery. Additionally, the postal service delivery system has changed along with urbanization. The system is maintained so that there is not an overlap of routes.

Becomes visible upon breakdown: The postal service is ingrained in the infrastructure of the city, to the extent that when there are postal strikes, it causes a crippling effect in the delivery of mail. Postal strikes cause a breakdown of the system, people cannot receive their local mail, send packages, or use any other service provided by Canada Post.

Is fixed in modular increments, not all at once or globally: Canada Post is based in Canada. In order to navigate postal shipments throughout the world, they must coordinate with other national mail systems. Canada Post has interconnected branches throughout the nation, which serve the distinct populations that surround them, sometimes resulting in multiple locations in a city.

Mini-Ethnography of Infrastructure: Emergency Assistance

This is a mini-ethnography of Emergency Assistance in a large urban area using Star's framework:

Embeddedness: Emergency Assistance is sunk deep into other structures and social arrangements and technologies.  It is not easy to distinguish the subcomponents of emergency assistance.  The way in which telecommunications, policy and practice all work to support this infrastructure.  Take for instance the way in which new drivers are repeatedly taught to stop and pull over for emergency sirens.  In some parts of the world even traffic lights are preprogrammed to allow emergency assistance vehicles to have a direct and safe route to emergencies   Some governments receive real time GPS data from emergency vehicles and this information is sent to traffic control to ensure that all traffic lights turn red when emergency vehicles approach intersections leading to less collisions.  Many drivers don't think about this type of coordination and embeddedness.  
Transparency: Drivers view stopping for emergency vehicles as natural.  They do so because they have been taught to do so as part of their driving tests as well as because of the potential punitive tickets and fines of failing to stop for emergency vehicles.
Reach or Scope:This infrastructural has reach and scope because the same or similar procedures  signals and sounds are used each time throughout the city and throughout time.  
Learned as Part of Membership: Strangers and outsiders who have leaned to drive in urban areas where drivers are not taught to stop for emergency vehicles must learn to stop.  They must learn to listen and look for sirens and stop appropriately for emergency vehicles.
Links with Conventions of Practice: Stopping for emergency vehicles is linked to various government policies, practices and laws. Drivers stop for emergency vehicles not out of the goodness of their heart but because they are legislated to do so and failing to do so results in punitive fines, demerit points or jail time.  This practice is shaped and shapes the law.
Embodiment of Standards: As I mentioned before emergency vehicles stopping embodies many standards especially in policies, practices and laws.  Emergency vehicles must meet time quotas and people in need of assistance is important within society.  This is reflected in policies, practices, and laws that help emergency vehicles get to people in need quickly.   
Built on an Installed Base: As I mentioned before this infrastructure is constantly changing with some urban areas looking for ways that GPS and ICT can help reduce accidents and help emergency vehicles reach their destination safely.  There are strengths to and limitations of the practice but these limitations can never be fully addressed because it is hard for officials to radically change the procedure for emergency vehicles, they can only improve and evolve from the base.
Becomes Visible Upon Breakdown: Urban residents take for granted emergency service but when large scale emergencies happen and emergency vehicles cannot perform properly emergency service becomes visible.
Is Fixed in Modular Increments, (not all at once or globally): As I have mentioned before changes to emergency vehicle procedures take time and negotiation from areas of government, policy, standards and practices. No one is in charge of this infrastructure it is affected by multiple levels of government and area residents, and lobby groups.

Wibbly wobbly ethics

I'm really looking forward to today's guest speaker on ethics in research, because I realized a few classes ago, and from the readings, that my inner ethical compass might be a little out of whack. I remember in class when Sara was talking about Tracy's research on online gamer forums and how she might be perceived as a female researcher. In my head, I automatically thought - 'just pretend to be a regular guy, not a lady researcher, what's the biggie?' And then found out that would be a squishy ethical area, and my thinking is all wonky. 
I agree with Colin's post that there seems to be a lot of room for interpretation in the rules and regulations, and I also liked Mauri's point that there should be clear consequences outlined for going against the rules. Like I've said in the past, my research background has mostly been in either the morally bankrupt area of market research, or in user testing of interfaces, which involve people, but don't involve any personal aspects or emotional areas (at least for the systems I was working with - but this could change in the future!). So considering ethics in research is pretty new to me. For my research proposal project, I am going to be proposing research that works quite closely with some individuals, so these readings, and hopefully the discussions today, will be really helpful.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Mini-Ethnography of Street Lights

This is a mini-ethnography on street lights that I tried to do using Star's framework:

Embeddedness – Street lights are an essential part in city and urban planning, because they provide light for those walking along sidewalks or parks at night. They are also an integrated part of any road systems because they can limit road accidents. 

Transparency – Most street lights are automated or timed to turn on when it gets dark. Everyone can make use of them when they go out in the evening. 

Reach or Scope – Since streets lights are installed in most road systems, they guide vehicles and individuals to other areas and regions at night. They provide light to these connections across cities and towns. 

Learned as part of Membership – Because there are street lights, people know that they can go out and make plans for the evening. Companies know that they can transport their products in trucks at night. 

Links with Conventions of Practice – Where street lights are installed depend on city and road planning guidelines. Because they are useful for vehicles in the evening, it has become a convention to have street lights where there are roads. It is also expected that street lights will be installed along sidewalks. 

Embodiment of Standards – It is standard to put street lights along the side of the road or sidewalks at relatively equal intervals. Street lights in the same location or area are generally the same. They have the same physical structure and they are powered by the same electrical means. There is also a scientific reason why street lights need to be consistent, because the height of the street light can affect how much light a certain area of the road will receive and how bright it would be depending on how far the light can travel. 

Built on an Installed Base – Street lights are installed once there is a road system in place. They can only exist when there is a city or town where people need to travel in the evening. 

Becomes visible upon breakdown – People realize how dark it becomes even when one street light malfunctions. It becomes really dangerous to travel on the roads, especially the highway, when no street lights are working. We realized how much we have taken them for granted when we cannot see where we are going or it prevent us from traveling in the evening. 

Is fixed in modular increments, not all at once or globally – Even though each street light is part of a system, they are fixed individually. It would take a lot planning if a city wanted to make a change to the physical structure of street lights. For example, the whole system would have to be reorganized if they change their height, because they are installed at specific intervals that would provide the maximum amount of light to the roads or sidewalks.