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.

Ethical Interpretations

Reading Knight's chapter this week, along with the UofT guidelines on ethical research, I couldn't help but feel that there is an awful lot of room for interpretation for what constitutes ethical research. While there are some principles that seem set in stone, such as confidentiality and informed consent, there are plenty more that seem up to leave a lot of room for flexibility on the part of the researcher.

Knight outlines several examples in which a researcher might ignore certain ethical conventions because they disagree with them (such as not attempting to directly assist subjects) and yet their research is potentially still as valid as someone who followed the conventions to the letter. The majority of the ethical research guidelines seem like they could be summarized as "think about it, and then do what you think is best". As long as you're always honest and use a little common sense, it seems that almost any action taken can be defended somewhere in the UofT guidelines. Maybe the key is just reminding researchers to always use their conscience when conducting research.

Ethnography of an Infrastructure: email

This is an analysis of the UofT email system using Star’s framework. This could really apply to any email system, particularly university or corporate systems, but I chose the UofT system because we’re all familiar with it.

Embeddedness. The UofT email system is connected to the wider suite of UofT software connected to a UTORid, including Blackboard, the UofT library databases, and more localized software for various programs (such as the UTSC intranet). Many students have their UofT email accounts linked to their computers or mobile devices. The address book component also links students by name, allowing them to easily contact other students.

Transparency. Most students by now use email every day and don’t have any difficulty navigating their UofT email account. It has become a normal part of any university experience, as much as physically attending the actual classes.

Reach or scope. Every UofT student has a UofT email address. They can be used to communicate with fellow UofT students, faculty, or staff. They can also be used to communicate with non-UofT email accounts around the world, giving students access to a massive communications network.

Learned as part of membership. While navigating an email account is a fairly standard practice these days, there are some quirks about the UofT emails. In particular, linking your account to a third party email client (such as a mobile device) requires some odd formatting of the account name. There is a minor adjustment for many new students.

Links with conventions of practice. There are plenty of email conventions and practices which apply to UofT email accounts. Making sure your email has a relevant subject, using full sentences and punctuation, including your name, and knowing when (and when not) to reply to all are all examples of important conventions email users need to apply if they wish to get a response.

Embodiment of standards. The UofT email system employs the standards for email communication that allow students to communicate not only with each other, but with the wider world of email accounts.

Built on an installed base. The current UofT email system was built using the existing Microsoft Exchange framework for email, while also incorporating students’ existing UTORid accounts.

Becomes visible upon breakdown. Many students don’t even think about their email accounts -- until they stop working. When you need to communicate with a project group or a professor, often your only method of communication is your UofT email account. If the system crashes, it can cause panic.

Is fixed in modular increments, not all at once or globally. The UofT email system recently transitioned from the old webmail system to the new Exchange system, a transition that took months and incremental steps to ensure it was handled smoothly.

Mini-Ethnography of Infrastructure

I choose the automated stop announcement system installed on all TTC vehicles as the subject of ethnography. The visible part of the system is a LED screen showing the name of the stop as announced by a calming/emotionless female voice. The automation is operated by GPS on surface transit, and transponder on subways. The system has been taken for granted by frequent TTC users. And it is also very helpful to newcomers to the city. Star’s (1999) framework will be used to analysis the infrastructure of the automated announcement system.

Embeddedness: the announcement system is often seen as a part of a vehicle. TTC users do not distinguish it as a component from the larger structure, nor do they wonder how it coordinates with other systems.

Transparency: the system is transparent to users as it is a routine to have the voice announce the arriving stop. For frequent users who are familiar with a certain route, they may expect to hear the station names to know roughly where they are while doing other tasks.

Reach or scope: it reaches to all TTC users while they are using TTC services. No matter occasional or frequent users, as long as one knows his/her destination and understands English, the system can help navigating around the city. Visually or hearing impaired users can utilize the system by either listening to the announcement or reading from the screen.

Learned as part of membership: New users to TTC needs to learn about (and soon familiarize with) where the LED screen is on bus/street car/subway and when to expect to hear the announcement as part of their transit experience in Toronto.

Links with conventions of practice: the implementation of this system is linked with a series of conventions of making public announcements. For example, the convention of forecasting the next stop and announcing when it arrives; the convention of using a female voice; and whether it’s necessary for the voice sounds calming and lacks emotion.

Embodiment of standards: The transmission of radio frequencies and satellite signals involves certain protocols and standards. Moreover, TTC did not employ the system until 2007 when the Human Rights Tribunal’s ruling forced TTC to install such system for visually impaired passengers. Before the automated system, the announcements were driver-initiated, which was argued to be too dangerous. Such change in the infrastructure of stop announcement system reflects that the society/culture and the city administration values equality, safety and human rights in public services.

Build on an installed base: the system is built upon the TTC vehicles, predetermined routes, and information technologies that enable radio and GPS signals transmission. Because of these existing structures, this system takes advantage of their strengths and yet inherits its constraints. A hick-up in these structures will affect the announcement system by, for example, retrieving wrong location and station names.

Becomes visible upon breakdown: A breakdown in the announcement system may confuse frequent users. For a novel TTC user, it can be useless for them, or worse, giving wrong station names and misdirect them.

Is fixed in modular increments, not all once or globally: System hick-ups often happen in very small scales, which can be fixed independently. Technological imperfections of the system are treated as independent case and are compensated by human efforts. For instance, the name of some stops recognized by the system is different from the popular name known by most people. To eliminate confusion, every time after the automated announcement, the driver would manually announce it again by its popular name so that passengers would know it is the stop they actually want to go to.