Sunday, March 27, 2011

Some diverse reading this week: three short chapters on methodologies for studying writing; the methodology chapter from Danah Boyd’s dissertation, and three articles describing studies of online writing.  The common thread is the emphasis on (or at least the capability of) researching online writing.  The chapters on methodology come from Digital Writing Research: Technologies, Methodologies, and Ethical Issues, edited by McKee & DeVoss, and they describe the diary method, mobile technologies, and video/screen capture.  These methodologies allow researchers to follow their subjects in absentia by reminding them to log their activities or monitoring their computer screens.  The benefits of these methods are that the researchers can be much less obtrusive, letting subjects do much of the observation for them.  The drawbacks are that the subjects might forget to record their activities or find the frequent updating cumbersome.

The four actual studies that we looked at this week had common methodologies; namely, the researchers examine online writing and interview some of the writers to look more deeply into the writing acts.  The differences come in the types of writing each study analyzes.  Leon and Pigg write about just two graduate students, examining their online presence as they move toward professionalization.  Danah Boyd’s dissertation examines teenagers and social networks; as a dissertation, its scope is much larger than the other article-length research.  Boyd carefully lays out her methodology, noting its possible pitfalls (distance, scope, and age of subjects).  She reasons through her choices for each of these difficulties, providing solid groundwork for the research to come.  Liew and McKee each address online writing as resistant or confrontational, Liew as a student speaks back to his teacher via a blog, and McKee as students participating in online discussions come into conflict with one another.

The articles this week give a broad introduction to the possibilities of online research and to some of the ethical issues.  As Boyd and others point out, the number of subjects available to us online is many times that which we would have access to locally, but communication with them can present logistical problems.  

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