Week 10 – Questionnaires

I’ve uploaded my survey to SurveyMonkey.com

(or type this address in your URL – http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/RNJ5CD9)

The aim of my survey was to get an idea on the preferable methods of watching film. Also if people use illegal methods to watch film, what are their reasons? I keep the survey brief at 10 questions (so as to not bore people and to attract as many participants as possible) with the first few questions establishing the demographic and then moving onto what methods they prefer and what is their favourite method out of all of them. Finally a few questions on why the participants might use illegal methods (if they do so) and what reasons they might have for preferring cinema above all else.

My approach is quantitative and I am trying to appeal to as many participants as possible in this questionnaire as I believe participants are likely to be somewhat honest en mass (especially if they are anonymous). However I know from quite a few examples that questionnaires are often not the best method of research. One example I like is from the 80s in the UK when there was a media scare on violent films (which were dubbed ‘Video Nasties’). This particular media panic used the argument that if these films were available in any way in the UK, young children would be able to obtain them. Opponents to these videos tried to use a questionnaire to further their agenda by giving young children a list of the titles of these violent videos and asking them which ones they had seen. The results came in that a very high number of these children had seen quite a few of these videos. In response to this survey a research team put together their own questionnaire for children. This survey had not only the titles of the violent films but also a large amount of made-up titles that sounded violent. The violent sounding made-up titles were chosen just as much as the real titles which proved that these children were in fact very likely to have never seen any of these videos at all.

There’s a short video on YouTube about this panic.

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Week 9 – Quantitative Methods – Time Diaries and Content Analysis

Action Time Digital Media Use
Wake Up 07:30:00 Phone alarm
Check the news online (Sydney Morning Herald) 07:45:00 Laptop, Internet
Catch the bus 08:30:00
Lectures start 10:00:00
1 hour break in lectures. I use this time to do homework on the computers in the badham library 01:00:00 Computer, Internet
Catch bus home 05:00:00
I use my laptop to surf the web, do homework, watch YouTube and talk on MSN 06:30:00 Laptop, Internet

My 24 Hour use of digital technology wasn’t all that exciting. From this Time Diary I can tell that digital technologies certainly affect my day to day life but mostly when doing recreational activities. Only a few of my digital technology uses could really be seen as great necessities in life.

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Week 8 – Cultural and Discourse Analysis

It can be observed that many of today’s political, social and cultural events (both major and minor) tend to accumulate into the melting pot of videos known as YouTube. Major events can often break on YouTube before any news outlet or media program. Popular videos are critiqued and discussed in the comments section. Typically such discussion in the past would be done ‘around the water cooler’ or locally in the same physical space but now people from all over the world can hear each other commenting on these issues.

Users also like to create video blogs to express their opinions to the entire online world. Sort of like writing in an opinion blog or article, these thoughts are not expressed towards anyone in particular but are instead broadcasted out to whoever might listen to them. Other users can then either respond with a comment or by doing a ‘video response’ to the clip.

1. Herring, S. C. (2001), ‘Computer-mediated discourse’, Handbook of Discourse Analysis, 612-34.
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Week 7 – Focus Groups

What are Focus Groups?

Director and sociologist Robert K. Merton is credited with creating the first focus groups, done in the Bureau of Applied Social Research at Columbia University. The term ‘focus group’ was later coined by psychologist and marketing expert Ernest Dichter.

Four criteria are necessary for a successful focus group: range, specificity, depth and personal context.

  • Range – the maximum number of relevant topics you wish to cover
  • Specificity – moving beyond talking about the abstract towards actual experiences
  • Depth – clarity and better understanding of the attitudes and beliefs on the topic
  • Personal context – insight in participant’s social environment and the role they perform in that environment

The questions being asked in a focus group are typically open-ended and allow enough time for participants to give an insightful response. The session may start with an ‘opening circle’ where participants give their personal information (name etc.) which can be helpful later on in drawing in quieter members. Next introductory questions introduce the topic and present the range that participants should stay within. Key question (usually 5 or 6) drive the session forward, these could include questions similar to ‘think back’ questions to allow the participant to provide their social context.

However ‘why’ question are seen as unhelpful since people usually won’t behave rationally all the time and can’t account for all their actions. Asking why also gives off an impression of interrogation and judgement. The session will then have its ending questions which draw the discussion to a close and then perhaps even a closing circle which can summarise the opinions of group members.

So why use Focus Groups?

Focus groups allow data to be obtained at a group level. According to Lindlof & Taylor, 2002, p. 182, listening to the experience of others can encourage a group cascading effect which stimulates the participants own personal memories, ideas and experiences.

Focus groups can also allow an opportunity for someone to express their opinions where it might not be possible otherwise. There are possible situations where people may feel isolated in their views and not able to speak up about something.

However…

The facilitator of a session might not be able to have as much control over a group as he desires. The data is also not easy to analyse and doesn’t represent a large portion of a population. Depending on how the focus group is structured, certain questions, the setting, lack of anonymity or even evident anticipations of the facilitator might distort the opinions of participants.

According to Douglas Rushkoff’s article “Get back in the box : innovation from the inside out”, focus groups are often useless or are aimed to gain certain results (for instance with data “cherry picked” to a wanted result). Rushkoff uses the public opinion of the introduction of New Coke in the 1980s as an example of this.

In contrast to what is said in Lindlof & Taylor, 2002, another issue I came up with is whether a participant’s opinion could change by the end of the session as a result of being influenced by other opinions in the group. Typically there are topics where many of us don’t have strong opinions towards or we feel we simply don’t know enough to really give a valid opinion of something. In contrast there are those very opinionated types who always have something to say about everything, despite possibly having a complete lack of knowledge on the subject at hand.

If there is one particular group member who voices a strong opinion on a topic it’s possible that those within the group who are unsure of the topic may begin to agree with the opinionated individual which could distort the results at the end of the session since the facilitator will get the impression that all those group members have the same attitude towards that topic (a possible peer pressure effect as well).

Even though focus groups are said to be a highly effective means of gaining qualitative data, I find it difficult to see why. One has to consider the type of person that would want to participate in a focus group and give up their time in order to discuss this topic. I can’t really imagine that the types of people who would willingly become involved in a focus group would represent a large portion of the population (or target group of the study, unless of course your research involves people who enjoy participating in focus group sessions).

Analysing the data

An important thing to remember is that it is the group being analysed and not the individual participants. This means looking at the group context and also looking for themes, issues and areas f agreement and disagreement that arose at a group level and not from individuals. This would mean being able to distinguish between the opinions of individuals and group opinions. (Cronin, A. 2001)

1 – Michael T. Kaufman (February 24, 2003). “Robert K. Merton, Versatile Sociologist and Father of the Focus Group, Dies at 92”. The New York Times. [http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/24/nyregion/robert-k-merton-versatile-sociologist-and-father-of-the-focus-group-dies-at-92.html], accessed 21/09/2010
2 – Lynne Ames (August 2, 1998). “The View From/Peekskill; Tending the Flame of a Motivator”. The New York Times. [http://www.nytimes.com/1998/08/02/nyregion/the-view-from-peekskill-tending-the-flame-of-a-motivator.html?n=Top%2FNews%2FScience%2FTopics%2FResearch], accessed 21/09/2010
3 – Lindlof, T. R., & Taylor, B. C. (2002). Qualitative Communication Research Methods, 2nd Edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
4 – Rushkoff, Douglas, Get back in the box : innovation from the inside out, New York : Collins, 2005
5 – Cronin, A. (2001) ‘Focus groups’ in Gilbert, N. Researching social life Sage: London pp 164-176
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Week 6 – Interviewing

The interview for our group was related to last week’s observation of mobile phone use in lectures. We asked a student in our class the following questions in order to get a more qualitative view and a deeper insight into this topic.

→ What year are you in at uni?
→ What course are you studying?
→ How much time do you typically spend online per week?
→ Do you use a smartphone? If so are there any applications you find yourself using more during university hours?
→ Do you find the use of your phone positively or negatively affects your alertness during lectures?
→Is your phone use more in the second or first half of the lecture?
→ What do you primarily use your phone for in lectures?
→ Do you think phone use positively or negatively affects from your learning abilities during class?
→ How about others using their phones? Does it positively, negatively or not distract you in class??
→ Do think if free wifi was available for phones at uni it would be unbeneficial or beneficial for your learning outcomes?

The interview I conducted can be listened to here

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Week 5 – Observation

Purpose of  the observation:

The purpose of this observation was to determine how much students used their phones in any way during lectures and whether males or females were the more frequent users. Other factors might include whether the student is in the back of the lecture or in the front in plain sight, what area of study the unit is (e.g. arts or science) and what time of the day and how long into the lecture the observation took place (since people may be more fatigued or distracted at the end of the day or during the 2nd hour of a 2 hour lecture).

We did not go onto this observation with a particular question or hypothesis in mind, except perhaps to gain any possible data that might indicate how often students are distracted by mobile phones in a lecture. After this initial observation and compiling our data we could then gain an insight on a possible hypothesis to put forward (e.g. mobile phones are more distracting and frequently used by female students than male students).

This study needed to be a covert operation since students would obviously behave unnaturally if they noticed us observing them.

Observation:

Behaviour
Time
Setting
Frequency/Duration
Trigger/antecedent
Comments
m/f
Playing game
1st hour
Science Lecture
Nearly all of 1st hour
Boredom?
Sometimes he looked up to pay attention
M
Checked phone/time
1st hour
Science Lecture
3 times
Boredom?
None
M
Wrote and sent message
1st hour
Science Lecture
Once for 20 secs
Boredom?
None
M
Checked phone/time
Midway break
Science Lecture
Once
Break announced by lecturer
None
M
Checked phone/time
Midway break
Science Lecture
Once
Break announced by lecturer
None
M
Checked phone/time
Midway break
Science Lecture
Once
Break announced by lecturer
None
M
Checked phone/time and looked at photos
2nd
hour
Science Lecture
For 1 minute
Boredom?
None
M
Showed phone to another person then laughed
2nd
hour
Science Lecture
During 10 seconds
Possibly received funny message or was wanting to show something funny to another?
None
M & F

Other comments:

The observation took place during morning hours. More frequent and noticeable use of laptops than use of phones. All users were male. (except one case where a female was shown a phone) However since this was a science unit, where there are typically more males than females it is to be expected however ALL observants were male. Unfortunately I could only observe science lecture and could not observe during an art lecture since I had a test during this time which means that noone would be using phones nor would I be able to observe anyone. I could assume however that in arts units where there are more females there would be more females using phones during the lecture (probably more than males).

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Week 4 – An ethical audit of an ethics article

I was a bit confused as to whether I was supposed to do this audit for this week’s or last week’s articles so I did a short one of both.

Subject one of the three readings to an ethical audit. What are the key ethical questions for this piece of research? Refer to one of this week’s readings, or web links. Have the researchers conducted their research in an ethical manner?

For this week’s entry I will be undertaking an ethics audit of Neuman’s article “Social Research Methods”.

According to Neuman “Researchers need to prepare themselves and consider ethical concerns as they design a study so that sound ethical practice is built into the study design”

The research community considers a wide range of practices to be unethical behaviour (which it calls Scientific Misconduct).

One of the main reasons I chose Neuman’s article is because he offered interesting examples for some of his points. The ethical issues from this article come from Neuman’s use of these examples. Would he have an ethical dilemma in including other people’s work in an article on ethics (particularly when the examples involve unethical situations).

On the other hand would he have a dilemma from holding back information or perhaps being influenced by another party or having an immoral agenda to his work.

Other points Neuman mentions that could be applied to him:

  • Concealing the True Sponsor – Could Neuman have been sponsored by an organisation to conduct this research? Had he revealed that perhaps he was being funded by a large company such as Coca Cola or Mcdonald’s, his research could be perceived as being biased.
  • Suppressing Findings – Could Neuman have ignored unethical practices due to bias

In regards now to Livingstone’s article “Taking risks when communication on the Internet: the role of offline social-psychological factors in young people’s vulnerability to online risks” and how this article could undertake an ethical analysis.

Livingstone’s referencing is not as solid as it could but is seems like she avoid being in danger of plagiarism. She maintains a level of trust with the students during their observation and interview and obtaining personal data about them. Measures taken to keep the students anonymous minimizes the risk of any harm to the participants.

Livingstone did not deceive her participants and it would seem she gave them full disclosure of experiment. However if she didn’t first brief the students and their guardians about the study and them give them results of the study afterwards, then she would be performing unethically. Livingstone also appears to have looked into the theories of other researcher and gave them due reference for their ideas.

Therefore the impression I got from reading her experiment is that she performed in an ethical manner… however I would not expect to get any other impression from reading an article of an experiment that was written by the very same researcher who performed it.

1. Neuman, W. L. (2003) ‘Social research methods’, Boston: Allyn and Bacon: 116-134.
2. Livingstone, S., and E. J. Helsper (2007) ‘Taking risks when communication on the Internet: the role of offline social-psychological factors in young people’s vulnerability to online risks’, Information, Communication & Society 10(5): 619-644.
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Week 4 – Ethics

“The ethical issues are the concerns, dilemmas, and conflicts that arise over the proper way to conduct research” (Neuman, W. L. 2003)

What makes ethics so important in research? Since WWII, the importance of ethics in research has become particularly apparent. This site on research study brings up some important points to consider about ethics in research. There is little reward for ethical practice but dangers of unethical research is immense.

Voluntary participation (and the closely related informed consent) is one of the most important points to consider with ethics. In order for a study to be ethical, the participants must be willing participants in the study rather than ‘human guinea-pigs’. An important event that showcased this ideal is the Nuremberg Trials that dealt with the highly unethical experiments Nazi scientists performed in WWII.

In fact the extreme example of unethical practice would be the Nazi experiments in concentration camps during WWII. However because of these Nazi studies we now know facts about the human body that would not otherwise be available such as human tolerance to freezing temperatures. (Cohen, Baruch C. 2008)

“Many ethical issue involve a balance between two values: the pursuit of scientific knowledge and the rights of those being studied or of others in society” (Neuman, W. L. 2003)

Neuman has some interesting examples of unethical practise in research in his article “Social research methods”. One of his examples is Stanley Milgram’s obedience study . This study was an attempt to discover why the Nazis were able to commit such horrors during the Holocaust by examining the psychological strength of authority. Adolf Eichmann, believed to be the man responsible for the organisation and management of the Holocaust, was an important influence on this study. After his capture and during his trial in Israel he defended his actions by saying that he was simply “following the orders of his superiors”. Milgram wished to test this idea that human beings would sometimes follow authority under all circumstances.

In Milgram’s study, test volunteers were assigned as teachers while a confederate would play the part of a pupil. The teachers were asked to shock the pupil if they made a mistake, increasing the shock level with each mistake. The pupil would be sitting in another room and could be heard but not seen. With each shock the pupil actor would pretend to be in severe pain yet the teacher, despite signs of distress, would still continue to shock to higher and higher levels under the command of the present researcher. Well over half of all participants obeyed this authority and would continue to shock the pupil to dangerously high levels. The experiment was seen as unethical due to the amount of deception and emotional stress experienced by participants, yet Milgram had still managed to prove a valuable point on human nature.

Laud Humphry’s tea room trade study was a study of homosexual encounters in public restrooms and despite advancing knowledge of these encounters and overturning previous false beliefs, his study was deemed unethical since like Milgram’s study there was definite deception on the part of the researcher as well as the possibility of the information gained from the study to be used as blackmail.

Neuman also offers an example of how being ethical can bring up its own issues. A sociology graduate student was doing an observation study of waiters in a restaurant in New York. This restaurant burnt down in what was suspected to be arson. Legal authorities requested any notes or information the graduate could provide. The dilemma created is should the researcher cooperate with the authorities and violate the trust and confidentiality of the study or he could protect the trust between him and his study participants but face legal consequences.

Another interesting case I found which wasn’t in Neumans article was that of David Reimer. Reimer, born as Bruce (a boy), was taken in by his parents for a circumcision during which his penis was accidentally burnt off. A sexologist, Dr John Money, suggested to his parents to give Bruce hormones and raise him as a girl. Money believed that a child is not psychologically either male or female until after two years of age and therefore Bruce could successfully live a life as a girl. Reimer was therefore raised as girl and his twin brother Brian raised as a boy (being the control in the experiment). This experiment is viewed today as highly unethical and was highly damaging psychologically to the whole family (resulting in the suicide of both brothers).

Other interesting unethical studies can be found on this list here.

1. Neuman, W. L. (2003) Social research methods, Boston: Allyn and Bacon: 116-134.
2. Research Methods Knowledge Base. [http://www.socialresearchmethods.net/kb/index.php] Retrieved 2010-18-09
3. Cohen, Baruch C.. “The Ethics Of Using Medical Data From Nazi Experiments”. Jewish Law: Articles. [http://www.jlaw.com/Articles/NaziMedEx.html] Retrieved 2010-18-09
4. The Age (2006) [http://www.theage.com.au/news/tv–radio/a-girl-in-theory-a-boy-inside/2006/04/12/1144521342941.html?page=fullpage] Retrieved 2010-18-09
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Week 3 – Examples of Research in Digital Cultures

Sonia Livingstone offers an interesting example of research into digital worlds in her article “Taking risky opportunities in youthful content creation: teenagers’ use of social networking sites for intimacy, privacy and self-expression. New media & society”. She claims that the media today has shifted towards user-created content and creation rather than just receiving mass-produced media. She also observes that there are ‘social anxieties’ around the net and social networking and there is a public conception that the “Myspace generation.. has no sense of privacy or shame”.

She mentions particular headline titles that mention this anxiety, such as:

  • Generation shock finds liberty online: the children of the internet age are ready to bare their bodies and souls in a way their parents never could – Sunday Times, 2007
  • Kids today. They have no sense of shame. They have no sense of privacy. – Nussbaum, 2007
  • MySpace is about me, me, me, and look at me and look at me – Fairfax Digital News, 2007

She suggests that the appeal of these sites to teenagers is that it represents ‘their’ space, free of adult surveillance (Buchner et al., 1995)

RESEARCH SCRAPBOOK ENTRY: Write a blog post on the approach and methodology of the research in one of this week’s readings. Your blog posts should be self-contained texts: i.e. someone who is not taking the course should be able to read and understand them.

What for an adult observer may seem risky, is for a teenager often precisely the opportunity that they seek” (Livingstone and Helsper, 2007)

Livingstone talks about her qualitative research into the teenage world of social-networking sites. Her methodology was to collect a group of young people (13-16 years, equal number male and female, a mixture of races and socio-economic backgrounds) all of whom had their own page on a social-networking site such as MySpace, Facebook or Bebo and were frequent users. Using this sample of teenagers, Livingstone conducted observations and open-ended questions to determine how these sites impact peer relations as well as personal and online identities.

1. Livingstone, Sonia (2008) Taking risky opportunities in youthful content creation: teenagers’ use of social networking sites for intimacy, privacy and self-expression. New media & society, 10 (3). pp. 393-411
2. Buchner, P., M. D. Bois-Reymond and H.-H.Kruger (1995) ‘Growing Up in Three European Regions’, in L. Chisholm (Ed.), Growing Up in Europe: Contemporary Horizons in Childhood and Youth Studies, pp. 43-59. Berlin: de Gruyter.
3. Livingstone, S., and E. J. Helsper (2007) ‘Taking risks when communication on the Internet: the role of offline social-psychological factors in young people’s vulnerability to online risks’, Information, Communication & Society 10(5): 619-644.
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Week 2 – The Group Task

Now I will move onto the group task and putting these concepts into practice. This week’s task was to form a group and complete the following question:

Team 3: Design a study to investigate media panics. You should find evidence of the patterns of media coverage of new technologies to put these claims into context.

This question is in regards to Baroness Susan Greenfield‘s comments on internet addiction which can be found on the ABC’s website at this address.

Despite Greenfield’s use of “technical” terms such as ‘fuddy duddy’ and ‘wakka wakka’, her argument of the dangers of the net are not particularly persuasive. This debate suggests that Greenfield is caught up in the current media panic over the internet (and also suggests other things such as how delusive members of the English House of Lords are).

To begin our task we started at the concept of Ontology. Ontology is a “branch of metaphysics that deals with the nature of being” (Dictionary.com). According to Crotty (1998:10), ontology is concerned with “what is”, “the nature of existence” and “the structure of reality”. One approach of ontology is realism which is what our group picked for this task. Realism is the idea that realities can exist independent of conscious thought. This seemed like an appropriate approach since the existence of these media and technologies are real and media panics have been proven to be quite real in the past.

For the epistemology, constructionism was chosen. Despite earlier deciding that realities exist independent of human thought, as Grotty (1998:11) says, this should not necessarily exclude using a constructionist epistemology. Constructionism doesn’t particularly involve the reality or existence of an object, rather it deals with how the human mind constructs, invents or perceives its reality (“[t]ruth, or meaning, comes into existence in and out of our engagement with the realities in our world”). This is a different idea to objectivism that states there can be no meaning without a mind or subjectivism that states there needs to be an interplay between the mind and the object in order to construct meaning. Because this topic involves human behaviour when interacting with new technologies a constructionist approach can help analyse this relationship.

The theory includes the necessary falsifiability (Gilbert 1996: 24) as one example of a technology that has reached an invasive status without garnering exaggerated or hyperbolic media coverage would prove it to be incorrect. This theory, as with most according to Gilbert (1996: 30), is largely inductive, being a generalisation formed from several instances.

The theory does not make any truth claims about the content of the media coverage; it merely asserts that the nature of the discourse surrounding invasive technologies obtains a degree of fervour that is not seen with other less invasive technologies.

Assuming that the technology has reached the aforementioned definition of ‘invasive’, there are several indicators that may be used to classify media coverage as ‘hyperbolic’. These indicators are interrelated and largely interdependent. The indicators are arguably qualitative and would need to reflective.

The volume of discourse surrounding the technology would form an initial indicator, stabilising the view that it has reached a suitable level of invasiveness. The range or divide between apparent opinions would act as another indicator. The divergence between the actual, or resultant, effects and the predicted effects would form the final indicator.

An ethnographic methodology should be adopted to test the indicators listed above. This methodology will allow the rather subjective term of ‘media panic’, which is the focus of the initial proposal, to become more grounded in a social or cultural context (Crotty 1998: 7). This methodology is largely based around a symbolic interactionist theoretical perspective (Crotty 1998: 7).

As the required research will span several generations (due to the necessary investigation of past technologies), situating all research purely in modern interpretations of hyperbolic or exaggerated discourse may be somewhat misguided. It is surely not absurd to assert that the general hysteria that follows almost all media coverage in this day and age is inflated when compared to previous generations.

The initial proposal is concerned with the nature of discourse surrounding technologies and not the technologies themselves. As a result the methods of research should rely heavily on case studies. Obtaining information on past media panics and comparing the similarities is the basis of research in this instance. These case studies, without cultural or societal perspective, would be somewhat lacking.

Therefore questionnaires and interviews of relevant members of society (those who have been exposed to an incident of media panic) may prove useful. However, this method of research may be better suited for investigating the effects that these media panics have on society. This could lead to further theoretical discussion around the issue of whether our interactions with various technologies are somehow tempered by media panics.

1. Crotty, M. (1998) The foundation of social research: meaning and perspective in the research process Chapter 1 ‘Introduction: The Research Process’. Allen and Unwin: St. Leonards, NSW: 1-17.
2. Dictionary.com [http://dictionary.reference.com]

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