Monday, 30 March 2009

H809: Week 6 update

I had thought about combining this post with a week 7 entry, as it is a little overdue, but the forums have been a bit quiet so I thought I'd focus on week 6 and wait a little longer to give people a chance to discuss the relevant activities.

The theme of week 6 was audiences and ethics, and while there was no set reading to discuss, students were asked to listen to a podcast - which anyone can listen to from here (thanks to Juliette for posting the link). The podcast was discussion between James Aczel, Eileen Scanlon, Cindy Kerawalla, and Chris Jones about the impact of different audiences on the process of research and how it is reported. Discussions in the forums highlighted the importance of pitching proposals to funders in such a way as to justify the research planned (including a consideration of any ethical issues), the need to be cautious of distorting the findings by oversimplifying the message (e.g. when reporting to a non-technical audience), and how there can often be a tension between what the funders and the researchers want. The latter point is especially true of dissemination activities, as funders will often want publicity straight away, while researchers will tend to want to mull things over a bit and consider the implications. If anyone is interested, this link was posted in the forum cafe to a Guardian discussing the government's interest in "evidence based research". Another point that came up, was how it is common to disseminate the same research findings to different audiences. This reminded of conversations I had when working as a research assistant on the Racing Academy project, where we talked about dissemination in terms of both academic audiences and practitioners, because we also wanted the findings to be useful to teachers who wanted to use game-based learning in practice. In general, the discussions within H809 seemed to suggest that thinking about your target audience should happen quite early on in the research process, because it helps you address the issue who is likely to benefit from your research. This doesn't mean that you should tell funders or other audiences what they expect, but by considering what they might find most useful from the start, you won't have carried out a piece of research that no one wants to hear about! Meanwhile, Juliette and Sonja have both used their blogs to consider how the issues of audiences affect their own research.

In terms of ethics, a lot of the forum discussions focused on the ethics of carrying out research online. Part of this was about the "racial ravine" e.g. only 5% of Internet users are African-American and so a researcher has a duty to note that results may be influenced by inequalities in power relations (be they due to race, class, gender, sexuality etc) or cultural issues. Other issues raised were how to go about getting informed consent from participants (see Juliette's post on ethics for some examples of consent forms and information sheets) and how you can know whether someone online is who they say they are. Linked to the latter point was a suggestion that the Exploring online research methods website might be a little out of date, as there is little consideration of Web 2.0 technologies in terms of ethics. An article was also linked to about the failure of Captcha systems (which I seem to have to deal with everytime I buy gig tickets or post a blog comment) to distinguish between computers and humans. Students have also begun to think about how to address ethics in their own research by posting case studies to the wiki (which you can access here if you are logged into the course website) including JM who has posted her case study online. Finally, there was also some talk about the difficulty of maintaining the anonymity of participants. Changing someone's name is not always enough, as they can be identified by other information. For example, it was pointed out in the forums that while Hiltz and Meinke (1989) did not refer to participants by their real names, they did make a potential breach of privacy by informing us that not only did the Upsala college's ice hockey team take part in the project but also hat some of them failed to show up on-line on a regular basis. It is worth noting however, that even if care is taken to anonymise identifiable information about participants, they may still find it somewhat uncomfortable to read about how their behaviour is interpreted by the researcher(s). One way to avoid this is to make sure your participants get to read your interpretations before you publish them, but this also runs the risk of them withdrawing their consent during the final stages of your research...

As usual, I've been trying to think about my own take on the topics being addressed in H809. In terms of audiences, I think I'm probably focusing on an academic audience at the moment as I'm not looking at anything that directly relates to educational practice just yet. However, studying games and learning means there are a variety of academic audiences I can address as I seem to be some sort of psychology, computer science, education type crossroads which I can also talk about in terms of HCI (Human Computer Interaction) user experience evaluation. I think this will be especially obvious when it comes to writing up my findings, and is something I have already become aware by submitting papers to different types of conferences. In terms of ethics, I don't think I'm going to have any major problems as it looks like I'm going to be using adults (keep in mind that when children are being used in research projects, there will be even more ethical issues to consider and processes to complete such as a Criminal Records Bureau check), and won't be asking them to do anything that could cause them serious harm. That said, if I do end up using these gaming vests, there may be some potential for physical injury that I will need to take into account and justify my reasons for wanting to look into. I should also say that even though I didn't need to get ethical approval for the studies I carried out last year during my masters, filling in the OU ethics proforma was still quite a useful exercise as if helped set out what I intended to and made me think about all sorts of issues that need to be considered if you want to carry out an ethically sound piece of research that your particpants won't regret taking part in.

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