Episode 1: the adventure begins

Next week two key facts are scheduled in my diary:
1) my online questionnaire on the topic of academic practices and related ICTs uses is being delivered across three Italian universities;
2) I am presenting for the first time my research project as a whole at the Doctoral Consortium within the EC-TEL 2012 conference in Saarbrucken, Germany.
So, I think that sharing the draft paper I am discussing in the DC could be of interest for some respondents (hope there will be many respondents 🙂 to my survey.

The Doctoral Consortium is thought to improve the approach and feasibility of your own research project. Thus I will write down some notes from the work sessions at the conference and will share them in this blog. It will be interesting to spot how my research project will be affected by the suggestions and criticism that I am listening to.
You can find here the draft paper.
Any geanuine suggestions and clues for discussion are welcome!
My presentation also coming soon…

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Researching in the open: how a networked learning instance can challenge ethical decision-making – Abstract for ECEL 2011

Some months ago I decided to draw an article from an assessed essay on research ethics that I had submitted as partial fulfillment of the requirements of the module Research and Theoretical Field, within the online MRes in Educational and Social Research. Every essays in this master are asessed by two different examiners and this habituates you to have a plural perspective on the arguments you attempt to shape in your learning journey. So, it was per se an interesting exercise, but I aimed to prove to myself whereas the essay – with the appropriate changes and improvements – was also able to ‘pass’ the peer review process in a ‘real life’ research context. So, I submitted it to ECEL 2011, in which a research ethics session was planned. The ‘dialogue’ with the reviewer let me spot aspects of my argumentation which I hadn’t previously thought of. Finally, my paper was accepted: here tile and abstract

Researching in the open: how a networked learning instance can challenge ethical decision-making

Abstract: This paper focuses on ethics issues implied in a prospective virtual ethnography study aiming to gain insights on participants’ experience in an emergent context of networked learning, namely a MOOC – Massive Online Open Course. A MOOC is a popular type of online open course, that provides free content and expertise to anyone in the world who wishes to enroll. This kind of informal lifelong learning initiative is enabled by a network-based pedagogy and is enacted in a distributed technology-mediated learning environment.
The purpose of this article is to explore competing views on ethical decision-making when researching in such a globalized, online and open learning setting. Considering the challenges of this new elearning inquiry context, issues as the underlying research ethics models, the roles of researcher and participants and the integrity of the research process are discussed in their interplay with the evolving ethos of the ethnographical methodology being adopted to investigate participants’ views.
Elements drawn from the design of a qualitative study are here utilized to identify an empirical instance that shapes and is being shaped by research ethics decisions. The study aims to answer the following question: what are the affordances (opportunities and challenges) of online open courses as they emerge from the participants’ perspectives?
This paper considers the potential operationalization of the above research question and discusses both theoretical and methodological issues arising from applying research ethics to this specific case of Internet inquiry. In this sense, ethical approaches in online research contexts as well as main ethical decisions are discussed and justified, envisioning a submission to an institutional ethics review board before undertaking the ethnographical study. Topics such as privacy concerns in a public online setting, choice between overt and covert research, researcher as observer or participant, narrow or loosely defined application of the informed consent and anonymity are outlined, presenting a range of different options. This article intends to show that ethical decisions are an iterative procedure and an integral part of the research design process. Moreover, it endorses the opportunity to produce localized and contextualized ethical decision-making. To this end, it takes into account the guidance available (research ethics literature; narratives of ethics procedures applied to empirical cases); the ethics debates within the ethnographical tradition and the nature of the setting being researched (the specific format of the networked learning instance being examined).
The discussion here proposed orientates ethical decision-making towards an overt and participant research approach, an informed consent intended as a ‘public notice’ and a consideration of participants both as authors in the online setting and as human subjects embedding unexpected privacy sensitiveness. However, such decisions are intended as many starting points to build a research ethics protocol intended to a degree as a work in progress, in a problem-solving approach guided by the practical wisdom of participants emerging over time.

Key words: Internet research ethics, massive online open courses, virtual ethnography, situated ethics

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Wanted: digital, networked, open researchers

While Martin Weller’s seminar in #Change11 was ‘on air’ two days ago, I was editing the last draft of my MRes dissertation, a small interview project…looking for ‘digital researchers’ in an Italian university. No doubt that the preparation of this work benefited in every part of the process by my networks of contacts and the ‘joys of openness’: just to mention the month of September, I was able to access relevant publications, such as Garnett and Ecclesfield‘s ALT-C paper on ‘A Framework to Co-creating open scholarship’, White and Le Cornu‘s article on Visitor/Resident typologies of online engagement and the open access version of Weller’s book on The Digital Scholar before receiving the printed copy. What a blast! 🙂 ! In turn, I made comments in some blogs, shared rough materials and links of empirical studies and aggregated essays, conferences’ recordings and blog posts on the topic. What next? Certainly now I have something to say and I will be able to blog about that. Moreover, I will opt for an open access submission of my dissertation, when approved. For sure, given the topic being researched, I drew obvious advantages by my permanence online, even if only any accepted papers that I will be able to formally publish for conferences and journals will be all that will really count for my resume to be enriched.

But what if I was a classicist? I talked with a brilliant young researcher in Humanities that is far more ‘digital-as-networked’ than me. However, her colleagues (also abroad) are not used to share any content (e.g. references) in social media: how could it make sense to be a networked researcher if you are in fact a ‘Lone Ranger’ in your field? So, she prefers to curate a digital identity in an intellectual field that has nothing to do with her academic commitment.

What if I was a researcher in Medicine, under pressure due to the competitive environment? Probably I would also be suspicious towards blogging as a viable means to practice scientific discourse. Or would believe that there are more efficient means to communicate among peers and have impact on a wider context (e.g. traditional media).

What if was a young researcher in Physics, whose digital interaction are rigorously channelled within the ‘boundaries’ of a large international community of a funded project? Maybe I would find it difficult to practice other forms of openness beyond the well-established conventions to share pre-print (in fact finished papers) in renowned subject-based online repositories. Perhaps I would wander whether there are modes to illustrate to layman the meanings of highly specialized (and costly) research threads.

What about any possible champions of digital, networked, open researchers? All that I could observe from my narrow perspective is related to two cases of ‘digital researcher’:

1) a well-established researcher – a social scientist – working in a discipline and from a research perspective that can be nurtured by a networked discourse: he has an exploratory approach towards new technologies and a well-established academic reputation. So, he can afford to curate a (parallel) academic digital identity even if his own academic context does not acknowledge that. Moreover, he endorses an idea of democratisation of the researcher’s reputation and the moral responsibility of a scholar as a public intellectual;
2) a doctoral researcher – a ‘digital’ archeologist – that undertakes her scholarly apprenticeship within a discipline in transition from a traditional to a still uncharted asset. Her networking activities is closely linked to the collective and collaborative endeavors to define methods and create digital instruments. Open collaboration is an efficient way to do all that. For sure she personally has an exploratory attitude towards new tools, but she works in an enabling disciplinary context, that makes her ‘naturally’ digital, networked and open. It is also true that she currently live in a sort of ‘limbo’ constituted by her doctoral journey. The scholarly system that can acknowledge her digital profile as a prospective young researcher is all to be thought and constructed.

I find it particularly fascinating Weller’s idea that “a well-respected digital scholar may well be someone who has no institutional affiliation”, because s/he is more defined by networks and online identity s/he establishes than by the institution which he/she belongs to. The autonomy of a ‘disintermediated’ scholar with respect to institutional and traditional scholarly constraints can even be considered as an advantage in some disciplinary contexts, but it is worth exploring to what extent this perspective can be generalized across disciplines. Otherwise, how this idea is likely to be inflected in different subject areas and discliplinary conventions of work practices and ICTs appropriation In this sense, the ‘digital scholarship resilience matrix‘ can help to situate the digital scholar’s emergent profile within the macro and micro contexts and according to individual attitudes and motivations.

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Transcription as analytical act

A few days ago I started to transcribe the first group of my research interviews: I made a preliminary check for practical tips, I asked for advice on a transcription software in the channel #phdchat in Twitter, but overall I retrieved and remixed my notes and readings on the trascription process that I had studied in the MRes Qualitative Data Analysis module. The following notes are intended as a first attempt to build my ‘guide-on-the-side’ to carry out a transcription not as a mechanical practice, but as an a analytical act. The aim is to gain awareness that transcription is a mediated practice – as other research practices – and that “it is not an antecedent to analysis, but it is a central aspect of the ways that researchers analytically orientate to data” (Gibson and Brown, 2009: 125)
Generally speaking, transcription is a time consuming and labour-intensive process by which researchers start to generate data from a source of information/other data (i.e. an audio-recorded interview/focus group) and contextually produce an early analysis about them. Intended as an analytical resource for working through data, transcription is suitable for all kind of data, such as audio, video, photographs, documents. For instance, in the experience reported by Heath and Hindmarsh (2004 :19), transcription is related to “aspects of interaction” observed in a video recording, and allows researchers “to clarify what’s said, by whom and in what way, and to begin to explore potential relations between aspects of the interaction”.
To a degree transcription already activates an interpretive process, because “it involves making analytic judgements about what to represent and how to represent it” (Gibson, 2009: 31). In fact it enables researchers to begin to interrogate available documents to gain informants’ views, having a specific research aim and a methodology to be applied. The adoption of specific conventions, the selection of symbols as many ‘markers’ of the discourse, the choice of one type or another one of transcription implies that researchers are able to frame a flow of information according to procedures which make the provided information be readable as many data to be furtherly analyzed. The choice of a specific analytic method involves a selective kind of attention to the elements to be transcribed: for instance, attention to the range of tones and pauses in a recorded discussion can be important in a conversational analysis approach, but it is not due using other forms of analysis such as thematic analysis, in which the main way of conduct is to code content by iteratively generating a set of categories.

Moreover, representation of the original document is always partial, firstly because it is impossibile to get a perfect reproduction of the original discourse, even with the most sophisticated recording devices: our hearing ability is itself selective and prompts inferences. Secondly, transcription is guided by researchers’ perspective on the study being conducted, sifting “details of speech (and gaze) and gesture and action) or writing that are arguably deemed relevant in the situation and that are relevant to the arguments the analyst is attempting to make”(Gee, 1999:88). Even if some authors (Maykut and Morehouse) recommend to transcribe everything, doing a selective transcription can be appropriate, if a justification of the selection is provided.
Indeed, a transcription process can produce multiple transcripts, more or less detailed: from a practical standpoint, it is important that “the level of detail of the transcription matches the use to be made of the transcripts” (Brown and Dowling, 1998:78). Moreover, it is worth noting that validity of a transcription doesn’t deal with how detailed the transcript is; rather, it is related to the researchers’ purpose and to the other elements of analysis as a whole.

In his study examining three alternative transcripts derived from a same piece of discourse, Mishler (1991:31) comments stating that these alternative versions don’t testify any inability of researchers and neither they are sign of technical problems. Instead, the case highlights how transcription is inherently problematic and how to “search for a standard system that could apply to any form and to any purpose is a misguided effort”. Transcription is a researcher’s construction and in this sense implies decisions that “reflect theoretical assumptions about relations between language and meaning, and between method and theory”, that in turn influence findings and their interpretation. Above all, Mishler underlines that “there is no way not to make such decisions”.

Therefore, transcription can’t be neutral just because it is an analytical act. Irrespective to the typology of transcription being adopted, such as focused (in which the focus is on particular nuances of the discourse or action in the data), unfocused (in which the attention is to what is said), indexical (in which an index puts in relation general content of the data and analytical interests), transcription can be never intended as merely procedural, even if it embeds a set of procedures to be followed. Transcription “is about analysis, and all analysis involves contextually working through specific empirical/theoretical/conceptual problems” (Gibson, p. 33). In turn, a transcript can be considered as a “theoretical entity”, which “does not stand outside an analysis, but, rather, is part of it” (Gee, 1999:88).

Furthemore, just because transcription is at the heart of the iterative process of generation of data in qualitative research, it shouldn’t hide the original data, as it is at danger in a concept of transcription as ‘translation’ (Kress et al., as mentioned in Gibson, p.32). In this concept transcript is seen as a mere guide to data and not as a means to make analysis emerge. Rather, it should preserve a proximity to original data, in an attempt to gain understanding that is always to be thought as recursive and tentative. As Heath and Hindmarsh underline: “Transcription doesn’t replace the video recording as data, but rather provides a resource from which a researcher can begin to become more familiar with details of the participants’ conduct” (2004: 19).
It should also be taken into account that trascription is always a ‘situated’ activity, whose analytic attention is oriented “towards the investigation of activities and events within the contexts in which they occur” (Heath and Hindmarsh, 2004:22).

More in-depth, Bucholz (2000:1463) maintains that “the transcription of a text always involves the inscription of a context“. It is up to researchers to make interpretive decisions (focusing on what is transcribed) and representational decisions (focusing on how is it transcribed). Such decisions always also imply an “act of power” and “ultimately respond to the contextual conditions of the transcriptions process”. These contextual conditions encompass intended use, intended audience, surrounding community, interests and position of researcher toward the text. Every decision during transcription has political effects and the analysis of the resulted transcript can’t be separated from ‘its own history’, unless researchers keep on by mistake believe that “an objective transcription is possible”. So, in a perspective of reflexive discourse analysis, Bucholz (2000:1440) highlights that researchers have to assume responsibility “of her or his role in the creation of the text and the ideological implications of the resultant product”. The author concludes that given the nature of transcription – which has always a point of view and is always partial in every sense – a responsible practice involves to “state our relationship to our transcripts”, declaring our own choices and related limitations and keeping on interrogating tapes, colleagues and the same participants, in order to “discover other ways of hearing and transcribing” (Bucholz, 2000:1462). However, it is worth noting that Bucholz contextually mentions other authors (usually outside discourse analysis) who differently solve the problem of non neutrality of transcription, by explicitly intending transcription as the production of a script, in which researcher “is as central as the other participants and the style is more literary than linguistic”.

Others (Vigoroux, 2007) discussed the character of transcription as a social activity, illustrating in a study how a research team comes to an agreed interpretation during the process of co-transcription of a video recording, within an ethnographical investigation. Unlike a long tradition in ethnography, in which textualization is conceived as a prerequisite for interpretation, this author sees interpretation as interwoven with the ongoing production of the transcribed text. More specifically, transcription is intended as being produced in a dialogical tension between experience, authorship and authority, in which there is an effort towards a sharing of linguistic and cultural identities within the different roles in the research team. “The negotiation and actualization of power and identity go hand in hand as speech is entextualized within the speaking present and into the scripted past” (Vigoroux, 2007: 90). Vigoroux utilizes the distinction between the process of transcribing (transcription) and the product of this process (scription) in order to rethink the relation between the fieldwork and transcription as mutually influencing. In this sense, transcription with its theoretical assumptions becomes part of the ethnographical investigation and helps clarify how the understanding of the context being researched is achieved by research team and participants. Confronting their competing views on transcription and shifting the attention from the scription to the making of the scription, the involved researchers become aware of the process of data construction and interpretation within the ethnographic approach.

To sum up, transcription is never a neutral analytic act because it is integral to analysis and therefore modeled on the character of the selected form of analysis, to the researcher’s aim, to the context in which events and interaction are occurring. In any case it can’t be intended as a mere procedure, but as researchers’ methodological construction of which they have to assume responsibility through reflexivity and iterative interrogation of original data and other stakeholders. Beyond the reliability of the reproduction devices, transcription is an inherently problematic act, that necessarily implies interpretational and representational decisions having political effects. Finally, to furtherly refute a naive notion of objective transcription, interactive and social dimension of transcription calls attention to the fact that transcription is based on a negotiation process aiming to gain findings in turn subjected to further exploration and interpretation.


Brown, A. and Dowling, P. (1998) Doing Research/Reading Research A Mode of Interrogation for Education, Routledge, London and New York

Bucholz, M. (2000), ‘The politics of transcription’, Journal of Pragmatics, 32:1439-65

Gee, J.P. (1999), An Introduction to Discourse Analysis: Theory and Method, London, Routledge

Heath, C. and Hindmarsh, J. (2002), ‘Analysing interaction: video, ethnography and situated conduct’, in May, T. (ed), Qualitative research in Action, London , Sage

Mishler, E. (1991), ‘Representing discourse: the rhetoric of transcription’, Journal of Narrative and Life History, 1(1):255-80

Gibson (2009), ‘Transcription’, Unit 4 Lecture Pack Qualitative Data Analysis, Institute of Education
Gibson; W. and Brown, A. (2009), Working with Qualitative Data, London, SAGE

Vigoroux, C.B. (2007)’Trans-scription as a social activity: an ethnographic approach’, Ethnography 8(1)_61-97

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Open what? Searching for a ‘doable openness’ in my dissertation work

Indeed the current year 2011 is really ‘the year of living dangerously’ for me: completing a two year online MRes in Educational and Social Research by the Institute of Education, University of London, and starting a doctoral programme in e-learning area, delivered by the IN3 – Universitat Oberta de Catalunya. The topic of my MRes dissertation is:

“Research practices in transition: investigating the relationship between emerging digital scholarship and open scholarship in higher education settings”

It is a small scale qualitative study, namely a project interview carried out at the University of Milan, where I have been working in an administrative role. So, I planned to interview 12 full/associate professors, young researchers and doctoral students, working in the area of Humanities, Social Sciences, Physics and Medicine. I thought that it would be both a moral obligation and an inquiry challenge to pilot an open research approach as an apprentice researchers, while investigating digital scholarship’s practices and any related open approaches among faculty. I have just received a ormal approval of my ethics forms and then I am allowed to proceed on making these good intentions real. I have already written down some notes on open approach and research ethics, but now my concerns focus on how can an open approach be applied to my research study in a ‘doable’ way. For ‘doable’ I refer to the following features:

sustainable: ‘being open’ should be an effort to be maintained over time, so it can not be too time consuming. And of course neither to steal time to the research conduct;

productive: ‘being open’ should be worthwhile for the researcher. For instance it should allow a supplementary opportunity for reflexivity, to reveal and question any prejudices, to se up a space for a continuing debriefing with participants and non participants;

useful to others: to a degree ‘being open’ should imply some advantages for any readers who occasionally are willing to spend time on your ‘open’ notes. Firstly thinking of the research participants themselves, who can gain additinal information about the study. For instance, I could publish an abstract of the study, adding references of previous empirical studies on the topic, a map of literature review, a draft of an early annotated bibliography, etc. I will try to evaluate if to disseminate a certain resource is more or less appropriate. Anyway this committment will induce me to better organize my research instruments.

That said, my take is to reserve more method-focused reflections to this blog and to deploy more informative notes and the topic-related material in a public web space I am going to create in Cloudworks. According to the negotiated ethics rules, for sure I am not allowed to publish in any from quotes from (anonymyzed) interviews, until the dissertation will be submitted and hopefully approved. Moreover, intermediate findings can not be disseminated due to obvious reasons to preserve integrity of research.
However, the open approach I intend to adopt in the research conduct can make sense in at least two different ways:

1) Using a blog as a ‘research journal’ enables me as an apprentice researcher to practice reflexivity in a systematic way and experience forms of the open practices I aim to investigate.
2) A cautius disclosure of the ongoing study in an edtech digital environment such as Cloudworks can help me to better understand digital and open practices, in a perspective of research process intended as a learning process, in which researcher have skills as required to participate in the activities described. So the web space in Cloudworks could have the function of an ‘open notebook
’, in which to a degree I should to make the research process visible.

To tell the truth, my expectations about an open approach in Cloudworks are even more ambitious, but…it is worth keeping it simple for now. Any suggestions?

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Why investigating digital researchers? A personal choice

I think that both a master and a doctoral thesis provide you with an invaluable opportunity to really choose any research topic and to shape it according to your own core interests (beyond the obvious constraints due to ‘zero budget’!). As usual you have to justify your choice by identifying a research problematic and positioning the research questions in the literature. However there are also other kinds of justifications that are not required in your research proposal, but that have something to do with your own personal path to become a researcher. It deals with what makes the proposed study your study, and how this fragment of research can start mapping out the research territory you will be willing (and able) to explore over time. So, writing down what prompted me on the selected topic helps me to clarify my motivation and take it into account in the building effort of an identity as an (apprentice) researcher.
I proposed to focus my MRes thesis on research practices in transition, focusing on digital scholarship’s practices as enabling factor of open practices in research and teaching. Indeed my professional experience was related to elearning course design and elearning management issues in university contexts: rather, the perspective I assume in the MRes thesis is sociological one and aims to explore changing modes of knowledge production and communication in research practices. This choice actually stems from personal and professional reasons:

To verify in ‘real life’ what to have an habitus as a (digital) researcher means.

As a past elearning practitioner I am currently in transition towards a more research-focused role. Therefore I am curious of exploring a new realm of research work practices, that I occasionally observed at university, as non-teaching staff. I aim to gain understadings from insiders of what ‘scholarship’ is today, and what is the role that digital environments/tools are playing to shape it. Indeed, since a couple of years digital environments constitute my formal and informal (international) learning environment referring to research practice and methods. I need to recontextualize in a local setting what I am learning and practicing in a virtual, global context. Moreover, actually I realize that attitudes, digital behaviours and participatory approach I am acquiring belong to a specific realm (educational technology) and are drawn from a group of researchers who are also convinced social media adopters. I need to listen to contrasting views from diverse subject areas, in order to scaffold an informed opinion about what new media can (or can not) add to my research training and attitude.

To understand what is the relationship between e-learning and e-research.

Nothing new if I say that elearning uptake by faculty is weak, dispersed and often not supported by a rethinking of one’s teaching approach. This is also caused by the ancillary role of teaching in academic scholarship. Just for this I believe that elearning adoption can slowly become widespread, but above all can affect teaching and learning in HE, only if research practices are likely to be endorsed Web 2.0 approach and tools, since “Web 2.0 is changing cultural attitudes of engagement” (Haythornthwaite, 2009). In order to elearning is not intended anymore as a ‘plug-and-play’ digital toolkit, faculty should find it natural to adopt digital tools and – more interestingly – a participatory approach both in research and in teaching. In fact, according to this author, Web 2.0 is expanding to all the world the knowledge acquisition and production model featuring academia: “A transformation to a participatory culture may, in learning, be a transformation to an inquiry culture taught, practiced and used at all levels of education”. In other words, e-learning could be intended as a by-product of e-research: “What would e-learning look like if we considered it a branch of e-research?” (Haythornthwaite, 2009) For this reason I am intrigued by a “social shaping perspective”, in which a similar approach can be applied to study technlogies in learning instances as well as in research practices:

“It would mean being “concerned with technologies that support all the processes involved in [research learning] including (but not limited to) creating and sustaining [research learning] collaborations and discovering, analysing, processing, publishing, storing and sharing [research learning] data and information. [OeSS]”.

Therefore, my very first research study represents a tentative early step to rethink of e-learning adoption in HE through a small-scale inquiry about what being a digital researcher means in a current higher education setting.

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In good company: an imagined community to support virtual PHD journeys (DR11)

(Just for archive, first published in Digital Researcher 2011 blog, 12th February 2011)

My uptake of social media is fairly recent and coincides with my move from an e-learning practitioner role in higher education towards that of an apprentice researcher in the elearning area. Change prompted me to engage in the not straigthforward learning path to practice social media and above all to make sense of them. Indeed I spent almost two years badly playing with different tools (I belong to the ‘digital lazy’ species), while attending online courses focusing on innovations in e-learning. I opened a Twitter account and let it sleep…then built non significant profiles in different ‘generic’ social networks (Facebook, Linkedin). And visited a number of Ning communities, searching for interesting materials, references and links. So, first my motive was to achieve valuable content collection and my attitude was of an explorer.

At the end of 2009 I ‘took up residence’ in a social network specialized in educational technology (Cloudworks), in which I found the community dimension that made me understand how to harness the network effect and to define a digital presence. For instance, I learnt how to follow a remote conference through Twitter (the magic of hashtags!) and contribute to it by live blogging and/or adding references and weaving discussions. Or to set up a simple web space of resources which can be of general interest (such as Tools for digital researchers: http://cloudworks.ac.uk/cloud/view/2587) and that implies a committment to curation and update over time. So, my motive was to break the ice by communicating with unknown and renowned people, and the attitude was of a connector.

These gains assumed a more important function when I joined first an online postgraduate course on research methods and then a doctoral programme at a distance. I have just started my adventure as a virtual PHD student and I fear that it will be a solitary journey, apart from the scheduled encounters with my supervisors. I fear I will miss that sort of tacit knowledge that you are only able to acquire when you work side by side with experts and colleagues, that constitutes the basis of a research apprenticeship, that influences your habitus as a researcher. So, living in social media – for now considering Twitter, Cloudworks, Delicious – means aiming to somewhat compensate this lack. Following a ‘do ut des’ attitude, so typical in these participatory media, I learnt to listen to a plenty of voices and to sift (digital) research practices to imitate. My personal learning network became a locus where I can see researcher’s models at work. Maybe the ties being built in this PLN are weaker than in a community of practice, but I believe that they are able to form the connective tissue of a community of interest (expanding and trasforming over time), in which I can position my learning path and my contribution as new edtech researcher.

Therefore, I think that an appropriate use of social media enables you to create your own peer-to-peer environment to support and expand your research apprenticeship, supplementing formal online training.
Finally, social media force me to think of myself a san author. In fact, social media provide me with a continuining opportunity to improve my own communication writing skills, although informally: even mere notes (if published online) should take into account a potential audience, and aim to combine simplicity and rigour. So, regularly running a research blog is the current point of arrival of this early phase of my social media’s endorsement. What next? I will tune in to learn more.

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Open approach and research ethics

Being an apprentice researcher, my view is limited to a few early experiences and reflections on a possible open approach while conducting a research study. In particular, I consider the relationship between an open research approach and research ethics, just at the beginning of my dissertation work about research practices in transition, which will engage me in an interview project in an Italian university. Currently I am waiting for a formal approval of the ethics form, that proposes the use of a public blog as a research journal and a web space in Cloudworks as many ‘loci’ to experiment an open approach during the research process. In the very next days I will know if the arguments endorsing the open approach are reasonable enough to receive institutional approval. In the meanwhile, to date I identified some issues related to over-exposure of participants and enhancement of some aspects of the research process.

Over-exposure of the researcher

A researcher willing to share her/his own ongoing research work should be self-confident to expouse oneself to any criticism. This can not be easy to be accepted when you are a new scholar , and your weaknesses are likely to be more apparent than your strengths (at least, this is what I think of me). In addition, this entails to protect your privacy (i.e. setting up a devoted email account for research purposes). However, you learn to shape your ‘being researcher’ just observing how other researchers interact with you and review your ideas/work. Moreover, ‘in the open’ you are expoused to a number of models, with respect to those ones you are able to observe in a specific ‘in site’ research department.

Over-exposure of informants

An open approach implies the opportunity of disclosing research data while data gathering process is still underway. This requires a cautious attitude, not only for obvious reasons of appropriateness (not disclose data not yet analyzed), but also thinking of paricipants’ vulnerability. For instance, the use of quotes from interviews in a public space could affect the principle of anonimity and confidentiality. On the other hand, too strict rules to preserve vulnerabiity of participants would make any disclosure (and then discussion) impossibile. This suggests that an additional negotiation of permission is to be undertaken with research participants, so that it is clear where the discussion is being conducted and in which terms data are being used.

Over-exposure of the context being researched

In my study I will select informants in a unique university context (the same in which I have been working!) and will interview them about their digital/open scholarship practices. However, contextual factors are likely to emerge from interviews: these ones are just elements to be shared in an open approach, but the specific university – in which ‘openness’ is not widely endorsed and even seen under suspicion – could feel itself threatened by such a discussion. In this case, asking for a permission could imply the risk of subjection and even censorship: the transparency of conduct togeher with gaing trust of a number of gatekeepers could keep from this drawback.

Iterative debriefing process

Using an open approach, the debriefing process is not limited to a final phase, but can constitute an integral part of a continuing dialogue with research participants. The risk for a newbie is too much relying on participants’ statements and not keeping that analytical distance that distinguishes research in its own right.

Practice of peer debriefing

An open approach provides an apprentice researcher with a unvaluable opportunity to debrief findings with a wider research-savvy audience than a reserved circle of an online class of research students. This add complexity to a challenging experience of writing a dissertation, but I think it can give you an habitus of critical thinking that it is worth acquiring.
However, I realise that in my current learning path as a researcher I am living in a ‘limbo’, in which a number of good practices are to be acquired, but relatively a few institutional constraints are to be fulfilled. Researching in ‘real life’ could dramatically change my ‘open’ practices, as Ferguson et al. (2010) report in their study about blogging as a research practice. For now, I can’t wait for starting my very first ‘open’ research study and reflecting on it.

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University and Cyberspace: lost in transition?

‘University and Cyberspace” (Politecnico d Torino, 28-30 giugno 2010): titolo un po’ retrò per un convegno importante che semina futuro (Reshaping Knowledge Institutions for a Networked Age) nell’ambiente statico e scoraggiato dell’accademia italiana. Un convegno che trasmette da subito un elemento non comune in questa tipica forma di comunicazione accademica: l’entusiasmo. Anche a distanza, come ho potuto seguirlo io. L’evento ha avuto una discreta copertura su Twitter (618 tweets), grazie soprattutto alla “cronaca” tenuta da @cyberuniversitĂ  e al suo legame con LaStampa.it, che ha dedicato alcuni articoli alla tre giorni: Le sfide dell’e-learning per l’universitĂ  e Apertura, condivisione, collaborazione. Ecco l’universitĂ  ai tempi di Internet. e Le universitĂ  salvate da Internet.
Ma anche grazie alle interviste in video organizzate da Polimedia, espressione creativa degli studenti di ingegneria di cinema e comunicazione del Politecnico.

Seguire un convegno a distanza attraverso il video streaming e i social media è sempre un’esperienza strana e interessante, che ogni volta devi ricreare con i mezzi e il tempo che hai a disposizione. Ha a che fare con la gerarchia della distrazione digitale da gestire; costringe a continue inferenze, stimolate dai frammenti colti, per completare il quadro del contesto reale in cui l’evento avviene; spesso s’intreccia in tempo reale con altri eventi su temi simili che hanno luogo contemporaneamente. E cosĂŹ, mentre a Torino in U & C si sviluppavano i temi in parallelo dei digital natives, della knowledge production e della physical/virtual infrastructure, la mia personal learning network su Twitter mi segnalava a Manchester l’intervento di Steve Wheleer sulle Digital Tribes and the Social Web e la filippica di Tara Brabazon contro Google, visto come “il McDonald delle modalitĂ  di ricerca” (@timbuckteeth Brabazon: Students need less choices on the Internet, not more. Digital dieting is needed in HE #altcmu (ooh, er…controversial eh?). Tony Bates nel suo blog commentava (Innovate or Die) quattro report sulla necessitĂ  per le istituzioni universitarie di rinnovarsi per sopravvivere e durare nel tempo. Mentre Grainne Conole della Open University si apprestava a tenere una key note ad #EDMEDIA: What would learning in an open world look like? A vision for the future.
Anche questi pochi rimandi, rafforzano l’importanza e l’urgenza dei temi trattati a Torino, ma richiedono anche che il discorso continui, si approfondisca e si faccia progetto, proprio attraverso l’uso della rete nella quale il convegno ha disseminato tracce interessanti.

Ci vorrĂ  tempo per elaborare i numerosi spunti emersi dalle fitte sessioni pensate da Juan Carlos De Martin, ma vorrei iniziare a mettere dei post-it su alcune suggestioni:

– l‘intervista a Mario Calabresi: mi sembra colga bene la prospettiva dell’innovazione quando parla della necessitĂ  di pensare e gestire nel medio-lungo periodo la transizione dal “vecchio” (universitĂ /giornalismo) al “nuovo” (in entrambi gli ambiti, attraverso il driver della tecnologia). La sfida vera e difficile è pensare la complessitĂ  del cambiamento in un contesto specifico, secondo livelli e velocitĂ  differenti a seconda degli stakeholders coinvolti.

– l’attenzione al cotnesto specifico è particolarmente importante laddove l’innovazione si serve della tecnologia: se prendiamo come riferimento gli Horizon Reports, i rapporti sulle tendenze di adozione di strumenti e ambienti tecnologici nell’ambito universitario, ci rendiamo subito conto delle differenze nei trend di adozione quali sono pubblicati nel report generale 2010 (basato sul contributo di 10 Paesi di 5 continenti) e i trend emergenti nel report regonale in corso di elaborazione per l’America Latina. Dove si colloca il contesto universitario italiano?

– in questo senso, non sono cosĂŹ sicura che la metafora dei nativi digitali, pur cosĂŹ affascinante, sia effettivamente utile per disegnare nuovi contesti di apprendimento. E’ cosa nota che tale metafora generazionale è stata ampiamente discussa e smentita da diversi studi basati su dati empirici. Applicata ai contesti universitari, questa metafora suscita ancora piĂš interrogativi.

Nella prima giornata è stato detto che “i nativi digitali sono da intendersi come un fenomeno, come un gruppo, una popolazione”. Possiamo permetterci di progettare solo per un gruppo emergente? La ricerca Responding to learners ha indagato nel 2009 la percezione e gli usi della tecnologia degli studenti universitari di quattro atenei britannici, molto differenti tra di loro per dimensioni, tradizione, prestigio e organizzazione. Il quadro che ne emerge è di una grande varietĂ  di competenze digitali, di attitudini, di bisogni e di istanze avanzate dagli studenti. Non c’è da stupirsi che anche in contesti tecnologicamente avanzati come gli Stati Uniti, gli studenti dei college “need more IT support“.
Un ricercatore di Oxford (White, 2009) ha anche avanzato l’ipotesi che si rischi un nuovo tipo di digital divide, piĂš sottile e profondo, che va al di lĂ  delle differenze generazionali: il divide tra coloro (visitors) che intendono l’uso della tecnologia come “una cassetta per gli attrezzi”, dalla quale si prende di volta in volta lo strumento che serve; e coloro (residents) che intendono gli strumenti tecnologici come “spazi da abitare”, nei quali costruire la propria identitĂ  digitale, in senso personale e/o professionale.
La questione centrale allora diventa piuttosto quella della definizione e promozione delle digital literacies

Non ci possiamo permettere di perderci in questa transizione, omettendo di studiare con attenzione i contesti da modificare: perchè, per usare un ormai “vecchio” adagio di Mike Wesch, The Maching is (us)ing us.

E questo vale anche per i docenti e ricercatori, ma in un’altra puntata…

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