Sunday, December 19, 2010

Goodbye (for now) INF1240!!

(Apologies for cross-posting, as this was sent as an email to the class list earlier today):

A final note, to remind everyone about course evaluations, as well as relay some final thoughts on INF1240. 

First thing's first - I was asked to send out a message requesting that anyone who has not yet filled out the online evaluation for this course to please do so today (or first thing in the morning), as the system will close tomorrow at 9am. Participation in the evaluation of fall courses is pretty low - and I've been told that only 16 of my students have taken the time to fill one out for INF1240. To those 16 - thank you very much!!! For everyone else, the course evaluation form can be found hereJust sign in using your UTORid. 

As an instructor, these evaluations are VERY important to me. I use the feedback to improve my course design and delivery, tweak assignments, add/remove readings, etc. As you may already know, with every evaluation you complete you can enter in a draw to win a Dell netbook or one of two Apple i-Pod touch devices...pretty awesome!

Second, I want to thank you all for a wonderful semester filled with great discussion, excellent ideas, challenging questions and an inspiring display of collegiality and participation (both online and in-class). I feel very lucky to be spending these final days of the term reading through so many thoughtful, exciting research project proposals - projects that I sincerely hope many of you do decide to pursue someday. I really learnt a lot this semester, and truly hope that you did too.

Lastly - I want to wish you all the best and happiest of holidays. I hope that each of you takes the time to rest, relax and recuperate after this extremely busy (and at times hectic) semester. And of course...Happy New Year!

Looking forward to seeing you in future courses and/or around the iSchool in 2011 :) 

Friday, December 10, 2010

CFP Alert: Second International Visual Methods conference

I think that this CFP may be of interest to a number of you interested in incorporating visual research methods into your thesis projects (such as Gauntlett's creative explorations). Perhaps a themed session proposal is in order? Something along the lines of "Using visual methods in information research"?

Via artacademia.net, a call for submissions for the Second International Visual Methods Conference, which will be held next September (Sept. 13-15, 2011) at the Open University in Milton Keynes, England. Here are the details, as posted on the conference website:
Following the very successful first international conference on visual methods in Leeds in 2009, the Programme Committee of the second conference invite proposals for papers, themed sessions, film/video screenings and exhibitions in the broad field of visual methods.

We welcome proposals in any of these areas:

  • Visual methods and research design
  • visual data of research participants
  • approaches to analyzing visual data
  • participatory visual methods
  • researcher-created visual data
  • visual ethics
  • arts-based visual research methods
  • visual culture and visual methods
  • data visualisation
  • visual technology

Please summarise your proposal -- whether for a paper, a themed session, a screening performance, exhibition or something else -- in 200 words and send it by 20 February 2011 to: IVM-Conference@open.ac.uk

Please include your full name, affiliation and email address in the proposal. We will let you know if your proposal has been accepted by 1 May 2011.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Planning Ahead: Research Ethics

Via Dean Sharpe, Research Ethics Board Manager for the Social Sciences and Humanities Office of Research Ethics (University of Toronto), here are the links to a number of relevant and useful sources that will help you in writing your ethics review protocol (and proposal!):

- consent: http://www.research.utoronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/GUIDE-FOR-INFORMED-CONSENT-April-2010.pdf


- data security standards: http://www.research.utoronto.ca/ethics/pdf/human/nonspecific/datasecurity.pdf

- Encryption standards: http://www.utoronto.ca/security/UTORprotect/encryption_guidelines.htm

- guidelines on key informant interviews: http://www.research.utoronto.ca/ethics/pdf/human/nonspecific/guidelines_on_interviews.pdf

- guidelines on participant observation: http://www.research.utoronto.ca/ethics/pdf/human/nonspecific/Participant%20Observation%20Guidelines.pdf

- guidelines on deception and debriefing: http://www.research.utoronto.ca/ethics/pdf/human/nonspecific/Deception_and_Debriefing_Guidelines.pdf

- guidelines on teacher-researcher role-based conflicts of interest: http://www.research.utoronto.ca//ethics/pdf/human/faculty_graduate/teacher-researcher%20role-based%20conflict.doc

- McMaster guidelines regarding intent to cause harm to oneself or others: http://www.mcmaster.ca/ors/ethics/faculty_high_risk_guidelines.htm
For those of you who are interested in online research and some of the complications that can arise out of conducting research a) online and b) involving children, you're welcome to read about my own experiences navigating these issues (albeit not always successfully) while conducting my Masters thesis research several years ago. I wrote a paper about the experience in the now-defunt (or is it merely dormant) International Journal of Internet Research Ethics, with the permission of the SFU Office of Research Ethics, which you can download here.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

UofT Upcoming Research Ethics Workshops

Posted upon request of the Office of Research Ethics. A great opportunity for those of you planning on doing research involving humans. I'm going to ask if he can come and speak to the class as well, though it may be a bit late notice for that. TBC!

*************Begin forwarded message***************
Research Ethics in the Social Sciences, Humanities, and Education
Workshops 2010-2011

The Office of Research Ethics is pleased to announce the following workshops to address all types of research involving human participants in the social sciences, humanities, and education:

Fall 2010:
Date Time
Social Sciences and Humanities Tuesday, November 23 2pm - 4pm
Social Sciences and Humanities Wednesday, November 24 10am - 12pm

Winter 2011:
Date Time
Social Sciences and Humanities Wednesday, February 23 10am - 12pm
Social Sciences and Humanities Tuesday, March 1 2pm - 4pm

Location: All workshops will be in the McMurrich Building, Rm. 107 (12 Queen’s Park Crescent W.)

Faculty members, graduate students, and staff are invited to attend. Workshops will include a presentation with opportunities for questions and discussion. Topics will include:

  • history and principles behind research ethics review
  • procedures under Tri-council policy statement: Ethical conduct for research involving humans
  • UT’s risk matrix for assessing participant vulnerability and research risk
  • free & informed consent, privacy & confidentiality, conflict of interest, inclusion/exclusion criteria
  • questions and discussion relating to specific projects and methods

Enrollment for each workshop is limited to 25 people. Light refreshments will be served.

Please register at: http://link.library.utoronto.ca/course_registration/course_signup.cfm?affiliation=ethics

The research ethics workshops are eligible for credit in the School of Graduate Studies Professional Skills (GPS) Program. To register, and for more information on GPS please visit:
http://www.sgs.utoronto.ca/informationfor/students/profdev/gps.htm

For further information, please contact dean.sharpe@utoronto.ca
I am also available to speak in research seminars, by invitation: please contact me if interested.

And one more thing...if we have time

Kids vs. Creative Professionals: Can you draw the internet? 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What if the data is public????

©2010 Bridges/Facebook
In lead up to next week's lecture and readings on online research, check out this recent article by Michael Zimmer entitled: ‘‘But the data is already public’’: on the ethics of research in Facebook, which appeared in a recent issue of the journal Ethics and Information Technology. It discusses some of the more challenging ethical dimensions of using "found" and "public" data in social science research, and we'll very likely talk about this example in class. Here's the abstract:
In 2008, a group of researchers publicly released profile data collected from the Facebook accounts of an entire cohort of college students from a US university. While good-faith attempts were made to hide the identity of the institution and protect the privacy of the data subjects, the source of the data was quickly identified, placing the privacy of the students at risk. Using this incident as a case study, this paper articulates a set of ethical concerns that must be addressed before embarking on future research in social networking sites, including the nature of consent, properly identifying and respecting expectations of privacy on social network sites, strategies for data anonymization prior to public release, and the relative expertise of institutional review boards when confronted with research projects based on data gleaned from social media.
You may also want to check out Facebook's own "User Research" program, which it runs in conjunction with all of the data they're already accessing through users' posts and usage of the site itself, as well as the academic-led Facebook Project.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Validity and Reliability

Throughout the readings, esp. in the Luker & Knight texts, as well as a couple of times during lecture, we've talked about validity and reliability - two key concepts in designing and evaluating research (designs, findings, conclusions, etc.). Here's a brief breakdown of some of the types that may come up in your own work for this course, as well as some very basic definitions (for a more thoughtful discussion, refer to Luker):


Validity:
Extent to which a measure reflects a concept – reflecting neither more nor less than what was implied by the definition of the concept (i.e. your measures are valid to the extent that the chosen indicators reflect the concepts as defined).
o   Face Validity: An evaluation of an indicator that, upon inspection, appears to reflect the concept you wish to measure (weakest, not very useful). E.g. Operationalization of concepts is consistent with past literature.
o   Content Validity: To what extent are you develop a question(s) that properly flushes out the concept (does the measure properly reflect the dimension(s) implied by the concept).
o   Construct Validity: Uses multiple lines of evidence to determine your level of validity – gathering data from different sources to see if the same findings, same themes emerge. If they do, you have construct validity and can refer to your methodology as using multiple lines of evidence.

External Validity: The extent to which results may be extrapolated from a particular study to other groups in general.

Reliability:
Extent to which, on repeated measures, an indicator/measurement will produce similar readings. Are the findings replicable? Different types of reliability include:
o   Inter-Rater/Inter-Judge Reliability: Are researchers and respondents are interpreting questions the same way?
o   Test-Retest Reliability: Conducting the same test on a least 2 occasions and ensuring people understand the questions the same way on all occasions.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Image-Based Research, Visual Representation & Stuart Hall

©2009 Uscreates Point of View

This week's reading includes a short discussion by Knight of "image-based research," which is an overly brief and (in my humble opinion) not at all complete introduction to what is actually a very compelling and complex set of methodological approaches. I especially urge you to disregard the part where he says that the method is "so new in social science that there is little to guide the researcher" (p.102). As a former student of communication/media studies, and current colleague of a number of excellent people here at the iSchool doing visual research (e.g. Jenna Hartel and Matthew Brower), and an extended circle of faculty and students doing image-based research across UofT, this sentence nearly sent me into convulsions ;)

As this is just one among many methods we will be looking at this week, I wanted to make sure that I sent those of you who may be interested in visual research in the right directions for further readings, theories, etc.  You've already been introduced to David Gauntlett, but that's just the tip of the iceberg.

A great place to start is to pour through back issues of the Journal of Visual Culture (e.g. pay special attention to methodology and research design).  Or visit the website of the Centre for Visual Methodologies and Social Change (esp. the work of Claudia Mitchell), or the International Visual Sociology Association, or track down the proceedings of the International Visual Methods Conference. Or you might consult the Handbook of Visual Analysis (co-edited by Theo Van Leeuwen & Carey Jewitt), or the Sage Handbook of Visual Research Methods:


Sage also publishes a four volume set called Visual Research Methods that covers everything from the history of visual methodologies and theories, to issues of objectivity (another issues that was not handled all that well in the Luker text). Here's the table of contents - prepare to be amazed by the number of familiar names.

In addition to Visual StudiesVisual Anthropology, Art History, Museum Studies and Image Studies, a key forum for this type of research is the interdisciplinary (and oft-misunderstood) field of Cultural Studies. I point you in the direction of Stuart Hall, a leading scholar on the topic of representation in the media (thereby adding some much needed discussion of "signifiers" to Knight's remarks about "signs"). Here's a clip of a fairly accessible introductory lecture Hall gave several years ago:


I should also note that we'll be using some visual research methods in both of the courses I'm teaching next semester. If any of you are interested in applying elements of this approach (in terms of critically analyzing images, aesthetics, representation, etc.) to children's digital games, cultural texts and artifacts, you're more than welcome to join in!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Where Good Ideas Come From

A student in this class, Gbby, wrote a great post last week on the role of collaboration (and discussion, roundtable debate) within the peer review process - you can check it out here. As I mention in the comments section, it reminded me of a short video by Steven Johnson promoting his new book Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, which highlights the importance of connectivity and collaborative spaces for generating new ideas. The key historical examples being the coffee houses of the Enlightenment and the salons (or pubs) of modernism - which he describes as "spaces where ideas could mingle, swap and create new forms." This discussion also reminds me of the Creative Research workshop last week - among the various benefits described by the participants, group dynamics and interaction appeared to play a particularly crucial role.

Check out the Steven Johnson video embedded below, or access it through My Youtube Channel (on the INF1240 Research Methods playlist):

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Short Introduction to Correlations

Via Sociological Images, a great graph (any clear, easy to read graph is pretty great) and interesting analysis of the *positive correlation between income and SAT scores, from data published by The College Board. There's a pretty strong relationship implied here - one that raises questions about the ongoing reproduction of class inequality and the hidden bias of standardized tests (as discussed briefly in relation to IQ tests - see Stephen Jay Gould).

©2010 Sociological Images

* Positive Correlation: Defined by Timothy C. Urdan as: "A characteristic of a correlation; when the scores on the two correlated variables move in the same direction, on average. As the scores on one variable rise, scores on the other variable rise, and vice versa." (For more, see Urdan, T.C. (2005) Statistics in Plain English (2nd edition). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.)

Note: Positive/negative correlations are found through "Correlational Analysis," which measures the strength of an association between two variables. Values range from +1.00 to –1.00. 

Rule of Thumb: Correlation should NEVER be confused with causation = they are very different things, and involve a very different set of calculations and often different research designs (methods, analysis, control groups, etc.). Causation causes correlation, but it is not necessarily the other way around. It is much easier to establish correlation than causation. And it is also very easy to confuse or inflate the significance of correlation - as seen in the media effects debates discussed in this week's Kline reading.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Creative Methods for Creative Explorations

This week's recommended readings include a link to the website of an incredibly innovative, mixed-methods research project led by David Gauntlett at the University of Westminster. Gauntlett is definitely a "salsa dancing social scientist" and uses "creative methods" or "creative visual methods" of his own design to explore a very tricky, very ambiguous and very hard to express set of questions about identity. Gauntlett's Art Lab Approach taps into personal creativity and subjective experience, enlisting the subjects as direct participants in a creative research process that involves a hands on manipulation of objects, materials and technologies. Gauntlett describes the rationale for his approach as follows:
"Engagement with contemporary media typically involves a complex interchange of visual information, aspirations, ideas, and references to other media, across an array of electronic and print formats. However, the traditional research paradigms have tended to treat people as audiences of specific forms and genres, and have then expected them to describe their reception and interpretation of these messages, in words, to researchers. Thus the complex, multi-layered, visual world of today's media consumption is sliced up and dissolved into straightforward, written accounts of its 'reception'.
The ArtLab studies represent a new type of research in which media consumers' own creativity, reflexivity and knowingness is harnessed, rather than ignored. In these studies, individuals are asked to produce media or visual material themselves, as a way of exploring their relationship with particular issues or dimensions of media."
©2007-2010 David Gauntlett

His approach can thus be seen as an alternative to interviews and focus groups - a face-to-face, qualitative method of inquiry, that incorporates some aspects of quasi-experiment, aspects of user-centred research, aspects of ethnography and aspects of media education. I've asked that you hone in on the LEGO Serious Play project, so that we have a mutual reference point example of the method in action. Also, the project website is filled to the brim with descriptions, examples and other materials from the LEGO studies, including slideshows, videos (e.g. check out this overview of the method itself), and data samples.

If you love this approach (or are just curious about it), you should definitely check out Creative Explorations - an entire book about Gauntlett's creative research methods!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

SSHRC Resources

As promised in class yesterday, here is a list of resources to help you tackle Assignment 2 (and/or apply for a SSHRC). First thing's first, the SSHRC application and website:

Next are the sources on tips, structure, what to include, etc.
  • The most complete information I've found so far is made available on the UBC Office of Graduate Programs and Research website. If you only read through one document, it should be their SSHRC Session Info Package. It even contains samples, a couple of which I've distributed to you in class and on Blackboard, as well as some amazing summaries of OTHER documents, a list of the top 14 common mistakes and a bunch of other things I referred to yesterday.
  • Adriana Rossi has posted a number of resources to the iSchool website aimed at helping you prepare your applications. For example this copy of a SSHRC Award Presentation given a couple of weeks ago by the SGS.
  • Heather Brown, an  M.Ed. graduate from the University of Western Ontario, wrote the document about How to Structure an OGS or SSHRC that I showed you examples from in class (the paragraph to paragraph breakdown).
  • Klassen and Saleh's  (2009) OGS/SSHRC Workshop: Program of Study Hints

I've now posted a number of samples on Blackboard (those distributed in class, as well as some new ones), along with copies of some of the documents linked above. They're in a folder that you access by clicking "SSHRC Samples" in the lefthand menu (and then click again on the link). If you have any problems accessing these materials, please let me know immediately.

And don't forget that you can use the blogs this week to deconstruct the samples, discuss them, draw out their structures into new templates, etc. etc.

Really Applying to SSHRC?
For those of you who are opting to write a real (as opposed to a "mock") proposal, here are some additional resources you may need:

Wondering about "keywords"and that Awards Search Engine I showed you? Be sure to go back a few years for a full sampling of the types of projects that have won, the keywords they've used, etc.

Also, although Lynne Howarth's workshop was earlier today, you may still be able to squeeze into one of the School of Graduate Studies' SSHRC proposal writing workshops. Here's the info:
Section 3:
Date: Tuesdays, Sepetember 28, October 5, 12
Time: 3:00pm - 5:00pm

This course focuses on strategies for writing a successful SSHRC proposal. The course will provide students with the opportunity to examine specific features of good and bad proposals, to see sections of winning SSHRC proposals, and to submit their own draft proposals for feedback. Feedback will be available to course participants through written comments on students' draft proposals and through individual consultations. Only students who are eligible to apply for SSHRC Scholarships (i.e. Canadian citizens and permanent residents) are eligible to take this course.
The SGS also has a bunch of info on other awards and funding opportunities, which you will likely want to peruse. A couple of the internal awards also require proposal (though usually 1-page as opposed to 2), which could provide an alternative or even additional place to send you Assignment 2 proposal once complete. In particular, you may want to check out their list of external funding opps.

The University of Alberta Graduate Studies and Research website has posted official information from last year's competition, including timelines, copies of the Instructions, how to apply, etc. You'll find it all here.

The McGill University site also has a couple of useful documents, including a Presentation on SSHRC Master's Awards and an overview of Application Criteria.


More General Tips on Grant Writing
US-based Social Science Research Council has just put out a guide to writing research proposals, called The Art of Writing Proposals. It's not specific to graduate awards, but does contain some general tips that are relevant to anyone writing a proposal and trying to get funding.

Some researchers at the University of Alberta have conducted a study of successful SSHRC grants (at the faculty level). Another study has been conducted at the University of Waterloo by Dr. , and you can read the report of here.

For a brief presentation on "argumentative moves" in grant writing, check out this presentation by Graves and Graves at the University of Alberta.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Notable Names/Quotes from Last Week's Lecture

A student in INF1240 has asked me to make available a more comprehensive list of the names, concepts and quotes that I used in last week's lecture. Not that you are in any way expected to write these down or memorize them in any way - the additional info I give in lectures is always supplementary, aimed at helping to contextualize the readings and inspire new trajectories in your own, individual readings and research proposal development...That said, if you were especially inspired or interested by some of the topics discussed last week, which weren't included in the slides, you can use these as bread crumbs to get you started down the right path:
  • Paradigms: I used Todd Gitlin’s (1978) definition of paradigm as “a tendency of thought” that identifies certain areas of social and cultural exploration as important, prescribes a certain methodology as appropriate or even most effective, and thereby frames results of studies conducted using this methodology as holding legitimate explanatory power. (from "Media sociology: the dominant paradigm" Theory and Society journal).
  • Another definition that you might want to use instead is Thomas Kuhn's (1962) The Structure of Scientific Revolution - which talks specifically about paradigm shifts.
  • Around the time that Durkheim was advancing his ideas about using positivism to study social phenomena, various other theorists and Schools were arguing for positivist/empirical approaches to investigations of the social, including the Vienna Circle Philosophers and Wittgenstein.
  •  Alfred Binet - often credited as having produced the first widely-used standardized intelligence (IQ) test.
  • I used J.B. Watson's behaviourist psychology as an example of extreme positivism in social research. If you want to find out more about him, there's an interesting critique of Watson written by Professor Christopher D. Green (York U), which you can read here. The Watson quote that I read to you was that measurements of human behaviour should be restricted to "objective facts consisting of movements of a person’s body or any part of it..." - but I'm not sure if this is a direct quote or paraphrased, I wrote it down so long ago (eep!)
  •  The source for Anthony Giddens' overview of the key philosophical ideas out of which positivism (in social sciences) emerged is Giddens, A. (1978). Positivism and its critics. In T.B. Bottomore and R.A. Nisbet (eds.) A History of Sociological Analysis [pp.237-86]. London: Basic Books.
  • The source I described as embodying many of the thoughts and theories of The Chicago School is Robert E. Park’s (1915) essay "The City." He re-wrote (and revised) this essay in 1925, in collaboration with some of his colleagues (Burgess and McKenzie, with Wirth), published by The University of Chicago Press.
  • In terms of important names in media/audience research (not addressed by Luker in her history of social research), people to look up include Gallup (of Gallup poll fame) and Nielsen, Paul Lazarsfeld (various publications), Elihu Katz, George Gerbner. 
  • The Frankfurt School is another key player here that Luker doesn't mention. If you need an introduction to the Frankfurt School, Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer's (1944) Dialectic of Enlightenment is the place to start. You can read most of a chapter here.
  • I talked about one of the founders of ethnography, Bronislaw Malinowski, whose aim was to “grasp the native’s point of view, his relation to life, to realize his vision of his world,” a direct quote from page 25 of his 1922 book Argonauts of the Western Pacific. London: Routledge.
  • Some key concepts within this discussion were: "ontological and epistemological realism" and "interpretativism."
  • Interpretativism meets the Chicago School in the works of John Dewey (and George Herbert Mead (for example). In Mead's 1934 Mind, Self and Society he begins to develop a concept of social psychology that was later named "symbolic interactionism" by Chicago School member Herbert Blumer (1937) - this is the idea of self as constituted in continuous communicative action, for instance in anticipation of the response of the Other, etc. 
  • Erving Goffman is a key theorist within this "ethnographic turn" paradigm  - I talked a little about theories he develops in (1959) The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York: Doubleday.


  • I highlighted the emergence of cultural studies - particularly in the UK - as inspired by the ethnographic turn, but also as an eventual point of contention within this particular "paradigm" (post-Foucauldian influence  focus on constructivism, power, etc.). Notable ethnographic researchers belonging to the "cultural studies" movement (which otherwise includes notables such as Stuart Hall, Richard Hoggart, etc.) include Paul Willis, Angela McRobbie, Dick Hebdige (though I don't think I mentioned them in class).
  • A key example of the concurrent shift within anthropology, i.e. growing questioning of the validity of "ontological and epistemological realism" (that idea that it is ever possible for a scholar to reach a truthful understanding of a culture based on description and interpretation), and the elaboration and deepening of the idea of ethnography as "interpretation of interpretation" is Clifford Geertz. He argued that “anthropological writings are themselves interpretations, and second and third order ones to boot” (p.15 in 1973 The Interpretation of Cultures). The chapter that I highly recommended in class was: Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight
I think that's it. If there was something else that I mentioned that you'd like to know more about (or just get a source for) just let me know!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Stephen Jay Gould

© Columbia Magazine, Stephen Jay Gould

Unfortunately, we weren't able to track down that Youtube video of Stephen Jay Gould that Gabby mentioned in lecture yesterday (it's been taken down). But I did find a small archive of clips, interviews and some video of a number of Gould's talks and interviews. You can find it on the Unofficial Stephen Jay Gould Archive.

Also, for those of you who missed the title of the book I recommended, it's The Mismeasure of Man. Gabby also tells me that Ever Since Darwin is also excellent, and serves as a great supplement to Mismeasure.

Methodology in Practice - Upcoming Event On Campus

Can't get enough methods theory? Interested in health research? Check out this upcoming event, which will delve into some of the dilemmas faced by qualitative health researchers, and their struggle to balance methodological rules, standards and expectations with the need to produce knowledge that is applicable and beneficial to both patients and health workers.

Upcoming CQ Seminar
Sep 27, 12 - 1:30 pm
The Centre for Critical Qualitative Health Research is pleased to announce its first seminar of the fall 2010 term. 
Title: Methodological Conventions in Transition - Shifting the Balance Between Theorizing and Application 
Speaker: Dr. Sally Thorne, Professor and Director, School of Nursing, University of British Columbia and Associate Editor, Qualitative Health Research 

Description: Although the methodological techniques first generated to serve the intellectual projects of the social sciences have served qualitative health researchers well in certain respects, there are increasing calls to disentangle method from the rule structures and conventions that may be compromising the utility of the enterprise. In an evidence-informed health policy and planning world, it is increasingly urgent that qualitative research is applied to the generation of transferrable knowledge that will solve problems rather than simply theorizing about them. In this seminar, we will consider the way in which this evidence-driven health care decision-making context challenges us to reflect on issues such as the manner in which we justify what deserves qualitative attention, the way we theoretically scaffold our studies, the way we think about what constitutes data, and the kinds of interpretations we allow ourselves to make on the basis of what we believe we have found. 
Event Details: On Campus Address
St. George
Health Sciences Building155 College Street
HS208
Website: www.ccqhr.utoronto.ca/course...
Contact Information: Dana Howse: 416-978-7545 ext.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Analyzing Demographic Data on Dating Sites

©2010 OKCupid/Humor Rainbow, Inc.

I read an interesting article last week in Bust Magazine Online, written by Katie Zanin, that looks at a recent data analysis conducted by an online dating service called OKCupid. Like many (most) sites, OKCupid does research on its users, analyzing the various forms of data that users contribute willingly, as well as inadvertently (through Cookies, etc.). The site is somewhat unique, however, in its openness about at least some of its data collection practices, publishing a blog called OKTrends where they talk about their research on user interactions, profile data, etc.

Zanin's article explores a recent post on the OKTrends site, entitled "The REAL ‘Stuff White People Like’" (written by Christian Rudder, in reference to the Lander blog/book), which examines trends within the likes that users have posted to their profiles, which the site has categorized in terms of race and gender. What I find particularly interesting about Zanin's article is her discussion of the ethics & politics of categorizing taste based on these types of demographic classifications. It's interesting, because gender and race are both very common and very contentious types of data gathered in social research (as discussed in Chapter 3). A good example of how issues discussed in a methods class - or during a research design process - can also appear within everyday cultural discourse. We're not the only ones thinking about operationalization and generalization!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Wikipedia's Lamest Edit Wars

One of my favourite research-related sites is called Information is Beautiful. It is a fantastic source for researchers, not only in terms of providing a way to keep track of new data, but also as a source of inspiration for exploring new, creative and interesting ways of displaying (and understanding) data. It makes stats more accessible, and more palatable. I highly recommend that students of INF1240 visit this site, especially if you're unfamiliar with stats and quantitative data, or if you're looking for new and interesting ways of thinking about data.

Here's a small excerpt of one of the site's more recent visualizations, "Wikipedia's Lamest Edit Wars"...a particularly timely and relevant piece of information to people in our field:

Monday, August 30, 2010

Ethnography Beyond the Ivory Tower

©2006 BusinessWeek

Looking for images to use in my presentation for the first lecture of the semester, I came across this older but still very relevant article in Business Week about the (then) growing use of ethnography in the private sector. The article provides a bit of the history, appeal and spillover of using ethnography for business & consumer market research, as well as a brief but interesting discussion of some of methodological & ethical questions that arise. For instance:
Practitioners caution that all the attention ethnography is getting could lead to a backlash. Many ethnographers already complain about poseurs flooding the field. Others gripe that corporations are hiring anthropologists to rubber-stamp boneheaded business plans. Norman Stolzoff, founder of Ethnographic Insight Inc., a Bellingham (Wash.) consulting firm, says he has worked with several companies that insist on changing the line of questioning when they're not getting the answers they need to justify a decision. "There's a lot of pressure to ratify decisions that are already being made," says Stolzoff, who holds a PhD from the University of California at Davis in cultural anthropology.
Of particular interest to INF1240 students will be the short slide show featuring products and/or campaigns that were launched around findings derived from ethnographic research, which you can skip ahead to here.