Tag Archive | capacity building

exam revision: deductive versus inductive research strategies

This belongs to the revision of social research strategies, I am going to summarise the key differences between inductive and deductive research approaches – but first what they’ve got in common. Both strategies are rooted in a positivist assumption in terms of epistemology and ontology. The underlying empiricism, i.e. the notion that only knowledge gained through experiences and senses is acceptable, is implemented by rigorous testing. Enlarging the number of instances observed (samples) increases plausibility and the number of regularities being identified. The accumulated ‘facts’ provide basis for general laws of cause and effects. Those are depicted in models as dependent (predictor) and independent (outcome) variables.

Inductive theory is being derived from the observations made. This approach cannot test hypotheses but generates them. In contrast, deduction is theory-driven, it’s based on preconceptions and aims to overcome the limitations of induction. It puts theories to the test, that means hypotheses can be falsified and disproved. The aim is to move closer to the truth, hence the gradual elimination of false theories implies that theories tested and not disproved can only be considered provisional.

Ideally, a deductive approach starts with a theoretical framework (for instance based on Erving Goffman’s ‘stigma’ or Pierre Bourdieu’s ‘social capital’) and the formulation of hypotheses. Usually, this includes an alternative hypothesis (also called experimental H., which states the effect assumed) and the null hypothesis (which states the effect is absent). What follows is the data collection which delivers findings that either result in confirmation or rejection of the null hypothesis and a subsequent revision of the theory.

In practice, though, deduction often entails an element of induction and vice versa. This is rooted in theoretical reflection once the data has been collected or the desire to establish conditions which allow the theory to hold (or not). This continuous weaving back and forth between data and theory and is called an iterative strategy, particularly evident in qualitative research which takes a grounded theory approach and a way to add to the validity of research. In quantitative research, it is advisable to carefully distinguish between the more complex development of theory and the generalisation of empirical findings.

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Audacity – podcasting made easy

Recording an Audio Podcast mp3 with Audacity

This is a very useful and clearly explained tutorial. I had downloaded the software some time ago but had not yet managed to look into some of the aspects I felt I need to improve. Towards the end of the year, I will be required to produce podcasts for the H808/eProfessional course. So, I’ve just been updating the course-related (password secured, I know…what’s the point) Wiki and will get a headset as soon as the Royal Mail decide they have been striking enough for this summer…

Audacity is free open-source software for editing sounds/producing mp3 files that works on various platform, quick to download.

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playtime: learning a wealth of new skills

With all the studies going on, I don’t want to repeat my errors of the past (too focused in one area, lack of stimulation and progress in another). It’s all about getting the balance right – having a few slots per week for regular exercise and the odd special keep me going. I started spinning classes in February this year, after years of rather dull gym routines, that pushed me to new limits – and insights. I was surprised and indulged in these new skills. Luckily, I am also enjoying an instructor who loves his job and never gets tired challenging us. I tried climbing and bouldering recently, after coming back from California where the outdoor-lifestyle made me think about the life indoors in less sunny and less spacious London. The teamwork in abseiling practice, the mental challenge, the fear in a controlled drop – it all adds to the sets of knowledge bites which are not formally recognised. Which, I believe, are undervalued – or, taken for granted, depending on the situational context – until a situation comes up that proves that a whole range of skills are not given but acquired.

So, ahead is a period of 10 very densely packed months with the social research methods and skills exam in October and a total of 12 papers (amounting to a daunting 40,000 words) plus numerous pieces of assessed contributions to online collaboration (it’s no longer fun and play only) for the MAODE – here is what I hope to try at some point, let’s see what I will be able to try and realise:

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Repositories of evidence – The eLearning Professional

As I said yesterday – two new post-graduate courses started, with ‘The eLearning Professional’ (the OU’s H808, developed by the Institute of Educational Technology, a leader in the field of online teaching and learning) being the second post-graduate course I am currently working on towards an MA in Online and Distance Education (MAODE).

Also for this course, all study content is available online, this time sources are rather widespread – with no convenient reading list on Delicious readily available or a neatly compiled eReader. I had seen some criticism on the OU’s site by previous students regarding the lack of clearly communicated learning outcomes. This issue no longer exists: there is a whole document available which clarifies learning outcomes. It definitely helps when working through the study guide and the calendar. It may also help getting back on track later, when I am getting lost somewhere between networking, prosuming and a looming deadline…

This is a course that seems to cover a lot of ground: technically and theoretically. It’s also been my first course ever at the OU where, within a few hours after engaging in the forum, someone asks me to network outside the OU boundaries (Twitter! Blogs! Delicious!– great! I did miss that bit during my undergrad studies).

The first block of 4 units is to be studied over a period of 8 weeks, it contains a diverse range of external online sources, it required signing up for an Open Access Journal (usually we’ve got access to the vast range of journals via the OU’s online library) – I did not encounter one single broken link. That’s brilliant (and not taken for granted). The remaining blocks are not yet accessible (which I feel is micro-managing us), so planning and working ahead will be limited – and that’s a clear minus as my schedule is going to be packed over the next few months.

Applied to the ‘4 areas of competency’ as the course team calls them, i.e. practice, communication, technology and research, is a framework of skills, reflection, critique and proactivity. Hence, the pieces students produce for blogs, wikis, podcasts and eportfolios will become objects (or artefacts) for the ‘repository of evidence’. They will, at least to me, also become subject to extended scrutiny:

  • theories of power,
  • knowledge construction,
  • the politics of identity as well as
  • other sociological concepts

have already been crossing my mind while I skimmed through the material which has been written from an elearning/educational perspective. Apart from this, students will be developing their own personal portfolios, and they will be evaluating various systems and templates in this respect.

Assessment is multi-faceted. There is academic writing required but also reflective commenting, report-writing, forum-discussions in relation to online [asynchronous] collaboration which may entail some synchronous debate on Elluminate Live! which enables audio-conferencing and real-time online collaboration. The collaborative production of podcasts towards the end of the course in January 2010 will probably be located in there, at least in part. The first paper is due in early November, it covers 2,500 words, the following is to be submitted by mid-December, word limit is 4,000 – this one is double-weighted. The last one is an examinable component of 5,000 words, it’s a composite of ePortfolio, essay and commentary and counts 50% towards the overall mark.

There is also guidance as to copyright restrictions in this context, which I think useful to discuss at an early stage. Not least because plagiarism used to be an issue in undergraduate courses where exam marks for a considerable number of students tended to mysteriously drop down towards the fail-barrier – which regularly resulted in claims ‘papers must have been messed up by external examiners…’ I do hope to find some more in-depth material on attribution in particular in relation to online collaboration in this course – and hopefully a lot more fellow students who blog, tweet – and raise questions as to what accounts for 21st century literacies from an eLearning professional’s perspective.

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Andy Field’s Discovering Statistics using SPSS – a student review

As mentioned before in my post on Research Methods and Skills here is a review of the book by Andy Field that has proved to be most helpful in my current post-graduate statistics course:

FIELD, A (3rd ed.) (2009) Discovering Statistics using SPSS. London: Sage.

For this 820 pages oeuvre there is a companion available with a number of student resources such as multiple choice questions and a flash card gloassary. Field’s companion on Sage
I got the edition which includes a 13 months student licence for SPSS Version 17.0.

Here are a number of reviews on Amazon . It is the most user-friendly, smart-structured, and accessible as well as entertaining Statistics book I have come across. If you are a busy student with more than a commitment to studies, try this. Field is doing a fantastic job in providing an all-you-need volume which does not step into the trap so many other authors seem to be unable to avoid. All those who believe they can fragment statistics and provide either the maths only, or the SPSS only or some statistics chunk food that leaves you unsatisfied as you still don’t understand how to apply findings to a case other than the model discussed.

Field’s book provides a 16-pages glossary, 7-pages references, index plus an appendix which contains the following:

  1. Table of the standard normal distribution
  2. Critical values of the t-distribution
  3. Critical values of the F-distribution
  4. Critical values of the chi-square distribution

There is a separate chapter about SPSS, the environment, the viewer, the SmartViewer, the syntax and more. A list of mathematical operators, Greek symbols and English symbols comes in very handy, so does the brief maths revision
EasyMaths .

Each chapter highlights at the end the important terms which is very useful for revision. There are self-tests, references for further reading and interesting real research as well as areas which explain either ‘strange dialogue boxes’ (in SPSS and how to make sense of them) or concepts (such as degree of freedom).

The chapters are structured in a clear manner, the language is clear and terms are explained throughout so that you won’t have to flip nervously through several books at the same time and do the work a smart author and editing team would have done for you. Formulae and tables produced in SPSS are displayed in a logical manner, for instance the dialog box to be selected in SPSS is followed by a scatterplot which in turn is illustrated by SPSS outputs. The latter are also explained in detail so you know what they actually mean, how to write them up in a conventional way, how to analyse them and how to interpret the outcome. Key terms have been printed in red and the SPSS dialogue boxes also come in colour.

Recoding, for instance, is explained for those using the recode function in SPSS but also for those who do a lot of recoding, there is the syntax and a related file on the CD. There is a number of data sets available to play with, Field has chosen to provide areas such as the impact of Viagra on a person’s libido (getting those on board who are tired of jobs in postoffice.sav or the little inspiring government statistics on traffic) in order to explain ANOVA (analysis of variance).

Field’s Statistics Hell is also very useful and offers:

  • Lectures on frequency distributions
  • Handouts: SPSS: t-test, frequency distributions and correlation

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VKS: Ethics in (e)research Workshop in Amsterdam, Part 2

It’s a fortnight ago I attended the Workshop and the analyses of ethical dilemmas in a range of different fields explored with colleagues gained another dimension during a conversation I had last week with a friend located in continental Europe – who’s neither related to research nor sociology or internet studies in the wider sense.

I notice that a universal notion of ethics, online collaboration, self/community, individual authorship and Creative Commons equals an assumption we all see the same sky, every day. We don’t. And this is not only due to geographical location, national politics and regulation, but also related to varying degrees and facets of collective unconsciousness. The kind of public debates I do have access to here in the UK by help of traditional media including print media differ considerably from German debates (so do US debates I access online). Different types of angst feed into such discourses on macro and micro levels. Only by seeking actively to push my personal boundaries and engaging in a challenge of my own ideas as well as questioning what is taken for granted by others, something of a more personalised value system, based on eclecticism has emerged. This is a mix of nationally framed legal regulations, enhanced by ethical guidelines compiled by academic and professional bodies, plus a range of personal, in part moral, beliefs.

The questions I have in mind are:

  1. Are others similarly aware of their values and beliefs and their origin?
  2. Are they subscribing to a notion of values in flux or rather static, life-long held beliefs when it comes to moral values and ethics, in particular in the globalised virtual sphere?
  3. Where does awareness and reflexivity come from if not formally acquired, and what role do social media play in this? Is it undermining, challenging or enhancing ‘everyday ethics’?

Clashes and opportunities are produced in social networks which offer discussions in forums and groups. Large and heterogeneous groups of individuals engage in debates and become exposed to ideas, behaviours and practices they are less likely to encounter in real life in such a speedy, diverse, and dynamic manner. I recalled my own experiences and reviewed my impressions, wondering whether research can be improved in its ethical quality if more consideration would be given to the following aspects:

  • Communication skills and awareness levels are culturally embedded, they are often taken for granted and subject to assumptions rather than being explicitly discussed and reflected upon – if researchers take a reflexive approach why not offering research participants the chance to engage in a collective exercise of reflexivity too?
  • The digital divide 2.0: social media super-users vs social media sceptics – are social media super-users ethically more aware as they are more likely to be exposed to a wider range of positive as well as ethically problematic behaviours?
  • How do adult research participants learn about ethical issues? Informal learning processes (which can be an incentive for research participants as well as researchers), crowdsourcing practices and non-target driven engagement in social network sites may result in a stronger sense of authorship and a willingness to challenge practices of production of authoritative knowledge in the researchers’ world. Yet, this may be rather an exception than the norm. Would researchers and societies benefit from a more pro-active approach on the part of researchers, for instance by including such debates into research projects and making them part of the data collection?
  • Not just Twitter but also Facebook is one such major site that potentially may help to increase attribution awareness. However, as attributing practices, for instance on Twitter, evolve rapidly but haven’t stabilised yet, we cannot assume users will adjust and adopt naturally the most ethically beneficial syntax at some point. Flickr for instance offers currently 4 explicit options under the Creative Commons Licence – plus the option to not licence images and videos but make them freely available for all purposes. The advise is provided in clear language and many users may develop an awareness for authorship and copyrights, however, others may not even bother about finding out the differences between options.

What is supposed to be right or how things should be done online differs widely, conventions are emerging and are being challenged on an ongoing basis. The amount of trust gained over time by help of familiarisation with Social Network Sites and Social Bookmarking Sites as well as expertise in online commenting, eloquence and online ‘street wisdom’ separates social media savvy users from those who rather stick to e-mail and the consultation of conventional websites. This distinction applies also to researchers and academics. Awareness-building and reflexivity as well as ethical considerations should accompany the entire research process, from drafting to publishing and beyond, when participants critique the findings and interpretations. The learning could and should be mutual, without fearing the researcher’s expertise and specialist position is under threat, although it might well be under scrutiny due to the increased level of transparency. That may well be a very optimistic stance, yet, a paradigm shift towards collaboration in a partner-like manner could be beneficial and much more sustainable on the long-term and it could help to educate where institutionalised learning fails to reach out.

The key discussion points and questions raised at the workshop have been posted by Anne Beaulieu at the Virtual Knowledge Studio as FAQs which underlines the fact that ethics in (e)research is not only ongoing and iterative but also a process rather than a stage at some point of a research which means, frequently asked questions may require new answers, each time we encounter the dilemma.

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Crowd-sourcing responsibility: Google and the Italian bullies’ video

Today’s news, covering the Google content trial’s delay, made me connect my current notions on ethics to the wider issues of responsibility in the virtual world. The BBC (Technology) reported that the continuing court case against Google Italy could “have major ramifications for content providers around the globe”. Posted in 2006, shortly before Google acquired YouTube, a video was published, “which showed a teenager with Down’s Syndrome being bullied”. Accused of “defamation and violating privacy”, the prosecutors want to see the four Google executives being charged (up to three years in prison) for not engaging enough monitoring staff and lack of content-filtering devices in place.

Basically, I agree with the Italian prosecutors in that last point. However, arguing that Google, YouTube or Dailymotion should be obliged to seek consent of all those appearing in a video is a step in the wrong direction. Rather than stifling social media sites with bureaucratic measures and creating new problems resulting in problems such as:

  • defining what constitutes consent and who can give consent
  • verifying authenticity of consenting parties
  • ensuring successful follow up of consent when changes have been made to a video

it would be time to think about users who produce and consume (produsers, following Axel Bruns) as involved, responsible, and potentially proactive audiences. Their practices of consuming and distributing content by options such as ‘favourite’, ‘share’ etc. are not given and static, but are socially constructed and hence, they can be shaped and re-constructed. In fact, they should be developed with the users (supposed a learning user is the one imagined by corporations and regulatory bodies), rather than against them.

The kind of protectionist politics informing the debate around the Italian court case echo approaches based on censorship and responsibilities, placed in the hands of a limited number of profit-making organisations rather than the 21st century communities of users. Crowd-sourcing has many faces, one of those is to harness the power of the communities and engage them in the dynamic processes of reviewing, critiquing, and reporting/suggesting changes or removals. Yet, unless the facilities are provided, little will happen in this regard.

I wished corporations would come up with more innovative ideas and helped to expand the notion of citizenship. The least promising option is full broadcast rights applied to social media, resulting most likely in a new wave of passive consumers. Hence, rather than continuing to favour and expanding an ideology of a welfare state policing its territory and society, it would be a lot more beneficial and sustainable to develop a stronger sense of responsibility, citizenship and connectivity in online space that impacts upon offline settings. For instance:

  • obligatory pop-up tutorials (brief, relevant and in plain language – similar to plagiarism statement we use as students at The Open University when submitting papers online)
  • an extended and meaningful Q’n’A section: it is not sufficient to provide a REPORT button and suggest that’s all that can be done – complaint processes must be transparent and efficient
  • citizens who face a lack of resources when reporting crime in real life will have little trust in online processes aiming at regulation: duality rather than outsourcing is required
  • an ethical turn – driven by corporations who understand that profit and ethics belong together as ignoring these repercussions, social ills can be tackled in concerted efforts rather than technology-based workarounds
  • governments present role-models, they need to do their homework: bullying (as well as other crimes) start in real life, where they need to be taken seriously. Online practices can change and make a contribution towards changes of offline/real life social practices (including reduction of neglect, ignorance, and apathy).

Internet freedom comes in a package with responsibility, I believe, and we cannot assume there is a universal sense of inherent responsibility adopted by each user who uploads or watches videos. But we can work towards stronger ethics, responsibility and citizenship. And we can start understanding that less simplified regulation would be beneficial beyond the one individual instance when the upload was prevented – otherwise, the bullying, the filming, and distribution of such content will continue, by other means, in other ways – it would be a lot less visible and less traceable, though.

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