Maximising research impact and promoting knowledge sharing require researchers to pay greater attention to the ways in which data are collected, processed and stored for systematic access at a later date. This also means that questions of privacy and copyright would emerge naturally. In this post, Jenny Ostini explains how she has dealt with the issues of licensing, privacy and communication with research participants while she was building up a database of digital literacy narratives based on her research project to study people’s everyday digital literacies.
As a communication historian working in a digital research institute, I often find myself asking tricky research and ethical questions. This is not necessarily because I set out to do so, but because they are inherent to the nature of new media and technology and may not immediately have obvious answers. This is especially the case when there is a greater focus on the technical aspects of innovation than on the social. Many studies of technology have a greater focus on the “gee whiz” factor of innovation (what Kathleen Tynan refers to as the “rah-rah promotion of technology”) for its own sake rather than critical examination of short and long-term implications of technology. These ethical questions may get swept under the rug.
What some might call the administrative and technical issues of research can have serious implications both for the research outcomes and for researcher’s use of fieldwork data. In my current research project, questions of how data are collected and shared have become such significant issues that the project has broken into two streams: the fieldwork itself and the management of the data.
My research project is a study of people’s everyday digital literacies, that is, the practices in which we engage on a daily basis as we interact with technology. I’m collecting people’s stories of their first encounter with a computer and their most recent uses of computers and digital devices. I’m digging into their memories of learning to read and write and learning to use computers. I’m also exploring the rules around using computers at home, at school and personally. And I’m trying to find out how comfortable people feel with technology and what they do when things go wrong. I’m interviewing a wide range of people about their experiences: from 14 and 15 year old schoolgirls in Brisbane to new university students and postgraduate students to academics involved in a digital research network at a regional university. I’m trying to build up a picture of the trajectories of individual digital literacy within each person’s social context. It has also become a work-in-progress testing some of the ethical and copyright issues around digital research.
Social science research is often focused on the big questions, requiring large samples and de-identified data. Ethnographies and social history are the stories of the particular and the individual. Understanding why something is said or done is about knowing how that individual is situated in their social, economic and political contexts. As an individual researcher this is not an issue. It simply requires careful planning and use of information. But what happens when you want to go beyond the individual researcher to build shared resources that you might not be able to control access to, and use of? Or if your goal is to build a shared research resource? Continue reading