Betelnut girl: Not Always What You Expect

The silly things you do when you have free time. Ruby, “Funny Guy”, and I went out one night (over 3 years ago) to film some betelnut girls for a class project. I remember wanting to pay a bunch of the girls to come in full regalia to a studio where we would film some interviews. That idea was soon axed as the university didn’t want them walking around on the property. We did end up with allot of street footage, obviously we aren’t filmmakers, and since we only had about a night to complete we ended up with this short clip.
I realized far too late that I misspelled betelnut in the titles.

A look at focus groups.

At the suggestion of my advisor I will be conducting a focus group session as the main means of collecting some research data for a project. It’s time to take a look at this method which is so prevalent in the marketing and advertising industry but in my experience not so prevalent in mine.
Powell et al define a focus group as

a group of individuals selected and assembled by researchers to discuss and comment on, from personal experience, the topic that is the subject of the research. (1996: 499)

This definition is taken from an informative article aptly entitled Focus Groups found in Social Research Update. Jacob Neilson chimes in with another article with an equally original title,Focus Groups. He says,

Although focus groups can be a powerful tool in system development, you shouldn’t use them as your only source of usability data. People with an advertising or marketing background often rely solely on focus groups to expose products to users. Thus, because advertising and marketing people frequently contribute to web site development, focus groups are often used to evaluate Web projects. Unfortunately, focus groups are a rather poor method for evaluating interface usability.

Carter McNamara has a short article entitled Basics of Conducting Focus Groups which gives a concise guide to conducting the focus group session. Last but not least Market Navigation has a large collection of articles on the topic. The page is titled Qualitative Research: Telephone Focus Groups, Face-to-Face Focus Groups but it covers a whole range of issues about focus groups in general.

Graduate School Survival Guide.

Graduate School Survival Guide.“This guide provides concise suggestions for: getting the most out of the relationship with your reseach advisor or boss, getting the most out of what you read, making continual progress on your research, finding a thesis topic or formulating a research plan, characteristics to look for in a good advisor, mentor, boss, or committee member, and avoiding the research blues.”

Advice to a young graduate student

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang has some excellent advice on her weblog for the young and I guess in my case not so young graduate student. I’ll quote a few of the best tips from the two entries:

  1. Start keeping a notebook, or research journal, or whatever you want to call it. It’s the place you’ll write down library call numbers, the names of interesting-sounding things that you come across in footnotes, impressions of what you’re reading, research paper ideas, etc., etc.. I started doing this when I was writing my dissertation, and was dogged the sinking feeling that I was looking up stuff, then having the same idea two weeks later. You’re going to be thinking about a lot of stuff. You need a way to keep track of it.
  2. Go to the gym, or go running, or something, every day. It’ll give your mind a break, and your mind will need breaks. (Every now and then you’ll find that your mind just turns off for 24-48 hours. Don’t fight it. Just do laundry until your brain comes back online.) Every Saturday or Sunday, do some reading in the morning, then take the rest of the day off.
  3. Realize that it is a job. It can consume you or you can manage it. I spent every moment reading stuff, and I can honestly say it was the wrong approach. So make sure you have a life in grad school.
  4. Only work on things that interest you , not the things that interest your advisor. I cannot imagine anything worse than working on something that is of little interest to me.
  5. Publish. Publish crap. The one thing I learned from [name of institution removed] was that writing great essays or articles is a waste. All that matters is the number. As far as I can tell no one reads anyway, so it doesn’t matter what you say.
  6. If you really want to do this, then do it right. That means avoiding some of the earlier advice, especially about having much of a life. Read, and read alot. Spend time with the journals, find authors you like and read them. Find people who write well and emulate their style. And start doing your own research early.

I wish I had read some of the advice when I started grad school a year and half ago. Of course everyone has a different experience. I started my current program working fairly regularly with a professor and devouring a great deal of written material. The second semester was devoted to course work and projects. This past semester was probably the least productive with absolutely no interaction with faculty and little with fellow students. Now faced with starting my thesis and feeling a little removed from the whole process I feel a certain sense of panic setting in. Hopefully I can use this feeling to jump into action.
Link:Advice to a young graduate student, Advice to a young graduate student (2)

Music as a Metaphor for Thesis Writing

“In the final throws of writing a doctoral thesis the struggle was to find a structure for presenting the vast amounts of literature that had to be integrated and synthesised to form a coherent whole and linking psychology and music, the basis for my thesis. As a systems theorist and adherent to social constructionist views, the metaphor plays an important role in constructing realities, and the framework that came to mind for structuring and presenting my thesis was that of the concerto from the Western classical music genre. In this paper I will explain how this metaphor was used for organising and structuring my research and presenting a systems paradigm as a coherent whole.”
Link: Music as a Metaphor for Thesis Writing

Start your Research

The expansion of the Internet and the development of the World Wide Web over the past decade have had a significant impact on research. The Internet can serve as a tool for finding information, a medium for networking and conducting research, and a means for the rapid and widespread dissemination of information.
This section of Yenza! contains information about some of the online tools which can assist you in doing research in the humanities and social sciences. It is not intended as a textbook on how to do research. Rather, these pages offer resources and links to resources relating to various stages and aspects of the research journey.
Link: Yenza! – Start your research

Grounded Classification: Grounded Theory and Faceted Classification

“This paper compares the qualitative method of grounded theory with the construction of faceted classifications in library and information science. Both struggle with a core problem: the representation of vernacular words and processes, empirically discovered, which will, although ethnographically faithful, be powerful beyond the single instance or case study. Both began as reform movements against powerfully-entrenched a priori schemes with claims on universality. As the landscape of information retrieval is shifting rapidly (with networked distributed computing, digital libraries, large-scale and enoromously powerful search engines), a comparison of grounded theory and faceted classification offers some important cross-fertilization. Some of the challenges faced by classification in environments such as the world-wide web or large digital libraries include: how work settings and the flow of real-life tasks give rise to information needs and strategies; how different vernaculars and representational schemes may work together heterogeneously; how informal and formal classifications interact in information retrieval and use. At the same time, some of the challenges faced by grounded theorists include asessing the quality and completeness of analysis; managing large amounts of unstructured textual data; and accounting for a basis for theoretical sampling. The two endeavors offer each other some aid in meeting this challenge. Grounded theory offers a way to include processes and actions in the analysis of vernacular representations (a question introduced as a core theoretical problem by Ranganathan); and a source of theoretical richness for the understanding of intermingled types of work. Faceted classification offers a way to assess the structural integrity and architecture of a particular theory, via facet analysis and other analytical tools used in thesaurus construction and assessment; with automated thesaurii tools, an aid for managing large bodies of text which will augment current qualitative methods software.”
Link:Grounded Classification: Grounded Theory and Faceted Classification

Qualitative Research Resources

“This page contains links to resources that explain the art of qualitative educational research: critiques, literature reviews, research design methodologies and other articles. The resource is intended as an aid to educational practioners as informed consumers of published research and as active contributors to the body of knowledge that informs emerging practices involving information and learning technologies (ILT). By no means an exhustive index, this resource offers a glimpse into the range of qualitative research models and methodologies that can be found in contexts of ILT.”
Link: Qualitative Research Resources