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What are "online interviews"? How can we use them in instruction and research?

What are "online interviews"? How can we use them in instruction and research?

Home Forums Online Interview Research What are "online interviews"? How can we use them in instruction and research?

This topic contains 13 replies, has 8 voices, and was last updated by Profile photo of Janet Janet Salmons 2 years, 7 months ago.

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Janet Salmons


Hello everyone,

In this seminar we will explore many aspects of online interviews and ways to use them for experiential and collaborative learning, and for collecting data for research. I want this event to be relevant to your needs and interests, so please post your ideas and questions!

To begin at the beginning, I define online interviews or e-interviews as: “interviews conducted using computer-mediated communication (CMC). Such interviews are used for primary Internet-mediated research. That is, they are used to gather original data via the Internet with the intention of subjecting these data to analysis” (Salmons, 2015). This is a broad definition that encompasses any online interaction with someone– no matter how seemingly informal– where the exchange is recorded and saved, and will be analyzed.

To begin the dialogue about how to think through technology and methods options, I would like to share the E-Interview Research Framework. I developed this model to present the elements of the research design as part of a coherent whole. The E-Interview Research Framework offers a conceptual system of key questions about interrelated facets of online interview research. (See: http://bit.ly/1p35juE) When introduced in Cases in Online Interview Research (Salmons, 2012), the central focus was on data collection with online interviews; however, the updated E-Interview Research Framework encompasses related primary (i.e., questionnaires, observations) and secondary (i.e., posts, sites, documents,images, or media) online data collection.

The premise of this model is that each decision we make when planning online interviews influences some other part of the design. Throughout the seminar we’ll think about when and why online interviews might fit the purpose of the study, how choices for the technology we use to communicate with participants influences the types of data we collect. And within these choices, how where we stand as researchers in relation to the study makes a difference.

Take a look at the introduction to elements of the model:
Chapter 1 from Qualitative Online Interview

  • This topic was modified 2 years, 7 months ago by Profile photo of Tony Tony. Reason: title edited to fit within 80 character limit
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July 19, 2014 at 1:58 am
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Frances O’Brien


I am involved in a small research study that uses secondary online data collection in the form of existing public articles on a particular topic. As Prof Salmons was explaining her model, I was able to apply most of the elements to our study – e.g. my position as a researcher, etc. The question I have is whether I really need to do this. Is what we always knew as document collection and analysis different because the documents are collected online rather than in print form, and, if so, in what ways?

July 22, 2014 at 1:45 pm
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Hi Dr. Janet, I have read with interest your definition of on-line interviews. however, I’m challenged can one cite an article of 2015 when we have not reached the year?

July 22, 2014 at 2:46 pm
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Hi Janet, Thanks for sharing generously of your time and your intellectual resources. What I like about your approach in Chapter 1 is that you draw on older texts about face face interviews in qualitative research and explain very clearly why online interview research is different because of the use of online technologies as tools and environments, even before we consider interactions in online environments as a research focus. After reading Chapter 1 I definitely want to read more!

  • This reply was modified 2 years, 7 months ago by Profile photo of Tony Tony.
July 22, 2014 at 4:34 pm
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Janet Salmons


Frances, agreed, you need to select the elements most appropriate for the design of the study and not every element applies to every study. There are always more elements to consider when dealing directly with human participants as compared to documents. In response to your question about how research with online documents compares with documents obtained other ways, I would suggest thinking about a) the public-private distinction and b) the relationship between the original writer and the document. Documents published online in journals or databases etc. should be properly referenced to avoid plagiarism, and I would say those. But what about more informal materials posted online? That is where it gets sticky. Is referencing the post or blog enough or do you need the user’s consent? This is a larger question than I can address here. You may find this little study of interest — a group of researchers conducted interviews and focus groups with social media users about their feelings related to having their posts used as data by researchers (See http://www.natcen.ac.uk/our-research/research/research-using-social-media-users-views/).

Anthony, yes, we can time travel– publishers use the copyright of the coming year ahead of time 😉

Tony, I hope you will read more…. fundamental to my writing is the desire to help researchers describe and defend their research designs such that it can be understood (and of course approved) by others who may not be experienced with online research.

July 22, 2014 at 5:12 pm
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Hi Dr. Janet, thank for answering my question. However, my other question is what is the minimum number of respondent (s) required in the qualitative study? Does this depend on the researcher’s experience or the phenomena being interrogated or the time.
Best regards,

July 22, 2014 at 6:19 pm
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I am analysing blog postings of Teaching Assistants who were involved in a programme introducing them to teaching science in a university setting, together with participant responses to a survey . I did this research without considering all the eight elements you suggest so during this course. During this course, I hope that I will be able to use your framework to reorganise the research and pose researchable questions and analyse the results. I find two of the elements quite useful for me at this stage -taking a position as a researcher, aligning purpose and design.

July 22, 2014 at 9:46 pm



Thanks Dr Salmons for the eloquent way you are responding to the questions. In the opening chapter of your book, you very correctly make the following observation: ” When individuals respond and share their stories, observant researchers make note of nonverbal signals and listen to verbal expressions. Implications of physical setting and the interviewee’s demeanor are carefully considered to develop the rapport and comfort necessary to collect robust data.”

Given that in my context, I cannot hope for video interviews, I am confident about telephone interviews, text only chat messaging and email or other forms of asynchronous online communication, my questions are as follows:
1. How do (non visual) online interviews compensate for what may be lost in f2f interviews?
2. How negligible or significant to the overall appreciation of the data are extralinguistic and paralinguistic cues which are available in f2f interviews but will be lost in online interviews?

July 23, 2014 at 4:13 pm
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Interesting question, Frances.

It seems to me like in some regards, ICTs are simply a means of enabling our doing what we have always done, in the same way as we have always done, but over distance, e.g. one can have a ‘f-2-f’ interview with an overseas participant use videoconferencing, asking the same questions as one would to a participant sitting across the table from you. Let’s call these similarities

But certainly there must be uniquenesses, thing which are entirely impossible or fundamentally different when using online tools. I wonder what some of these might be… Or are ICTs always just enablers, and all that we need to deal with are technical requirements. Is an online interview just a normal interview that happens online with cost saving and bandwidth challenge, or is it an entirely different thing?

July 24, 2014 at 2:51 pm
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Janet Salmons



You observed, ” ICTs are simply a means of enabling our doing what we have always done, in the same way as we have always done,” and there are certainly people who are trying to simply import the methods they’ve used into the past into the online space. But I’d point to other types of activities, and suggest that doing so is limiting and does not take into account the unique characteristics of the electronic sphere. When you look at, for example, the evolution from flat websites– where people used to just cut and paste the info from paper brochures, to today’s visually-rich, interactive life online you can see the difference. Our conversation in this forum is different from the conversation we might have in person.

I would say that an online interview using videoconferencing is the closest to a face to face interview. You can see each other (and show items or artifacts) use a natural mode of dialogue. You can adopt a more typical interview style and approach. Text-based interviews and those using web conferencing or virtual environments are quite different than face to face interviews, so the researcher needs to think through the distinctions and determine how to use the technology in a way that contributes to the collection/generation of data that sheds light on the research problem.

July 24, 2014 at 4:30 pm
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Karen Ferreira-Meyers


I like Jerome’s questions. As far as I understand it non-visual online interviews such as telephone interviews do not have many advantages compared to f2f interviews because all the visual clues (gestures, facial expressions) are not available. Of course, tone and pitch of voice are present and can be used to better comprehend the message of the interviewee. I think those para- and extra-linguistic features are extremely important when it comes to understanding, analysing and interpreting data.

July 25, 2014 at 1:54 pm
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Janet Salmons


Jerome and Karen,

You asked about online interviews that do not use the visual exchange offered by videoconferencing. Here are a few concepts that I hope will provide food for thought:

First, many people want to conduct interviews online because they desire more diverse participants than would be possible for face-to-face interviews. Once you look at the research problem, the type(s) of data you want, and the technologies available to you and the participants, you can decide what approach(es) best fit. Keep in mind that here we are trying to look at how we can draw on and adapt existing, respected methods in ways that utilize whatever options we have with the available technologies. Also, I suggest that researchers look at the study as a whole- and plan to use every exchange to your best advantage. I mentioned elsewhere on this forum that in some cases you might have a chance for a face-to-face interview (live or video), but use online techniques to gather background data prior to the interview and to follow-up afterwards. In my own research I have chosen online interviews in a web conferencing space because I like to use visual elicitation and collaboration within the interview, and the capacity to do so and record it is somewhat unique to the online environment.

If the written word is what you have available, there are still many meaningful ways to conduct a study. Written interviews can be synchronous, near-synchronous or asynchronous. Synchronous interviews can use text chat for an immediate back and forth exchange. The advantage is that you can collect participants’ observations and impressions in the moment, and given that they may use mobile devices, they can describe their settings or dynamics between people they can observe. Let’s say you are studying issues about participants’ connections to their communities– the participant could tell you about the physical setting where they are writing. Also, it may be possible for participants with smartphones to snap pictures and send them– adding a photovoice dimension to the study.

In a near-synchronous text-based interview, you might text a question to someone each morning for some period of time: “today, think about how the built environment of the different parts of your community influences your feelings about….” and ask them to send impressions of different neighborhoods throughout the day. If they have GPS on the smartphone, they could also record the locations, which the researcher could collect and map.

An asynchronous written interview by email can become a deep and extended dialogue, with 1-2 questions sent in each email from the researcher. Again, the participant could include images in the response as well. Alternatively, the written interview could use participant diary approaches.

Narrative research has a long tradition, and many researchers report that the ability of the participant to reflect between text or email exchanges is beneficial. I am getting ready to post another topic about interview styles and technology, so please take a look at that for a more in-depth discussion.

I am attaching a couple of chapters I think might interest you. In Dowling’s (2010) chapter, she compares and contrasts f2f and written online interviews within the same study. In the chapter from Redmon (2008), he uses email and a forum for action research with a group of teachers– as well as interviews with each one. Wilson (2008) discusses ways to use a variety of approaches to meet participants’ access issues. (As you can see, these are chapters from another book I edited a few years ago…)

While you could use Voice Over Internet for audio-only interviews, I am not focusing on telephone interviews in my book(s). As you can see from the above examples, I’d suggest complementing an audio-only interview with other kinds of data collection.

Bishwas, R., Maniam, J., Lee, E. W. H., Umakanth, S., & Das, P. G. (2008). Electronic collaboration towards social health outcomes. In J. Salmons & L. Wilson (Eds.), Handbook of research on electronic collaboration and organizational synergy (Vol. 2, pp. 349-361). Hershey, PA, USA: IGI Global.
Dowling, S. (2012). Online asynchronous and face-to-face interviewing: Comparing methods for exploring women’s experiences of breast-feeding long term. In J. Salmons (Ed.), Cases in online interview research. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.
Redmon, R. J. (2008). E-mail reflection groups as collaborative action research. In J. Salmons & L. Wilson (Eds.), Handbook of research on electronic collaboration and organizational synergy (Vol. 1, pp. 349-361). Hershey, PA, USA: IGI Global.
Wilson, L. (2008). Collaboration in the service of knowledge co-creation for environmental outcomes, science and public policy. In J. Salmons & L. Wilson (Eds.), Handbook of research on electronic collaboration and organizational synergy (Vol. 2, pp. 349-361). Hershey, PA, USA: IGI Global.

July 25, 2014 at 4:50 pm
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