As noted in the E-Interview Research Framework, online research design decisions are inter-related. Yes, this is true with any study, but its particularly true with online studies. In the discussion about thinking through why you might use online interviews, I suggested that ICTs might serve as the medium of communication, the setting for the study, or as the phenomenon. In this forum let’s look at how those choices might influence technology choices, and explore some options. As you will see, these questions push us to think about implications for the population and sample.
If the ICT is the medium, then the ability to communicate is the top priority. As noted, we would probably want to ask potential participants for their preferences and make every effort to use whatever ICT(s) they suggest. If a specific ICT is the setting, and we are interested in how people operate in or with that setting, then we need to find people who are experienced with that platform. If I am interested in how people teach in Blackboard, then the population would be comprised of online educators. Similarly, if the phenomenon I am investigating involves online behaviors, then I will probably try to select an ICT for the interviews that allows our interactions to mirror those I am studying. If I am interested in how someone shows empathy in writing as part of an online discussion group, I might want to use a written interaction for the interview. Continuing with that example, within the written form there are many choices of synchronous or asynchronous communications– and each of those choices comes with its own set of considerations.
When thinking about ICTs I prefer to focus on features, rather than commercial platforms, apps or social networking brands. For one things, those companies come and go, and the combination of features may vary. For our purposes here I will describe the features that can be used for interviews, and suggest some current ICT brands that you may recognize.
– Text Text interviews are conducted in writing. Synchronous text messaging or chat can occur in one block of time, or the interview could be comprised of multiple interactions over time. Asynchronous modes could include posting questions and responses in a closed private forum, or sending questions by email.
– Videoconference Desktop versions such as Skype or Google Hangouts can be used, or videoconference studios in institutions, libraries or businesses offer the chance for participant and interviewer to see each other.
– Multi-Channel Web Conference Web conference spaces such as Adobe Connect or Blackboard Collaborate allow for text and video conferencing, as well as shared whiteboards and shared applications.
Virtual World or Game Virtual worlds such as Second Life or video games can provide opportunities for visually rich interactions.
Have you conducted interviews with any of these technologies? What was your experience?
- This topic was modified 3 years, 4 months ago by Tony. Reason: Uploading higher resolution image
More thoughts about the choice of ICT. As you think about the various features possible with communication online within the four broad types (text, videoconference, multichannel web conferencing, and immersive virtual worlds or games, we can further categorize them. This analysis may help when deciding what to use, and when explaining these choices to others.
First, let’s think a bit more about HOW we communication with these tools then WHEN we have exchanges with participants.
HOW: Much of our online communication is written. Many researchers point to meaningful written exchanges with participants. In the Cases book, Dowling (2010) used a hybrid approach with written and live/verbal interviews and was surprised to find that the written ones were more reflective. Does your target population have the literacy skills needed to respond to questions in writing? If so, you might decide to use written questions/prompts to conduct some part of the study. One advantage is that you can use text with phones/mobile devices or fairly low bandwidth applications. Another advantage of the written interview is that you will not have to transcribe the audio!
Increasingly, we see the use of visuals online as people post photos, diagrams, info graphics and media. What kinds of data do we need for the study, based on its purpose, questions and research problem? Do we want to see the participant’s responses to questions? Are we planning to observe emotional dynamics or nonverbal signals? If so, video or web conferencing may be useful. In situations where participants do not have adequate bandwidth to participate from their own devices, sometimes a research partnership can work– if there is a library or community center with videoconferencing capabilities. I have interviewed researchers in Canada who used a partnership approach as a way to conduct video interviews with people in remote areas.
A hybrid option with someone whose connection is less than perfect might include starting in a videoconference space like Skype, and take the opportunity for introductions, developing rapport, and perhaps asking a question for which you want the opportunity to observe a response. Then close out the video, and conduct the rest of the interview using the text box in Skype.
WHEN: Initially all online communication was asynchronous. As options became available we contrasted synchronous- with immediate back and forth dialogue– and asynchronous — with a time lapse between parts of the conversation. Now I suggest that we have a more nuanced set of choices . One one end of the continuum is “synchronicity”– a focused real-time exchange. We are not multi-tasking, this interview is the only activity that engages us. In a “synchronous” interaction we may be in real time but the interview occurs in conjunction with other online or f2f activities. In “near synchronous” communication we do not expect the other person to be online the same time we are, but we anticipate they will log in soon and respond in a timely fashion. Text messaging works this way– as do forums such as the one we are in now. In “asynchronous” exchanges we expect a longer lapse of time between one part of the communication and another.
Each has its advantages and disadvantages for interviews– please share your thoughts!
MORE RESOURCES: See attached. Also, here is a link to another recording that includes discussion of the ICT selection in the context of the E-Interview Research Framework: http://youtu.be/D-2aEPhGlAo. As you can see, this is a recording I made when the Cases in Online Interview book was published two years ago.
“The Time-Response Continuum offers a way to categorise the level of immediacy and timing of response in a way that offers more subtle gradations than the prior synchronous/asynchronous dichotomy” Janet Salmons (editor) 2012, Cases in Online Interview Research, p23
Very engaging presentation in this video. I think I will have to watch it several times to really take in all the points. But it’s very instructive that Dr Salmons uses some of the tools she is talking about to describe the process, which virtue of the presentation itself helps us see their potential.
I was thinking about my limited excursions into Second Life, and how interaction occurred (for me) by text-based chat (though more might now be possible should bandwidth be available) through an avatar. One can’t really get much non-verbal cues from an avatar, and text, audio and video is available elsewhere. I’m wondering then what the uniqueness is that interviews in a virtual setting would bring? [Other than in your one example of course where, if you’re specifically studying in-world behaviours, it would make sense to conduct interviews in-world]
- This reply was modified 3 years, 4 months ago by Gerrit.
One might use a virtual world or game when it might be useful to use role-plays or simulations as part of an interview. I think most often a researcher would use a virtual world or game when that technology served as setting or as part of the phenomenon. One of my doctoral students conducted interviews in Second Life to study ways HR professionals in high tech industries carry out recruiting and interviewing in virtual worlds.
Thanks for sharing Janet’s video, Tony, and Gerrit, for the valuable question prompts.
Janet, I am interested to know how one might go about conducting focus group interviews online. I assume they would be synchronous, through some kind of a webinar platform, using multimedia? Would the same techniques apply that one would use f2f?
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