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Archive for February, 2008

This is how the Informed Consent Notecard displays. I give it to any avatar participating in an interview with me in Second Life. I also ask for confirmation that they have read it and agree to it at the start of the interview (in lieu of what would normally be a signature on an Informed Consent form in real life research).

Informed Consent Notecard

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gslis-08-001-approval-pending-changes.doc

I’m happy to announce that I received this letter from Dominican University’s Institutional Review Board today. After a couple of minor tweaks, my IRB approval will be locked down. This puts me in prime position to move out of the testing phase I’ve been in for the past week and delve into the real thing. Woo hoo!!

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Consenting Adults

No, not that kind of consenting adults! I’ve been busy over the last week doing pilot testing of my methodology – both interviews & fieldwork. As a result, I’ve been refining my protocols & tools.

The Informed Consent notecard I’ll be utilizing in SL reads as follows. Yes, a bit long, but all of the information is necessary for human subjects protection.

Thank you for volunteering to be interviewed. I’m excited to hear what you have to say. Please know that there are no right or wrong answers. Any experiences, opinions or ideas you can share will be valuable. Above all, I appreciate your honesty in answering my questions as truthfully as you can, based on your experiences.

I promise that I will not give any clues about who you are – in Second Life or real life –  when presenting my research results. I will never use your avatar name, real life name (if you decide to disclose it), or any other information that could identify you. I’m bound to protect your identity and privacy by my commitment to ethical research and by the Dominican University Institutional Review Board that approved this project.

This commitment also includes (more…)

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Fuzzy boundaries

One way to accomplish an ethnography with fuzzy boundaries is to consider an approach of following people, ideas, narratives, conflicts, etc rather than a spatially oriented outlook. (Marcus, 1995). This emphasis on connectivity recalls my hypothesis that sociability — people connections! — are a hallmark of information seeking behavior in virtual worlds like SL.

However, in an ethnography, researchers do not have a priori hypotheses. One of the reasons I like the approach so much is because it allows the research to approach the subject matter stripped of assumptions and just see what is happening in a given culture-sharing community. What I’m finding, however, is that going in without any preconceptions is the hard part….but something to strive for.

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My blog posts have been all-Hine-all-the-time this week, but I can’t help it. She inspires me!

Back to the spaces and places debate. Hine points out, rightly by how I see things, that  “We can usefully think of the ethnography of mediated interaction as mobile rather than multi-sited” (p 64) and:

By focusing on sites, locales and places, we may be missing out on other ways of understanding culture, based on connection, difference, heterogeneity and incoherence. We miss out on the opportunity to conisider the role of space in structuring social relations (Thrift, 1996a). Castells (1996a; 1996b; 1997) introduces the idea that a new form of space of flows, which in contrast to the space of place, information, money, circulate between nodes which form a network of associations increasingly independent of specific local contexts. ” (p 61)

This really got my brain ticking. Lorcan Dempsey and the need to get in the user’s flow immediately jumped to mind. I want to know what the flow of information seeking is like in Second Life, not just particular, isolative behaviors. A socially bounded, place-space framework may very well cut off the ability to see any parts of the flow of the users, much less experience a taste of it myself. The cyberpunk novel Snowcrash then jumped to my mind, with the notion of a non-place that is, at the same time, is all around us. Stephenson’s concept of metaverse is what suppossedly inspired SL in the first place. And getting away from the specifics of information seeking or librarianship, these ideas are bound to broader concepts of globalization.

I do believe that I am embarking on what Hine calls a “connective ethnography” (p 62).

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Yet another gem from Christine Hine’s Virtual Ethnography

Virtual ethnography allows a researcher to review community communications, such as discussion boards or chat transcripts, after the fact. This departs from a traditional ethnographic approach because it denies the researcher the experience of living in the community, experiencing it and gaining a much richer perspective.

Experiencing a virtual community in the moment helps provide the following essential context for the researcher:

  • how the information is socially meaningful
  • knowledge of the audience/users
  • engagement with the users
  • the experience of being a user herself

In other words, just reading the archives or reviewing a communications transcript does not a true ethnography make. This gives me hope around some of the difficulties I’m currently facing with screen-capture technology. Given the already s – l – o – w speed of my older computer, it’s pretty difficult to get screen capture software to run alongside the SL client without really bad lag time or crashing. Plus, there is the issue of storage.

So, I’ve been freaking out about (more…)

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Last night, I visited Gossip Girl as a part of my tromping around, searching for suitable sites at which to conduct my fieldwork. This place had promise: a socially bounded community, a seeming group of ‘regulars,’ a popular space that is highly trafficked, a courtyard to observe informal interactions plus regular events each evening.

Then, I got further into Virtual Ethnography by Hine and am now scratching my head, back at the quandry I’d previously noted about social environments. Hine pushes this dilemma one step further in the way she questions the notion of an online space as a socially bounded entity appropriate – on its own – for ethnographic study.

The nutshell version of Hine’s argument is this: (more…)

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