Coding is Hard

A grounded theory approach calls for an iterative process of data analysis beginning with open coding. I’ve looked to Corbin & Strauss, seminal authors on grounded theory, to learn that open coding involves several steps:

  1. Apply concepts to data to describe & apply meaning to observed phenomena
  2. Discover categories to group together similar concepts
  3. Apply properties to each category
  4. Define dimensions for each property

I start with a line-by-line analysis of transcripts & field notes.  With 27 pages from my first interview alone, this can be a daunting task. As the research progresses, I’m sure I will “get in the groove” and pick out a unit of analysis — such as certain sections — but in these initial phases, I believe it’s important to engage in a more granular analysis. This helps make sure that I’m not missing critical data points or only pulling out the sections that conform to existing models or my own assumptions (important to theoretical sensitivity, a la Corbin & Strauss).

Additionally, notes and memoing help to develop categories, properties & dimensions further. Corbin & Strauss outline the use of:

  • Operational notes: research procedure or process adjustments
  • Code notes: document & describe potential coding, extending as far as category, general properties and possible dimensions.
  • Theoretical notes: notes on the development of a theoretical sensitivity, or general musings that help with constant, iterative question-asking
  • Memos: Researcher’s own analysis related to the formation of a theory, including emerging thoughts and ideations
  • Diagrams: Conceptualize models, relationships among data, etc.

Memos and diagrams are particularly important for the development of abstract, creative ideation, which lends to complexity & robustness in theory development.

As I write about notes & memos, I’m merely quoting  what best practices research methodologies call for when utilizing grounded theory. I see the value. Yet, my challenge comes back to resources. My first priority is gathering data, transcribing field notes and applying a first-glance level of analysis & open coding. This eats up far more than the 10 hours each week I have earmarked for this project. So, being a pragmatist, I see my “first-glance” analysis I’m performing at this point as kin to the formalized notes & memoing Corbin & Strauss call for.

I’ve developed two slightly different analysis forms from what I’d first posted to this blog. They’re spreadsheets to help with the process of recording data from my SL interviews & observations, and then to analyze that data.

One <very obvious!> issue I’d neglected when putting together my analysis form is that a Word document doesn’t offer what I needed to analyze reams of resulting coding. As the content of my analysis forms had been working just fine, I simply converted them into spreadsheets. I’d post my new analysis templates here, but alas, WordPress is not fond of the .xls format.

Simplicity works….just in spreadsheet format this time.

Click here to see a video of the most creative avatar I’ve ever seen.

With her permission, I’ve posted the following. What looks like a flying book is actually an avatar! The avatar-book would animate and flap her pages as shown in the video. But otherwise, she appeared as a book just laying on the floor. Pretty flippin fantastic!

VWLEM Conference_005_013

Originally uploaded by librariandreamer

SnapshotVW-LEM2 063
Originally uploaded by HVX Silverstar

Anneliv (Anne Mostad-Jensen) and I presented at the Virtual Worlds: Libraries, Education & Museums conference this past Saturday. About 13 or 14 avatars attended our presentation titled “Getting to Know Our Users: Information Seeking in Second Life.”

Check out my full photo stream here.

We both connected with quite a few interesting colleagues, and the following morning I had a chance to chat quite extensively with Sheila Webber (Sheila Yashikawa in SL) of the University of Sheffield who has been instrumental in the recent development of the Center for Information Literacy. Her institution has a rich tradition in information seeking behavior studies, with Tom Wilson himself as the former Head of Sheila’s department. Sheila was very generous with her time – even giving me a balloon ride – and I look forward to developing a professional relationship with her and so many others that I met through the conference.

I love that in SL, collegial relationships can begin with a balloon ride!

So, my relationship with my avatar, Testy Outlander, has reached a whole new level. I realized this last week when I was in-world last week and my cell rang. It was an old friend, but before I picked up the call……I made sure that I/Testy was seated in a relaxed, comfortable, out-of-the-way place.


What? I have a real-life friend on the line, who goes back 10 years & I haven’t spoken with for a matter of months. Yet, I felt so connected in a very experiential way to Testy that I first thought of attending to ‘her’ (or my?) comfort before I attended to my RL call. And let’s remember that Testy is a combination of bits and bytes….which makes me wonder what exactly is this virtual sense of ‘comfort’ that I felt so strongly about affording her/I.

Also, let’s analyze how I just described this:

I made sure that I/Testy was seated in a relaxed, comfortable, out-of-the-way place.

Notice that I did not say “I manipulated an online character to be seated by clicking on my computer keyboard.” No, I talk about it as a socially proper thing to do: getting Testy/myself seated and relaxed. This way, I was fully ‘ready’ to engage with my RL friend.

What’s happening to me? Continue Reading »

Tom Werner writes about Second Life and learning from a corporate perspective at his Brandon Hall blog. Werner’s blog – unlike many SL-themed blogs – is a great place for the uninitiated. For example, he makes sure not to use lingo like “SL” or “rez” unless he explains what it means.

His recent post about avatar identity reminded me of my own avatar identity crisis. I first created a ‘Margaret-looking’ avatar, then just found her too boring. In the end, I felt more ‘me’ as the punk-rock Testy.

This brings me to a larger point. Over and over again, I’ve read other SL blogs and had an uncanny feeling that I’m reading my own words. It seems like we’re all experiencing the same things, and I’ve found myself wondering if there is some sort of SL archetype of the user experience….or some semi-standard phases that we all experience.

IRB Final Approval Letter

At 9:01 am (CST) this morning, on March 6th, 2008, I received the following email from Dr. Charlie Stoops, IRB Chair at Dominican University. The IRB has granted final approval for my research project, so I can begin solicitation of research subjects and do real interviews & observation now.

Even though the IRB process took longer than expected, I learned a lot more by taking an extra week for pilot research. Especially considering that my first two interviews fell through, it was great to have the extra time to get a pilot interview under my belt and to explore a few more places in pilot observation mode. Never underestimate the importance of testing a research methodology!

March 6, 2008

Margaret Ostrander, Graduate Student
Dr. Michael Stephens, Faculty Sponsor

RE: GSLIS 008-001: Users of Virtual Worlds

Dear Ms. Ostrander,

I have completed the review of changes made to the above IRB application that were requested in our letter of February 29, 2008 granting Approval Pending Changes. Based on this review, your application is granted Approval.

Your approval is valid until March 5, 2009. If you complete your research within this time period, please notify the IRB in writing. If you need to make any changes to the procedures of your research, you must submit those for review by the IRB prior to making them. You will be notified 3 months prior to the deadline for renewal.

If you have any questions, you may contact the IRB administrator at irbadministrator@dom.edu.


Charlie Stoops, Ph.D., LCSW

I’m excited to be presenting at Virtual Worlds: Libraries, Education & Museums this Saturday with my pal Anne Mostad-Jensen. We’re giving a 45-minute presentation about each of our research projects that are currently in progress. At this point, we’ll each be sharing our methodological approaches that can help SL institutions better get to know their users’ needs, behaviors and preferences. We’ll be presenting this as a ‘toolkit’ for embracing evidence-based practice to continue to build world-class library services in SL.

Preparing for it has involved getting comfortable with voice communication in SL. I had some technical challenges that really frustrated me. But, after using a different computer, these issues have been resolved. Then, we got to learn about rezzing a power point slideshow in Second Life. Anne did all the heavy lifting on that one (thank you!) but I’ve learned a bit about creating in-world objects as a result.

Throughout all of this, the conference organizers (including many librarians) have been immensely helpful. They’ve offered practice sessions that Anne and I attended, pictured below:


If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that I’ve struggled with decisions about how to define the ‘site,’ ‘group’ or ‘area’ that will define my observations. I’ve conducted pilot observations throughout Second Life over the past two weeks: a TV show sim, a dance club, a recreation of parts of NYC, music clubs, academic classrooms, a fantastical land of artistic graphics and extraordinary out-of-this-world experiences…..and more. I’ve joined a plethora of SL groups from music junkies to language learners.

I’ve considered how to use a site or group as a starting point but utilize a theoretical framework of connectivity or a ‘multi-sited’ ethnographic approach. I’ve realized the importance of following connectivity, ideas and meaning in virtual space rather than getting caught up in a single-sited approach.

But through all of this, I somehow thought I still needed to find a bounded community within Second Life to define in my ultimate research agenda. I felt that SL as a whole was too ‘big’ of a site because I could not even begin to observe all pieces of it.

And where have I ultimately landed? I’ve realized — much thanks to a pivotol conversation I had with fellow MLIS student Anne Mostad-Jensen — that it’s best to get away from a site-based approach all together. I’d been searching for a ‘site’ to match up to ethnographic reserch standards calling for a defined “culture-sharing group.”  I thought that finding a place in SL, locating a group, or some such thing, is the course I’d have to take to justify ethnography.

Anne helped me understand the obvious: all of SL is a culture-sharing group with social norms, customs, etc. They may be practiced in different ways in the land of the steam punks versus the Gossip Girl sim. However, there are overarching social structures that justify SL – as a whole – as a site for my observations. Plus, choosing one SL subculture would erase the richness that can be found by looking at various pieces of this virtual world. 

Ultimately, this approach has not led me to a defined site that fits nicely into a traditional “statement of purpose,” but then I remember the words of Christine Hine in describing her virtual ethnogrphy as a “partial ethnography.” Plus, I learned from reading John Crewswell’s research methods text that I am most certainly a pragmatist who takes from multiple traditions that best answer my research questions. And ultimately, my research is about the information seeking behaviors of Second Life users, not just the users – for example – who like to go to music concerts in SL. Considering all of SL as my research site best answers my research questions by opening doors to consider the diversity of SL users of all kinds.