Thursday, 12 December 2013

Idea emergence



My research question, originally conceived: to what extent do DIY online communities displace capital activity?

The major shift that has occurred in my thinking over this course is the realization that I am not an economist and I am not trained in economic disciplinary methods.  In other words, I am not familiar with economic quantitative analyses and I would not be able to conduct them in an acceptable fashion (later scrutiny to peer review) without said expertise.  Furthermore, my initial research question itself is huge.  I now think this research could ideally be executed as an interdisciplinary project between an information + an economic scholar.  The value I would bring to such a project is my attention to the online space (how it is dis/similar to offline) and my familiarity with the field of community informatics.  As I am ideologically invested in the question (let’s be honest), I could also use the research with the DIY online community to arrive at sound conclusions that could be used to empower others; as a longer-term goal, I could develop tools to help DIY online communities actualize their goals toward increased economic independence.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Retrospective

As I finished typing up my SSHRC Program of Work, I was reasonably happy with my chosen area of inquiry and hypothesis but I had this annoying feeling that my plan of action/research methodology was still a little vague...well, because it was. I had a hazy idea of what I wanted to achieve but I hadn't spelled out all the parts of the puzzle, how I was going recruit participants, design my experiment conditions and obtain research proposal. With every successive blog post, and leveraging the great feedback I got from Glen I think was able to refine my ideas and scope and come up with a less abstract and more grounded in reality version of my research proposal.

I think the biggest take home from the class for me was developing my ability to communicate clearly, in a written document, what I wished to carry out with an experiment design and outline the steps I would need to take to make the research endeavour a success.

I had initially intended to conduct an ethnographic study of the online course experience but that is no longer feasible given that design has pivoted to become a comparison/contrast of the various modes of social interaction on MOOC platforms and how each of them impact course engagement levels. I also decided to go with a more qualitative analysis and think this will best inform the future research I undertake in this direction.

Last Post!

Since we have started this course I can say that my research topic hasn't changed per se, however, a number of logistical questions have arisen in implementing my program. One, I have discovered that  a movement has recently started in Hamilton that is similar to my initial proposal, however, it is being done by private non-profits. I also discussed my idea with a professional who runs programs between libraries and museums in another city, and he brought up an interesting point that some people will assume anything free means it is of poor quality. I am not sure if it is even possible yet to run my program for free, however, I am now questioning if there should be a price tag attached to the program, and if so, what is fair.

The neighbourhood I want to work with is low-income, and I know they wouldn't associate free programing with poor quality, but it makes me wonder how this may affect other organizations wanting to become involved. Moreover, if the public sector does commit, would they give space or staff? If so can their budgets accommodate this? Will we be competing with this other initiative or programs within the city and if so what edge does mine have over theirs? If I am to implement this idea I think these questions can only be answered by spending a significant amount of time interviewing stakeholders and meeting with potential participants. Although my initial idea would be fairly large scale by physically combining services into one accessible location, for now it seems best to start small and build from there. I am adjusting the program to begin in one rec centre, library, or museum, and use a reflexive analysis to adjust as need be.

Research question or moving target?


We have reached the semester end and my research question has evolved from questioning the legitimacy of online gambling in Canada in light of the Kahnawake Gaming Commission, then looking at ways for small Canadian businesses to successfully launch online gambling ventures, to now studying how applying data and web analytics concepts could help curb problem gambling. The main reason from moving from the original idea stemmed from the fact that, it seemed to belong more in a law faculty; the second research idea appeared more fitted in a business/management school. I am confident that my current approach is more suited for a study in the context of the iSchool, however some concerns remain as to being able to somewhat simulate real gambling behavior in the context of a study for the purpose of gathering pertinent data.

Establishing credibility


I am generally interested in many fields including politics, philosophy, information technology, physics, music and sports - especially the coaching aspect.  What I like most about peer-reviewing is the ability it gives someone like myself to voice and validate the veracity and commonality of their views and ideas on a topic/field/area of interest etc.. without the requirement of a certified academic foundation as long as the opinions/assessment made are relevant, educative or reflecting of the state of the art in related disciplines without necessarily being field advancing. One can only study and get diplomas/certifications in so many fields however, there is often a need to establish credibility when contemplating the prospect of giving advice or consulting in a field of interest; I find peer-reviewed publications a good outlet for people in the previously described situation to make a strong case of demonstrating their credentials.

Re(search) Re(mixing)

For my last post on the blog, I consider some of the more challenging aspects of the course, but also the upsides that evolved out of these difficulties.

Some of us found the most trying part of Research Methods was to hone in on a research area, and a research question. Studying the connection between the DIY and Maker Movements, and the development of libraries (my chosen area of study) is a topic on which there is minimal specific scholarship, so it was an adventure to find linking materials. Often, it was a question of language - choosing the right words to use for optimal searches in the library database. Along the topic of the challenges of language, just choosing the right words to frame a research question was also very intimidating, because language can be a limiting entity. It can be hard to find the right words for a topic you haven't quite fully formed, and probably won't even understand until you have completed the actual research project (sometimes, if even!). Kristin Luker (2008) describes this feeling very well:

"[Your adviser] will ask you what your hypothesis is...what your research question is. You just go blank, feeling like a rabbit trapped on the roadway with the headlights bearing down on you, as you try desperately to explain what's so interesting about, say, privatized water, or rising rates of imprisonment in America, or adolescent sexuality. When you and your adviser part at the end of the time allotted to you, more likely than not, you part in mutual frustration" (p. 18).

Although I can't claim to having frustrating experiences with either Professor Galey's or Glen's comments and suggestions, I can definitely relate to the floundering student, trying to explain why they think topic A or B is the coolest! It really is a strange feeling to just try and build something (concrete sentences) out of what seems like nothing (fun thoughts floating in my brain), a "nothing" which is often very personal and somewhat of a naked concept being put forth to peers and the community. However, delving into the readings this term and attending class, I was surprised to learn how normal these feelings are, and what a non-linear process research can often be. Mostly, I have found that research takes time, as certain sources and resources might lead to other resources, in unexpected ways. Professor Galey was certainly right - I definitely look at the objects, people, and events around me in a new way, as well as topics and themes which are both new and familiar, and think: how can I transform this into a research project?

Rest in Peace, Madiba


“Decolonization never goes unnoticed, for it focuses on and fundamentally alters being, and transforms the spectator crushed to a nonessential state into a privileged actor, captured in a virtually grandiose fashion by the spotlight of History. It infuses a new rhythm, specific to a new generation of people, with a new language and a new humanity. Decolonization is the truly the creation of new humans. But such a creation cannot be attributed to a supernatural power: The “thing” colonized becomes a human through the very process of liberation.” (Fanon, 2004, 2)


I find myself preoccupied today by the death of Madiba, which is the clan name that many affectionately call Nelson Mandela by. My inbox if filled by the unceasing flow of messages from organizations, from Beirut to Toronto to São Paulo, marking his passing; celebrating his life; and outlining his invaluable and countless contributions to the struggles of oppressed peoples everywhere. I grew up hearing about the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, which was widely supported by people in Lebanon. Later in life, as I began exploring the works of Franz Fanon, Aimé Césaire and others of that generation of anti-colonial thinkers; my profound respect for people like Mandela and their achievements only grew stronger. His passing is an occasion for us to ponder the lessons of his life, and what they can teach us about how to intervene in the ongoing struggles against racism, discrimination and oppression.

When I think of this week’s blog question, in the context of Madiba’s passing, I can say that throughout this course I have only grown more convinced of the importance of doing this type of research on the Middle East today. Practically every article, book or poem I have read in developing my research project has only reinforced for me the importance of scholarship that explores and elucidates the vital link between memory, identity, justice and liberation. This lesson is one that Madiba also sought to share with us. For example, he stated the following:

“In the life of the individual, family, community or society, memory is of fundamental importance. This is something that those who devised and imposed apartheid on South Africa knew very well. At the heart of every oppressive tool by the apartheid regime was a determination to control, distort, weaken, even erase’s people’s memories. […] The struggle against apartheid can be typified as the pitting of remembering against forgetting. It was in our determination to remember our ancestors, our stories, our values and our dreams that we found comradeship.” (Mandela, 2005, 9)

Hence, this struggle of remembering against forgetting is vital, though difficult. I think scholars can and do play an important role in this struggle within their particular setting. I hope my scholarship can be a contribution to these myriad efforts.

Like Courtney Bodi states in her blog for this week, my topic remained the same but the way I framed it changed, and became more succinct (I hope). I have also learned a bit more how to frame my research project within the current academic discourse in a manner that I am comfortable with. I think this learning also is in keeping with Madiba’s lesson to us that we should speak in a manner that builds understanding and togetherness; not confusion and division. 

References

Fanon, Franz. (2004). The Wretched of the Earth. Trans. Richard Philcox. New York, New York:
            Grove Press.

Mandela, Nelson. (2005). “Foreword,” in Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory (ed.), A Prisoner
in The Garden. New York, New York: Viking Studio.