Using blogs as a data source

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  • #4024
    Craig Deed
    Participant

    There are a lot of blogs around. Even on this site there are a lot of posted ideas and information about research. What are the ethical and analytical questions related to using this data? Could I, for instance, just download a lot of students’ blogs about their school experience and use this as data? Look forward to your ideas about this contemporary issue …

    #4048

    I’m not sure. Do we allow to use data from blog as valid data in research?

    #4047
    Craig Deed
    Participant

    Here are a couple of examples I was thinking about. A class of students blogs each week about classroom activities, including samples of their work. This would form a narrative of student experience.
    Or a group of teachers blog and interact online about their ideas, experience and reflections of teaching in a challenging school. This, again, would be data about teacher perspectives.
    In these examples, the data is no different to classroom observation or interview. I accept there are questions of validity, but what are the arguments for and against using this as data.

    #4046

    I agree with some point. Qualitative approaches in data analysis should be suitable with the method. Bunch of data from control group should be valid for data analysis process. We can propose this method for other alternative in data gathering to support our research. Quite interesting. I will follow this matter… Cheers

    #4045
    Naomi Jacobs
    Member

    There are potential ethical implications. Any use of personal data without permission can be seen as covert research. Yes, blogs are in the public sphere, but only so far as we understand the internet to be such – it could be seen as being on a public/private boundary. If the blog users have not given explicit permission for their writing to be used as data, I would have ethical concerns. Of course, if you have contacted the blog users and gained informed consent in the usual way, this is no longer so much of an issue.

    That’s just my interpretation, though. Others might see this as public data and see no ethical/confidentiality issues.

    #4044
    Craig Deed
    Participant

    Thanks Naomi. To me there are two issues. What is ‘personal’ data – does this include opinions anonymously expressed in cyberspace. Related to this, once something is posted online (in an unprotected by password space), does this become public? After all, it can never be erased and can be viewed by anyone with internet access. Often it is impossible to gain an individual’s consent, particularly if they have used an alias or avatar. What an interesting world we live in!

    #4043
    Hazel Burke
    Member

    Hi Craig
    You might like to have a look at a toolkit we’ve produced on analysing blog data for qualitative research. It’s written by Helene Snee who has used this approach in her own research. She covers some of the issues you’ve raised already and also passes on some really useful practical information on using blog data in research if you decide to go ahead with this approach yourself.
    Hazel

    #4042

    I am a current research student and we just completed an online research project. If you want to use blogs as a data source it would probably be best to set up a group or a site where participants log in and then post up blogs. Blogs can be used to collect data, and if set up in the right way, should not cause ethical issues.

    #4041
    Craig Deed
    Participant

    Thanks Tamlynn

    I have done this in previous projects. It did strike me, on browsing several blogs from schools, that here was a data source full or rich reflective material from school students, It was in the public domain, and this was the origin of my question. So, we have blogs that are set up by researchers (seems to be some methodological thinking about this); and then there are also blogs that are just out there. This leads me to think about those publically available thoughts and ideas – can we use these as data?
    Thanks for clarifying my ideas about origins of blogs. Still, the question remains about using blogs that pre-exist to any research question, and that serve a purpose different to that imagined by the researcher.

    Craig

    #4040
    Hazel Burke
    Member

    Hi Craig
    I’d definitely recommend Helene’s toolkit mentioned in my last post for your question about whether or not it’s ok to use pre-existing blogs as data (I wasn’t clear in my last reply quite what was covered in the toolkit I think!). Interesting issues, though – have you decided whether or not to use the data from student blogs? Or is it more of a philosophical/ethical musing at this stage?
    Hazel

    #4039
    Craig Deed
    Participant

    Hi Hazel

    Most useful – thanks. This is in preparation for designing a research project in 2011. As you say, an interesting area for data collection. Craig

    #4038
    Rodney Lim
    Member

    Hi Craig,

     

    I am using Grounded Theory to research online fashion entrepreneurs and it is (in my mind at lest) natural to investigate fashion blogs for data because the whole phenomenon takes place right there, on their blogs and websites!  

     

    The fact that they pre-exist research questions is perfect for my study because to me, it represents emergent and not forced data.

     

    Rod

    #4037
    bernard smith
    Participant

    Hi Craig, I guess my immediate concern is that you say that the data are blogs written by students. Were the blogs posted for a course? Might the school or class for which those blogs were created be “unaware” that such material is not password protected? (for some courses at my institution students post blogs but those blogs are not accessible to folk outside the class.) Are you teaching the course? Do you have access to these blogs through any role you might have other than as a common or garden user of the internet? Are you part of that blogging community of students? Answers to those kinds of questions might help you decide on the ethics of using those blogs.My academic institution requires IRB oversight of any research that involves students. Might your research require IRB approval?

    My second concern is about the use of material created by folk for some purpose which is then used by a researcher for purposes of research.Is it POSSIBLE that the research you do (and publish) might result in some harm to any of those bloggers? Can you guarantee that it won’t? Tammlyn Jefferis , as you note, suggests creating an artificial blog site and that may be a possible solution but research is being done in (not just on, but in) Second Life and such like so although there are ethical issues about the use of such data there are solutions to those questions. And as you suggest data from such an artificial site may be tainted making it useless. 

    Last point:  you suggest that accessing the blogs you are interested in is no different from say observing a classroom. But there are differences. You would need to obtain permission from the students (and teacher) to observe a classroom. If anyone refused you permission you would not have access. You would also need to explain what your research was about. You would need the consent of those you were observing. I guess the internet is “public” and yet… and yet… and yet I think those who use it may have some ideas about “privacy”… So, no answers to your question as much as questions your question raises for me. 

    Full disclosure: I should admit that I am currently using data I gathered from online responses to an article posted in an online edition of a British newspaper (and for the same reason that Rodney Lim (above) suggests – such data are naturally occurring and not the product of interviews etc), however, despite the fact that those who posted online use monickers and “usernames” the reports of my research change those identifiers. 

    #4036
    Craig Deed
    Participant

    Hi Bernard. Many thanks for your comments and thoughts.

    Can I respond to a couple of things. First, the blogs I want to use are those I identify through a web search. I will have no say in setting up the blog, they are not my students nor do I have any interaction on their blog. They are publically available blogs.

    Perhaps it is not possible to know whether the participants realise that their blog posts are in fact public. The very nature of blogging must surely imply that making posts is for the very purpose of letting others know your thoughts. e.g. today I came across a blog from a class of students doing a coastal walk – there was discussion of the walk planning, progress and ideas about conservation. There were comments from parents and local community groups, as well as posts from people from across the world, asking questions and making comments. This could be used as an example of collaborative learning in online spaces. Yet, the ethical question remains – should I get permission from the school or the students to use this publically available data? Or does its public nature mean I can simply use this as a data source.

    Perhaps it depends on the use of the data. If I was to do an analysis of ten different blogs and present language trends in student generated online conversation without illustrative quoting, then I can’t see how I would require either permission or ethical approval.

    As you comment, this raises many questions. It also shows the need to make very clear the methodological thinking behind each case of blog based research – including specific contextual answers to questions about the public nature of the data and the analytical process, along with potential ethical concerns.

    Craig

    #4035
    Rodney Lim
    Member

    Hi Craig,

    You said:” Perhaps it is not possible to know whether the participants realise that their blog posts are in fact public.”

     

    I think it can be argued that they do, as blogging tools like Blogger generally enable blog owners to determine the access level of their blogs.  They can make their blogs public, open to selected readers only, or closed to everyone except the owner. 

     

    Just a thought.

     

    Rodney

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