Research for Social Good is a MethodSpace focus for October. We are delving into this broad topic with guest posts, interviews, and links to articles or instructional resources. Dr. Narelle Lemon shares her experiences in this interview. Narelle is an Associate Professor and currently the Department Deputy Chair (Learning and Teaching) in the Department of Education, Faculty of Health, Arts and Design at Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia.
JS Can you briefly describe your research?
NL I research in engagement and participation. I do this through a variety of avenues including social media use for learning and professional networking, arts and cultural engagement, and wellbeing informed by positive psychology including mindfulness. I have a back ground as an arts educator (music and visual arts) and am fascinated with arts-based methodologies especially visual narrative and the possibilities that photography and the narratives that pair with these stories can support the sharing of lived experiences. As such I’ve been privileged to have been able work across educational settings both formal through early years, primary, secondary and higher ed, as well as informal with museum, libraries and galleries and community arts festivals.
At the moment I’m working on a project with my colleague Dr. Megan McPherson called Reach and engagement: Social media use by artists, art educators, and academics. We are investigating how different social media platforms can be used for making, process sharing, seeking feedback, audience engagement, profile building, researching, resource access, relationship building, collaborations, self-organisation, a portfolio of work, and as use as a part of ‘doing the job’. We both have backgrounds as arts educators, artists and academics and we have noticed some patterns of use across these fields and are pondering further through data collection that offers further insights into self-reported practices.
JS How did you (and any partners or collaborators) decide on a particular social concern (or set of concerns) to study?
NL Our own practices on social media was a part of our mindful decision to explore this topic further. We had completed research in the past on Academics who Tweet, but we have been noticing further practices across platforms and disciplines. Our interests as artists, art educators and academics has revealed interesting patterns in our own practices and we have some commonalities in these. But in designing this research project we wanted to know more and see if these were just unique to us or indeed considered by others. Megan is a practicing artist and she shares her practice of making in process as well as final pieces. I navigate across this space informally but have a strong interest in how creatives navigate social media to support the seeking of feedback on works in progress and at conclusion. As academics we do the same with our work, particularly writing.
I share my daily practice of writing and have generated a hashtag of #greentearefillsrequired on Instagram as a way to celebrate moments as a part of the creative process – reading, processing, thinking, writing routines, etc. It is a way to seek feedback, support others who are looking to consider what their practices might be of making and creating but to also reveal the time it takes. In some ways this is a part of seeking social and emotional support in another form beyond face to face conversations. I’m also really interested in how we use social media for wellbeing– relationships, meaning making, connecting, processing of the work and the experiences we have in the disciplines (including the up’s and downs), emotions, and how sides of our self that others who do not know us can connect to. I’m fascinated to know if these lived experiences are also what others find as well. So, in some ways real world observations and our lived experiences are informing our research. And we have narrowed down what we would like to investigate from this but to also mindfully connect into an awareness of how practices can vary amongst others.
JS If goals for your study included advocacy or work for change in policies or practices, how did you address any concerns about researcher bias?
NL As we designed the research we were most mindful about being curious in our own and other’s practices. What do we do, why, how, and how do we describe it? Even though we have similarities we are very much open that others would view their practices as different. We are fascinated by this. The research design has been integral to this process, in that it is mixed methods, a survey to glean overall practices and to gauge a wide variety of perspectives and then interviews for those who nominate to dig deeper into case studies of practice. We are in the middle of data collection now (and if you are interested in participating you can access information here) and we have approached this with an openness to explore and see what is happening. We’ve been very much aware of researcher bias and have a mindful intention to make sure that how we are open to different experiences of social media use. As a way to support this we are curious and invite a sharing of practices honouring voice and agency. Gleaning experiences has very much allowed participates to share their insights connected to their own practice. It’s been the use of semi structured questioning and open ended questions that has supported this.
JS How does your commitment to mindfulness inform your research approach?
NL From a space of mindfulness considerations for this research have included being:
Curious – We are curious about the use of social media across these disciplines, and this curiosity of wanting to find out more drives the why of our project, and indeed collaboration. This later part is significant as this project is funded through a seed grant offered via Swinburne University of Technology and it will feed into further research projects. So, there is a long life to this project. Therefore, we need to be curious as researchers about the topic and in each other as researchers – how do we grow as individuals, but also as a collective? How do we develop ways of working that extend beyond past projects? In doing so we genuinely enjoy working with one another and we individually and collectively celebrate moments of growth, and also moments where the thinking hurts our minds and has us attend to our idiosyncratic ways of being. We genuinely find curiosity in these aspects of working together, as much as the project itself. We recently wrote a chapter together called “We have fun! And we do – we laugh, smile, cry, celebrate, ponder, wonder, and challenge one another. The process does this as much as the topic of what we are researching.
Aware – being present with our own practice at the same time as an awareness of different experiences. Through the interviews we have been especially been able to glean details of practice while celebrating these as they feed into the research aims. We are also aware and careful in the creation of questions especially around accessing information around social media use for wellbeing in regard to emotional and/or social support offering participants opportunity to not respond. With the interview the research design has focused on participant checking and opportunity to change or edit while also deidentifying self and specific examples. Ethically this is a no-negotiable but we embrace this aspect of the research process as a way to supportive reflective and metacognitive processes for the participants.
Non-judgmental – being able to place any differences aside and being open to perspectives that can be shared, while being excited to be able to collect and celebrate these different practices.
Present – being present in the research design and underpinning why of the research. We have thought about questions such as: What do we want to know? Why? How will we do this? How do we value participants time? How can we design a project that supports the best way of collecting data that is diverse?
Full of gratitude – having an appreciation for contribution to the project by the participants. Our gratitude is very much connected to an appreciation of sharing experiences and allowing us to be able to hear these.
More about Narelle Lemon
Narelle’s overarching research area is focused on participation and engagement. She explores this through a variety of avenues including social media use for learning and professional development, creativity and arts education, and positive psychology specifically aimed at mindful practice and coping strategies. She is interested in the lived experience of being an academic – care, collaboration, mindful and supportive practices. This has been explored through online identity with social media and the projects called Academics Who Tweet and Reach and Engagement: Social Media Use By Artists, Art Educators, Academics, and through hearing the stories such as those of early career researchers, and a recently released (Oct 2018) edited book that explores the way that academics understand, embrace and enact the concepts of mindfulness in approaching their work in demanding and dynamic environments. Narelle has received over $1.2 million worth of nationally competitive grants and awards. She has been successfully awarded research awards including: La Trobe University Mid Career Researcher Excellence Award (2016); La Trobe University Early Career Researcher Excellence Award (2013); Early Career Supervisor with Most Publications Award within the School of Education, RMIT University (2012); and Early Career Researcher International Travel Award from RMIT Research and Innovation (2012). She is often invited as an expert speaker and commentator in the media and for online communities on research culture and education issues. Narelle blogs at Chat with Rellypops, Tweets and Instagrams as @Rellypops and @MindfulAcademic, and curates an online project to promote stories of how creativity and mindfulness are applied to people’s lives from various disciplines in the community on Instagram through @exploreandcreateco.