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Exploring the Hype(r) of Languages Learning and Teaching | About this Research Study : Research Methodology

About this Research Study

Research Methodology

Research Methodology

This research study comprises a case study that utilises hypermedia ethnography as methodology. In a case study, “a single person, entity or phenomenon is studied in depth over a sustained period and through a variety of data” (Lauer, 2006, p. 107). Individual schools (and classrooms) form “cases” within the larger “case study” of the LwICT Project for this research study, and the “variety of data” are in both digital and non-digital form.

Hypermedia ethnography is an emerging research methodology that builds on the traditions of ethnography. It takes observation, communication and collaboration into digital and virtual spaces and in doing so, allows for multimodal investigations (Dicks et al., 2005). Cardiff University is a pioneer of hypermedia ethnography in educational research (see: Dicks & Mason, 1998; Dicks et al., 2005; Coffey et al., 2006; Mason et al., 2006), and it is gaining favour in wider academic circles due to the convergence, affordability, and ubiquitousness of recent ICTs (see: Masten & Plowman, 2003; Wesch, 2008).

To unpack this methodology, it is useful to look at its component parts: ethnography and hypermedia. Ethnography has its foundation in anthropology, and an ethnographic approach considers the entire culture in which people live and interact and allows for flexibility in reaction to variables that arise during the course of research (Thomas, 2004, p. 141). Observational fieldwork is a key element of ethnographic methodology, and combined with other data collection methods (Part IV), assists in building a “thick description” of the phenomena in question (Patton, 2002, p. 191). Observation gives researchers the opportunity to “see things that may routinely escape awareness among the people in the setting” and “learn things that people would be unwilling to talk about in an interview” (Patton, 2002, p. 263) within the case study. However, in hypermedia ethnography, observational fieldwork and other case study components are not restricted to the “real world” but extend to the virtual.

Hypermedia refers to a collection of various materials, related in complex ways, which are not designed to be read in linear fashion, from beginning to end, but explored in an almost infinite number of different ways through complex cross-referencing (Garrett, 1991, p. 86). This may include a variety of text-types and modes, ranging from written materials to digitised audio-visual recordings. Hypermedia is a familiar concept to all who use the world wide web, where it is possible to navigate from page to page, site to site, “text” to “text” through clickable hyperlinks, enabling users to construct and “read” multi-linear networks of information (Coffey, Renold, Dicks, Soyinka, & Mason, 2006, p. 17). Researchers at Cardiff University argue that hypermedia ethnography is highly appropriate for qualitative research because multi-modal ethnography is not simply a mosaic as described by Denzin & Lincoln (2000). Instead, it is a “multi-semiotic form in which meaning is produced through the inter-relationships between and among different media and modes” (Dicks, Soyinka, & Coffey, 2006, p. 78). They encourage researchers to work within an ethnographic hypermedia environment (EHE) which is used to organise, store, analyse, and (re)present data (see: Methods).

In sum, hypermedia ethnography allows for reflection on, extension and adaptation of other established qualitative methods within an interpretive framework influenced by social constructivism and phenomenology. When physical (paper-bound) restrictions are removed from data and representations of knowledge, when links and media can be arranged and rearranged at whim, and when metadata and content are one and the same, everything becomes miscellaneous and discoveries can (and will) be made in unanticipated ways (Weinberger, 2007). Therefore, employing hypermedia ethnography within the broader interpretive framework of this study has had significant implications for the process of not only data collection, but also analysis and subsequent construction of knowledge.