Category Archives: technology

crowdsourcing ~ research possibilities

crowdsourcing |ˈkroudˌsôrsiNG|
noun
the practice whereby an organization enlists a variety of freelancers, paid or unpaid, to work on a specific task or problem

Social scientists have traditionally felt a need to tightly control how they get their data, who should provide the data and how are seen as key features of good research. But, we might take note of the ways other scientists (biologists, astronomers, mathematicians, ornithologists, and geologists, for example) are capitalizing on the lived experiences of people to help them collect and analyze data on natural phenomena.

The Case of Citizen Scientists

Many research projects now involve collecting or analyzing huge amounts of data, and both tasks are sometimes beyond the resources of an individual researcher or research team. Crowdsourcing the research tasks is being used in an increasing number of projects, mobilizing the general citizenry’s interest in science. Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 1.36.04 PM

There is one web-based platform that has facilitated these research tasks; check out Zooniverse, which creates citizen science websites that allow anyone with an interest to participate in research online. These projects call on citizen scientists to help with data analysis. One recent example is Snapshot Serengeti, a website with photos taken in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. Anyone with an internet connection can help classify the different animals caught in millions of camera trap images.

Crowdhydrology

Chris Lowry a University of Buffalo assistant professor of geology has developed Crowdhydrology, a project that enlists hikers, fishermen, birdwatchers, school kids and nature-lovers to monitor stream levels in NYS, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa. The idea is simple ~ at each site there is a giant measuring stick and a sign explaining how passersby can text water levels and stream locations to researchers. Citizens  in this project participate in data collection, contributing to research on hydrology. The data collected are public and available on the CrowdHydrology website, which describes the project thusly…

“The CrowdHydrology mission is to create freely available data on stream stage in a simple and inexpensive way. We do this through the use of “crowd sourcing”, which means we gather information on stream stage (water levels) from anyone willing to send us a text message of the water levels at their local stream. These data are then available for anyone to then use from Universities to Elementary schools.”

This is the interface that allows anyone to view or download the data.

Crowdsourcing for Social Science Research?

So imagine how social scientists might use crowdsourcing to investigate social issues and human phenomena. One example is a project in Egypt that gives women an opportunity to document rape, harassment and assault ~ Harrassmap tracks incidents of sexual harassment in the Greater Cairo area with the goal of understanding and changing the social acceptability of gender based violence. Social phenomena that are experienced or witnessed (safety, anxiety, happiness, bullying, crime, kindness, road rage, drug use, oppression) are all potentially chronicled, mapped and understood through crowdsourcing.

Also, check out the humanities projects on Zooniverse.

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A key issue in the successful use of crowdsourcing in the social sciences is that scientists do retain some control of the research questions and what counts as useful data, crowdsourcing as data collection ought not to mistake participation in data generation with expertise in the research topic.

crowd sourcing images as data

Crowd sourcing is an interesting strategy for data collection that I’ve written about and you can read about it here. Here is another example of crowd sourcing images around a topic, in this case the use of photo-sharing service Instagram asking teachers to  post photos throughout the day capturing moments they saw as representative of their daily lives as educators. There is a rich potential to answer a wide range of research questions with these images as the data set.

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Google Glass ~ a data collection tool?

Field work depends on researcher’s senses, maybe most especially their eyes and ears, and given the participant observer role we rely on our memory to reconstruct our experiences into field notes, the foundation for our analysis. Sometimes we are in contexts (like classrooms or meetings) where note taking is facilitated by computers or smart pens. One wonders if recording devices that just come along with us and record what is going on might be useful for researchers. For example, the GoPro, strapped to your head or chest, is now standard equipment for sports enthusiasts to capture their accomplishments or nature enthusiasts their surroundings. It might well be the means to record that ritual or interaction your research focuses on, but it might also be a bit intrusive. YouTube Preview Image

Google Glass is definitely more stylish, less obtrusive, and provides interactive capabilities. It’s in the beta stage, what Google is calling the Explorer Program and if a space is available you could be an early adopter for the cost $1500, that is if you live in the USA. In short you tell it what to do, take a picture or video, which you can share, send a message, look up information. The example below shows some of its capabilities. Imagine a research context that would allow you to record what you see, do and to share and connect that with other researchers and research participants. Video ethnography on the go?
YouTube Preview Image

Google Glass has been controversial when people wear them as a matter of course in their daily lives creating exaggerated tensions in an already surveillance rich society (smart phones being the obvious device). But used in a research context, where people have accepted the researcher’s role as a recorder of events, interactions, and talk, these controversies might be obviated.

A classic is back ~ new edition of Miles & Huberman’s Qualitative Data Analysis

With Johnny Saldaña as a new third author to the ghosts of Matt Miles and Michael Huberman, a new edition of this classic text on qualitative data analysis is back. This 3rd edition stays true to Miles’ & Huberman’s original organization and ideas, but is significantly updated with the inclusion of more information on computer based analysis and specific approaches to qualitative research emerging over the past few decades. The new edition ends with a very good list of resources for qualitative researchers.

Using aerial photographs

Aerial photography has been around for a long time ~ indeed there was a time living on the Canadian prairies where aerial photographers took pictures and then sold them to farmers, a sort of self-portrait of their homestead. My grandparents proudly displayed such a photograph in their living room and as a child I found it a fascinating perspective.

Google Maps provides an interesting resource for using the aerial perspective to examine constructs such as land use and housing patterns. For example, John Hill in this blog post looks at housing patterns, particularly suburban housing patterns that show an evolution from the sterile grids of suburbia characteristic of early suburban development, a pattern Thomas Jefferson laid down in the 18th century. His analysis of housing patterns illustrates an evolution that considers issues of density, community, and aesthetics based on the housing patterns (grids, fairway housing, fly-in homes, canal homes, cul-de-sacs, gated communities, tract mansions (what some folks call McMansions) and so on) we see in aerial photographs. This analysis clearly illustrates changes over time, concluding with suburban planning that reflects a contemporary interest in being ‘green,’ developments that encourage transit use, walkability, mixed-use spaces, and energy efficient construction.

See also Context and Perspective

Researching the virtual world

The explosion of social media has opened a new space in which human interaction and social life unfold, and perhaps are differently constructed. As the social world goes digital, social scientists are challenged to adapt research methodologies and methods to this new space, one where thousands and possibly millions of people interact.

A literature that provides guidance on how to do research in growing and includes books like:

Netnography: Doing Ethnographic Research Online by Robert V Kozinets
Internet Inquiry: Conversations About Method, edited by Annette N. Markham & Nancy K. Baym

And journals devoted especially to the topic:

A key consideration in research in this new space are ethical issues of privacy, consent, and research participants’ rights. Some references that deal with these issues are:

Banks, W. and M. Eble, 2007, Digital Spaces, Online Environments, and Human Participant Research: Interfacing with Institutional Review Boards, in Digital Writing Research: Technologies, Methodologies, and Ethical Issues, H. McKee and D. DeVoss (eds.), Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, pp. 27–47.
Brown, R. & Gregg, M. (2012). The pedagogy of regret: Facebook, binge drinking and young women. Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies, 26 (3): 357-369.
Buchanan, E. A. and Zimmer, M., Internet Research Ethics, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2012 Edition).
Burden, K., Shuck, S., & Aubusson, P. (2012). M-Research: Ethical issues in researching young people’s use of mobile devices. Youth Studies Australia, 31 (3): 17-26.
Morrow, V. (2008). Ethical dilemmas in research with children and young people about their social environments, Children’s Geographies, 6 (1): 49-61.
Zimmer, M. (2010). “But the data is already public”: On the ethics of research in Facebook. Ethics and Information Technology, 12 (4): 313-325.