A Strategic Adaptation of Ethnography across Online and Offline Spaces

Leander, K. M. & Mckim, K. K. (2003). Tracing the Everyday ‘Sitings’ of Adolescents on the Internet: a strategic adaptation of ethnography across online and offline spaces. Education, Communication & Information, 3(2), 211-240.

Article Review

The learning experiences of young people has changed dramatically due to the advent of social media and innovative online environments. While many scholars have investigated various aspects of online learning and environments, one of the constant challenges facing them is how to adapt interpretive research traditions that are invented for face-to-face world to explore online social landscape. In this article, Leander and Mckim (2003) explain this challenge in detail and propose connective ethnography as an alternative methodology for research in these areas. Online spaces challenge researchers to reconsider the nature of research sites: they are not necessarily bounded physical settings, but could be fields of relations. In addition, since online social spaces are dynamic and produced by its participants, Leander and Mckim (2003) use the term “siting” (a productive process) rather than “sites” (physical constructs) in this article, because the former more actually reveals the social practice of these online space. Furthermore, Leander and Mckim (2003) contend that the binary of online space and offline world is a false dichotomy because in many cases online and offline social spaces are dynamically interrelated.

Based on this analysis, they propose connective ethnography that analyzes flow, which describes “not merely a networked structure, but rather, the performance of individuals of and through that structure”(p.226), and construction of boundaries. In addition, it explores textual constructions of social space and self. These approaches help researchers better capture users’/learners’ comprehensive experience of online/offline social spaces. Although rapid development of social media and social networking tools since this paper’s publication have made some of their points self-evident, connective ethnography nonetheless builds a great framework for researchers to explore online spaces.

Connections to the EdLab

Connective ethnography approach could be applied not only to research projects but also to the design process of online tools. Especially, these concepts help developers to better gauge users’ experience of online tools/environments: What role do these tools play in users’ daily life? In what ways do these tools connect online interactions to users’ offline lives? How do these tools build boundaries and construct social spaces? Questions like these will provide fresh perspectives of how users experience online tools, and help developers to better design these tools.

In addition, this innovative research approach points to a significant absence of an effective research tool for connective ethnography on the market. In such projects, researchers need a convenient research tool to store and analyze data collected from both online and offline space. The development of such research tool could be part of EdLab’s efforts to enhance efficiencies in educational research.

Contributor: Chingfu Lan