Applying for ethics approval

People smile with recognition and empathy when I mention that I’m preparing an ethics application. Fellow postgrads fix me with a grin and tell me how much fun the process is. My supes all but giggled when I mentioned the 9 pages of tedious paperwork I found on the human ethics web page, but they didn’t mention anything about the supporting documentation required. Everyone who has been through the process understands that it’s daunting enough that they don’t have to issue any warnings. They just smile knowingly.

Preparing an application is difficult at the best of times, but preparing one in a hurry is definitely not recommended. Unfortunately I really needed to get mine in this round, so I made a particular effort. It won’t be approved until mid April, which is just enough time to get my study done.

Going through this process does have its benefits. Firstly, it forced me to consider my methodology more carefully. Secondly, it made me get in touch with a whole range of people and start talking about actually collecting data. This turned up the unexpected piece of info today that I really ought to be doing my questionnaires and interviews with Civil Litigation students. Third, it got me thinking about analysis, which has already got me worried. I need some training. It turns out that SGS offers a whole bunch of <a href=”http://www.gradstudies.unimelb.edu.au/prog_services/programs/upskill/research.html”>research skills seminars</a> in first semester. I’m going to attend a couple of them for sure. I also need to get hold of NVIVO.

Milestone time

Last week I officially came back from my Leave of Absence, which I took because my fieldwork can’t start until first semester. Returning from leave means that I need to complete my progress report, which is a one-year milestone for my thesis. Having a deadline does wonders for motivation, so it has meant I have converted a lot of my notes into useful material in a short space of time. The Lit Review section is now looking pretty good. It probably needs a little more SST stuff, but I can add to it later. The Introduction is also not bad, and I included some background material on my case study which I think works well. I will no doubt revise the Introduction for readability, but I’m reasonably happy with progress. It’s now off to the supes for their comments and then it comes back to me before being sent off to the department. I should know in a few weeks whether they think progress is satisfactory.

Divide and Conquer

Yesterday I uploaded the latest version of my Project Summary, which now includes a substantial amount of the Literature Review and a framework for the other chapters. It’s the first version with a structure somewhat resembling the final thesis. A fair amount of work remains to complete the chapter, with 3 of the subtopics still in note form only (see Notes). However I’m making daily progress on it at the moment. The key is breaking the writing down into achievable chunks — getting from note form to written form is only possible in this way I think.

eRoleplay.net is born

Well, that was pretty painless. I decided it was time to register a domain name for this site at last*. I have been thinking about a few alternatives to do with ‘online’ and ‘roleplay’ but noticed that the shorter ‘eroleplay.net’ was free so I grabbed it.  If nothing else, it will be quicker to type in.  The transition to the new account was painless, once I realised that I didn’t even have to export the database. I registered the domain, Joel created a new account on the same server, I installed Drupal 4.5.2 from drupal.org, tarred the files from the old account and ftp’d them to the top level of httpdocs in the new account.  The only other thing necessary was editing one line in the conf.php file to point to the existing database. Along the way we got an update so hopefully that won’t cause anything weird.

*This post was originally made on my thesis work log. 

Role-plays vs Real Life

Massively Multiplay Online Roleplay Games (MMORGs) are still getting press coverage about a month after an Australian gamer named ‘Deathifier’ bid $US26,500 for a virtual island that only exists in the game Project Entropia. One of the most interesting things about this is that it may turn out to be a good investment, since Deathifier now holds mining and taxation rights on the island — resources that can be converted into real cash in the same way.

Authentic Learning Activities

‘Authentic Learning Activities’ is the first major topic (of 5 or 6) that I intend to cover in my Literature Review. Over the past couple of weeks I have been tracing this theory, and even though the concepts are very familiar to me it’s been useful and intersting. Collins, Brown and Duiguid (1989) is the article that everyone seems to reference — an article on Situated Cognition. I found a really interesting article by Carl Bereiter called ‘Situated Cogniton and How to Overcome It’ — a title I couldn’t easily go past. It talks about the history of the concept of situated cognition, referring to Vygotsky of course but also to a lot of rat-experiment type psychology that I hadn’t really thought about. The main point: that the situation being referred to is really environmental (with rats) rather than social. Rats learn well in their little mazes but if you take them out of them they are lost. So it’s abstract knowledge that is not easily obtained through situated cognition. It got me thinking that this would be a good criticism of the arguments for situated cognition in tertiary education — after all, if you consider it to be a panacea you are likely to be very disappointed. Adult learning is all about constructing abstract knowledge, and being reflective. So these things have to go further than maze-training.

Narrowing the focus

My aim this week has been to start to narrow the focus of my work. After speaking with Martin at our first meeting, I wanted to pick one of the themes and really take a good look at it with a view to framing my research question as clearly as I can. At the same time two things happened. Firstly the talk by Horvat mentioned in my last entry, and secondly Sam Carroll put me onto this article by Papacharissi building on Goffman’s The Presentation of Self in EveryDay Life to look at the web. I found it interesting not so much because of the (fairly dry) discussion but because of the way her questions were framed:
RQ1: What are Web page characteristics through which virtual actors pursue self presentation online?
RQ2: How are the characteristics of personal home pages related?

Now, her methodology was quantitative and (in my opinion) a little limited because of it, but it did get me thinking about the notion of self as being central to what I’m really interested in. So I started re-reading some of Goffman on presentation, and thinking about the destinction between the classical (Cartesian) notion of the stable self and more recent ideas about fractured/constructed selves (e.g. Dennett), Goffman’s ideas about self-presentation, and Althusser’s stuff about interpellation. I finally tracked down the one copy of Althusser’s Lenin And Philosophy in the ECOM library and read his famous ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses’ article. Interesting — it reminded me of a lot of political science stuff I read as an undergrad.

Althusser is on about individuals (selves) being always-already subjects. He says “all ideology hails or interpellates concrete individuals as concreate subjects”. So for example when a police officer says ‘Hey, you there!’ and someone turns around, the fact that they know that it is really them who is being referred to means that they are a subject, and that they know it. The other example he gives is Christian ideology, which addresses individuals in order to transform them into subjects.

Castells is similarly coming from a political science perspective. I remember reading his stuff when I was doing International Relations. He has a bit to say about ‘self in the informational society’, saying that the net is actually completely at odds with the ‘self’, and even quoting Alaine Touraine “in post-industrial society, in which cultural services have replaced material goods at the core of production, it is the defense of the subject, in its personality and in its culture, against the logic of apparatuses and markets, that replaces the idea of class struggle”. This stuff is definitely up my alley with my politics background and pretty interesting in the light of my topic.

I decided that there would probably be enough just in the notion of the self to investigate with respect to DRALE too. How do these budding lawyers establish their identity as lawyers? What characteristics of the system interpellate them as lawyers? How do they employ this system, and how and to what extent are they defined by it? I can think of a lot of examples within the design of DRALE to look at — for example the agency provided by the letterheads for each of the teams. The authentication of students by typing in their name and password. The counter-signature process. The system as an actor/actors, the roles of the staff involved, and so on.

Conference time

I went to the Image, Text & Sound Conference at RMIT today and there were a couple of papers that were of particular interest. Les Horvat spoke about narrative as a vehicle to organise the self, referring to Macintyre. He contrasted the Cartesian view of the self as stable with recent ideas of the self as a stream of narrative fragments (e.g. Dennett). I found it quite useful just at the moment as I’m considering ideas of identity and role-plays. Lisa Dethridge talked about the importance of time in narratives. This was interesting to me from a design point of view, but I’m wondering whether it points to any interesting ideas for analysing the use of role-play systems too. In any case there was plenty to think about, and I will be following up a few things from the first one.

Research Project thoughts

Today I spoke to Peter Jones from the Law School about the current use of DRALE. It sounds like it is still in heavy use there — being used in 1st, 2nd, and sometimes also over the summer semester. The 2nd Semester students just finished using the system yesterday. The next cohort to use it will be the JD students, who will probably use it over the next fortnight. It will then most likely be used again in January during the summer semester (JD students again I think he said) and after that in 1st semester 2005, around april – may for approximately 6 weeks. The 1st Semester cohort is the one that interests me most, because this is when the students team up and match with opposing teams.