Rolling on Role-plays

I’m just at the end of my 5th week at Caret, but already I feel like I’m getting my teeth into some interesting stuff. Looking back, it did take a while, but at this moment I feel as though a lot has happened. Today was a highlight, with our second observation of a role-play in action, complete with film crew and student interviews. Or interview, as it turned out that most of the students we lined up beforehand had to cancel. We’ll have to do follow up interviews next week. So why are we doing this? Well, we’ve spent quite a bit of time looking for high quality learning resources, and identified some role-plays conducted in the MPhil courses here as candidates. We want to identify key elements of these exercises, including important learning advantages of the approach, as well as any problems encountered. With that information we hope to build up a picture of how the resources that support the exercises can be used in other institutions. It’s a fun project, and the outcomes are tangible and potentially very useful, so I’m enjoying it a lot.

Walls

One of the things you can’t help noticing when you arrive in Cambridge is the architecture. The buildings with their archways and courtyards and the narrow cobblestoned alleyways. And the walls that surround them all. Signs warn that this area is PRIVATE, or that the grass is for the enjoyment of those more privileged than the reader.In fact the whole place is designed to regulate behaviour in very specific, time honoured ways so that at every turn you are made aware of your place — or rather, just how difficult it is to get to the next. I’ve enountered this not only in walking around the city, but in all of its institutions, from its bike shops to its banks. The most curious example is probably the University Library, which is a rather imposing building already, since its tower is by far the tallest building in the area. Before even arriving there, however, it was more than a challenge to discover whether borrowing rights extend to every member of staff by default. The Library website lists 10 different categories of university staff. Exactly which of these I fit into is still a mystery to me. Despite assurances from some colleagues that staff are unlikely to receive sanction from the venerable UL Admissions Office without considerable effort, I decided to presented myself to the front desk to politely enquire as to the process. I was told that I would need to return with a copy of my employment contract. Dutifully, I returned the next day with my contract, and I was directed to a waiting area outside the Admissions Office, which has a sign on it reading “Please do not knock on this door. We will attend to you at our earliest convenience.”When I was eventually invited in for my interview, I was asked a few questions about my “status”, and finally my University ID card was registered with borrowing rights. Even though I realise that most universities have procedures for all of these things, it’s the feeling you get just being here that gives the impression of exclusivity. When I finally managed to get into the hallowed building it was only under careful surveillance, in an orderly manner, through an electronic turnstyle that required a manual override from library staff. Then I realised I was out of time and left immediately.

Qualitative Research tools revisited

It’s been a while since I posted here*, but that’s because of the move to Cambridge. I’ve settled in now and am starting to get back into the thesis mindset, and have been thinking some more about my research workflow. What I really want is to be able to code up sections of the interviews very quickly and begin to play with the ideas that emerge from that process straight away. NVivo requires quite a lot of time investment to get to that stage. In addition to that, I’m now working with a group who doesn’t use NVivo, so it’s potentially going to be a pain. Atlas.ti looks like the most obvious choice — our group includes a couple of social anthropologists, and most people say that this package is best suited to social science research. But I’m drawn again to TAMS Analyzer for its ease of use. It also doesn’t try to do too much, uses a simple tag based coding system that I can understand, and has some straightforward analysis tools linked in. And, it’s free. You can’t beat that price.

* This post, and any others posted with the eroleplay.net tag were originally posted on my thesis work log.

Two down

Well, the first interview was yesterday, and the second was is today, so I feel like I’m making progress. I think the responses in the first one were pretty much what I would have expected, and the second one uncovered some new issues that are give me some more leads.  It’s just as I thought — the process of interviewing the students themselves is definitely bringing my thoughts together and motivating me to find out more.  It could be a lucky break that these are students who are studying media and communications because they are clearly able to reflect on what they did in the role-play in quite an advanced way.

Interviews about to start

I’m gearing up to start interviews as soon as possible. The next stage is to contact the students with the Plain Language Statement and a copy of the consent form. I’m feeling confident after spending quite a bit of time observing the class and getting to know the students. They appear to be keen to participate and all signed up when I passed around the pen and paper!

Here’s a revised version of the interview questions, and attached to this post is the revised Plain Language Statement.

My notes from the two classroom visits are here*:

Notes from The Campaign Press Conference 7 October

Field Notes: SPC 9 September

And here are some of the notes on the Specification document for The Campaign:

Campaign Specification

* This post was originally made to my thesis work log. Links to pages on eroleplay.net are password protected.

Classroom visit

Today was definitely one of the most interesting and motivating days I’ve had in a long while working on my research project. I sat in on the Strategic Political Communication class and took a bunch of field notes, so I felt like a real researcher on the job. But more than anything I had a real sense of what my interviews were going to be like by seeing the students first hand. They are an interesting bunch from a lot of different places. Very talkative and informed about media and communications, so I think the simulation would work well with them.

One of the most interesting things that came up was actually that the students recognised that there was a technical problem with the system allowing them to see things ahead of time. This potentially breaks down the authentic feeling of the simulation — or does it? I was really interested to see that they knew it was a problem but were not necessarily going in and checking out stuff that they shouldn’t. Virtually the whole class knew there was a problem. The other main thing this brings up is the importance of things such as chronological order to a simulation of this kind, and the potential therefore of the system to add a great deal of confusion when it malfunctions. I think this is a theme I need to write something about in my discussion and the whole story about just what happened when this did crop up should make wonderful reading. The students basically lead the discussion, showing the lecturer exactly what the technical problem was and how to subvert the system. Excellent stuff.

The other thing I was paying a lot of attention to in the class was the ways in which the roles were reinforced by the way that people addressed each other face to face. At a number of stages the students were referred to as Journalists or Advisors. There wasn’t any real first person “role-playing” going on at all, though. No side-jokes with students pretending to hate/like each other or anything of that nature. It was all very much as though they viewed the exercise as something to ponder and reflect on rather than “live”. I want to know whether that illusion of living in the shoes of an Advisor or Journalist is any more real in the online exercises.

Research project timeline

August 19: Contact ethics committee about change of student cohort
August 26: Revise questionnaire & interview questions
September 2-9: Prepare for questionnaire & interviews to be conducted
September 16: Observe The Campaign class in action & brief students on project
September 23: Administer questionnaire during class
September 30: Select interviewees
October 7: Observe The Campaign press conference
October 14: Conduct interviews

Changing tack

Today was disappointing in a way, but I think it could work out for the better. I set to work to get my research project back on track after taking a well earned break and illness. I phoned the Law school to find out about the usage of DRALE this semester. They weren’t sure last time I checked. Now it appears that it is not slated for use until the Summer Semester with the JD group. That’s going to be too late for me because I want to complete my interviews in the next couple of months. On the upside, I’ve been thinking about other projects I could use for a while now and The Campaign is a good second choice. I’m now setting about reshaping my interview questions to suit. I believe my research questions should still work with only a couple of word changes (the ones that relate to Law specifically). Next I will contact the lecturer and then the supes.

Research project and other progess

For some reason I haven’t updated here in ages, so a lot has happened since the last entry.  I expect to hear about my ethics application in the next couple of weeks, which is when I hope to be able to actually begin collecting data. I hit a couple of snags relating to the particular student cohort, which I’m still trying to get sorted out. After finding out that DRALE isn’t being used in “group” mode in one of the subjects, I was told that it was being used in another subject.  The lecturer for that subject was away overseas, however, so I couldn’t verify this until she got back.  Sadly, it turns out she isn’t using it at all this semester.  However, yet another (smaller) group has just used it this semester.  So I hope to do a combination of the non-groupwork usage and the smaller group, which is using the system in its full glory.

It might even add a few areas for comparison that I may not have otherwise got.  I still need to write to the Dean to get approval for the study, and I may need to modify my ethics application, but it shouldn’t be too tough.

As I’ve mentioned before, the whole process is a little offputting and in my case quite frustrating, but I still see it as a learning curve. Part of the point of getting a student to do all this is surely to find out what barriers there can be, and how to overcome them.

Meanwhile I’ve now got N6 installed on top of Virtual PC 7. N6 seems to work fine.  Virtal PC is sluggish on my G4 iMac.  I want a G5! I’m not sure if this is going to be a viable solution when I really get down to data analysis.  It basically requires Virtual PC to go into fullscreen mode, which means multitasking is not easy, and that’s a big pain.

On Tuesday I finally heard that an assessor has been appointed for my progress report.  So on Wednesday I sent over the latest copy of my work with all the paperwork signed.  I don’t know what happens next — I guess I get the paperwork back with some comments in a couple of weeks or something.  All I know is that it was late getting back to Faculty because the (already extended) due date was March 28th. It wasn’t my fault, though, so I assume that it shouldn’t be a problem.