Qualitative research methods are powerful tools for approaching certain kinds of research questions. Questions regarding how people experience and make meaning of the world around them and how they undertake activities and participate in their worlds are questions that are well-suited to qualitative analysis. The products of qualitative research are useful in their own right, but they are also useful for informatng quantitative research. Qualitative methods can be used to construct models for quantitative exploration and to ensure that specified categories are valid. In situations where practices are diffuse or poorly understood or where understanding how change comes about is paramount, qualitative research may be the best way to understand the activities that people undertake.
The goal of this class is to introduce you to qualitative research methods, particularly the use of grounded theory methods to conduct ethnographic fieldwork. We will discuss ethnographic methods and how they are used in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI)and Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW). Primarily, however, this course will be a workshop on how one goes about conducting ethnographic research and analysing materials. We will focus in particular on ethnographic methods as a set of practices for producing, interpreting, manipulating, and shaping texts.
Students will undertake projects based on ethnographic techniques. We will devote as much class times as we can to "data sessions," where we collectively explore and analyse data that you bring to class. Project work will be supplemented with a range of in-class discussions and readings.