Thursday, 22 November 2012

Libraries and Information Society research group meeting

This is another post about a recent meeting of the Libraries and Information Society research group (last Wednesday). Angharad Roberts talked about her visit to the University of Pittsburgh iSchool, USA (which she also blogged about in the last post here). She explained some of the differences in structure and approach of the PhD programmes in Pittsburgh and at Sheffield (for example, there is a much larger taught element in the Pittsburgh programme) and we discussed a few of the pros and cons of each. As part of her visit Angharad had participated in a session about academic writing. One of the texts for this was:
Sword, H. (2012). Stylish academic writing. Harvard University Press.
This led on to an interesting discussion about our own experience of academic writing and in particular our use of the first person ("I"): when we felt we could use it and what the alternatives were. We also talked a little about journal editor's expectations and our experiences in submitting articles.
The next meeting of the whole group (staff and research students) is on 12th December at 3.30pm.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Using blogs for research - a discussion in Pittsburgh

On Monday, I had the opportunity to facilitate a discussion at the University of Pittsburgh iSchool about using blogs for research. This is a topic I have spoken about before at one of our monthly informal researcher discussion sessions in Sheffield and I hope this is a subject we can return to in another meeting later this year. In Pittsburgh, I began the session with a brief presentation, highlighting two UK reports which I think are relevant to this topic: Research Information Network (2011) Social Media: A Guide for Researchers and JISC (2012) Researchers of Tomorrow: The Research Behaviour of Generation Y Doctoral Students. I followed this by discussing three blogs created and maintained by members of the University of Sheffield iSchool:
  • This blog - Sheffield iSchool researchers - which I think is a good example of a group blog, providing an opportunity for a number of people to author posts relating to their research or about methodological issues. I also think this is a good example of how a virtual community, based around the blog, can grow and reinforce a real world community, based around the monthly informal researchers' discussion sessions.
  • Sheila Webber's Information Literacy Weblog - a really good example of an expert blog, which is a very valuable current awareness source for both academics and practitioners working in the information literacy field. Relatively short posts and lots of photos make the blog very accessible, whilst the integration of other social media tools, such as a Twitter feed and a Flickr stream, potentially broadens the blog's audience.
  • My research blog, which gives a personal perspective on my experiences as a PhD student and my research activities - especially about the events I've attended.
I summarised some of my own reflections about the benefits, limitations and challenges of blogging and we then moved into a really interesting and lively group discussion about blogging for research. Now I'd like to ask you a few questions, as a reader of this blog, whether you're in Sheffield, Pittsburgh or anywhere else - perhaps we can continue the discussion here:
  • If you're a new visitor to this blog, what do you think about it?
  • If you've been viewing or contributing this blog for a while, what has kept you coming back?
  • Have you ever referred anyone to posts on this blog? If so, which ones?
  • What could we do to improve our blog?
  • What are your views about blogging about research in general? Have you used a blog, or would you like to share a good example of a blog which has been useful for your research?
Finally, I'd like to offer a very warm thank you to everyone at the University of Pittsburgh iSchool who made me feel so welcome earlier this week and to everyone who took part in our discussion.

Friday, 2 November 2012

What would Goffman think about furries? Persona adoption and identity masking in blogs and Second Life (by Liam Bullingham)

Concerning online identity, this research investigated persona adoption in blogs and Second Life (SL), aiming to discover how, why, and to what extent this occurs. The theories of early scholars Erving Goffman and Marcel Mauss were considered and applied to interaction in these emerging online environments.

The research sample included four bloggers, four SL users and two users of both media, and participants were interviewed using a semi-structured format. Data was then analysed and categorised using grounded theory.  The literature review yielded some fascinating examples of persona adoption and masking identity, such as Baker's 'blended identity' and Nakamura's 'identity tourism'; and it considered what online identity means within the wider concept of 'the self'. Goffman's claim that we wear a number of different masks in public was applied to SL & blogging, and users were seen to employ anonymity or psudonymity in order minimise the impressions they inadvertently 'give off', in Goffmanian terms. The practice of 'gender swapping' in online interaction and the concept of the avatar were also explored.
Interview data was discussed and categorised as follows:

·         Expressions given,
·         'Fitting in' - a key motivation for persona adoption,
·         Recreating the offline self online,
·         Dividing the self,
·         Anonymity,
·         Minor persona adoption through embellishment,
·         Information evaluation techniques are not always needed.

Following this, data was interwoven with scholarly research to test research findings. 'Recreating the offline self online', whereby participants were keen to re-create
their offline self online was an additional finding, in that it was not informed by the literature.

In comparing blogging and SL, it was found that there is significantly more pressure to conform in SL, meaning more persona adoption occurs through the use of the avatar. Persona adoption in blogging however, occurs in different ways, and perhaps
because there is less social pressure, there is also less persona adoption.

When concluding, I noted that the major limitation of the research was the small research sample, as identifying participants was difficult. However, research questions were well informed in that participants exhibited behaviours such as anonymity or 'embellishing the self' and explained their reasons for doing this.