22 SES 08 A, Teaching, Learning and Assessment in Higher Education
An enduring silence exists in the discourse on qualitative inquiry around the use of technology. We focus on computer programs to cope with the challenges of organizing, managing, and analyzing data produced from the qualitative data collection process yet we seldom consider the role technology can play in data collection. Yet, the ubiquitous presence, use, and acceptability of mobile phones in many societies may have important implications for how we collect qualitative data. According to Geser, “cell phones can be instrumentalized for preserving diffuse, pervasive roles which demand that the incumbent is available almost all the time, because such encompassing availability can be upheld even at times individuals are highly mobile and involved in other social or private activities” (2004, p. 15). Frequently, these “activities” entail political, social, and cultural conditions that make data collection difficult, and sometimes dangerous – for researchers and our participants. Mobile technology may alleviate this jeopardy by mediating between participant and researcher and afford entrée into participants’ complex experiences and insights.
Nowhere has mobile technology become so embedded as in Africa; where, despite a persistent lack of infrastructure, political and economic instability, and other maladies, the mobile phone, in terms of access and use, has experienced unparalleled growth. “Over the past five years the continent's mobile phone use has increased at an annual rate of 65 percent - twice the global average” (Massachusetts Institute of Technology [MIT], 2009, ¶ 1). This development has significant implications for the qualitative fieldwork process, which “locates the observer in the world” (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005, p. 3) and is often fraught with challenges, particularly in developing nations. Qualitative researchers often describe these obstacles as problems of participant attrition (due to health issues, migration, displacement, etc.) (Crossley, 2008), participant literacy (Moletsane, Mitchell, de Lange, Stuart, Buthelezi, & Taylor, 2009), language (Coe, 2001), access (Stephens, 1990), cross-cultural misunderstandings (Chilisa, 2005), bias (Womersley, Maw, & Swartz, 2011), and concerns with safety and prolonged field experience (Fife, 1997), among others. Yet, with the explosion of mobile phone usage, many of these impediments to data collection may be ameliorated, facilitating greater access to participants, to data, and to important findings.
In this presentation, I ask how can we, as educational researchers, make use of mobile phone technology and its social integration to reach and engage participants fully in qualitative inquiry in Africa? In order to address this, I reveal through a discussion of the literature some of the impediments to data collection qualitative educational researchers frequently encounter in the field in Africa. I highlight the social, political, and cultural change attributed to mobile technology in Sub-Saharan Africa in order to demonstrate the potential of this technology. Using examples from my own research study on universities in Kenya to illustrate how mobile phones played an unexpected role in sampling, I then suggest ways in which mobile phone use may extend beyond sampling to contend with procedural and ethical challenges inherent to the qualitative research process.
Chilisa, B. (2005). Educational research within postcolonial Africa: A critique of HIV/AIDS research in Botswana. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 18(6), 659-684. Coe, C. (2001). Learning how to find out: Theories of knowledge and learning in field research. Field Methods, 13(4), 392-411. Crossley, M. (2008). Bridging cultures and traditions for educational and international development: Comparative research, dialogue and difference. International Review of Education, 54, 319-336. Denzin, N., & Lincoln, Y. (2005). The handbook for qualitative research (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Fife, W. (1997). The importance of fieldwork. In M. Crossley, & G. Vulliamy (Eds.), Qualitative educational research in developing countries: Current perspectives (pp. 87-112). New York, NY: Garland Publishing. Geser, H. (2004). Towards a sociological theory of the mobile phone. Online manuscript, Sociology Institute of Zurich, University of Zurich. Retrieved from http://socio.ch/mobile/t_geser1.pdf Moletsane, R., Mitchell, C., de Lange, N., Stuart, J., Buthelezi, T., & Taylor, M. (2009). What can a woman do with a camera? Turning the female gaze on poverty and HIV and AIDS in rural South Africa. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 22(3), 315-331. Stephens, D. (1990). The fieldwork process in a Nigerian cultural context, In G. Vulliamy, K. Lewin, & D. Stephens (Eds), Doing educational research in developing countries: Qualitative strategies (pp. 143-168). Basingstoke, UK: The Falmer Press. Womersley, G., Maw, A., & Swartz, S. (2011). The construction of shame in Feminist reflexive practice and its manifestations in a research relationship. Qualitative Inquiry, 17(9), 876-886.
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