Sunday, June 22, 2008

Being a research guinea pig

I have always maintained that one of the best ways to learn about the research process is to be a research participant. That way you see research from the participant's point of view, which is invaluable when it comes to devising your own research project.

You see for yourself, for example, what sort of survey questions work; what induces people to answer questions honestly in an interview; what motivates participants to answer and return a questionnaire.

Motivating research participants
One of the most difficult things about carrying out human research is motivating participants to take part, and to do what they're supposed to do... properly... ie return their forms, to fill out all the questions accurately, take the correct pills at the correct time and so on. And, of course, you must do all this without 'bribing' or 'coercing' participants.

Yet, there is nothing more frustrating for a researcher when participants do not conform or adhere to the research protocol. I mean, why sign up to be in a research project and then not do what you're supposed to do?

Bottom line: non-compliance by participants can lead to your research going down the pan.

The other side of the coin
But having recently joined a research project, I am beginning to get some insight into why participants do fall by the research wayside.

I joined the digital literacy research project 5 weeks ago with the aim of learning how to make a video. I was full of enthusiasm at the beginning because I was doing something which was fun. But as time has gone on, my motivation has flagged. And as soon as I was asked to actually do some serious work ie reflect on my learning, I definitely started to lose interest.

Questioning my motives
I started to question why I would want to give myself a lot of extra work for the 'fun' of it. The learning from this project will be applicable to my work, but I am actually doing the project in my own time. Why would I want to do something related to work in my own time - idiot or what?! Why on earth did I sign up to attend 10 weeks worth of workshops? I could have learned all this by myself at home- why did I need to commit myself so extensively? And so the questions continued.

Staying on track
Suffice to say, I will continue the project because a) I am enjoying networking with the other project participants and b) because the researchers - good friends of mine - would kill me if I pulled out. Ultimately, I understand the research process and how important it is to follow through a commitment to a research project.

Retaining research participants
This time of being a research participant has not told me anything I didn't already know about recruiting and enrolling people into research projects. However, it has re-enforced the issues of retention from the point of view of the research participant, which will hopefully make me a lot more understanding as a researcher. The main things I think are important for me to remember about my own research are:
  • Participants have to see the value of the research, both for themselves and the wider community;
  • Participants need to be reminded that their input is really valued;
  • They need to be fully informed about the research and all that it entails, including time commitments;
  • They need to be 'supported' and motivated to continue in the project - how you do that without being seen to be badgering them can sometimes be problematic.
Have you ever been a participant in a research project - how did you find it? As a researcher, what have you found to be an effective way of engaging participants in your project?

Image: 'Poopsie Pig' bickbyro


susane said...

I think you have hit the nail on the head more than once, Sara.
The thing you mention in the final bullet points about fully informing research participants. I would hope that researchers are being realistic about their action research objectives with this DIL research project and what this could potentially entail for participants. Particularly considering that what I originally fashioned as my Digital Information Literacy objectives is now bursting at the seams.I would hope some discussion around this issue could bring clarity and a sense of proportion to what has proved to be hard to contain.

Sarah Stewart said...

I know what you mean and I found exactly the same when I first started learning about web 2.0. Gradually as I learned more, things started to make sense, but it has taken me nearly a year to feel I have a handle on things.

Maybe what we pass on as feedback is that we need more structure? But at the same time, by leaving things loose, we are given the ability to explore what we want that suits our own personal needs.

susane said...

loose or tight structures like buildings are more about what happens in them - likewise communication needs to be ongoing I expect that teaching is the same... whenever you first present front up to people to outline all the course objectives - some things will fall on deaf ears. This is why audio recordings have such a store of surprises when you listen to them more than once.

Sarah Stewart said...

Hi susane

thanks for the comment. I am never sure if my dissatisfaction with unstructured courses is the fault of the course planners or my problem ie I need to get my head around less traditional formats of learning.