Autoethnography Research Project Proposal ~ Feedback Requested

I have an assignment for my doctoral program that I want to share here and possibly (hopefully) generate some constructive feedback. We have a short period of time for this project / assignment, so I can not take the usual time to work out all the issues before I begin. As I am not accustomed to discussing this early in the process, some suggestions and possible direction for identifying potential participants will be most appreciated.

This project is a small-scale research project that is intended to:

  1. Get some experience doing what we have been studying, namely research itself
  2. Write about educational research methods after using some of them
  3. Set personal learning objectives and then reflect on how they were met

I have never publicly discussed this process before I have it completed, and as my program at Lancaster University in E-Research and Technology Enhanced Learning focuses on participatory and networked learning, I thought I will work with my tutor and colleagues in the cohort as well as share this experience here on my blog.

While this is intended to be an original piece of research, it is within the context of a class, so the (proposed) research headings are slightly different than a pure research paper. 

Working Title
Educational Explorations of Autoethnographic Inquiry: A Tale of 2 Teachers

Research Problem
Autoethnography is increasingly used as a research method, pushing the boundaries of qualitative inquiry by focusing on a phenomenon in the life of the researcher as the central aspect of study, and publishing the findings as a cultural critique. With online technologies making the entire research process more transparent and potentially interactive, the process and research intentions themselves may be explored more fully, as the steps can be studied as part of the process, rather than by looking only at the final, published product. Little is known about what the researcher learns and wants his or her readers to learn within the process of autoethnographic research.

Literature Review
This will focus on autoethnographic inquiry, what it is, why it is done, and what is learned through it. I am planning to focus around the work of Carolyn Ellis, Art Bochner, Deborah Reed-Danahay, and Jean Clandinin and Michael Connelly.

Purpose & Research Design
The purpose of this case study is to understand the intentions and learnings of researchers who engage in autoethnographic inquiry. This will be a qualitative research design, with a constructivism philosophical worldview. The strategy of inquiry will be case study. The research methods will be interview.

There are no expected ethical issues in this research. Participants will remain anonymous, with fictitious names being used and the transcripts from the research secured in my password-protected computer.

This research is important to me because I am interested in learning more about how autoethnography can be used as a method in online and distance education, particularly for its seeming relationship with reflective practice and transformative learning. This is part of a large research interest of mine, which I am seeking to begin exploring in this smaller research project. I hope to better understand this to ultimately help improve the effectiveness of online teaching and learning practice.

As this is an exploratory case study, there will be 2 people interviewed for this research. I will reach out to my network of colleagues and distribution lists to locate 2 people who have published autoethnographic inquiries (I have not actively looked for potential participants yet). Interviews will be conducted over the phone. Open-ended interview questions will be used:

  1. Why did you choose to use autoethnographic inquiry?
  2.  Who is your intended audience?
  3. What intentions did you have for your readers?
  4. What role did technology play in your research?
  5. What did you learn in the process of this autoethnographic inquiry?
  6. If you were to conduct further autoethnographic inquiry, what would you do differently?

Interview results will be hand-transcribed and sent back to the participants for their review and approval.

Data Analysis
I will look for themes between the results; though need to develop this section more (for possible hand-coding?).

Findings and Next Steps

Personal Learnings
I will explore what I learned in doing this research project. I do need to develop personal learning objectives, though am not sure about the format for them and how many are realistic given the time and scope limitations.

Listed as used.

24 thoughts on “Autoethnography Research Project Proposal ~ Feedback Requested

  1. Great start!

    I had four comments / questions for you to consider:
    1. Make more of a direct link with why this is done online to make clear it is autoethnographic inquiries that are being done online.
    2. I am curious as to the use of the term “intentions.” Do you really mean the aims or goals for the audience? Intentions seems a little limiting.
    3. Do you need to define autoethnography more for the reader, especially those unfamiliar with this method?
    4. Why are you looking to use 2 people? Would only having 1 person for this initial research be sufficient? What would having a second person add to this work?

    Some things to think about, but good direction.

  2. @Kiki-

    Thank you for the feedback, Kiki. These are all great issues, and I will address all of them in a revised version of this.

    I was planning to do #3 in the paper itself, and thought I did enough of an overview of it for the proposal (but perhaps not). I will certainly spend more time with it and will situate it within the literature.

    Regarding the other 3 points, they are exactly items that were floating around in my mind which evidently did not make it into the proposal itself. I will address them all.

    Thank you!

  3. I’m not sure how to articulate what’s giving me pause here so I’ll at least just pick a point to begin the conversation.

    It strikes me that you are inquiring into an emerging self-reflective way of doing research and yet the way you are structuring the inquiry is very traditional. I wonder how it might impact your learning and practice improvement goals to include sources of self-reflection (journals, the conversations you are having here in the comments area etc.) as data points – similarly to how someone might include those reflexive pieces in autoethnography or first person action research. Or from a different angle, because you’d like to improve your practice in online teaching, could it be useful to engage methodologies that use more social media than interviews do? For example, holding an online dialogue where people are discussing these questions. Could be synchronous or async and still anonymous.

    I also appreciate @kiki’s point about making more of a direct link with why what this has to do with online.

    I love that you’re doing this! Thanks for asking us for input.

  4. @Erin (@ekreeger)-

    Thank you for grabbing a point and starting.

    You raised a useful point about using an emerging research method and packaging it in a traditional way. Thinking about this, I do have to submit something in a recognizable assignment format, though perhaps the headers and structure may change once the idea gets cleaned up a bit and finally approved by my tutor. I will be sensitive to this, as I think it is valuable.

    I have been using my blog for a lot of reflective practice and the like since I started writing it a few years back, and now that I am formally working on doctoral research, I think that the public thinking and processing I do here may end up influencing my studies, as here is a place to try out what I am learning.

    I like your creative research suggestions here, and may explore them a bit once this task is complete, however that may happen and look!


  5. Kiki and Erin are both making valuable points.

    Autoethnography is a new concept to me, but from the little I have read so far, I have the impression that many of the questions you want to answer would be addressed and documented anyway through the autoethnographic method: justification of the choice of autoethnography, intended audience, intentions of the researcher…

    This leaves questions 4, 5 and 6 (role of technology, lessons learned), which should be the central focus of your inquiry. It would not prevent you from comparing what the researchers have stated in their formal inquiry vs. what they have stated in more informal spaces like blogs and twitter feed.

    In any case, thanks for alerting me to the concept of autoethnography. In a sense, – and I may be totally wrong, since I don’t know enough about autoethnography yet – I feel that’s what we do each time we blog or twitter.

  6. As promised, I looked over your assignment and I am afraid that I am also new to this concept. Therefore, I cannot provide any intelligent feedback as to how to proceed with it.

    I was however wondering whether you are following nwjerseyliz on Twitter. It is because she had been working at a University until recently as a Sociologist/Ethnographer and I think she could provide good feedback on this project.

    I don’t know if Ethnography and Autoethnography are related but hope that they are and that Liz can help with your inquiry.

  7. @Louise (@BlancheMaynard)

    Thank you so very much for your throughtful and reflective feedback. I think in having this discussion publicly about some research I need to engage in, I am learning a lot about the process while others are learning something as well. The method, the intentions, the traditions–I am more and more convinced that technology changes the way we work and think and operate, and in the process places increased demands on research methods and strategies that were developed long before the information technology effects could be measured, or even initially explored. I agree that this is something that needs to be further fleshed out in my proposal, and as I just received initial approval from my tutor to engage in this research, I want to get it cleaned up a bit by the weekend so I can begin it.

    I will post the final design that I plan to work with here, of course!

  8. @Kiki

    I am absolutely thrilled with the time my colleagues have offered to assist with this. I have even gotten some direct Tweets and emails with people offering to be interviewed for this.

    Who would imagine the power of social media? Then again, openly sharing this part of the research process before the findings brings me an entirely new vantage, as both researcher and learner.

  9. @nycrican2

    Thank you for the comment, even if you are new to this! It never ceases to amaze me that sometimes people do not think they are contributing because their contributions look different. Encouragement and introductions are both very very helpful, as is the positive energy that comes with the supporting presence of standing with one another.

    We are not always clear when some transformative learning events can be set in motion. Who knows where all this may lead?!

  10. I agree with Kikki: great start – and what rich and great debate you have sparked by sharing your draft!

    1. As narrative self-representations, the auto-ethnographic authors you are going to interview are assumed to have focused on ‘intended’ audiences’ and ‘intentions’ they had for their readers. I think that asking them also how their initial reason for using auto-ethnography may have changed or evolved in due course, not assuming that decisions made at the beginning of the project remained unaffected by the researcher’s experiences and constant ‘gazing’ at his or her ‘self’, might prove valuable.

    2. As a method, auto-ethnography does enable researchers to reconcile voices they would be forced to handle in separate ways if they resorted to other methods. In this sense, the artificial boundaries of ‘self’ and ‘other’ – as interviewer/observer and interviewee/participant for instance – become much more blurred.

    3. Assuming that reflexivity has resulted in those authors being aware of this, the question to what extent they had made use of the fact that they are imposing reflections and interpretations on their audiences might be one of the challenging aspects which could potentially open up a debate around power, and, in turn, feed into your personal learning outcomes/objectives.

    4. In terms of data analysis, I thought that taking a grounded theory approach when coding might gain more validity by help of triangulation – so not just asking interviewees to review the transcripts but also the coding. This in turn might also contribute to your learning objectives, focusing on power and equality issues in research based on social constructivist notions.

  11. @Britta Bohlinger

    Britta, this is very deep and quite helpful. I really appreciate your taking the time to add your thoughts and voice here.

    You have given me a lot to think about, and I will integrate some of this into my revised proposal, which I am planning to submit tomorrow and which I will also include in a new blog post to show where I am going and from whence I came.

    Can you explain your point #4 a bit more, especially where I can look for some reading to help me better understand what you are suggesting? I am familiar with grounded theory, but planned to use a case study as the strategy of inquiry. I am not sure how to mix this with a grounded analysis.

    I am now even more eager to read some of your own research!

  12. I am very glad to hear that you found useful what I had to add to the debate, Jeffrey. And many thanks for the encouraging words – I have been neglecting my own blog over the past few weeks due to papers and exam, but posting is on the agenda.

    Walter D Fernandez at the Australian National University describes the use of the grounded theory (GT) methods with case study data and discusses critical characteristics of GT method, bias, risks and demands involved:

    He says’ utmost care must be exercised to ensure that the canons of case study data do not distort true emergence for theory generation (Glaser, 1998, pp.40-2)’. Fernandez used ‘grounded theory as the overarching methodology to study data from an exploratory case study’ and builds a strong case in favour of this combined methods by referring also to Eisenhardt (1989) who outlined 3 major strengths of using case data to build GT which are
    (a) related to the production of novel theory (b) the testability derived from the close interconnection between data and theory
    (c) the empirical validity in part based on (b) and the constant comparison and questioning of the data.

    I imagine you find the chapter both interesting and relevant material and enjoyable to read.

    Having said that, for quick reference – I am a great fan of – Bob Dick’s site which provides a very useful overview of the Grounded Theory approach as well as a considerable bibliography – which unfortunately, got lost in Walter Fernandez’s chapter, might prove useful too.

  13. @Britta Bohlinger

    Thank you again, Britta. I was about to submit my revised version of my proposal, and will now widen it a bit more to account for this research “twist” in my plans. This sharing of research design and asking colleagues for assistance and feedback in the process is more valuable than I ever could have imagined.

    I love this research process when it directly affects practice, in this manner being educational research itself.

    Stay tuned . . .

  14. Thanks for this, Jeffrey. Indeed I have been thinking about a wiki for your PhD project – and related to this I have also been thinking that such open and transparent developmental process is enormously enjoyable and enpowering (to me as reader/one of several contributors). Also, it adds to a sense of questioning my own knowledge. Good luck with the next step.

  15. @Britta Bohlinger

    As my research design is moving in the direction of exploring autoethnography done in a transparent and open way, I am exploring and trying to understand the very behavior I am interested in exploring by engaging in it itself.

    How else can I try to understand what this process looks like?

    I plan to resubmit my proposal later today, and with each additional comment, my thinking shifts. I wonder about this as a value proposition in online educational research? This clearly seems to fit within the area of my program, even more than when I started working on it.

  16. That is a fascinating aspect – perhaps the dynamics in an open and easily accessible environment such as the blogosphere challenges many of the rather conventional ideas of what learning means. While on the one hand we see the hierarchical relationship between learner and teacher blurred, also the boundaries of learning processes and teaching processes seem to undergo drastic changes. It may enable us to understand how much potential we have been left unused in more traditional settings where learning was more confined to time and space restrictions. The key point now might be to draw a boundary and close the door to virtual flows of ideas coming in at any time 😉

  17. @Britta Bohlinger

    In some ways, this involvement involves both readers and researchers in the research design and potential data-gathering itself (not to mention those who may watch from a distance), and certainly blurs traditional distinctions between the researcher and the (private) process over there, with the phenomenon being studied over here.

    While I am exploring this from the framework of autoethnography, I am wondering if there is not something else going on in this as well, something new that technology (such as Twitter or blogs themselves) makes possible that has not really been explored before as it could not exist in this manner?

  18. I have finally gotten to reading this, and I thought: wouldn’t it be interesting if a few people gave you copies of the research journals they kept while engaging in their own research projects, coded those and see what emerged?

  19. @Jennifer

    That sounds like fascinating additional research. I wonder how that might work in practice, especially given the electronic and disparate note-taking strategies we all use?

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