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Designing for Stories: Working with Homeless Youth in Boyle Heights

Editor’s Note: This post for the February ‘Openness Edition‘ comes from Jeff Hall, Elizabeth Gin and An Xiao Mina who discuss their project to facilitate personal storytelling by homeless youth from Jovenes, Inc. in Boyle Heights, a neighborhood in East Los Angeles. The team from the Media Design Practices/ Field Track program at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California had so much success with the timeline structure that they’re packaging it for future use at Jovenes, Inc. and releasing it under a Creative Commons license so others can try it out in the field. This kind of repurposing of ethnographic tools is exactly the kind of sharing that we get excited about at EM and we encourage others to share their own tools and work processes in similar ways.

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jovenestimeline1

Photo by the authors. All rights reserved.

Ethnography has a lot to offer design, as evidenced by the growing field of design and design-related research informed by the methods and practices of anthropology.  Within this emerging interdisciplinary space, the design community and the anthropological community now have an opportunity to ask the question – “If anthropology has offered so much for design – what can design offer anthropology?”

We explored this question as part of our work with Jovenes, Inc., a center for homeless youth in Boyle Heights, a neighborhood in East Los Angeles.  Our goal was to provide an opportunity for youth to tell their personal stories and experiences. These stories would assist the organization in learning more about its constituency and support applications for additional funding to improve its programming and services. We worked in the vein of Participatory Action Research, by Alice McIntyre, taking a collaborative approach to the design and storytelling process, ensuring that both the youths’ untapped creative abilities and our expertise and research were consistently utilized throughout the experience. Read More…

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The tools we use: Gahhhh, where is the killer qualitative analysis app?

For the August issue of Ethnography Matters, Jenna, Heather, and Rachelle have written great posts about their fieldnote tools in the Tools we Use series. Now I have all these new apps I want to try for data analysis!

So this is when I admit here that I have no perfect process. I really don’t. Sometimes this upsets me and sometimes I just say whatever.  I’ve only figured out parts of the process. For example, last month, I wrote in depth about my use of Instagram to live fieldnote. But that’s just one part of the long path of fieldwork analysis. Now that I’ve finished data gathering,  I am no longer in the excitement of fieldwork. I don’t have a team of people to work with as I usually do on projects. For my China research,  it’s just me. And all I can think is, how am I going to analyze all this data without going crazy?

I’ve tried all the coding software possible for qualitative research, but there is no app that fulfills my needs. I have developed an aversion to anything that claims to be a “qualitative analysis tool.” These tools are lacking in user friendliness, collaborative features, platform diversity, and service support. If it doesn’t run on a mac and if the software’s website is unusable – that’s already a clue.

As far as fieldwork tools go, hardly anything drives an ethnographer more crazy than trying to find the most appropriate fieldwork tools. Of all the ethnography courses I’ve taken and all the books, dissertation, and papers I’ve read, none of them go into depth on the tools that ethnographers use to support their process. I suspect that one of the reasons why ethnographers don’t write about the tools they use is because they may use an ad hoc process that is messier and less structured than they’d like to admit. Read More…

The tools we use: Supporting Wikipedia analysis

The Ethnomatters team has been wanting to do a review of software tools for a while now but when we got down to writing them, we realized that there are already very comprehensive software reviews in places like the University of Surrey’s website. So we decided to rather compile short posts on the tools that each of us used in our last ethnographic project, highlighting what worked, what didn’t work and what we’re thinking of trying in the future. We’d love to hear from you about your own experiences so please feel free to add yours in the comments below for further reading!

For my latest project (“Understanding sources“), I needed to collect data from a really wide variety of sources. I had interview data, articles and papers from web, and then a multitude of Wikipedia talk pages, edits, history versions, related articles and image and video sources. For interviewing, I use my beautiful and incredibly trustworthy Zoom H2 audio recorder. I do my own transcriptions (as suggested by Jenna in order to get a really close understanding of the data) and for that I use ExpressScribe which seems to work pretty well. I like that you can use “hot keys” to stop and play and that the speed dial is in a good place for slowing down the dictation. Read More…

The tools we use: Beyond Cassette Tapes

by Schill

The tools I used for my dissertation research were extremely simple.  I had a cassette tape recorder and a big stack of blank cassette tapes.  I was pretty cheap at the time, so I would sometimes reuse the cassette tapes after completing a transcript.  I lost the recordings for a couple of interviews that way. For my field notes and interview transcripts I used Word documents.  I should note that this was after 2000, but prior to the arrival of the iPhone and the whole world of apps that came along with it. I suppose being able to search within documents was an efficiency improvement on the practice that predated it, arranging and rearranging notecards. At any rate, the range of tools has broadened considerably. Here are a few I have tried (and recommend) or plan to try in the near future…

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The tools we use: Bring some colored markers

San Francisco, by Katie

My main field tools are: smartphone, paper, pens. And when I can, colored markers and a sketchpad.

The smartphone part can be touchy… Tricia noted in her post on Writing Live Fieldnotes that she used to carry around a beat-up Nokia feature phone in China because it was less distracting, but that eventually not having an IPhone became more distracting. In the US too there are situations where a smartphone can pose a divide between a researcher and a researchee (okay that’s not a word, but I hate the word “subject”). From my pov in Northern California, the smartphone divide seems less relevant every day, but it can still be an issue.

At this point though I choose the smartphone in all its tricorder glory over carrying around a bunch of other stuff.  I use it to take pictures, record audio and occasionally video, make notes — sometimes I even use it as a phone. To try to break down potential divides, sometimes I let my (genuine) awe at my smartphone show in an interview, and fuss a bit over whether it’s working right.

For recording interviews, I use an Android app, Tape-a-Talk. It’s free and it works. I’ve used other digital recording gadgets and apps too — meh, pretty much all of them have seemed fine to me, but I’m not looking for super clean sound or for audio that I can sync with video. I just want a recording that I can understand. If you’re looking for more from a recorder, the public radio and new media site Transom is a great resource.

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