Tag Archives: education

Strategic Ethnography: Reinvigorating the Core of a Retail Giant, Tesco

ed_team_brannen-m-y A well-known international scholar in multinational affairs, Mary Yoko Brannen (@maryyokobrannen) received her MBA with emphasis in International Business and PhD in Organizational Behavior with a minor in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Having taught at various Universities in the United States, Japan, China and France, Professor Brannen’s consulting specialty is helping multinational firms realize their global strategic initiatives by aligning, integrating and deploying critical organizational resources. Born and raised in Japan, having studied in France and Spain, and having worked as a cross-cultural consultant for over 20 years to various Fortune 500 companies, she brings a multi-faceted, deep knowledge of today’s complex cultural business environment. She has published many papers. In addition to publishing papers, she speaks to the press about her bicultural work.

Editor’s Note: In 2011, TESCO had stumbled. With dipping market share and profits, they were desperate to reverse the trend and called upon the research skills of Mary Yoko Brannen, Terry Mughan, Fiona Moore,  and Christopher Voisey,  drawing upon their deep experience and the company’s myriad potential sources of knowledge to turn itself around.

Mary Yoko Brannen (@maryyokobrannen) presented this work at the most recent EPIC conference, and I’m delighted they’ve decided to further share their work here. One reason I love this project is because it illustrates the usefulness of ethnographic methods to one of the world’s largest retailers, showing that there are few limits to the range of organizations that it can serve. I also believe this research was key for negating a common misconception in many global companies: the flow of insight is not “one way.” Creative ideas to improve the service offerings of more established branches in Europe and America can just as easily come from their more recently-established branches in emerging markets (although I disagree with and avoid using the term “reverse innovation”).

Companies with the opinion that more developed markets have a monopoly upon good ideas are missing a broad spectrum of different perspectives that could lead to new and refreshing initiatives from other contexts. The researchers’ refining of a method to systematize the building of a “bicultural bridge” is, as they say, potentially groundbreaking for the fields of anthropology and management alike. Read the Globe’s recent coverage of Mary and her team’s work.

For more posts from this EPIC edition curated by  editor Tricia Wang (who gave the opening keynoted talk at EPIC this year), follow this link.

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In 2011, the retail giant Tesco UK  was in crisis mode. Tesco’s profit in the U.K. had fallen by about 0.5 percent—a rude awakening after having been the market leader in the U.K. and the third most profitable food retailer globally. At the same time that Tesco’s profits were falling in the UK, however, worldwide profit had actually risen 30 per cent, thanks to its Asian subsidiaries.  That year, the company tasked me and my colleagues, Terry Mughan, Fiona Moore, and Christopher Voisey with identifying and assessing “the Essence of Tesco”, i.e., parts of the firm’s culture which were distinctive to Tesco and which could be transferred abroad to other parts of the firm’s global reach. The project had the dual objectives of helping Tesco (1) understand and evaluate the core practices that comprised the essence of Tesco’s home country advantage, and (2) identify sources of learning from Tesco’s foreign subsidiaries to aid in reinvigorating its core in order to make it more competitive at home. Read More…

On the Importance of Ethnography in Education: an interview with Mizuko ‘Mimi’ Ito

Mizuko 'Mimi' Ito

Mizuko ‘Mimi’ Ito

Editor’s Note: We finish off this month’s theme on ethnography in education with an interview with Mizuko ‘Mimi’ Ito (@mizuko). Mimi has some impressive experience with the topics covered this month: she is the Research Director at the Digital Media and Learning Hub, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Chair in Digital Media and Learning, and a Professor in Anthropology and Informatics at UC Irvine (after getting two PhDs from Stanford). And she is as kind and generous as she is brilliant.

In this interview, Mimi provides insights on bridging disciplines – from ethnography to economics – and institutions – from academia to industry. She also discusses the challenges and opportunities in forging new research agendas and shaping a field, something with which she has a lot of personal experience. We are thrilled to share Mimi’s insights with you to round out this month’s theme on ethnography in education. To learn more about Mimi, check out her many books and reports, summarized at the end of the interview.


Morgan: You’ve worked on a lot of compelling projects using ethnographic methods. What do you see as the strengths of ethnography?

Mimi: I think, for me, I was always in an unusual bucket as an ethnographer because I’ve always done research ‘at home’ and I haven’t taken on the frame of culture in quite the same was as ethnographers do, but I’ve adopted and adapted the perspectives and political commitments and methods of ethnography, and for that has worked very well in studying youth media. My approach has been to study youth culture and media as a space of cultural difference within a particular society. These technologies are new and children and youth occupy a somewhat segregated culture. Feminist ethnographies look at social stratification, and my approach shares affinities with those.

When I started out, there wasn’t a lot of work in anthropology looking at children and youth cultures, and I found that the perspectives of ethnography was really useful for looking at these subaltern and disempowered groups. A lot of my perspectives came from my training in anthropology about how to give voice to the unique ingenuity and perspectives of those who are disempowered. The role of youth in most societies as a relatively oppressed and marginalized population has been relatively under-studied in anthropology. The field has done a great job of studying regional inequities, and gender, race, and class, but has been remarkably silent about the everyday oppression that most societies have based on age. Read More…

Ethnographic Entanglements: How having multiple roles enriched my research in Nicaragua

Chelsey Hauge

Chelsey Hauge

Editor’s Note: the final guest author for this month’s Ethnography in Education theme, Chelsey Hauge (@chelseyhauge), is finishing her PhD this coming year at the Department of Language and Literacy at the University of British Columbia. Originally from California, Chelsey has spent the last decade cultivating her love of youth and media, from New York to Oakland, Vancouver to Nicaragua. She provides a perspective on ethnography in education outside of the United States with a fascinating account of doing ethnographic research on a youth radio organization in Nicaragua – while also running the program. She shows us that her deep entanglements with the program were an asset, not a liability, and invites us to reflect on the entanglements that any ethnographic research necessarily creates.


An experienced education researcher recently admitted to me that they did not allow their students to conduct dissertation research in spaces where the student was not only a researcher, but also a facilitator, teacher, leader, or producer. It was an admission of curiosity: I have conducted my own dissertation research on a program I am intimately involved with – I led this program’s inception, designed its goals, formed the partnerships necessary to carry out the program, trained its staff, and mentored its youth. In fact, I grew up within the broader auspices of the Amigos de las Americas (www.amigoslink.org) program, and only through years of involvement was I given the opportunity to craft and direct the media program in Nicaragua. I could have never conducted my ethnographic research on how youth come to tell particular social justice stories without these most intimate connections.

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The recognition that this entire project would have been located outside this researcher’s “rules” urged me to consider the possibilities and limitations of such close research and programming work. Certainly, ethnography is always a research practice built upon and muddled by complex relationships between researcher and research subjects. As researchers interested in the personal, the everyday, the experiences of folks, and the way events come together and shift, ethnographers enter into relationships where roles of “researcher” and “subject” are often unclear, where friendship and research grow from each other and even depend on each other.

As a researcher drawing on feminist ethnography, this gets even more complex as I am invested in a research practice that critically engages with the power dynamics in relationships, friendships, communities, between researchers and researched. The experienced researcher’s stance, then, serves to make their student’s lives less complicated, their research just a bit less tangled up with the researcher’s multiple commitments. Yet, the tangles I have encountered as I research civic engagement and youth media in Nicaragua are visible to me only because I inhabit both roles, and those tangles are productive, fascinating, and generative. I have been privileged to engage with a richness that would have been impossible without ebb and flow between both roles.

How I came to AMIGOS as a site – and to ethnography as a research method

I came to my research with youth media producers in rural Nicaragua before I ever called it “research.” Read More…

Interactive eBooks and Reading Comprehension – I’ll Meet You There

Sheila Frye

Sheila Frye

Editor’s Note: Our next author, Sheila Frye (@sheila_frye), wears many hats: she is an educator with fifteen years’ experience, a reading specialist, a literacy innovation researcher, and a doctoral candidate studying the design of learning environments. Her research focuses on the crossroads between interactive eBooks and reading comprehension.  She has teaching certifications in reading, special education, and educational supervision, and blogs at http://teachingliteracy.tumblr.com. We are honored to feature her insights – and, as you will see, her wonderful exuberance – in this month’s theme on ethnography in education.


I have joyful data.

Yes, you read that correctly.

I have AWESOMELY LOVELY and JOYFUL data.

You see, for the past nine months I have been entrenched in my dissertation fieldwork, giddily collecting data on second graders’ responses to reading interactive eBooks on the iPad. Using a repeated measure design, I sat with thirty participants individually for two thirty-minute sessions each and observed what they did while reading the two chosen eBooks in either a “Read-to-Me” or “Read-and-Play” mode. After reading, the participants engaged in several performance tasks to assess their understanding of the stories and to gather information on their personal views of reading interactive eBooks.

In most children’s stories, the reader takes on a more passive role. But I wanted to study what happens when readers become active participants in a story. Luckily, Nosy Crow developed these awesome eBook apps that contain digital enhancements to transform the reading experience into one that requires the user to manipulate and interact with the characters, words, and other textual elements to traverse the plot.  Consequently, users have the option to become active participants in the narratives themselves. You know the Three Little Pigs? Well, users can help the pigs build their houses with the tap of a finger and, diabolically so, blow on the iPad to assist the wolf in huffing and puffing and blowing their houses down. Think Cinderella needs to upstage her mean stepsisters? Users can put the glass slipper on Cinderella’s foot so she can gloat until her heart’s content.

Cinderella Slipper

Genius, right?

Think about it: Children are naturally curious and practically beg to be involved in the environment that surrounds them. Drawing upon this to design eBooks that allow young readers to become part of the story?

Simply brilliant.

My research takes an intimate look at “interactive eBooks,” software applications that provide users with a multimedia literary experience designed especially for a touch screen device. Interactive eBooks go beyond traditional eBooks because they have “hotspots” embedded within the software that allow readers to become actively involved in the experience of reading and, subsequently, may provide learners with new ways to make meaning and increase text comprehension. As you may know, reading comprehension is the ability to make meaning and construct knowledge, an act that stems from the interaction between the reader and the text. In order to comprehend a text successfully, readers must actively reflect on and decode the printed word, combine this with their own prior knowledge, attend to unwritten nuances and inferred purposes of the author, and finally synthesize this information to make new meaning.

Whew!

Read More…

Why Digital Inequality Scholarship Needs Ethnography

Christo Sims

Christo Sims

Editor’s Note: We are excited to kick off this month’s theme on what ethnography can bring to education research with a post by Professor Christo Sims (@christosims). Christo has insights from a public school in New York City that was meant to foster digital inclusion across gender, racial, and socioeconomic barriers, but ended up entrenching these barriers instead. His story shows how ethnographic research can answer difficult questions and broaden the usual dialogues about digital inequality in education in fundamental – and important – ways.


Why Digital Inequality Scholarship Needs Ethnography

By Christo Sims

Digital inequality scholarship is well-intentioned. It debunks myths about digital media’s inherent egalitarianism and draws attention to the digital dimensions of social inequalities. Digital inequality scholars have shown, for example, that people with access to networked media use those technologies in different ways, some of which are thought to be more beneficial than others. They have highlighted how differences in skills and quality of access shape use. And they have rightly attacked the stereotype of the digital generation. These are important contributions for which we should be grateful.

Yet digital inequality scholarship is also limited in some fundamental, and I believe hazardous, ways. To defend these claims, I will draw on an in-depth ethnographic study of an ambitious attempt to combat digital inequality: a new, well-resourced, and highly touted public middle school in Manhattan that fashions itself as “a school for digital kids.” It is hard to imagine a more concerted attempt to combat digital inequality, and yet the school paradoxically helped perpetuate many of the very social divisions it hoped to mend. In-depth ethnographic studies can help us understand these outcomes, and they can provide us with tools for forming more accurate conceptions of relations between digital media and social inequalities.

Recruitment flier for the Downtown School

Recruitment flier for the Downtown School

Read More…

July 2013: Ethnography in Education

Guest Editor Morgan G. Ames

Guest Editor
Morgan G. Ames

Welcome to this month’s theme on ethnography in education research! From the promise of radio learning nearly a century ago, to the recent hype around One Laptop Per Child, to the current excitement around massive open online courses (MOOCs), education has been a site of constant reform efforts – or, as education researcher Larry Cuban puts it, “tinkering.” While using “big data” to evaluate these reforms has its allure (and can be useful in ethnographic research, as Jenna and Ayman have shown us in previous posts), ethnography is unique in being able to dig below the surface and uncover the complicated processes and contingent effects of education and education reform.

ethnography_education

This month’s authors highlight how ethnography can uncover unexpected results or answer difficult questions about some of the thorniest problems in education reform, especially the persistence of various kinds of inequality. Our first article, by Christo Sims (@christosims), tackled this question head-on in an ethnography of a technology-focused public school in New York that inexplicably had many of its less advantaged students transfer out. With his research, Christo was able to say why this was happening and what it means for other efforts for digital inclusion.

Coming up next, we will hear from Ricarose Roque (@ricarose), who is working to break down some of the stubborn gender, racial, and socioeconomic divides in computer science and bring the programming environment Scratch to a more diverse community. She will talk about some of the unexpected benefits parents experienced in the qualitative focus groups she has been conducting as part of her research.

Later in the month, Sheila Frye (@sheila_frye) will tell us about her research on interactive eBooks, which promote active reading habits – a crucial part of literacy – to children who may not learn this skill otherwise. Sheila uses ethnography to take a close look at both the benefits and the potential drawbacks of interactive eBooks. Her enthusiasm for ethnographic methods is infectious; she is one of the few graduate students we know who LOVES her dissertation work! Read More…

From San Francisco to Cairo and back again: Collaborating across cultures

Annie Lin. Pic by Guillaume Paumier CC BY 3.0

I’ve been trying to talk to Egyptian Wikipedia editors for a project about the experience of Wikipedia editors in the Middle East and am finding it really difficult to connect to relevant people through their Talk pages. And so I went to talk to Annie Lin, Global Education Program Manager at the Wikimedia Foundation about how she engaged with editors in Egypt at the start of a project to get students in local universities to write Wikipedia articles. In this interview, Lin talks about ways for outsiders to gain access by giving up power, encouraging participation and changing communication styles and platforms where the culture demands it. She’s given me some great things to think about as I build a more grounded understanding of editing in the Middle East, and I’m sure there are some gems in here that will help others as they think about doing ethnography starting from online places. 

Annie Lin is excited. The first pilot project that she oversaw in Cairo, Egypt to encourage students in local universities to contribute to Wikipedia has been a success – and although the term has ended, many students are still editing.

May was the last month of classes but a lot of students say they’ll keep editing. It seems that the students are excited about the idea that they’re contributing Arabic topics in the Arab world.

The pilot project, involving 60 students from 7 classes in 2 universities, had students create articles in Arabic Wikipedia either as part of the curriculum or as an extra curricula activity. An initial survey asking students what would motivate them to edit Wikipedia had a sense of contributing information about Egypt or the Arab world as the most common motivation. Lin says that when they show maps of Portuguese Wikipedia compared to Arabic Wikipedia, professors and students are shocked at the low numbers of Arabic articles. Read More…