Clyde Street

Learning, Teaching, Performing


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InSPIRING

There will be an official opening of the InSPIRE Centre at the University of Canberra this week.

I see the Centre as a physical tipping point in my own thinking about and practice in educational technology.

I like the idea of being InSPIRED and hope to spend much of my nomadic time at the University in the Centre.

The Hiperwall there is just one of the many tools for engagement and connection.

The imminent opening of the Centre has encouraged me to think about the ethos that underpins connected and emerging communities.

Thanks to a link from Stephen Downes to a MediaShift Idea Lab post by Jonathan Stray about visualising documents, I discovered a 2009 post by Dan Schultz that helped me clarify my thoughts.

I have written about reciprocal altruism in this blog and I have been exploring the invisibility of openness. Dan’s post was an excellent catalyst for my thinking. His post is titled In Search of a Community That Takes ‘Me’ Out of Social Media.

He concludes that:

Community tools exist, but they are drastically underpowered… As a result, they are drowned out by the far more successful alternatives… To change this, we need something that can:

  1. Host niche communities without isolating them from the rest of the world.
  2. Give individuals a chance to shine without letting their egos dominate the content.
  3. Attract enough people to drive collective intelligence, while maintaining the level of granularity needed to provide a truly personalized experience.

That isn’t too much to ask for… right? I personally believe that these systems will be the key to meeting community information needs.

I think we will have an opportunity to address these issues in and through the InSPIRE Centre. The Centre:

is a learning commons, a place to imagine, experiment and design new ways of working and learning digitally. INSPIRE services highlight quality teaching and contemporary learning practices through staying connected to global initiatives and trends about learning design and design thinking. We focus on a futures perspective and developing foresight, not just knowledge and skills.

I am hopeful that my visits to the Centre will help me explore learning ethnographies of the emergence of inspirational practice.


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Eyewitnesses, Memory and Oral History

Radio National’s Hindsight had an excellent program this week.

Inga Clendinnen, Paul Thompson, Peter Read, Heather Goodall, Sean Field and Bonnie Smith took part in the program (podcast here) titled The Struggle of Memory Against Forgetting.

I thought the program explored very effectively the relationships between history and memory. I liked in particular the discussion of Alessandro Portelli’s work.

The themes raised in the program took me back to some of my early interest in the Life History of teachers prompted by Ivor Goodson’s work.

I started thinking too about my introduction to eyewitness testimony through Ian Franks’ writings.

Photo Credit

LSE student conducting interview in the East End, 1946

 


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Observation +

I received an alert today via a LinkedIn group about a Performa Sports App.

I discovered that “Performa Sports is the performance analysis tool that gives analysts, coaches and players the edge”.

The availability of applications like this is offering real-time opportunities for observation + support for coaches and players. It has been fascinating to watch the transition from real-time hand notation systems to ubiquitous digital tools that generate data rich resources.

I thought I would use the term ‘observation +’ to describe tools that provide real-time and near real-time augmented information. This observation + domain is no longer the sole preserve of performance analysts.

Here in Australia, for example, FoxSports is offering viewers of their A-League and Big Bash League coverage some powerful real-time tools.

A-League

Big Bash League

Each of these applications shares rich data about performance.

The A-League App has a video replay option:

and a range of data that can be used for real-time or subsequent secondary data analysis.

The Big Bash League App shares a range of data visualisation tools:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As I watch people use these Apps and see the flourishing of digital media I sometimes think back to the start of my involvement in this analysis of performance space and the use of cine film!

Some key issues for me in this observation + time:

  1. How do we support real-time live observation?
  2. How do we filter the volume of material available for reflection?
  3. What do we know about the effectiveness of these media for personal learning environments?

One of my research priorities in 2012 will be the exploration of the use of observation + tools. I am going to look very closely at the multiple intelligences and learning styles literature and practice.

I would like to share some ethnographies of learning to explore observation + behaviour.

Photo Credit

Observe them


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Do People Who Have Lost Their Voice Have To Do It?

Introduction

I undertook three years of fieldwork in two schools in the mid 1980s as part of my part-time PhD studies in the teaching of boys’ physical education in the secondary school. Other than a chapter in a book of readings edited by Andrew Sparkes (1992) the only account of my work is in the thesis (1989).

The thesis raised some sensitive issues and with the agreement of those in my fieldwork I placed a voluntary embargo on publication. Twenty-one years on all those involved have moved from the fieldwork schools and I would like to share some of the contents of the thesis as a way of exploring qualitative enquiry in physical education.

Telling Tales From The Field

When I came to write up my thesis all those years ago I tried to explore the process of writing an ethnography too. I was fascinated by the debate going on in the discipline of anthropology at that time and was particularly interested in John Van Maanen’s approach in Tales From The Field (1988). His text has become a classic reference and I bought one of the first copies on sale in the United Kingdom.

I pointed out that John Van Maanen’s monograph is founded on the belief that:

The joining of fieldwork and culture in an ethnography entails far more than merely writing up the results culled from making friends, staying sane and healthy, worming one’s way into back regions and taking good notes in the field. (1988:6)

He challenged the persistent conviction among social scientists that “the problems of ethnography are merely those of access, intimacy, sharp ears and eyes, good habits of recording, and so forth” (1988:6). In making his case he argued that:

A culture or a cultural practice is as much created by the writing (i.e., it is intangible and can only be put into words) as it determines the writing itself. (1988:6)

In the thesis in my account of the teaching of physical education, I posed as problematic the documentary reality presented to the reader. My intention was to develop an account of the writing process that moved on the debate about qualitative research in the study of physical education. Like John Van Maanen I contended that not to pose ethnographic writing as problematic “reduces ethnography to method” (1988:6).

Emboldened by John Van Maanen and excited by writing I used insights gained from Elliot Eisner, Jeanne Favret-Saada, Wolfgang Iser, Miller Mair, Charles Olson, James Spradley and Willard Waller to re-present my fieldwork.

My PhD is based on five physical education teachers in two schools. Three teachers taught in a state secondary school (Bridgetown) and two taught in an independent school (Riverside). The schools were located in close proximity to each other and were separated by a chain link fence. Their proximity enabled me to explore Alan Tomlinson’s observation that:

Physical Education, if it is to be more than a set of taken-for-granted activities and values or a crude form of social control, must be studied and, if necessary, made and re-made as a significant element in our wider culture. The way forward, I believe, is to reject any notion of objective, value-free study of isolated ‘variables’, and to make connections between the different aspects of our social lives and cultural experience. (1982:53)

There are a total of two hundred and sixteen pages of tales from the field for the five teachers. I have a separate chapter for what I termed Noises Off (inspired by Michael Frayn) for the voices of pupils, headteachers and other teachers on the staff of the two schools. Here I share a story from one of the lessons taught by one of the teachers, Ed, at Bridgetown School.

Do People Who Have Lost Their Voice Have To Do It?

On a bright but cold Spring morning, I am sitting outside the changing rooms used by Bridgetown School for its games’ lessons. The changing rooms are off site and, depending on the motivation of teachers and pupils, are between five and twenty minutes’ walk from the main school site. During my fieldwork I have arrived usually first at the changing rooms and awaited the arrival of teachers and pupils. This is the case this morning. I am waiting for Ed and the second year boys for heir double lesson of rugby union.

The first pupils start to drift in some five minutes after my own arrival. From my seat outside the changing rooms, the postilions of the main group of boys are visible on the approach road to the playing fields. Shortly after this first sighting, two pupils arrive on the same bike (the kind made popular by the film E.T.). One is riding whilst the other (Ritchie) perches expertly on the rear spindle which seems customised for this kind of transport. As the bike is parked, two pedestrian pupils arrive and the four set about devising games to pass away the time until the arrival of other pupils and Ed. Such creative playful activity characterises much of the waiting time pupils have at the Bridgetown games’ field.

On this occasion the two walkers play a game of ‘splits’ with a penknife whilst the bike riders set about a game of pretend shooting and gun fights. As the boys play near me I take it that my presence is not intrusive and that the daily business of play can take its course.

Some five minutes after the ‘official’ start of the lesson (9.30 a.m.), the main group of boys in the class can be heard on the approach road. With the prevailing weather conditions conversations and some singing are audible. The second years are on their way!

Two minutes later they are at the changing rooms and some of the pupils, with whom I have a nodding acquaintance, greet me and I them. Small groups form and I assume that these cohere around friendship preferences developed inside and outside classrooms. It is a time for banter and informal game playing. Some boys decide to climb nearby trees and I am prompted to think about some of the ethological literature I have read about the social behaviour of primates. A grounded member of the troop tries to sell me a rather grubby Smurf sticker ‘for charity’. I decline his invitation because of implausibility (clearly marked on the sticker is advice on dental hygiene) and lack of ready cash. I make both these points to him and he moves off to try his sales pitch elsewhere.

Nearby, a pupil I recognise as a regular non-participant in the formal physical education curriculum, is chatting with a small group of friends. This pupil, Stuart, is small and bespectacled and is talking about his and others’ recent ‘escape’ from the top ability group in the second year games’ course. He opines that “The top group think they’re it” and this draws from one of the group the comment that “Yeah, if you miss the ball they tell you off”. As this conversation ends they start to offer me a variety of excuses for not taking part in today’s lesson. Ultimately, only Stuart sticks to his non-participant role.

Ed arrives sixteen minutes after the ‘official’ start of the lesson. He reports that he  has had to organise cover for another PE teacher who is away ill and adds “What a way to start the day.” He unlocks the changing room doors and encourages the boys to change quickly. As he does this the tree-climbers rush back to collect their discarded kit bags. Ever hopeful some of hem ask “Can we do football?”

One of the pupils tries to negotiate his non participation in the lesson by asking “Do people who have lost their voice have to do it?” Neither the pupil nor Ed seem aware of the paradox of this clearly audible question. Ed treat this question and others with a cultivated deafness that is the hallmark of a teaching tradition focused on a curriculum model that provides curriculum content regardless of consumer preference.

Meanwhile, other pupils are engaged in the variety of routines that mark one of the unique aspects of the physical education lesson: undressing in public. The changing room is cold and windowless. On this occasion the floor is clean as it is the first lesson of the day, and fairly pristine feet come into contact with the cold concrete floor. At this time of day hopping around is due mainly to the temperature of the flooring and the imperfect balance prompted by forcing feet into football socks. Later in he day, boys will be hopping around trying to shake off the chewing gum-like pieces of mud that will find their way into the changing room regardless of each teacher’s exhortation to remove boots at the door. (This exhortation leaves those pupils without football boots who contrive to slip and slide their way through outdoor PE lessons with a semantic escape.  They have no boots to take off.)

The ritual of public undressing proceeds at a variety of speeds. The first to change today are those enthusiastic to get started and those who have come to school with their PE kit on under their school uniform. The motive for this latter group appears to be a desire to participate although a small number of boys use it as a way of dealing with (not) undressing in public.

Ed gives a rugby ball to those who have changed quickly. They go outside and start an impromptu game. I pump up some rugby balls for the lesson and decide to observe from a distance today. As pupils change into their kit they go out onto the pitch and engage in varying forms of activity, some related to rugby others more to do with continuing conversations and news-swapping.

Twenty-four minutes after the ‘official’ start of the lesson, Ed leaves the changing room, calls the group into him, says a few words and sets of with them for a warm-up run. Two slow changers are left behind. Ritchie, who has given Ed a verbal excuse for non-participation ( a sprained ankle), runs after the group in his school uniform. Ed demonstrates exercises in the course of the run. The two slow changers, both wearing track suits, catch up with the group by careful orienteering.

Discussion

I thought this account might be an interesting point to start a discussion about ethnographic accounts of teaching in general and physical education in particular. On this day, as with most days, I had a notebook with me to record events and to write down verbatim utterances. Throughout the fieldwork I did not take the role of a teacher and each PE teacher explained to the pupils that I was there because I was interested in PE.

I tried to get to lessons ahead of pupils as my own career as a PE teacher had made it clear that pupils’ enthusiasm for PE was measured very well by eagerness to get ready. The off-site fields created significant logistical problems for teachers at Bridgetown and I was keen to monitor the impact of this on pupil engagement in lessons.

I wrote this account a week after the lesson and continued to work on it throughout my fieldwork. I do not make any claims for this being a representative lesson for all PE teachers. As with much ethnographic writing I am interested in how it resonates with readers. It is a narrative that I hope offers moments of recognition whilst having within it some important issues to explore for teaching and learning in physical education.

References

Lyons, K 1992, ‘Telling Stories from the Field?: A Discussion of an Ethnographic Approach to Researching the Teaching of Physical Education’ in Research in physical education and sport: exploring alternative visions, ed A Sparkes, Falmer Press, London, pp. 248-270.

Lyons, K 1989, A Sociological Analysis of the Teaching of Boys’ Physical Education in the Secondary School. Ph.D thesis, University of Surrey.

Tomlinson, A 1982, ‘Physical Education, Sport and Sociology: The current state and the way forward’ in Physical Education, Sport and Leisure: sociological perspectives, ed I Glaister, Glaister, Milton-under-Wychwood, np.

Van Maanen, J 1988, Tales From The Field, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Photo Credits

LSE Sports Day

Two Boys Playing Leapfrog


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Edging to Open Learning in Open Spaces

Last week I had the opportunity to visit Ballarat to discuss Edgeless Challenges and Opportunities. I have been thinking a great deal about learning spaces and the function (rather than the form) of the university of late. In part these thoughts have been stimulated by the University of Canberra’s development of teaching and learning commons.

This week I have been overwhelmed by the number of connections I am finding in relation to open learning and sharing. Some of these connections include:

many universities have an educational technology department that is focused on PD. Research institutes devoted to understanding the intersection of education, technology, systemic reform, and pedagogy are less rare. Several years ago, Phil Long (CEIT) and I discussed the need for a collaborative network of research labs/academies/institutes that were focused on researching learning technologies, not solely on driving institutional adoption. Perhaps it’s time to revisit that idea.

  • Discovering A.K.M. Maksud’s 2006 paper The Nomadic Bede Community And Their Mobile School Program after listening to an interview with Irene Khan. Boat schools bring a different perspective on edgeless learning opportunities and mobile learners. (Sharing this paper with a colleague brought me Simon Shum and Alexandra Okada’s paper Knowledge Cartography for Open Sensemaking Communities (2008) from the Journal of Interactive Media in Education and from another colleague Kenn Fisher’s discussion of Mode 3 Learning: The Campus as Thirdspace.)

  • Finding Cisco’s paper (June 2010) on Hyperconnectivity through a Diigo link. Hyperconnectivity is defined as:

active multitasking on one hand, and passive networking on the other. Passive networking consists largely of background streaming and downloading. Ambient video (nannycams, petcams, home security cams, and other persistent video streams) is an element of passive networking that opens up the possibility for the number of video minutes crossing the network to greatly exceed the number of video minutes actually watched by consumers.

  • In the past year, the Cisco paper notes that:

it has become clear that visual networking applications are often used concurrently with other applications and sometimes even other visual networking applications, as the visual network becomes a persistent backdrop that remains “on” while the user multitasks or is engaged elsewhere. This trend accompanies what is sometimes called the widgetization of Internet and TV, as network traffic expands beyond the borders of the browser window and the confines of the PC.

Traditional approaches to community regeneration which define communities in solely geographic terms have severe limitations. They often failed to deliver on key social capital improvements such as improving trust between residents or fostering a greater sense of belonging.

In this report we argue for a new approach to community regeneration, based on an understanding of the importance of social networks, such an approach has the potential to bring about significant improvements in efforts to combat isolation and to support the development of resilient and empowered communities.

  • Noting in Harold Jarche’s post Innovation through network learning that he now takes for granted his “network learning processes, using social bookmarking; blogging and tweeting, and these habits make collaboration much easier”. He observes that:

However, these habits and practices have taken several years to develop and may not come easily to many workers. One difficult aspect of adopting network learning in an organization is that it’s personal. If not, it doesn’t work. Everybody has to develop their own methods, though there are frameworks and ideas that can help.

All this before I started exploring the treasure trove that arrives in my in box each day from Stephen Downes! Early on in the week I noted Stephen’s comment on Education and the Social Web: “A theory of connections can’t be just about forming connections; it has to be about the organization, shape and design of networks of connection, patterns of connectivity. And to me, this means that we need to design learning systems to meet personal, not political, social or commercial, objectives.” Later in the week in a discussion of two MOOC posts, Stephen suggests that: “It’s about attitude and approach. If you’re looking for someone to tell you how it works, you will find a MOOC confusing and frustrating. But if you take responsibility for your own learning, you will find any connection in a MOOC either an opportunity to teach or an opportunity to learn. No instructions necessary.”

This week has underscored for me the rich possibilities that can occur in shared spaces. My thoughts keep returning to Dharavi and the opportunities for personal wayfinding in shared spaces that afford a collective, connected experience too. I am very hopeful that the University of Canberra’s Commons ideas can stimulate innovative use of place, space and time and lead to an exciting edgy practice.

Photo Credits

Kaptai Lake

Hole in Wall

Moodle on the Move

Postscript

A day after posting this I received a link to a delightful flash mob video. I wondered if open learning spaces might stimulate this kind of event.

Other Links

2nd Annual Learning Commons Development and Design Forum, 30-31 March 2011, Brisbane.

  • Learning Commons strategy and organisational structures
  • Planning and design
  • Case studies and best practices
  • Digital information and technologies
  • Online resources


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Coincidence, Serendipity and Synchronicity

An item on Radio National’s Book Program introduced me to Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz’s Australian Encounters. It is a “little book of literary trivia about chance meetings, and some influential ones too, between writers, politicians, artists, singers and activists.”

Subjects in the book include Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise, Donald Bradman and Boris Karloff, Margaret Fulton and Elizabeth David, Michael Hutchence and Kylie Minogue, Nana Mouskouri and Frank Hardy, Martina Navratilova, Winston Churchill, Gandhi, Brian Burke, Henry Kissinger, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Menzies, Helena Rubinstein, and many more according to news of the book’s publication.

I had not seen Shane and Chris’s Encounters when they appeared in The Monthly. Shane notes that:

As the title suggests, these are snapshots depicting a connection, relationship or meeting between famous or notorious Australians or, occasionally, an Australian and a famous foreigner. However unlikely they sometimes appear, all are real – and as accurate as I can make them, based on historical documents or interviews with the people concerned.

This is an example … Bob Hawke and Frank Sinatra.

As I listened to the interview I thought of the words we use about meeting important people in our lives … coincidence, chance, synchronicity, serendipity, happenchance, fortune, fate, destiny. I remembered too discussions long ago about the role serendipity plays in qualitative field research and the classical example of Robert and Helen Lynd’s Middletown studies.

More recently Allen Foster and Nigel Ford (2003) have observed that serendipity is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as: “The faculty of making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident.” It first appeared in a letter Horace Walpole sent to Sir Horace Mann on 28 January 1754.  They note that “Serendipity has been considered in the literature to form an integral part of the creative process in the arts and humanities, social sciences and the sciences. In each, however, the experience of serendipity may be different.”

I like Seth Baker’s approach to Happenchance:

Happenchance is for anyone who wants to do things better: creative people, adventurers, travelers, wanderers, and dreamers. Anyone who won’t settle for the status quo, who wants to rise above mediocrity and conformity, and do something exciting, amazing, or engaging.

This site is for people with an open and relaxed attitude towards life.

  • People whose passion and interests take them in new and unexpected directions.
  • People who don’t mind trying new things.
  • People who aren’t afraid of failing.
  • People willing to embrace chance and serendipity.

I believe that by making our own luck, embracing chance, and working hard, we all have the opportunity to make our lives richer, more satisfying, and more fun.

If you have an opportunity to listen to the Book Show interview with Shane Maloney then your journey will start with a story of a chance meeting with a young poet, Leonard Cohen, on a Greek Island, the purchase of a blue raincoat and someone called Marianne. Perhaps the chance encounter with this post will lead you on your own reflections about meeting people who have helped to establish your identity.

Photo Credits

To meet by chance

Serendipity

Unexpected meeting

 


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Gaining Access

Introduction

Last week (9 November) Taryn Simon was a guest of Phillip Adam’s on Radio National’s Late Night Live program. The basis for the interview was Taryn’s project An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar. It was a fascinating interview that encouraged me to think about access to research sites and to explore her work.

Taryn Simon

Back in 2006, The New York Times wrote of Taryn’s work:

During the past 50 years, American photographers have sought to reveal America to us mostly by showing, in pictures snapped casually, or better, “casually,” the weirdness hidden in plain sight — on our sidewalks, along our roadsides and in our public rituals and spectacles.

Taryn Simon is of a younger generation (she is 31), and what she is after, in a remarkable new body of work she calls “An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar,” is something altogether different: a sense of what we won’t allow one another to see. In the realms of government, science, security and nature, among others, Simon has gained access where few others have. Yet the resulting photographs carry no sense of struggle or shadowy danger. … these “Index” works are formal, carefully lighted, quiet, still: they’re portraits, not snapshots.  … What’s most strongly conveyed, perhaps, by a close study of these photographs, is how intricate and often systematic this off-limits land of ours is — how conscientious we can be about what we don’t want to be conscious of.

An articles in Frieze (2008) offers an insight into Taryn’s approach to accessing the off-limits.

As a young woman of 33, Simon cuts an unlikely figure for someone who has stepped over the boundaries of Plum Island Animal Disease Center in Long Island and photographed exploding warheads on Florida’s Eglin Air Force Base with her camera’s shutter hooked up to the trigger. … Working with a rotating team of producers, she spent four years researching the sites for her project on the Internet and fitting them into pre-determined categories: ‘religion’, ‘nature’, ‘science’, ‘government’, ‘security’ and ‘entertainment’. She wrote countless emails and made endless follow-up phone calls to obtain permission to take her photographic equipment inside notoriously restricted spaces such as the Church of Scientology Celebrity Centre in Hollywood and the CIA Original Headquarters Building in Langley, Virginia. She didn’t crawl under fences: doors were opened for her. (She attributes some of her success to the initial permission of Army and Homeland Security, which helped her gain access to certain government sites. She is also the first to admit that her status as a young woman made her seem to be a less threatening breach of security.) In interviews, Simon makes her process sound bureaucratic and banal, admitting that it’s ‘extremely calculated’. Yet the long paper trail that leads to the realization of the photographs, raising the issue of how Simon managed to access those locations, casts its own seductive spell.

Her TED video talk (2009) provides an opportunity to hear at first hand about her work.

Gaining Access

It was interesting to note from this background information in a 2007 article that “only one site refused Simon access: the underground facility at Disney World in Florida, where staff dressed as characters are allowed to remove their costumes”. The rejection was:

After giving your request serious consideration, even though it is against company policy to consider such a request, it is with regret that I inform you that we are not willing to grant the permission you seek, especially during these violent times, I personally believe that the magical spell cast on guests who visit our theme parks is particularly important to protect.

Taryn’s unequivocal commitment to overt research with formal consent is an excellent process model for field work. A fundamental issue for qualitative researchers is how to: identify and negotiate with gatekeepers (Brogdan, 1972); distinguishing between sponsors, gatekeepers, friends (Burgess, 1991); gain access to a research site.

In a recent paper in Qualitative Research, Carla Reeves (2010) explores the challenges she faced “when undertaking ethnographic fieldwork within a Probation Approved Premises”. She points out that:

How access to research sites is achieved is increasingly being discussed, particularly in ethnographic accounts. These discussions often focus on the practical and ethical challenges of entering fieldwork sites. In contrast, how researchers leave study populations or sites is rarely explored, although perhaps as complex and sensitive to negotiate as access. This article reflects upon the practical, ethical and emotional dilemmas experienced by the author when conducting research with sex offenders and staff in a probation hostel. The focus of the article is on how access was gained and how the site and the people who took part in the research were left at the end of the fieldwork.

Carla concludes that “negotiating access is different to gaining entry to a research site, and that these negotiations include considerations of the relationship between the researcher, the research and the researched”.

Carolyn Wanat (2008) has discussed the distinction between external and internal gatekeepers in gaining access to public school research sites. She notes that:

Gatekeepers grant formal access but withhold cooperation if they think studies threaten them or their schools. Project approval by official gatekeepers does not guarantee cooperation from informal gatekeepers and participants.

She describes gatekeepers’ practices “to grant or withhold access and cooperation and the influence of perceived benefits and threats to cooperation”.

Paula Mayock (2000) discusses the process of access in her report of engaging difficult-to reach young people in a study of inner city drug use. She observes that:

Initially, the essential ‘gatekeepers’ consisted of youth and community workers and local drug counsellors. However, as knowledge of the social terrain expanded and additional support and acceptance were secured, this group of adult contacts was extended to include local community members who had reliable knowledge of peer networks and/or ‘hunches’ about the activities of certain groups. Adult informants were instrumental in making introductions to young people: their detailed knowledge of community events and local culture informed many important procedural decisions relating to access and provided short cuts to contacting a range of prospective participants.

Paula concludes that:

In a community-based study of this kind, access is not a one-off event. It is a social process which has to be negotiated and re-negotiated throughout the entire course of the fieldwork (Burgess, 1991). Efforts to establish contact with young people do not cease until the researcher is satisfied that every possible avenue has been explored with respect to accessing suitable participants. This involves searching through networks of friends, sympathetic acquaintances, and sometimes, complete strangers, for possible routes of access (Werner and Schoepfle, 1987). Upon entering the field, the researcher is likely to face various forms of resistance and this cannot be planned for in advance. Such unforeseen developments can be instrumental in reshaping the course of data collection, and definite plans to collect data within a specific time-span can be disrupted. Irrespective of the level of preparation, research techniques must be developed in response to emerging developments.

Conclusion

This post was stimulated by a radio interview. The insights Taryn Simon’s work offers are a rich addition to the discussion about access in qualitative research. Carla Reeves, Carolyn Wanat and Paula Mayock offer excellent examples of how the process of access occurs in difficult-to-reach and socially sensitive settings. All four have remarkable stories to tell as a result of their negotiations with gatekeepers.

Reference (without hyperlink)

Burgess, R. G. 1991. Sponsors, gatekeepers, members, and friends: Access in educational settings. In Experiencing fieldwork: An inside view of qualitative research, edited by W. B. Shaffir and R. A. Stebbins, 43–52. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Photo Credit

Tara Simon Portrait Inversion