New Research Methods

There are two clusters of ideas here:

  • doing what you have always done but with a bit of digital help
  • and doing things you could never have done or perhaps imagined were possible.

The first cluster falls under what we have called digital habits. But even here, most folk think they are doing ok by managing the odd search in Google of Google Scholar.

The generation of vast amounts of data that is digital provides a rich resource for working differently and developing new research methods. But as Nicholas Christakis argues this is only one of a number of shifts or drivers that will likely reshape how we do social science research this century. There is a related working paper by John Law and colleagues that examines issues related to developments in bit space1.

Like all things digital, there will be growing activity in research and scholarship across the disciplines. We will keep a small, indicative list of interesting/useful sites.

As noted in the introduction to digital habits, Google's Ngram Viewer is an example of making use of a very large dataset to search for patterns of words.

Another example of working with large datasets is Hans Rosling's Gapminder software2.

These are all examples of what is generally termed data visualisation. Like any means which takes raw information and data and re-presents it, you need to think carefully about what the process entails. There are good illustrations of good and bad data visualisation in Michael Friendly's data visualisation gallery.

As examples grow it may be worth setting up separate pages. A recent patent application from Microsoft, a user-following engine poses another interesting set of issues.

All of these developments pose interesting challenges to conventional approaches to doing research in education. At the very least, questions of in-use epistemologies and methodologies need to be asked3.

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