I recently posted about my pilot study, but I have now received Research Ethics approval to move into the main study. The first phase is observations, and I will start within a number of LinkedIn discussion groups or forums. There are different ways to approach research in such groups. I chose to be open and transparent about what I am doing, requesting support from the forum owner, manager, or administrator, and posting a message for all group members. I await responses from some of the forum leaders, but the largest group/forum, with over 45,000 members, was one of the first to concur. The message pasted below is what I have posted, adding to one to clearly state that the study was not one endorsed by them. In other words, as with all of the groups associated with organisations, they were not involved in the design or approval of the research.
I look welcome any comments or questions about this approach.
Dear forum members,
This message has been approved by the group owner.
I am conducting a PhD in eLearning and Learning Technologies through the Institute of Learning Innovation at the University of Leicester (http://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/beyond-distance-research-alliance). In the fall of 2012, I conducted a pilot study of the use of online personal learning environments and digital literacy skills by security management and investigation professionals for work-based learning and continuing professional development. (http://beyonddistance.wordpress.com/2013/03/11/update-on-my-research-pilot-study-completed/). By posting a message in different discussion groups, I received a global response from practitioners in 17 different countries who completed the online questionnaire. A number subsequently spoke with me in an individual interview. The results of the study allowed me to continue to my main study.
For my main study, I want to give full and transparent disclosure of my research intentions. While I anticipate this will not cause any discomfort, I welcome your feedback or questions. This study will focus on the actual collaborative learning activities and the digital literacy skills demonstrated.
I will visit forums in which I am a member, or I will join with acceptance of the administrator/manager. My primary research activity in the forums will be to observe the learning activities taking place within the online space. This may lead me to other online resources, and I will identify members that I may wish to contact for individual interviews or to participate in a focus group. Others may also refer me to potential study participants, or you may self-identify to me. No forum comments will be used without the consent of the one making the comments, and anonymity and confidentiality will be maintained.
An Information Sheet and Informed Consent will be provided to anyone who considers participation in an individual interview or focus group, or upon request. Interviews are anticipated to take between 30 and 60 minutes.
My research approach does not preclude me from participating in discussions, as may be appropriate.
I am a member of security and investigation related forums due to my affiliations with the field. For a number of years, I have been a member of ASIS International and the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. More detail is available in my LinkedIn profile (http://linkedin.com/in/tonyratcliffe).
This study has received Research Ethics approval from the University of Leicester and will continue throughout 2013.
A.E. (Tony) Ratcliffe, M.Ed., CFE, P.Mgr.
Institute of Learning Innovation, School of Education
University of Leicester
Tel: +1 780 756 4354, Edmonton, Canada
+44 (0)116 318 3840, Leicester, UK
+44 (0)20 3286 4354, London, UK