Internet Mediated Research: The Viability of Synchronous Online Interviewing and Web-Based Diaries for Data Collection with Participants with Social Communication Difficulties

By Vanessa Hinchcliffe.

Published by The Social Sciences Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Internet Mediated Research (IMR) is, compared to more established methods, still in its infancy but nevertheless techniques and technologies to support it are advancing rapidly. As the pace of technological change increases, there is ever more need to understand not just the practicalities but the challenges and opportunities that IMR presents. This paper presents a practical guide to using synchronous online interviewing and web-based diaries for data collection with participants with social communication difficulties. Included here are detail of the participant and researcher interfaces, and description of their use whilst carrying out two forms of data collection. Synchronous online interviews provide rich qualitative data from real-time interaction between participant and researcher, whereas web-based diaries provide Internet-based access to non-retrospective qualitative accounts over an extended period. The challenges and opportunities these techniques offer are subsequently explored in this paper, as the researcher sets out a critical reflection of her use of these techniques, from the viewpoint of both respondent and researcher. The quality and utility of both online interviewing and web-based diaries are discussed and evaluated, along with how the ethical issues were addressed. Lack of non-verbal encouragement proved problematic for some online participants. IMR, however, proved a particularly effective communication platform for data collection, by providing flexibility in time and location, increasing anonymity through secure password protected environments, giving access to relatively unselfconscious accounts and by being cost effective. For participants with social communication and/or specific learning difficulties, the computer environment was adaptable, making it less stressful than face-to-face human interaction. For the researcher, events could be captured close to when they happened, and traced over time. Data completion could be monitored, archived and easily entered into a computer assisted qualitative data analysis program. Transcription was unnecessary, making a considerable saving in terms of time and potential transcription errors.

Keywords: Internet Mediated Research, Synchronous Online Interviewing, Instant Messenger, Web-Based Diaries, Disabilities

International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp.181-198. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.858MB).

Vanessa Hinchcliffe

Lecturer, Behavioural Sciences, University of Huddersfield, Huddersfield, UK

Vanessa Hinchcliffe (BSc. [Hons.] Social Psychology - 2004, PGCE Learning Difficulties and Disabilities - 2006, MSc. [Dist.] Social Research and Evaluation [Social Work] – 2007, MIfL Offender Learning Sector) is currently a hearing impaired PhD student funded by the Economic and Social Research Council at the University of Huddersfield. Her current research explores the establishment and maintenance of social support networks for university students with social communication difficulties, namely, Deafness/hearing impairments and/or autistic spectrum disorder.

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