“Ethnographic Study of Student Research Frustrations” – notes

The session titled “An Ethnographic Study of Student Research Frustrations” appealed to me because I trained as an ethnographer while studying my subject specialization in grad school.  The presenters in this session had some really interesting qualitative findings that expanded way beyond their original research question, which demonstrates some of the benefits of qualitative research (you get more than you bargained for!).  In particular, I found the different methods that they used (‘map of the day’, text message brief interviews, photo journals) to each be really innovative methods for gathering research data in a minimally-intrusive way for research participants.  Keep reading for my detailed notes.  Good stuff!

  • funded by a CARL grant – good job!

  • demographics – selected just thru email responses

  • Claremont Colleges – complex organization – 6 colleges working independently, but students cross over between campuses

  • Principles

    • let the data lead the hypotheses, proposals, recommendations for action

    • develop a descriptive understanding of what ppl are really doing rather than what they *should* be doing

    • interpret the research from participants’ point of view

      • what did students mean by their responses

    • focus on students, not library

  • what hypotheses can be drawn from data about student research success, fail, points in between? what role does the library play?

  • why qualitative research? we have all kinds of numbers & stats – we need context and dimension to quant data – suggests why behaviors occur from a student’s perspective – reveals unaccounted unexpected factors – explains and provides validity in a real world setting

  • Methods – photo journal, map of the day, SMS interview (texting survey), whiteboard questions

  • Photo Journal – instructions to capture images in response to a set of questions – U of OH study? – “something weird”, “something calming”

    • then interviewed, transcribed, & coded data

  • findings revealed by photos

    • library building – comfortable but confusing place

    • Time – “time is a finite thing that we do not have unlimited supply of”

      • many students had photos of way they scheduled their time

    • Life outside the Claremont bubble

    • You don’t know everything – the more you learn the more you realize you don’t know everything

    • Stress relievers – pets, making food, exercise, nature

    • Study spaces – windows, in eyesight of other people studying

  • Map of the Day method

    • students tracking their movements for their entire day

    • Long days – students deeply engaged in education outside of the classroom

    • Very conscious of time management – precision with time – “1:11 – 1:17”

  • SMS / Text Method

    • sent students questions via text while studying at the library

    • happened during final exam period

    • communication methods – common response was smartphone – esp iPhone

→ Question – text survey – how consistent were the questions – did you have a set script because questions seemed pretty engaging?

    • found out a lot about ideal study atmosphere –

    • are you experiencing any difficulties? – lots of responses regarding personal state – how much sleep student had gotten

    • responses around focus and distraction

    • environment: furniture, noise, people, light, and perception

    • physical states: sleepy and tired

    • mental states: focus, concentrate, and distraction

    • writing a paper – organization, overwhelmed, procrastination

→ Question – did you anticipate that the findings would be so in the moment? current state of mind – text method research

    • where they stored their books – what it looks like when a big assignment is due

  • Whiteboard method

    • put up questions on the whiteboard

    • “what frustrates you?”

    • really broad responses

    • “when I can’t communicate what’s going on in my head properly”

    • theme of paper writing

      • starting a paper, organizing, topic sentences, how to start & end, thoughts into words

    • stress busters – lots of distractions, people, food, social media

  • Overall surprises – most students seemed to be doing ok; turned to media as stress relief and escape; faculty don’t understand YOLO “You Only Live Once”

    • students really wanted to have balanced lives – personal growth is also part of the experience of college

  • Coping with student frustrations

    • students feel overwhelmed, students lead rich, multi-faceted lives, faculty don’t understand amount of work & student life, students find productive spaces & stress relievers

  • Ethnographic research in the library – benefits

    • They found out about some things that really make an impact – earplug dispenser, study area

    • What’s great about ethnographic research – you get to understand what people are really doing, rather than what you think they should be doing

    • the unexpected factors that you find out about, and allow you to really reach out and make an impact

  • Questions

  • text message questions – same questions? because they seemed pretty responsive

    • only followed up for sake of clarity

    • getting the students who are and aren’t our user base

    • why do you or don’t use the library?

  • How did data get coded and how is it stored? would this be something that you would share with other researchers?

    • deduce to code data, mechanical turk or fiver to transcribe

    • data is stored on secure server

    • they went through 7 IRB reviews! (one per campus)

  • What will you do with your data now that you have it?

    • I don’t feel like I have to teach them how to write, but I have to!

    • what our roles really should be

    • other librarians feel differently – other dovetailing projects across the library

  • “The students don’t know what they need, what they want”

    • have you encountered pushback from colleagues?

    • serving the whole student – playfulness, diversion, distraction

    • when you are trying to change services, study spaces, some people get touchy

  • We know more about our students than the faculty do – what are your plans to share this with faculty?

    • in an ideal world, we’d be doing this along with our faculty – we’d buy faculty time

    • mapping was interesting – the effect of being able to see the overlap – other activities — faculty aren’t aware that same classes are being taught on different campuses

  • Collaborating with student life & student affairs groups on campus – one group knows what’s happening in classroom, other knows what’s happening outside – working together

    • yes – a good idea