Trent Batson writes about research collaboration in the ephemera of Web 2.0
“Part of research now is not just the research, but keeping abreast of new collaboration technologies. We all need to be ethnographers.”
An ethnographer gathers information about everyday life so they can understand how and why people do what they do. I am an ethnographer (this picture provides some proof of that or, explains the origin of the humungous line I have running between my eyebrows). I didn’t always think like an ethnographer as an educator/trainer in the field as much as I do now, as a researcher. I should have. Perhaps I just didn’t think about it as consciously as I should have.
What is the ethnographic study of learning in the workplace?
It is the examination of the ways in which work gets done. It leads to the identification of the kinds of new collaboration technologies people could benefit from. It results in you making recommendations for tools that can provide support. Some thoughts on how you incorporate ethnographic study into your practice…
- Step back from the problem. Observe people in their job and then step back from things and see it as a foreigner would. How are people interacting with their environment?
- Know people. Immerse yourself in your learners environment and take â€œfieldnotes.â€ I am always amazed at what I learn. What you think you know about the environment is often not accurate and is forever changing.
- Talk to people. Conduct informal interviews with individuals and groups. Ask questions. Get out of your L&D cubicle.
- Look for trends. Ethnographers analyze and identify patterns and trends even if they don’t like what they see. This type of thoughtful analysis saves a lot of time and heartache.
You can do this in the online environment too. How are people interacting? What work are they doing? It’s been called webnography, a portmanteau of web and ethnography. This type of research also goes down the road of Internet marketing and, at least among researchers, has its critics because it lacks some common practices of traditional ethnography. Jenny Ryan writes about webnography. I just started following her work.
Now I’m wondering if I could add ethnographer to my job title…more interesting conversations about ‘what you do?’