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Help For Online Researchers

Going online is now the cutting edge method for pursuing academic research, yet until now there has been very little in the way of training or professional development provision to help academics make the most of the vast methodological potential of the internet.

A team at the University of Leicester set out to improve understanding and use of online research methods (ORM) with the aim of aiding high quality online research. Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Researcher Development Initiative (RDI), the team is developing a three-strand flexible training programme to cater for social science researchers wishing to utilise online research methods.

The training programme, known as TRI-ORM, has grown out of a previous research project, ‘Exploring Online Methods in a Virtual Training Environment’, funded by the ESRC’s Research Methods Programme. TRI-ORM will provide six face-to-face one-day introductory workshops in ESRC Training Centres; a 10-week online training module for advanced users; and self-directed study through an established and enhanced website. It will therefore cater for social science researchers with varying levels of knowledge, stages of career development and modes of learning.

The project is led by Dr Clare Madge of the Leicester Department of Geography, working with Dr Jane Wellens from the University’s Staff Development Office and Dr Tristram Hooley from the University’s Student Learning Centre.

Clare Madge commented: “Online research methods are (usually) traditional methods of data collection adapted to use online. Therefore research methods ranging from questionnaire surveys to participant observation have been adapted for online use through tools such as email, websites and various software packages.

“ORMs can provide great methodological potential and versatility for research in all fields of social science. It has been suggested that use of these methods can mitigate the distance of space, enable research to be easily internationalised without the usual associated travel costs and can be valuable for researchers contacting groups or individuals who may otherwise be difficult to reach, such as the less physically mobile.

“The growth and impact of the Internet in recent years has meant that the use of online research methods has proved to be an increasingly alluring option for social scientists. As such, online research methods are becoming more established as a legitimate means of data collection, removing some of the anxiety caused by the friction between traditional and online research methods.

“However, there has been some variety across different disciplines in the extent to which online methods have taken hold, and in the level of awareness of the theoretical, practical, and technical issues involved. Overall, however, there is a need for online researchers to tread with caution and practice their 'craft' with reflexivity.

“It is likely that online research is not going to replace onsite research but rather it is another option in the researchers’ methodological 'toolkit'. Therefore the use of ORMs must be carefully considered and their long-term success will ultimately depend on the quality and credibility of the information that they generate.”

The training programme will come into operation in May 2007. The first face-to-face workshop will be held in the Department of Geography, SPLINT, University of Leicester on June 28th 2007. For more details please contact: Clare Madge (cm12@le,.ac,uk), Jane Wellens ( or Tristram Hooley ( Further additional workshops will be held at the University of Manchester on Friday October 12th 2007 and University of Cardiff on Wednesday 13th Feb 2008.

Alex Jelley | alfa
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