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Lessons learned on virtual ethnography: Lessons learned on virtual ethnography: Experiences from observing students inside their digital world. -- 170 -- Hybrid

16:35 - 17:35 on Wednesday, 12 September 2012 in 2.218

This hybrid session will combine a short presentation (10-15 minutes) with a discussion in the style of a world café for participants to explore the topic in more depth drawing on their own experiences (30 minutes) followed by a final plenary session (10-15 minutes) to draw the discussion together.

Increasingly students are using digital systems to support their learning. Traditional research methods in pedagogy are designed to explore and evaluate education in the real world but can these research methods be adapted for effective use in a digital age? This session explores this issue drawing on the authors’ experiences of using virtual ethnography to explore the interaction of students in an online game.

Ethnography has been an accepted research approach in education. Ethnography involves observation of a group of people in their natural environment in order to produce descriptions of one or more aspects of their life leading to a greater understanding and insight into these aspects. As Sunstein and Strater (1997) discuss, ethnography is about “making the familiar strange and the strange familiar”.

Observing students in their digital worlds provides a challenge for the researcher and takes them into the realm of virtual ethnography. Virtual ethnography and the related terms, netnography, online ethnography and cyber-ethnography have been used for several years (Hine (2000), Driscoll and Gregg (2010)). But as Dominguez Figaredo, D. (2006) observes, “educational ethnography faces a transitional process” and “no critical mass has yet been generated in the educational field”. This remains the case today. The aim of the proposed session is to initiate further discussions and developments in this emerging area.

The authors have undertaken an in depth ethnographic study of students engaging in an online game. This study draws on two main mechanisms: observation of the students in the digital world through a virtual character (avatar) and video screen capture of their movements in the virtual world. Analysis of these observations has been both challenging and rewarding. This session draws on these experiences to provide practical insights into using virtual ethnography in today's digital society. It provides participants with the opportunity to reflect on these experiences and explore how they could relate to their own practice to provide greater insight into their students’ behaviour and ultimately how this could be used to enhance their students’ experience. The world café discussion will centre on two main themes: (1) the challenges of being a researcher in a virtual world compared to the real world and how to adapt to this; (2) how to successfully analyse screen capture and other video/audio data in a learning and teaching research context.


Hi Folks! I'm your chairperson for this session. I believe I'm supposed to review materials, so if you want to upload them I can do so. Give me an email address if you want me to send them privately.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012, 15:52

Here are an extended set of slides from the session giving background to the project. If you want further information, please contact us or look at our other publications available at

(Search for ISARA KONGMEE)

We are part of the learning and teaching research group at Northumbria - see We are a friendly group keen to collaborate on similar initiatives and share ideas and good practice with others.

Sunday, 16 September 2012, 12:27