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Encounters with the Mobilage (virtual or actual)?

Mike Johnson

Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom. Lancaster University, Lancaster, United Kingdom.


methods, ANT, mobile phone, cultural probe, interviews, online focus group


This paper explains and reflects on two methods used as part of a doctoral research project to investigate mobile phone use by healthcare students for academic work.
Theoretical moves were made to retain some of the complexities of researching technology use, drawing upon ideas from ethnography, phenomenology, actor network theory (ANT) and the networked learning literature. Informants and their devices were conceived of as a 'mobilage'; a blend word that incorporates 'mobile assemblage' from ANT with theories of informal learning, ie. bricolage. A focus on the mobile phone helped to circumscribe mobilage but it was important to avoid excluding other information technologies in use.
The two methods featured in this paper are 'encounters', a particular framing of one-to-one interviews, and an online focus group (OFG) which drew upon the 'Day Experience' cultural probe method, seeking to prompt informants to giving 'in the moment' detail of their mobilage.
Encounters were primed with a learn-place list/map drawing activity which, in some cases, dominated the early time spent with informants. In spite of this threat to gaining useful data about mobilage, it became apparent that the list/map drawing itself made the encounter a site of epistemic performance closely related to the practice of academic work. This realisation occurred whilst listening to the audio recording rather than attending to verbatim transcription.
The online focus group ran for three months. Seven informants were invited to react to triggers sent by the researcher but they were also free to post their own messages, including hyperlinks, and other media. Response traffic varied over time but at its nadir was sustained by a couple of informants. Informants who contributed to both the encounters and the online focus group helped provide a more rounded picture of mobilage as manifest for them. Although the OFG was never intended as an 'online ethnography', scholars from that field confirm the usefulness of meeting informants in person. OFG data was carefully transferred from the Yammer platform to the ATLAS.ti analysis tool so as to anonymise contributions but retain the 'look and feel' of Yammer.
It is hoped to take the corpus forward into representation through a series of vignettes which, as part of analysis, are being developed as phenomenological texts.

Full Paper - .pdf


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