Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 18 seconds

Why #edtech Needs More Autoethnography

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 18 seconds

I remember during my PhD viva the external examiner told me that for research to be considered “good”, it needed to be saying something significant about something important.

Those are pretty loose criteria for rigor in research, but they’re pretty good rules of thumb for what I personally value reading about. I don’t want to read research that answers an unimportant question, or says something insignificant about an important topic. Of course, these are all subjective, value-laden, and quite personal responses, would vary from one person to another. Quite a bit problem when you consider how it impacts peer review on journals (if peer reviewers actually bother to give proper feedback at all; I once saw a second reviewer tick all the “good” boxes for a paper that was borderline reject/resubmit with major changes – and I am not a harsh reviewer by any standard).

Oh but I digress. I’m writing this post in response to a question Len let me know George Velestianos was asking recently on Twitter.

I love Audrey’s first response: “because #notallmen” which she later explained in more detail. I noticed Rebecca Hogue mention skipping ethics board approvals, but it’s not my reasoning, and I got IRB approval for the #rhizo14 collaborative autoethnography.

At first, I was going to re-read all my blogposts about CAE (here’s a link if you search it), then I was gonna get some stuff from my PhD thesis about participatory research and critical/interpretive versus positivist research, but then i thought i’d be getting too academic for the purposes here.

So let’s just say the following:
1. I personally find a lot of #edtech research tells very insignificant things about very unimportant things to me. When what is really important to me requires depth and richness and narrative of what’s really happening in a learning experience

2. That narrative-based or autoethnographic research is a big leap from simple qualitative or ethnographic research in its ethical premise. In its belief in humans as subjects not objects, and in its respect for individual and social construction of meaning, in all its … Subjectivity. It is about voice and empowerment.

3. That lots of other supposedly neutral objective research is actually hiding all manner of political decisions behind the technical façade

4. That some stories of what is happening in ed tech are better researched by participants, not outsiders. It’s not necessarily better of worse for its internal perspective, but it is different in its richness. Every researcher brings herself into her research. Autoethnographic research just does so more explicitly and makes use of it for analysis.

5. I cannot stand (though I sometimes am guilty of) critical research done in ivory towers recommending and analyzing from a distance.

I gotta go!vx

28 thoughts on “Why #edtech Needs More Autoethnography

  1. I’m so glad you’ve written this. I saw George’s question and Audrey’s answer and then all the other answers, and spent a day puzzling over the many interactions between autoethnography, narrative, reflection and just plain confessional. That is, I think Audrey’s right that there’s a tendency at the moment for confessional accounts of experience to function as a kind of authenticity smackdown. This is a very complicated mask of privilege with privilege, and it’s exactly how privilege has always hidden itself in plain sight.

    So what you’ve drawn out here is very important: that situated and reflective narrative doesn’t overturn the tables of structural insight (or methodological rigour), but without it something really is missing.

    I didn’t grasp the significance of George’s question at first because I don’t tend to use autoethnography as the term. Your post has built the bridge to narrative for me. Thank you!

    1. Hi Kate, thanks for is. I thought it was a v difficult convo to have on twitter. Autoethnography as social research, and as I understand it, lies somewhere in a continuum of more narrative-like and the other end of my analytical/interpretive/ethnographic. I suspect the more ethnographic/analytical it is, the more academics would be willing to accept it, and it kind of makes sense, thought doesn’t mean the other approach is not valuable.

      This all made me realize that next time I try to publish something with collaborative autoethnography I should write a long intro justifying the methodology and the different standards of rigor that should be applied to it. To help the peer reviewers see my POV 🙂

  2. Why does everything need to be acceptable? By the time we are done framing everything inside the boundaries of the known all we have is something we already “understand” (read: need not be challenged by. To me the CAE was about intelligent people stepping outside career-safe definitions to investigate what they actually felt about what they did in maybe unfamiliar words–exploring the outside the safe zone.
    Thinking of the boundary area of Jenny, Roy and Simone’s Footprints of Emergence model there may be places where we are almost speechless to say what we see. Almost without a vocabulary for naming. A vocabulary that professionalizes us while defeating our chance to discover.

    1. The need for acceptability is in the need to be heard, not just in the need to speak. In the need for academic research to represent our experiences on our own terms and standards of rigor (sounds tautological but isn’t) rather than their own that don’t fit our experience. Will check out the link

  3. Maha, I’m with Rebecca that barriers exist. Why are academics so naive that they can’t see the silencing they impose with all their “ethical standards”? At some point the desire for fairness and inclusion becomes a limit to be policed.

    1. Rebecca was saying on twitter that she thinks CAE is done coz IRB not needed… But also that peer reviewers are gatekeeping autoethnogs from getting published

  4. And I’m being argumentative because it suits me:-) Institutions are what they are, exclude who they please and really only want loyalty from their members. All of us are wired to desire membership because outside the cave life is impersonal and often nasty. But that’s my experience and attitude and I appreciate any attempt to make things better including the good intentions (working or not) of ethics.

    I’m struggling with your #4 and the term “participants” and what it means to be both of the self and of the group. Both exist as narratives but exist in different realms. The self is fundamentally informed by the (perhaps) distorted viewpoint of the personal compared to the multiple points of agreement (or discord) of the group. Am I on the right track to take the “academic viewpoint” as a passionate (if occasionally faulty) adherence or obligation to hear all voices? Is this a role that places academics outside the group in a kind of third realm of perception? Need this perception be neutral to be accurate or is accuracy itself a distortion? You need not answer these if you don’t wish:-) My chemo is acting up.

    This looks good and I’ll put it at Rhizo14 FB too.
    The Narrative Quality of Experience
    Stephen Crites
    Journal of the American Academy of Religion
    Vol. 39, No. 3 (Sep., 1971), pp. 291-311
    Published by: Oxford University Press
    OR Chapter 2 HERE:

  5. I am looking forward to reading your justification of the CAE methodology. Complex situations need complementary approaches IMHO, and each research study may be contributing to a bigger picture. Reflexive, qualitative, insider research studies have their limitations (just like objective approaches) and part of the quality of the research is to acknowledge its limitations. As far as I am concerned, ethics is an essential integral part of good quality research, and I am not talking about box-ticking for IRB.

    1. Agree completely. Lots of my argument here is that i find lots of mooc research qunatitative or general and not answering questions i care about (but there is also lots of good stuff, too, incl stuff by Jenny i had red before meeting her). I just think participatory research is in itself an ethical decision. Previous CAE research about motherhood never claimed to cover all aspects of all motherhood. CAE of a course will be partial but hopefully deep and reflective. As a postcolonial person i am extremely sensitive about voice and how others speak about me, and prefer to be the one interpreting my own history for myself, collaborating with others to make it something more than mere self-reflection (which isn’t research) and more analytical and hopefully adds to knowledge as a whole beyond my own satisfaction.

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