Taking Stock: AY 2010–2011

In this post, I recap some of my research activity from the 2010–2011 academic year primarily as a way of sharing some of the things I've been working on, and how they lead into things that are coming up...

The last year was a busy one, no doubt. In addition to the usual stuff—teaching, grant writing, administrative and service work, etc.—I led and managed four different empirical studies that will be the focus of this post.

My ongoing study of Eucharistic Adoration practices continued into its second year of data collection (more about the methods and scope for this study can be found in screencasts of conference presentations here and here). After a bit of a lull in this project during the latter half of 2010, I've hit upon some especially intriguing ideas and participant practices in the last six months or so. I'm not quite prepared to publicly discuss even preliminary findings, but I will note that I'm seeing things that I intentionally wasn't looking for and didn't expect to find. Very exciting things that I think will make a real contribution to rhetorics of religion and spirituality.

This is a longitudinal, multi-sited ethnographic study, one that is currently planned to continue through April of 2012. I'll decide whether to continue data collection into 2013 sometime in early 2012. Right now, it looks like I'll do so, as my vision for the amount and types of data to collect is ambitious and still wanting. This is despite collecting a strong amount of data to this point. I'm currently considering strategic opportunities for dissemination—an edited collection or special issue, perhaps—where I could detail some early findings, but I have nothing planned as yet (which is probably for the best!).

I'm currently drafting the first of two planned manuscripts from a qualitative case study of transmedia storytelling that I conducted between December, 2010 and April, 2011. The impetus for this project was the work of my colleague and friend Brad King, a professor of journalism at Ball State and a leader in teaching digital and transmedia storytelling. In close collaboration with Nina Steiger of London's Soho Theatre, Brad led a transmedia summer school in 2010 that introduced playwrights to emergent digital story forms.

Preliminary findings indicate the importance of indexing practices for both teaching and carrying out transmedia stories. For my participants, indexing is most often realized as mundane, background, infrastructural writing work that supports narrative forms by organizing and linking multimodal (digital, print, material) assets. In this sense, indexing as a verb carries two concurrent meanings: the commonly assumed act of recording and organizing, and the less frequent usage (at least in writing studies) of tracing the value of assets (as in a stock index). I'm really excited about this project, and I'm indebted to the wonderful insights provided by Brad, Nina, and five of the ten playwrights who participated in both the summer school and my case study.

During the spring semester, 2011, I led an ethnographic study of the writing work supporting the collaboration of computer science undergraduates. My colleague and friend Paul Gestwicki was the instructor for the course that I studied, and a collaborator on the project (he wasn't involved during data collection but is now involved in analysis and dissemination, following our IRB protocol). Paul and two undergraduate honors fellows, Holden Hill and Phil Parli-Horne, developed a prototype application called Uatu that worked with Google Docs to visualize collaborative writing activity.

Our study, therefore, focused primarily on how students leveraged networked writing practices in conjunction with agile methods of software development. Our key research questions explored the role of networked writing in collaboration and learning, with participant use of Uatu providing us a way into secondary research questions concerning visualization and metacognition. We're still working through the data that we collected, but we already have a short piece out for review and plans for another manuscript later this summer. This was a really fun project, and my data collection was aided by a graduate assistant, Erika Johnson, who took a lot of field notes.

Finally, between July, 2010 and March, 2011 I conducted an ethnographic study of media researchers working on a large qualitative project of their own—from the earliest stages of planning and development all the way through execution of their study and public dissemination of their findings. I had collected rich, granular data in previous and concurrent studies, but nothing in my previous experience matches the amount of data that I collected for this project. This is due in large measure to the generous accommodation of my research participants, who provided me with tremendous access to their work.

Most of July and August will be spent working through the data, and I'm grateful to have a summer graduate assistant, Jenn Stewart, who has been tearing through the formidable pile of audio transcriptions while also offering insights by way of her own analytic memos.

I'm not entirely certain what kinds of outputs I plan to generate from this study, but I have a good idea of where I want to take this research. I've already discussed preliminary findings from one aspect of the study at ATTW 2011 (the screencast of the talk is here), and I'll publish more details from those findings at IPCC 2011 (discussed briefly here). I also have a short piece coming out soon that relies on one observed practice from this study. The majority of my work from this project is ahead, and I'm really looking forward to developing this work.

From these four 2010–2011 projects, only the first remains in a state of open data collection. This means I have a lot of writing to do!

I've already got firm plans for two more studies beginning in the fall, one of which extends my exploration of transmedia work by employing ethnographic methods. I'm also working on another smaller-scale case study (2–3 months of data collection) and have yet another ethnographic study tentatively planned for the spring of 2013.

I'm lucky to have some grant support for much of the work of analysis and dissemination during the summer and fall.

So there you go. Taking stock of my empirical research activity for the last academic year just reminds me of how much exciting work I have ahead of me!


Jason Parks said...

Well! This explains the slow-down in your tweeting activity lately! When/where is your next conference presentation? Do you plan to present on one of these projects?

Brian J. McNely said...

Hi Jason—

I'll present a small sliver of findings from the ethnographic study of media researchers at IPCC 2011 in Cincinnati this October. Other than that, mercifully, I have no upcoming conference presentations.

Of course, we'll hear about next year's CCCC soon, and I also have something proposed for CSCW 2012; moreover, 2012 is an RSA year, and I'll likely try to do SIGDOC in 2012 as well!

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