As part of an on-going effort to get a sense of what’s “out there” when it comes to social sciences research methods, I recently attended the National Centre for Research Methods (NCRM) Autumn School in Southampton. This year’s Autumn School showcased some of the qualitative work conducted under the remit of NCRM over the last five years, focusing particularly on methodological innovations relating to researching space, place and mobility. There were some fascinating presentations on the work undertaken by researchers at the QUIC (Qualitative Innovations in Computer Assisted Data Analysis) node at the University of Surrey who introduced their research on the convergence of qualitative software (CAQDAS) and geographic information systems (GIS) software (think Google Earth meets Nvivo/MAXqda, offering new possibilities for enhancing interview data with links to placed mentioned in said interview). I also got a glimpse into “walking interviews”, yet another methodological innovation from the mobile methods family, which featured prominently in the presentations by researchers from WISERD (Wales Institute of Social & Economic Research, Data & Methods) and the former ‘Real Life Methods’ node at the Universities of Leeds and Manchester.
These presentations got me thinking about how pervasive the metaphor of the map is for what we are trying to accomplish within the collections OER project. We talk about trying to map the landscape of social sciences research methods resources. The tools we use in the process of presenting ideas and organising large amounts of information and resources on the web are mindmaps and knowledge maps. Some of the resources we encounter engage with the concept of the map quite literally, such as Stingy Scholar’s Wayfaring map of university podcasts, webcasts and OCWs – created by Wynn Williamson, this map of the world allows users to link to OCW, podcasts and webcasts by locating the institutions offering them in physical space. That particular map quite starkly contrasts the proliferation of OERs in the Global North/UK/USA and with vast blank spaces elsewhere.
At the same time, I encountered such a blank spot at the research methods event in Southampton. I was stunned by the wealth of resources produced in the context of NCRM projects and especially the Realities toolkits which explore such diverse methods as using walking interviews, analysing blog data or using participant-produced video and many more. I have no doubt that they will be shared in one way or another by those who know about the work of NCRM or access the website through recommendations from their colleagues. With my OER hat on, I would love to be able to include these resources as part of the OER2 project methods collection – after all, these are high-quality, expert-produced resources. At the same time, this is a decidedly pre-OER landscape, lacking open licenses or enablers for sharing apart from the possibility to send a link to a colleague, but this doesn’t quite feel enough.
So should our map of research methods include not-quite-OER zones then or should we capture only what promises to be an accessible area through and through? How do we decide where the boundaries lie and which signposts to include? At the same time, one could question whether the metaphor of the map is useful at all (see David Kernohan;s resent post for an exhaustive list of metaphors of possibly greater use!) After all, some participants of the 2006 OECD study, undertaken to map the scale and scope of Open Educational Resources questioned the need for mapping OER, arguing that the movement is growing and changing so rapidly that any mapping exercise would be quickly out of date. Four years on, can we say that they were on to something?