Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Capturing Undergraduate Experience through Participant-Generated Video

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Capturing Undergraduate Experience through Participant-Generated Video

Article excerpt

The numbers of students in higher education have increased dramatically in the past twenty years, but enrolments in science and related courses have not followed suit (Dobson, 2007; Rice, Thomas, & O'Toole, 2009). It has become of increasing importance to science faculties in higher education to (a) attract students and (b) encourage student retention. In Australia various initiatives, including government grants, have been used to improve science learning and teaching at undergraduate level, with limited success (Rice et al., 2009). In one Australian university, the science faculty leaders chose to focus on an intense investigation of student experience with the goal of facilitating the improvement of services to science students. I was commissioned by this science faculty to conduct a research study to capture the student experience. In negotiations with an appointed science faculty leader (termed here "the project sponsor") we negotiated a method of data collection which relied on the students to collect the data using video recorders. In this paper I give an account of how the method worked, the challenges that arose and how these challenges were resolved.

This paper starts with an introductory section on using video in research, ethical issues in the research, the recruitment and selection of participants, preparatory workshop for the selected participants, and collection of the data. This article also sets out the challenges in analyzing the data and the strengths of the method. I argue that this method of participant-generated video data collection gives rich insight into student experience in a way that sets it apart from other methods such as interviews or observation.

Using Video in Research

Improvements in technology have caused corresponding changes to field methods in research (Negron, 2012). One of these changes has been to video cameras, which are smaller, easier to handle, and record digital footage. In this article, I present a research study where video cameras were used to capture the experience of university science undergraduates. Using video in social research forms part of the genre of methods based on the assumption that contributions to knowledge can be made through researching visual manifestations of human behavior and material culture (Pauwels, 2011). Visual research methods have been used in a variety of disciplines and fields such as anthropology, education and sociology (Pauwels, 2011; Pink, 2009).

In this study, the students recorded their own participation in a process of participant-generated visual images. Participant-generated visual imagery (1) is a term used where participants produce the data, which is then analyzed and made sense of by the researcher. Delamont (2002, p. 9) argues that "each researcher is her own best data-collection instrument as long as she is self-conscious about her role, her interactions and her theoretical and empirical material as it accumulates." In this study, I delegated the responsibility of data collection to the participants themselves, enabling them to control what entered the research study as data and to represent their own interests as they saw fit.

There have been a number of studies that have involved children and vulnerable groups where participant-generated data has been captured through photography. A significant method of research using photography is "Photovoice" (Joanou, 2009; Karlsson, 2001), a term coined by Wang and her colleagues (e.g., Wang & Burris, 1997; Wang & Redwood-Jones, 2001) and created to "enable people to assess the strengths and concerns of their community and communicate their views to policy makers" (Wang & Redwood-Jones, 2001, p. 560). Photovoice is a transformative research method, enabling vulnerable groups to participate in research that can make a positive impact on their lives (Aldridge 2007, 2012). In contrast, phenomenological research enables the investigation of the essence of lived experience in terms of the way that phenomena present themselves to human beings (Dukes, 1984; Giorgi, 2009; Vagle, 2009). …

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