Academic journal article Electronic Journal of Business Research Methods

Student Research in a Web 2 World: Learning to Use New Technology to Gather Primary Data

Academic journal article Electronic Journal of Business Research Methods

Student Research in a Web 2 World: Learning to Use New Technology to Gather Primary Data

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

This paper is a response to the emergence of a number of Internet tools which can be used to gather data, and particularly to the widespread availability of these tools to university students wishing to carry out their own research. These tools typically invite participation from a number of users, a characteristic which places them within the broad category referred to as 'web 2.0' (O'Reilly, 2005). They can also be used while incurring little or no cost, and are often easy to set up for anybody with a reasonable level of familiarity with use of the world wide web.

Despite the attractiveness of these approaches to gathering data, a survey by the British Library (2009) among doctoral candidates and post-doctoral researchers revealed some reluctance to engage with these new technologies. A possible explanation is that those in the early stages of an academic career have a tendency towards risk-aversion, and therefore prefer to avoid radically new approaches to gathering data. This is consistent with the author's observation that online surveys, which take a familiar research instrument and implement it electronically, are much more widely accepted than other tools for using the world wide web in research. However, experience of working with both undergraduate and postgraduate students suggests that there is a significant group who are open to the use of web 2.0, and that opportunities exist for teaching these students how they might apply research skills to the use of new tools to gather data. Also there is a concern that these opportunities might be limited by a lack of mutual understanding between educators and students, given that students are readier than educators to use new technology to gather data.

This paper discusses a number of tools used by students to facilitate data gathering as part of their dissertation process, and reflects on students' experience of their use and the competences that these students should have. Some pointers are offered, suggesting how students can acquire these competences, which should be of interest to those concerned with teaching research methods.

Because this analysis is based on a limited number of cases, readers should be cautious in inferring conclusions about how these tools might be used.

2. A brief review of relevant literature

This section reviews and discusses some of the background literature relating to the implementation of Web 2.0 in higher education. Barnatt (2009) draws connections between web 2.0 and the strategies that universities need to offer - he uses the term 'higher education 2.0' to refer to a new pedagogic landscape enabled by this new technology, with the lecturer adopting the role of a facilitator more than that of a broadcaster. He also draws attention to the need for universities to adapt to an approach which he terms a 'mashup mentality', where combining a set of different tools and resources becomes commonplace. However his conclusions centre on the benefits of making scholarly resources freely available and of academics reaching the largest possible audiences for their work. Kane and Fichman (2009) focus on one web 2.0 tool - the wiki - which makes particular allowances for the provision of user-generated content. They are cautious about the prospects for its use within higher education, but they do observe that information systems researchers have a tendency to stick to systems which were originally devised for a world based around paper They identify particular potential for wikis as tools to review and iteratively improve documents.

Lai and Turban (2008) take a broader view of the contribution of Web 2.0 to social networks. Many of their examples relate purely to users' social activities, but they discuss the opportunities for using similar networks to facilitate professional activities. Their model of social life on the Internet identifies tools, resources, and people as elements in an organisation based on trust. …

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