Summary of BCM210 Weekly Topics

This is a summary of some of the content of lectures weeks 2 – 6 for BCM210. For a more in-depth explanation of the topics, you can look at the slides or recordings on Moodle.

Reflexivity

When researching, it is essential to be aware and self-conscious of your own position in the world, your ideals, views and opinions and how these subjective views can affect or alter the research you are undertaking. This awareness is called reflexivity. The key point of reflexivity is that we have to acknowledge that when undertaking research, we are in the world that we are trying to understand.

The Robert Wood Johnson foundation has a comprehensive guide for designing, writing, reviewing and reporting qualitative research, and they have a useful one-page resource about reflexivity that defines it, shows its relationship to bias and gives tips on using reflexivity in research.

Social Responsibility

Axiology is based on our values, ethics and appreciation on how things should be. Shawn Wilson defines axiology as the ethics and morals that guide our search for knowledge. As researchers, we aim to change or improve reality, so ethical principles must be applied. This is where social responsibility comes into research.

All researchers need to explain how they are going to address these problems. For research to be socially responsible, there are some important steps you should take.

  • Identify the problem; find the themes and angles
  • Find what does the research aim to solve and change
  • Find what harm you might do; what are the social risks?

Responsible research conduct doesn’t automatically make you socially responsible.

The University of Sydney has a guide on how to conducting ethical research with limited risks and minimised harm. It outlines why researchers need to be socially responsible.

Critical Judgement

When faced with a claim, as a researcher you need to use critical judgement to figure out if a claim is true. There are four steps that you should undertake when judging the credibility of claims and resources.

  1. Critical attention to factual information should activate a curiosity about a source (check the facts!)
  2. Critically investigate credentials (who is claiming this, who wrote it, who researched it; why?)
  3. Reflexivity requires us to look critically at our own judgement of claims (this means that we must acknowledge that how we judge a source (informal and academic) is informed by who we are and what the information means to us)
  4. Investigate as much as you can to find out how the claim was made

Engaging in these four steps is part of your methodology when completing research. Methodology is how knowledge is gained – is is asking “how do I find out more about this”. Finding out more involves this process of critical judgement; reading broadly on the topic, cross-checking findings, investigating what methods were used and thinking about whether this source is useful to you as a researcher. A tool that helps you find out whether a source is useful, and would help UoW students with critical judgement when looking for sources is Ulrichs Web (you have to access this through the Uow Library portal in order to log in).

Accountability

Accountability is, simply, who and what we are accountable for as researchers. We can try to find out who we are accountable to by asking these questions:

  • Who is expecting the research to be delivered?
  • Who is helping to do the research?
  • Who may be affected by the research?
  • And evaluating how you know these answers.

When researching, we are accountable and responsible for:

  • The timely delivery of results
  • The fair and honest reporting of problems
  • Making modest claims that the evidence genuinely supports
  • And knowing how this will be achieved.

Accountability is linked to ethics, which is defined as the management of human accountability that protects integrity of research practice and the safety of researchers and research participants from harm. UoW has an ethical code of conduct that outlines accountability and responsibilities for researches at the university.

Respect

One of the key values of ethical conduct is respect. Every project has an implied or obvious relationship between the research and the lives of others, which needs to be respected by the researcher at all times. This includes respect for humans, research merit and integrity, justice and having the welfare of participants as a priority (beneficence).

There are six stages of respectful research:

  • Project design
  • Reflexivity
  • Information and consent
  • Data collection
  • Transcribing, analysing
  • Reporting and impact

Questions that will help you be a more respectful researcher are

  • Who is the potential end user for your research project?
  • How will you recruit people to be engaged in your research project?
  • When you are done, how will you communicate what you did with respect to others?
  • Can your project develop as symmetric, respectful and reciprocal? How?

The key thing to remember when researching is that the work begins when you show up. UoW has a document outlining how to write consent forms for participants in a research project.

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Research Project Proposal

Coffee could be considered an essential for a lot of people – especially students at university, myself included. Walking around the University of Wollongong campus, a great percentage of students and staff can be seen holding coffee cups, and the café’s always have a steady stream of students lining up to get their caffeine hit.

Taking this into consideration, I started here when thinking about a topic for my research project. My first thought was to do a study around the most popular beverages students drink on campus, because I know that there is almost everything available on campus – various teas, hot chocolate, iced coffees, energy drinks, water and chocolate milk and so on. So I started with “what do University of Wollongong students like to drink on campus, and where is the most popular café/drink outlet on campus?”.
I took this idea to the subject coordinator on Twitter and she helped to steer me in a less broad, more interesting angle.

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 12.39.27 pm

So, for my research project I will be asking the question:

“Who drinks coffee at the University of Wollongong, where do they get their coffee and why?”.

The reason that this question is worthwhile, I think, is because there are so many places to get coffee on campus, and it would be interesting to find out why students prefer other places to others. For example, as I talked about my topic with two of my friends that go to UoW, one said he got coffee from The Terrace in building 67 because they don’t have an EFTPOS limit and there was “never any people in there”, even though his classes are primarily in building 25 which is closer to Espresso Warriors. The other friend went to Espresso Warriors because it was close to their classes (also in building 25). So even in a tiny sample group of two people, I already had two different reasons people went to specific coffee shops on campus. Therefore, I believe the results of my study will be varied and interesting.

I have done some basic research on this topic so I could come up with an action plan of how I will conduct this research and I found a similar question undertaken for a thesis by a student at the University of New Hampshire in the United States. I recognize that this study was completed in America, and so will not be totally relevant to the University of Wollongong, or my study in Australia, but it did give me some insight into how to conduct some research, and that it was possible to do this research to some level of success.

More relevant to my project, I found some Australian Bureau of Statistics chart from 2011-12 that showed that one in three (34%) of people aged between 19-30 (the primary university demographic) drink coffee. I also found a research company that undertook research on coffee consumption and found that “the proportion of Australians aged 18+ who go to a café for a coffee or tea in an average three-month period has grown gradually from 54% in the 12 months to December 2009 to 56% in the year to December 2013”. Given that there are so many café’s on campus (eight on the UoW campus alone, excluding the Innovation campus), this statistic bodes well for my study.

coffee chart ABS

Methodology:

I aim to undertake the research through a combination of surveys, interviews and focus groups. I will be taking Kate’s advice and be producing a map of university coffee outlets. From this map, I will conduct surveys to find out who goes to what outlets – whether location impacts who goes where, or whether it is quality and so on. The interviews would be longer-form versions of the surveys in order to get more information. At this stage, I would also like to do a focus group of 10 people to see in more detail their coffee habits on campus.
(I will be excluding the Innovation campus from this study).

 

Curiouser and Curisouser

Curiosity is a core human function, and I’ve also heard, is a deadly passion for cats. This curious nature is something I definately have. I have this need to know everything. This can be a really good thing, like from an academic perspective, or a really bad thing, as in I thrive on good gossip (group phone calls with my girlfriends are always amazing for satisfying this not-so-great aspect of myself – but hey, at least I’m honest, right?).

But in all seriousness, I’m a very curious person and will often go above and beyond googling, researching and discovering something until I know everything about it. It’s insatiable. I always want to know more, because the way I see it, if I know more about everything than I’ll understand this crazy world a little better.

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Me.

So imagine my delight when one day during a discussion about serial killers, a friend told me about the Stuff You Should Know podcast from HowStuffWorks.com. Two guys – Josh and Chuck – who get together and talk about stuff that they think people should know. And they have an archive of 838 topics they have already covered. I never knew that I needed to know how freakshows worked, how HIV/Aids worked, if I could sweat colours, how poo works, how to brainwash someone… You get the idea.

Whether I’m on public transport, in the shower, driving, trying to fall asleep, the guys are teaching me something. And I tell you, I could kill it on your trivia night at the pub, and the amount of times I have used what they have taught me is amazing. I have rifled through over 800 podcast titles, picking out the ones that piqued my curiosity. And it’s been amazing.

(They also have a Youtube channel, so here is a vid’ for you to take a curious peek at – you’re welcome!)