An increasing number of researchers are using computer mediated communication (CMC) to undertake data collection. focus groups, interviews and the like are engaged with in the virtual world allowing for geographical distance and an inexpensive way to collect qualitative data but there are challenges.
The decision whether to use synchronous or asynchronous techniques is a key issue for the researcher to grapple with - synchronous will give a real time experience but can be difficult to manage particularly if it is a focus group and a number of participants are involved.
Mediating the conversation and ensuring that the research questions have been covered can be a challenge. Asynchronous (not real time) techniques (some studies using emails with interview questions posted to the participant directly or view a messageboard system) allow for a more considered response from the participant but is this what the researcher is looking for? For both there are a number of considerations and specifically for my study and the online interviews: The challenge of developing a reflective 'conversation' rather than a closed response to a series of questions. Also the recognition that synchronous 'conversations' use more of the conventions found in speech whilst asynchronous is more literate. For example synchronous conversations may include more references to humour and other emotions. The use of emoticons and phrases such as lol (Laughs Out Loud) replaces verbal utterances in the face to face interview.
For the study I am undertaking the challenge will be to create an environment which will enable synchronous 'conversation' as a follow up to a previous face to face interview. The development of rapport will be important but I will have met the participants prior to the online interview so the will have a mental picture of who they are 'talking to'. Some studies have also pointed to concerns around confidentiality, use of complex programmes and people being able to 'log into' a conversation. to address these issues I will be using a 'chatroom' environment called 'disposable chat'. The room is set up using a password and once the conversation has finished the 'room' disappears. No one can enter the room without the password so each participant will be sent by email their password and a link to access the room. I will also send telephone contact details in case of technical difficulties. We will meet in there at a mutually agreed time and date and have our conversation.Files of the conversation can then be saved to a secure server.
The online interviews will start in October and continue with those participants who want to be involved.