Michael saved in Pocket: ‘Writing Live Fieldnotes: Towards a More Open Ethnography’


‘I just returned from fieldwork in China. I’m excited to share a new way I’ve been writing ethnographic fieldnotes, called live fieldnoting.

I’ve come up with a working definition of live fieldnoting:

life fieldnoting: A live fieldnote is a blog post that is intended to provide an on-location and synchronous visual and textual coverage of an instance from the ethnographer’s fieldwork. The live fieldnote is created with a image sharing app on a mobile phone that is then shared to other social networking services. Images are accompanied by a description of the image and can also include a brief analysis of what the interaction means to the participatants in the image and/or to the ethnographer. All live fieldnotes are timestamped, publicly accessible on the internet, and include location data. Live fieldnotes demonstrates the combination of two activities that are central to ethnographic research, 1.) the ethnographer’s participation in a social world and 2.) the ethnographer’s written account of the world through her/his participation. Live fieldnotes are typically comprised of a one to five sentences. The accumulation of many live fieldnotes works towards producing a “thick description” along with other long form fieldnotes.  Live fieldnotes are not intended to replace the entire fieldnote writing process, rather it is just one of many ways notes can be jotted down for reflection at a later point in time.

A live fieldnotes can consist of a location, timestamp, description of the interaction, explanation of the meaning of the interaction to the participants, and your interpretation of the interaction, and analysis of how it is related to your research.

Other terms that can be used: social fieldnoting, participatory fieldnoting

Prior forms: Jan Chipchase was the first ethnographer to post pictures of his fieldwork to his blog with text. He provided design observations while on the move. He was an inspiration to a whole generation of designers and cool hunters. His posts tend to be a mix of raw observations and compelling questions. You see early examples of this work on his blog in 2002 but it wasn’t until 2005 that he really started getting to it. His takes really high quality pictures with a gorgeous camera.

In the opening chapter of Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes, Emerson et. al. describes ethnographic research:

“First, the ethnographer enters into a social setting and gets to know the people involved in it; usually, the setting is not previously known in an intimate way. The ethnographer participates in the daily routines of this setting, develops ongoing relations with the people in it, and observes all the while what is going on. Indeed, the term “participant- observation” is often used to characterize this basic research approach. But, second, the ethnographer writes down in regular, systematic ways what she observes and learns while participating in the daily rounds of life of others. Thus the researcher creates an accumulating written record of these observations and experiences. These two interconnected activities comprise the core of ethnographic research: Firsthand participation in some initially unfamiliar social world and the production of written accounts of that world by drawing upon such participation.”

Live fieldnoting fulfills these two activities: participating in the fieldsite and writing observations.  I ease myself into a fieldsite through the very act of documenting and sharing my documentation.  In my instagram posts, I write about interactions that I participate in and what I learn from my interactions with other people. My followers are able to get some glimpses of what I do and how I understand the processes I am researching. I get to bring them with me to the fieldsite which makes the work of ethnography more visible.

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Michael saved in Pocket: ‘Audio Ethnography: Listening to Cultures & Communities’ by Catherine C. Braun


The theme of my 109.01 course in the fall of 2005 was “reading cultures and communities,” and the class was focused on ethnographic writing. The texts for the course were Sunstein and Chiseri-Strater’s Fieldworking, SoundPortraits.org, Transom.org, and NPR’s “This American Life” web site of streaming audio versions of their radio programs. The major assignment of the course was to conduct an ethnographic study of a community, with the final “report” composed as an audio essay. In addition, students turned in a portfolio of writing that comprised their ethnographic process over the quarter: all field notes, three field note analyses, a midterm progress report, a detailed plan for their final audio project, and a reflective essay.

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Michael saved in Pocket: ‘Challenges to research in MOOCs’ (Fournier et al. 2014)

Very relevant read while working on my micro-ethnography of ds106, particularly around the challenges and ethical issues surrounding research of connectivist-style MOOCs!


Over the past five years, the emergence of interactive social media has influenced the development of learning environments. Learning management systems have come to maturity, but because they are controlled by educational institutions and are subsequently used to support institutional learning, have been seen by learning technologists as not capturing the spirit and possibilities that new media have to offer for learning. Academics and researchers are currently investigating a different learning environment, more open and networked, while the underpinning learning theory is moving from social constructivism towards connectivism. Research in open learning environments is only in its infancy and researchers have only started to become interested in massive open online courses (MOOCs) as a topic of investigation. Recent research and development efforts have focused on generating technologies that might facilitate learning within a self-directed information and communication stream. In this paper, the authors report on an exploratory case study of PLENK, a connectivist-style MOOC, and highlight some of the challenges in the research and analysis process, especially as significant amounts of both quantitative and qualitative data were involved. Important findings related to activity levels and important dimensions of self-directed learning in an open learning environment are presented.

  • ‘Every researcher has to consider the ethical implications of the chosen methods of obtaining data for a study as well as the use of the data. Sometimes obtaining data is a matter of accessing statistics or documents. When human subjects are involved in the research, careful consideration of the level of informed consent by participants is also required. Miller and Bell (2002) argued that gaining informed consent is problematic if it is not clear what the participant is consenting to and where “participation begins and ends” (p. 53). Several ethical issues were raised in the literature, of which misuse of data and privacy issues were the most important. Boyd (2010) and van Wel and Royakkers (2004) caution that data could pose a threat to subjects when either misused or used for different purposes than for which it was supplied. Researchers should at least anonymize data in order to respect privacy issues (Boyd, 2010; Rogers, McEwen, & Pond, 2010; van Wel & Royakkers, 2004). It has also been suggested by network researchers that people should have the choice to opt in or opt out of the use of their data. If someone is not aware that the data is being collected or how it will be used, that person has no real opportunity to consent or withhold consent for its collection and use. This “invisible data gathering” is common on the Web (van Wel & Royakkers, 2004, p. 133) and highlights some new decisions related to ethics that researchers will have to make. Researchers have a responsibility to carefully consider the context of their research, and also the process that takes place between observing, collecting and analyzing “big data” – data that is left by traces of activities that might not at all be related to the visible participation of learners.’ (Fournier et al. 2014: 3)

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Week four and community cultures: exploring the ‘open’ and ‘closed’ (false) binary

Dualisms visual artefact
A ‘creative “gathering”‘? (Dualisms visual artefact)

Moving into our community cultures block, and preparing my micro-ethnography, how might we take a critical view on the relations between technologies and people? Could we imagine a ‘creative “gathering”‘? Might we envisage relations between technology and culture as ‘co-determining, co-constructive forces…a complex dance, an interweaving and intertwining’ (Kozinets 2010: 22)? Would an agential realist perspective (Barad 2003: 828) – where ‘there is no…exterior observational point’ and ‘we are part of the world in its ongoing intra-activity’ – encourage us to think differently about notions of ‘community’ and how we might explore it?

'Open'/'closed' binary
‘Open’/’closed’ binary

Building on the ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ binary touched upon in the Dualisms visual artefact, I am questioning the (false) binary between ‘open’ and ‘closed’ (Collier and Ross 2017: 8; Ross et al. 2019: 28). This is particularly pertinent, as I am looking to focus my micro-ethography on the ‘open course on digital storytelling’ ds106, joining as an ‘open participant’. The open course originates from (and follows) a Spring 2020 university course at the University of Mary Washington. Each student has a blog and weekly assignments, both public, and there are also ‘Daily Create‘ challenges and a ds106 radio; ‘open’ participants can engage in many aspects.

As I begin my micro-ethnography, I reflect on several suggestions from boyd (2009: 29), namely to read other ethnographies, and then to…

‘…begin by focusing on a culture. What defines that culture? Its practices? Its identity? Who are the relevant social groups? What are the relevant social dynamics? What boundaries are applicable?’ (boyd 2009: 29)

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Michael saved in Pocket: ‘Ethnography for the Internet: Embedded, Embodied and Everyday’ (Hine 2015)


‘…it has increasingly become apparent as Internet use has become embedded in everyday life that, rather than being a transcendent cyberspatial site of experience, the Internet has often become a part of us, and that virtual identities are not necessarily separate from physical bodies. We do not necessarily think of “going online” as a discrete form of experience, but we instead often experience being online as an extension of other embodied ways of being and acting in the world.’ (Hine 2015: 41)

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Michael saved in Pocket: ‘Netnography: Doing Ethnographic Research Online’ (Kozinets 2010)


The insight that technology does not determine culture, but that they are co-determining, co-constructive forces, is a crucially important one. With our ideas and actions, we choose technologies, we adapt and shape them. To this realization it is also critical to add that our culture does not entirely control the technologies that we use, either. The way that technology and culture interact is a complex dance, an interweaving and intertwining. This element of technocultural change is present in our public spaces, our workplaces, our homes, our relationships, and our bodies – each institutional element intermixed with every other one. Technology constantly shapes and reshapes our bodies, our places, and our identities, and is shaped to our needs as well. Understanding of the way this transformation unfolds requires us to keep a keen eye on particular and general contexts – specific times and places, distinctive rules or rational procedures, institutional histories, technical possibilities, practical and popular uses, fears and dreams. A thorough understanding of these contexts requires ethnography.

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