On ethnography

Ethnography is defined as a study of people in their natural environment, while doing their ordinary activities, very often with the researcher participating directly in the same settings. Ethnography is less invasive and less direct than most research methodologies. According to Bruce Abbott and Kenneth Bordens ethnography is a non-experimental methodology, based on observations and empathising with research participants. In my opinion the empathy is a vital part of research especially when working directly with people.
According to Sarah Pink the ethnographer needs to involve empathy in the research in order to develop a sense of intimacy and sympathy between him/her and research participants. This approach allows the researcher to feel how it is to be a user, and gives him a brand new route to understanding users’ experiences. In order to reach a better insight any target audiences’ emotional routines the researcher can use qualitative sensory ethnography approach. As defined by Pink sensory ethnography relates to understanding that the experiences that we try to measure and observe are multisensorial. Pink is arguing that observing experiences in a sensory way allows the researcher to capture the data that the subject of the research would not be able to express in their own words.

The ethnographic research can use multiple methods starting from observations and finishing on the interviews and questionnaires designed in a sensory way to better relate to people’s feelings and emotions. Observations were chosen because of its non-invasive form, and allowed analysing target audience in their natural environment. From my own experience I have to admit that nothing is more inspiring and concept producing than “digging into” your user’s natural environment. Suddenly you stop making assumptions and professionally analyse the problems happening right in front of your eyes.

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Affective computing and education

The arrival of digital technologies has had a vast impact, not only on how we live our lives, but also how we approach education. Computers started to be seen as educational tools, promising improvements and better results in the practice of learning. Nevertheless, according to Rosalind Picard, Seymour Papert and their colleges from MIT Labs, those developments were introduced into our lives through the cognitive approach without paying much attention to affect and its impact on learning.

 

Affect and emotion seem to be core components of our cognition; excluding them from the process of creating educational tools may deprive students from achieving even greater improvements in their learning. Affect and emotions are therefore central to design research. As stated by Professor Eva Hudlicka, the time when users had no involvement in the design process are long gone . On the contrary, today users are becoming a central part of the design process and are even referred to as integrated human-machine systems. However, in order to achieve such a symbiosis between human users and machines, it is necessary to address affect and emotion when designing educational tools. The approach that addresses users’ affect is called affective computing.

 

One of the drawbacks of developing affective technologies is the difficulty of sensing, measuring and recognising affect. Hudlicka believes that accurate interpretations of one’s affective state can be achieved by using self-reports and facial observations (2003, p.4). However, one study Affective Learning – Manifesto argues that self-reports are neither coherent nor reliable ways of affect recognition since affect should be measured exactly in the moment it happens. Nevertheless, Hudlicka recognises the weaknesses of self-reports and admits that in order for the study to be relevant it is necessary to use multiple research methods. The importance of the constant inclusion of the affective component when designing educational tools is arguable. Whereas, Picard, Papert and colleagues support categorically the concept of affect, Hudlicka believes that affective components are not always essential for the design, and can even become annoying for the users.

 

As far as addressing users’ affect is concerned, it seems to be difficult to find a proper balance between the affective and cognitive elements of designing educational tools. However, it is important to take them both into consideration, remembering that affect, emotion and cognition are the main components of education.