Online and mobile technology offer unique enhancements to qualitative research designs. In many instances, these technologies have shifted the balance of power from the researcher to the online or mobile participant, who is given greater control of the research process by way of increased flexibility, convenience, and varied ways to respond in greater detail and depth to the researcher’s inquiries. For example, a participant in an email in-depth interview study can thoughtfully reflect on a researcher’s question before answering and can delay response until the participant is at a location where they can take the time to write a thoughtful reply. The opportunity to select the time and place for participation empowers online and mobile participants beyond that afforded participants of conventional, more restrictive modes that dictate a specific interview schedule or date and place for a group discussion or observation.
Asynchronous online and mobile technologies have also ushered in a richer, deeper qualitative research experience. Not only do participants have the chance to write more thoughtful responses to interview questions compared to more time-limiting modes (e.g., telephone and face-to-face), but online and mobile participants can also enrich their text responses by attaching files, images (photographs, graphics), links to websites, as well as add a voice response via VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) or the mobile phone device. This possibility for multimedia communication can be particularly effective, for example, when capturing in-the-moment experiences or observations via the participant’s smartphone, which may include a text message describing the event, photographs of the event, a short video of the event, and a voice message to the researcher elaborating on specific aspects of the event.
Data quality matters. Regardless of the research method or approach, our ability to say anything meaningful about our research outcomes hinges on the integrity of the data. The greater care the researcher takes to ensure the basic ingredients of “good” research design, the more confident the researcher and importantly the user of the research will be in the recommendations drawn from the research and its ultimate usefulness.
This focus on data quality applies to all research. And although it is most often a topic of discussion among survey researchers, data quality considerations are increasingly (I hope!) a discussion among qualitative researchers as well. Indeed, the underlying validity of our qualitative data is an important consideration regardless of the researcher’s paradigm orientation or the qualitative method, including the more recent methodological options – that is, mobile and online qualitative research.
Mobile and online technology – in particular, tech solutions that combine observation with a multimethod/mode approach – offer qualitative researchers new ways to investigate a variety of situations that give them a closer understanding of participants’ lived experiences as never before possible. Three such situations are: Read Full Text
Mobile research – specifically, research by way of smartphone technology – has become a widely used and accepted design option for conducting qualitative and survey research. The advantages of the mobile mode are many, not the least of which are: the high incidence of smartphone ownership in the U.S. (more than 60% in 2015*), the ubiquitous influence smartphones have on our lives, the dependence people have on their smartphones as their go-to channel for communicating and socializing, and the features of the smartphone that offer a variety of response formats (e.g., text, video, image) and location-specific (e.g., geo-targeting, geo-fencing) capabilities.
From a research design perspective, there are also several limitations to the mobile mode, including: the small screen of the smartphone (making the design of standard scale and matrix questionnaire items – as well as the user experience overall – problematic), the relatively short attention span of the respondent or participant precipitated by frequent interruptions, the potential for errors due to the touch screen technology, and connectivity issues.
Another important yet often overlooked concern with mobile research is the potential for bias associated with the smartphone response format and location features mentioned earlier. Researchers have been quick to embrace the ability to capture video and photographs as well as location information yet they have not universally exercised caution when integrating these features into their research designs. For example, a recent webinar in which a qualitative researcher presented the virtues of mobile qualitative research – esp., for documenting in-the-moment experiences – espoused the advantages of Read Full Text