Studying User Appropriation of University and Secondary school «Learning Centers»: Methodological Questions and Issues

Susan Kovacs, Yolande Maury

Abstract


How can Information-Communication researchers define a protocol for the study of emergent phenomena? In the context of a research project examining the creation of nine Learning Centers in France, we were faced with this query. The concept of the “Learning Center” has been taken up as a new model for the library, a “place” situated between learning, training, teaching, living and “being.” We were interested in the ways in which different actors appropriate the idea of the Learning Center and which dimensions they choose to develop or adapt. Rather than evaluating the degree of successful compliance to a model, we sought to understand how actors “do with” and co-construct this new form of the library through their uses of space. Our inquiry, as applied to information practices and culture, foregrounds the issue of the most pertinent approach to empirical study. Ethnography is a powerful tool for in-depth study of users as they participate in the definition of informational devices. While comparing our methodological choices to certain observational techniques, we explore the strengths and limits of an approach in which the focal points of observation, undefined at the outset through floating attention, become more accurate during the different phases of observation and interviewing. The relevance of certain data collection instruments used for describing and understanding “seeing” over time (ethnographic fieldnotes, photographs) is also discussed. We attempt to show that emergent phenomena require an open-ended, comprehensive approach; a posteriori categorization can afford a rich way to investigate user practices in an as yet undefined institutional setting.

 

Keywords: appropriation, library, learning center, space, qualitative research

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