[ text reproduced from the syllabus ]
Final Research Project: Online Ethnography
This is not a normal lecture course: your active and engaged participation is required.
The main assignment for this class is participation in creating an online exhibition regarding issues of culture in virtual worlds, specifically MMOGs. Students will select one or more virtual worlds, MMOGs, and conduct small group research regarding some topic or topics of interest to the group within that world. The precise topic for the research is deliberately left open, so that each group can find a topic of interest in consultation with the instructor. It may be that a group wishes to engage several related topics and delegate sub topics to individual members. It may be that groups wish to compare some specific topic (i.e. sociability, conversation, avatar embodiment, machinima, etc) across multiple virtual worlds, or focus their attention to different aspects of a single MMOG. However, all projects must engage with some subset of concepts set forth in course readings and course discussion.
In order to do research on online worlds, students must have easy access to online environments, which include both websites, blogs and materials about a given online world as well as the online world itself, which generally must be accessed through a client. Each student must have both these capabilities, but a group may divide their research labor up in such a way that some members with more problematic online access (or graphically challenged computers) can focus more on more easily accessible materials. However, all students must do some direct online ethnography in at least 1 online world they were not familiar with before. Students may NOT use their existing game subscriptions or accounts to do online ethnography without permission, all groups should plan to do their ethnography using trial introductory periods or worlds that are free.
Students will work in groups of 4-5 on a research project. The groups will be assigned, so that there is a mixture of skills and backgrounds. Each group will be responsible for conducting research, collecting images or video suitable for posting on the blog website, and writing a 3,500-4,500 word paper (approximately 12-15 pages at a 12-point font, double-spaced) about the virtual world, MMOG, they chose to investigate. (NOTE: length will be calculated based on word count.) The group paper must cite and engage with at least four course readings (we will discuss how to cite course readings effectively and correctly). All ethnographic material used in the blog or the final project must first be submitted to the course instructor and follow certain protocols (for example, the assignment pseudonyms both to real world persons as well as avatars to protect anonymity of persons and avatars.) The paper can be written in individual sections by different contributing authors, but the group must work together to produce a final product that is integrated and polished.
Groups will plan their research during the assigned seminar period each week. The professor will be present during this period to give advice to each group. Members of each group will make a brief (10-15 minute) in-class presentation about their research during from Week 10 to Week 12 of the course.
Members of each group will also be responsible for documenting each individual student’s contribution to this collaborative project. Each student will write, independently from other members of their group, a 1,500–1,800 word (approximately 5-6 pages in times new roman 12-point font, double-spaced) paper describing their contribution to the research and the insights they gained from the collaborative research project. (NOTE: length will be calculated based on word count. Images may be used but they do not count towards fulfilling page limits) The individual paper must cite and engage with at least four course readings, and at least two of these must be DIFFERENT from the readings used in the group course paper. Readings drawn from outside the course readings can also be used, there is a list.
In sum: each group will write a 3,500-4,500 word paper collaboratively, which will be posted on the course blog; the group will also make a brief in-class presentation about their research; and each individual student will write a 1,500–1,800 word paper on their contribution to the project. Both papers will be graded on quality of research, organization, clarity of argument, and use of sources. All work for the online exhibit (including the group paper) and the individual papers will be due on the date indicated on the syllabus. Documents must be in Word (.doc, .docx, .rtf) (not PDF or wordperfect).
In order to complete this project, all students are required to complete and pass the online tutorial titled “Human Research Tutorial” on the ethics of research involving human subjects. Read the instructions and questions carefully. It should only take about 20 minutes, but you MUST complete this tutorial in order to conduct any research for this class project.