Respecting Human Dignity – the IRB

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So you’ve written a research proposal and have the nod of approval from an advising professor. But if your research includes interacting with humans, you have one very important step that must happen before entering the field. Approval from AU’s Institutional Review Board (IRB). They need to know your plans for respecting the dignity of selected human subjects.

Not all research projects will require IRB. If you plan to pour over documents for a case study or stare at spreadsheets of quantitative data someone else gathered, you can skip this step. But if you hope to interview people, host a focus group or immerse yourself in a culture for ethnography, you will most definitely be interacting – and even intervening – in the lives of others.

So why this red tape?

Unfortunately in the past, as some researchers pursued truth and knowledge at the cost of human dignity, humans as mere “subjects” were harmed physically or psychologically. Learning from mistakes, universities (and their graduates) uphold a strict code of ethical conduct. As a researcher, you will need to account for the effects of your actions on your subjects. Your behavior should preserve the rights and integrity of the humans involved in your research project.

To begin

Go to the AU IRB web site where you can find all sorts of resources! And forms. If you’re curious about what projects NEED the IRB process, you can read more. But if you’re pretty sure you need it, follow the link for the REQUIRED human subjects training. It will take you approximately 30 minutes and will set the stage for the necessity of this process.

Once you’re certified, begin with the Determination Form, just to test if you really need IRB review and approval. Notice the form is especially concerned with privacy and confidentiality. There are also special categories of subjects that are defined as particularly vulnerable: children, prisoners, cognitively impaired, senior citizens, etc. Does your project include especially vulnerable persons? If so, you will need to take extra care (and paperwork). Once you submit this form, you’ll receive an email with instructions likely requesting your full IRB application or request for exemption. Read through the titles of supplemental forms, just in case your project needs one.

As you imagine going out in the field, how do you expect to be received? Will you stick out like a sore thumb, an obvious outsider? If so, people will ask and word will spread that you are there to do research. It is ethical to ask research participants for consent before directly interacting and collecting data. Use the IRB consent checklist and template to cover all your bases. The process of customizing the template into your own consent form will help you think through all possible risks.

The IRB process should not be dreaded – nor underestimated – but it does take time and foresight. I found the process helpful as it forced me to articulate all possible risks to my future subjects, plan for confidentiality and solidify my data collection, storage and analysis process months in advance. I found the office timely and my contact person responsive, yet I would advise you to give at least 4-6 weeks for the entire process. On the other side of this process, you’ll feel more confident and prepared to interact with people in the field.


Create diagrams using Cacoo


Are the boring shapes and arrows on Powerpoint just not cutting it for you?  Looking for another way to create diagrams?

Cacoo is an online diagramming application that features a large stencil set that allows you to create various diagrams. (Fun fact: Cacoo comes from the Japanese word “kaku”, which means “draw”.)  Think of a diagram, and you can create it on Cacoo: we’re talking causal loop diagrams, flowcharts, mind maps, wireframes, etc. etc.  A neat feature about Cacoo is that it is an online collaborative tool, which means that multiple users can access a diagram simultaneously.  There is even a chat box at the bottom of the screen to talk to your fellow diagram-makers.

Although that option is there, you certainly do not need to use all the features of Cacoo to create the diagram you want…just like you also don’t need to pay to use this application. You can sign up for free.

Once you’ve signed up, you’ll get started on a blank sheet and have access to many stencils to create your diagram.  You’ll find the regulars, such as the squares and circles, and also other interesting shapes that tailor to your theme, like balloons and people. You can also create lines to create your variable nodes and edit the content within them. While the blank worksheet might look simple at first glance, once you start building your diagram, you’ll find that the application actually helps you align your shapes so that your diagram looks nice and professional.

You can export your diagram as a .PDF, .SVG, or more commonly, .PNG (if you just want to insert your image into a paper or presentation). Another neat feature is that when you export your diagram, the white background is not exported with it.  The image above is not a good example of that (because we wanted to show you a live shot), but you’ll be pleasantly surprised how good the exported diagram looks against a colored background.

Thanksgiving Holiday Lab Hours

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You know what would go great with that turkey? A hearty slice of SPSS or NVivo.

Due to the Thanksgiving holiday up ahead, the lab will not be open on Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday.

We will be back in business on Saturday, about the time you’ve had enough of leftovers.


The week, the schedule is:

(Nov 21-Nov 27):
Mon-Tues, 9:30am-8:00pm
Wed-Fri, closed
Sat, 12:00-7:00pm
Sun, closed

Normal lab hours will resume on Monday, November 28.  We’ll see you after the break!

Have a great holiday!

Quality and Quantity

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The SSRL is known for its expertise in quantitative research, but it’s expanding its view to include qualitative support, too. Part of the reason is CTRL’s mandate from the Provost to support research campus-wide. Many professors use qualitative or mixed methods, as do many students. So how are we expanding our services?

To enhance our qualitative knowledge base, the Research Support Group (RSG) is reaching out to faculty who have experience and expertise in qualitative methods. This week we held our inaugural meeting to cast the vision for faculty-driven qualitative support at AU. It’s just the beginning, but the pooling of knowledge and identification of needs provides RSG direction. If other faculty or doctoral students are interested in qualitative methods, please email SSRL so we can add you to the list.

One of the goals is to take a holistic view of qualitative research. Before a researcher even thinks about analysis (or how to choose the best software to assist with this), there are many steps to consider! Driven by the research question, which method is best? As a researcher decides, he or she may not be aware of some methods or feel under-prepared to execute others. To fill this gap, the group plans to do a research skills and interest inventory across campus. Which faculty members are prepared to share their qualitative method expertise with colleagues?

Another idea to boost awareness and knowledge of qualitative methods options involves research presentations that don’t focus so much on the outcomes, but the methodology used. RSG already hosts a Research Seminar Series and plans to purposively shift the focus of its programming to this. As we select speakers for this spring semester, please know they will not only present their research question and findings. We will ask all speakers to spend about 50% of their presentation talking about methods selection, implementation and analysis.

This is just the beginning, so expect more to evolve. In the short term, if you are interested in – or currently conducting – qualitative research, please know the RSG staff at the SSRL are here to help. Ask us questions and try out NVivo, if you feel it will help you organize your analysis.

Data exploration with Many Eyes

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Many Eyes is an experimental data visualization software designed by IBM that turns data presentation into a community activity. The website lets anyone upload data and choose how they want it to be expressed, and then gives people an opportunity to engage in discussions about the data. You can either create a visualization from existing data sets or upload your own data.

This website can be a little daunting at first glance, so it’s easier to navigate if you spend a little time exploring what other people have created before jumping into your own project. You can do that by clicking on any of the options under the “Explore” heading on the left of the page. Here, you can see other people’s visualizations, explore existing data sets uploaded by other users, and take a look at what kinds of discussions have arisen.

Once you are ready to create your own visualization, click on “Create a Visualization”. Many Eyes will walk you through this process in three easy steps. Your first step will be to either choose from an existing data set or to upload your own data.

Your next step is to choose a visualization method. Many Eyes has divided their various visualization options into the following categories: analyze a text, compare a set of values, see relationships among data points, see the parts of a whole,  see the world, or track rises and falls over time. This step is critical to the success of your visualization; you must have a good idea of what you wish to see from your data in order to pick the right visualization tool. Not all of the options are created equal, and not all of the options will visualize your data in the most applicable way!

Once you have chosen your method, Many Eyes will generate a visualization for your data. If you don’t like the way it looks or it wasn’t what you were expecting, you can go back and choose a different method. If you are satisfied with it, you can share it publicly and add tags and descriptions to explain what you’re trying to show. You can also save an image of your visualization to your computer to insert into a document or presentation.

Final product of a Many Eyes visualization

If you have questions about how this software can be used in your research project, or if you need help incorporating it, feel free to stop by Hurst 202!

Research Seminar TODAY!! Hurst 202: Noon – 1:30pm

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The SSRL Research Discussion/Luncheon series continues! Presenting today is Dr. Ekaterina Romanova, Assistant Professor in the International Peace and Conflict Resolution Program at American University.


National Identity through the Prism of Immigration in Modern Russia: Advantages of Qualitative Approach to the Analysis of Changing Nature of National Identity

From her abstract:
With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation faced many challenges, including increased immigration, a search for national identity, and growing nationalist sentiments.  Post-Soviet Russia grew increasingly intolerant of people arriving in the country either for a temporary stay or to settle permanently. Russia has the highest level of anti-immigrant attitudes in Europe and the rate of ethnic violence is growing each year. At the same time, Russia has the fastest growing immigrant population.

In my research, I explore reasons behind burgeoning nationalism, ethnic violence and anti-immigrant attitudes in Russia. In my presentation, I’d like to argue that Russia’s changing perceptions of the national identity, as well as the characteristics that Russians attribute to immigrants have shaped intergroup relations and contributed to the growth in nationalist violence against immigrants. This presentation in no way claims to draw a comprehensive picture of national identity formation and its transformation in Russia after 1991, but rather offers a specific focus on the transformation of the perception of the national identity through the immigration angle, how through perception of immigration and immigrants, the host population projects the host population projects characteristics and boundaries of its collective self.

In my research, I rely on qualitative approach, using critical discourse analysis and grounded theory to data analysis. In my presentation, I will talk about benefits of using NVivo in qualitative research projects.

CTRL Open House Recap

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This Thursday CTRL was excited to host its first Open House, welcoming over 110 faculty and staff to tour a few new office locations, meet new staff and interact directly with our services. The event was hosted on the second floor of Hurst Hall with all four CTRL component offices now located in the same building.

In addition to speaking with our staff and nibbling on food, guests were invited to participate in a variety of activities. In the Social Sciences Resource Lab (SSRL), faculty and staff could log into virtual computing labs or learn about high-performance computing. We also discussed qualitative research support and demonstrated NVivo. And for some data visualization, we took a poll of words that describe CTRL to generate a Wordle.

The Online Learning staff offered best practice tips as well as other resources for teachers interested in teaching online. They also showcased videos that can prepare students for online courses.

The Teaching and Learning Resources group welcomed guests into their office space to play with technologies that can enhance teaching and learning. They also featured a row of green apples to highlight the Green Teaching Award and announced upcoming events including the annual Ann Ferren Conference to be held January 13, 2012.

On all counts, the event was a success! CTRL was able to introduce new initiatives that expand its mission, connect with faculty for future collaboration and remind the AU community where and who is behind programing and services that support teaching, research and learning across campus.

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