The use of technology for qualitative data collection was nothing new before the COVID-19 pandemic began. However, using technology like videoconferencing to conduct interviews and focus groups is now the norm, rather than the exception, and may be for some time. This blog provides some pointers for modifying your qualitative data collection in a pandemic.
One consideration when conducting long-distance interviews online is privacy. Before the pandemic, researchers used Skype with some frequency to conduct long-distance interviews. Skype allows recording of calls for later downloading and transcribing. However, other programs may be a bit better in terms of privacy. Zoom and GoToMeeting both have enhanced privacy controls, which are important when collecting data. Also, the researcher can assign a password to enter the interview or lock the program once the participant has arrived, making it difficult for hackers to enter the interview.
Another consideration is the comfort level of your participants. As researchers, we want to make the research process as easy and streamlined as possible for our participants. Zoom and GoToMeeting are nice because they do not require the participant to have an account, unlike Skype, which requires participants to create their own accounts. Some people may not be comfortable creating an account simply to participate in research, which might mean that an otherwise-willing participant chooses not to participate because of this requirement.
Finally, there are the practical considerations. First, knowing the platform you are going to use is imperative. Read or watch tutorials to really learn how the platform works and all its features. Then, you must check that all technology is working prior to the interview. If you have someone you can test the videoconferencing with, do this, as it also gives you the chance to test all controls and settings in the platform. Third, establish rapport with your participant at the beginning of the interview (if you haven’t done so already). Introduce the topic of the research, who you are, and why they are participating. During the interview, maintain eye contact and demonstrate that you are listening, but do not interrupt your participant, just as you would if you were face-to-face. Pay attention to their facial expressions and mannerisms. You are viewing your participants through a camera, so you can certainly still pick up on important cues from their behavior during the interview.
You may have started your dissertation journey long before a pandemic was on the horizon, and you are now scrambling to revise your data collection plans based on social distancing, but this is very doable. With just a little tweaking, you can find the right videoconferencing program for you and conduct your socially distanced interviews with
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