Originally from Melbourne, Australia, Naomi Berman currently teaches academic writing at the University of Tokyo. As a youth sociologist she has worked with a range of government, academic and non-government organisations researching and evaluating arts health and youth programs. She also spent 12-months evaluating a major project for the BBC in the UK. Naomi’s research interests include quantitative and qualitative research and evaluation methodologies in youth, community arts and health and wellbeing. More recently she has been focusing on university informal learning spaces and currently holds a national grant investigating the role of informal learning spaces in the Japanese university context. She is an Associate Editor of the UNESCO Observatory Multidisciplinary Research in the Arts e-journal.
Goffman Meets Osmo Pocket: Novel Applications of Digital Ethnography
A push to reimagine university campus design has been taking place across the globe recently. As universities attempt to introduce more decentralised spaces for students, the boundaries between these and other spaces become more fluid, redefining universities as learning environments. Yet despite significant investment in the design, construction and furnishing of such spaces, not enough is known about how these novel personalised learning environments shape social behaviour. Previous research on informal learning spaces, although providing valuable insights, routinely draws on traditional quantitative methods regarding their patterns of use and learning outcomes. If universities are to better understand these informal learning environments and the meanings and practices students bring to them, new perspectives incorporating novel qualitative approaches are required.
The purpose of this research is to investigate informal learning spaces and the types of student experiences they engender. Importantly, it seeks to explore the utility of qualitative methodologies that produce deeper insights into the complex interplay between space and social practice in these educational settings. Originally, this was to be achieved through the use of ethnographic methods such as walk-through interviews and photo-elicitation focus groups. However, the significant limitations brought about by Covid-19 have stymied this planned approach by rendering university campuses inaccessible. In response to these new circumstances a digital version of the walk-through interviews was developed and implemented. The intention of this paper, therefore, is to share preliminary findings and practical insights to emerge from this digital variant of a traditional face-to-face approach. It is hoped that such insights will stimulate further discussion regarding the challenges and affordances of digital ethnography, as well as a broader exploration of the future of university built environments amid significant global transformations.