Feeling Between the Lines, by Joyce Menges
MethodUnlike applied research which seeks to offer explanations for a broad population using quantitative analysis, the action research methodology used here is focused on a narrower context providing useful clues to understanding a particular arena. This understanding may or may not represent the broader setting. Action research is frequently a framework for description; combining several methods of data gathering, both quantitative and qualitative; this methodology provides checks and balances to an otherwise nearly nominal form of research by a process referred to as triangulation. As well, action research is by nature, holistic; the researcher paints broad strokes about the topic under consideration, gaining perspective on the whole rather than its particulars. For this effort, I have combined the quantifiable data gathering process called Nominal Group Technique with a purely qualitative description of myself as participant-observer in order to achieve a description of extraverbal communication in two of the sychronous venues of cyberspace communication.
My observations as researcher have grown out of my interest and participation in computer mediated communication these last five years. As my experience has grown I have become increasingly aware of my ability to share not only my words but my feelings with others and perceive the same in return. My commentary here stems entirely from this experience both before I began this formal study and, more pointedly, since. The nominal groups, on the other hand, were my effort to gleen the best thoughts of other experienced virtual communicators but have also provided data for more careful, studied observations through the logs of each session. (2)
Nominal Group Technique
The process called Nominal Group Technique (NGT), developed by Andre L Dalbecq and Andrew H. van DeVen in 1968, is a research tool used to facilitate organized group brainstorming about a single research question. While it has elements in common with a survey instrument and a focus group, it is neither of these things. Through a rather regimented but effective series of steps (See Appendix B) the facilitator leads the participants towards the final goal, to develop a set of ideas that the group thinks is important to the research question under consideration.
The NGT participants gathered for this study were a convenience sample of twenty-seven of the author's colleagues, acquaintances and friends from two cyberspace venues, a Multi-user dimension, Object Oriented (MOO) virtual space and Internet Relay Chat ( IRC) gathered into four Nominal Groups, two in each arena. The research question posed to the participants was: "What are the most significant ways humans express and perceive feelings in the synchronous environments of cyberspace?"