I’ve been pondering how to make research more transparent for a few years now, and I have to say that ever since Vaneeesa put out the idea of using a blog for data collection, I haven’t stopped thinking about it. I’m just not sure how the big bad IRB will see it. After all, they barely knew what SL was when I started my research and in my opinion, I was approved by the skin of teeth (my chair did insist that since I was interviewing avatars, and not humans, I did not require IRB approval, but that’s another story entirely). Basically, before pestering the university IRB with my hippie ideas, I want to hear your thoughts.

From the start, I have been adamant that I DO NOT want this research to be top-down. In other words, I do not believe that the researcher should be locked in his/her study writing about the “outside” world when he/she has zero knowledge of what is going on out there and participants have no idea what is going on in there. While research and crowdsourcing remain antonyms, I know that research could benefit from the latter. Transparency has been advocated for in most qualitative studies, but advocating for transparency is often worlds apart from practicing it. In fact, what is transparency in research, and how can in it be viably achieved to the benefits of participants?

So far, I have only done in-depth one-on-one interviews in SL (about 5). While I have obtained pretty good data so far, the process is a little superficial not to mention artificial) to me – on a day-to-day basis I do not communicate with people in SL in interview mode and the data reflects that. In a comment she made last week, Vaneeesa hinted that I could perhaps post interview transcripts on the blog for all to see. My first question is – if I were to do that (and of course obtain IRB approval prior to doing so), how would you react? Would you agree to have your responses out in public (keep in mind that I am NOT asking you anything personal and if you ever do not want a responses posted, I would delete it). Would you like seeing the responses of your peer?

From my perspective, if I were a participant, I would, in fact, like to see how others experience art in SL. With that said, would you prefer “informal” group discussions either in SL or on a blog to one-on-one interviews where you would only be interacting with me? What I do like about the idea of using the blog for data collection is that it would afford the ability to reflect on our experiences and construct responses on our own terms and time. What do you all think?

I know that many studies on SL have already been done, and I am not claiming (far from it) to be aware of them all or their data collection methods. If you know of, have participated, or conducted any research in SL that you think could be of interest, PLEASE let me know. You can email me anytime at




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Categories: Virtual Reality


I am a graduate student studying how people experience informal education, particularly art, in virtual worlds such as Second Life. My background is in both Art History and Computer Science. Please feel free to email me or IM me in SL (Kathleen Koolhoven) if you have any questions regarding my current research or want to participate in my study.

2 Comments on “Transparency”

  1. Friday, 06 July 2012 at 03:04 UTC #

    The one time I managed to attend that anthropology PhD candidate group discussion (not really what the group is, just who many of the participants were)

    they were talking about the ethics of virtual participant-observer relationships and the need for full project disclosure.

    I asked if it would be ethical to enter the world with one avatar, NOT collecting data, and NOT disclosing your research, and just learning some context of the world and experiencing it,

    and then, with some understanding (but no “data”) of the world, to enter with a different avatar, fully disclose your work, and hang out and collect data?

    To which they replied, Oh well, you HAVE TO do that!


    Without causing you to spend a lot of time in work you can’t use, I wonder if you could start to form / explore / engage in, some of the sort of group discussion you imagine, both so you could figure out what it is and how it might be usefully shaped or experienced, and also so you could more clearly articulate to your committee / the IRB what precisely you’re trying to do and how you’re doing it.


    PS: did you get to talk to Gracie yesterday?

    PPS: I’m available most of Friday or Monday if you want to do an interview.

  2. katcool
    Friday, 06 July 2012 at 17:07 UTC #

    I would agree with that – you do need to get “immersed” in the world you are studying and get your bearings before going in to actually collect data. Most of the literature does, in fact, state that the biggest barrier in this type of study is access – in other words, you NEED to form trust-based relationships prior to data collection. I’m not sure, however, if I agree with using an alt initially and then going in with a different avatar to collect data. I would think that such tactics would be deceiving and cause participants to not fully trust the researcher (hence leading to tainted data). It would basically be like – remember that newbie that was snooping around a few months ago, well that was me, now can I record everything you say and do?! If I were the participant in such a situation, I know that I would not be as upfront with the researcher. Just my two cents 
    BTW thanks for volunteering, Vaneeesa. This coming Monday would be perfect for me. Let me know what works best for you!

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