Design-based methods for qualitative research with teenage girls

Year: 2019

Author: Thompson, Roberta

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The presentation describes a design-based ethnographical approach employed to observe and investigate Year 8 girls’ online interactions and social media practices with friends. Girls in this age group are prime candidates for cyberbullying and sexting pressures and are more likely than any other demographic to experience emotional distress in relation to these experiences. Understanding the nature of these problems is needed so protocols can be put in place to support their online safety. However, there is difficulty in encouraging girls this age to participate in research that asks them to share personal experiences about topics that are significantly sensitive such as cyberbullying or taboo like requests for nude images.

The research discussed addressed these concerns by using principles of design ethnography to develop a school-based social media project. The school project was completed in Term 2 and 3 in 2018 by 160 Year 8 girls from two high schools in Southeast Queensland. The participants worked in pairs or small groups to co-create social media resources and self-help materials for other girls their age. The design process encouraged explicit interaction between girls about the topic and provided a safe space for them to share realistic and in-depth examples of their social media practices. The method was successful in providing opportunities to observe girls’ interactional processes, hear stories about their social media practice, ask questions as the stories unfolded, and collect artefacts that consolidated the girls’ everyday experiences into concrete evidence. Artefacts from the girls’ projects provided an effective point of reference for follow-up focus groups discussions where rich in-depth stories about social media were shared. The approach was not without challenge (e.g., time constraints, participant commitment and mixed styles of teacher mentorship), however, the method proved to be effective for mapping representative patterns of teenage girls’ social media experiences with friends. The mapping process resulted in a generic framework for advancing a safe and positive social media mindset in teenage girls. This work is particularly salient given antibullying campaigns have not successfully reduced the prevalence of cyberbullying and sexting practices among girls aged 12 to 14. The method is offered as an innovative qualitative approach for research investigations involving teenage people and sensitive and/or taboo topics.