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Guest post by ISS PhD researcher Kim Chi Tran

My research explores how schooled children from Mongolian nomadic pastoralist families experience and perceive the influences of ICT in their lives as they encounter these technologies through formal and informal forms of learning. The research methodology takes a child-centered approach and a multi-disciplinary design: I use ethnography along with visual participatory techniques and complementary applications of qualitative survey and semi-structured interview to progressively take the main research participants and me through deeper engagements with the research questions over a 9-month data collection period. Here I describe the process. You can also see examples of the methods described in this presentation.

The methodology is based on a theoretical framework that posits that the perspectives and experiences of learners, whose agency is situated within a collectivistic social context, are shaped by the interrelations between the social, temporal and spatial dimensions of the landscapes where learning takes place.

During the first 3 months of my ongoing fieldwork, I worked with 10 students (equal gender distribution) from two grade-10 classes. These students come from herding families that live over 200 km away from the school, which is located in the Bayankhongor provincial center. Every week, I held a workshop with these students to explore different aspects of research questions using different combinations of these methods: clouds building, photo-voice, diagramming and semi-structured interview.

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A participant’s map of available ICT.

In order to establish a common understanding of what technologies were considered as ICT among the main research participants, I asked the students to write on sticky notes all the technologies that they thought would be considered as ICT. They would then sort out the availability and accessibility of these technologies to their families and neighbours. This exercise served as the preparatory step for their photo-essays.

Each student was given a digital camera to document three aspects of their lives during their first school break in November 2014: a typical week at home, places and moments in which a specific ICT is used around them, and those in which they would like to use a specific type of ICT to which their family does not yet have access. These photo-essays provided a way for students to crystallize the dominant aspects of their lives as pastoralist learners and the current role of ICT in their lives.

Although most students have cellphones equipped with cameras, my hope for the research project is to engage these students as quasi-native researchers so that their engagement in the research process is not just limited to data collection and generation but will go deeper, so that a certain level of reflexivity will be facilitated through the process. Using separate digital cameras helped facilitate this.

I also conducted a qualitative survey for the entire population of students from herding family at this school, in order to build a backdrop against which the in-depth analysis of the main research participants can be situated.

I also used other visual participatory techniques to tease out the details of selected components of the students’ social landscapes. Mapping proved to be extremely useful as a method that allowed the students to build visual representations of the intimate relationship between the landscape, the seasons, and the different social realities of herders. Their maps reveal that mobility not only governs their spatial and temporal realities but also their social realities.

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A participant’s migration map

By mapping out their social networks in seasonal camps and the corresponding availability of ICT (networks for phones, TV, and internet) in these places the students showed that as learners who are situated within the nexus of nomadic herding – most of which is located far away from urban centers – and schooling – which is necessarily bound to urban centers – the contents of their social realities which are shaped by the interconnectedness between landscape, actors, and materials shift as they move between these places.

I also asked the students to create pie charts of activities that they typically engaged in while they were home. This method revealed the dynamic gender roles that exist in Mongolian herding household and the factors that affect them.

At the end of the 3-month period, I conducted semi-structured interviews with the students where we engaged deeper with their diagramming data, surveys, and photo-essays. The knowledge that I gained from living in the girls’ dormitory and working as an English teaching assistant at the school provided the necessary insight to contextualize the students’ responses.

This form of participant observation creates a space in which the students and I can build the necessary familiarity, rapport and trust with each other. The interweaving of resulting data from each method in the step-wise application of different methods throughout the process has led to a systematic uncovering of new depths and widths of the research subject. This non-static approach has provided flexibility for the methods to evolve as new layers of the researched landscape emerge.

International Institute of Social Studies

ISS is an international graduate school of policy-oriented critical social science. It brings together students and teachers from the Global South and the North in a European environment.