Methods and Data

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I use primarily qualitative methods and data for most of this research project, and also use secondary quantitative data for contextualizing the case studies and relate them to broader trends in the U.S. society.

Qualitative Methodology

The Digital Edge Project (2011-2013) was an interdisciplinary research group led by S. Craig Watkins and funded by the MacArthur Foundation as part of the Connected Learning Research Network (CLRN). The goal of The Digital Edge project was to understand youth media ecologies, learning environments, and new media practices in the varied contexts of social inequalities. As a member of the Digital Edge team, I spent the 2011-12 school year inside Freeway High School (FHS) pursuing ethnographic fieldwork, and continued during the following year with follow-up interviews with some of the study participants. Our team centered its interactions and observations around three spaces that have digital media technology orientations: one after-school program and two elective classrooms (a video production class and a video game design class). We spent a total of approximately 150 hours in each classroom and 70 hours in the after school space doing participant observation. Additionally, each member of our team was matched up with between two and five students (14-18 years old) across all grades (18 in total) that we followed for a year, having approximately 12 interviews each. Semi structured qualitative interviews were also conducted with teachers from the elective classes, mentors from the after school program, and parents (house visits). Furthermore, two focus groups were also conducted. Among the eighteen participants in our study, and not surprisingly given the demographics of the high school, 6 boys and 4 girls were Latino/Hispanic immigrants with Mexican origins.


The qualitative method used by the Digital Edge project was mainly classical ethnography. (Emerson, Fretz & Snow 1995; Rubin & Rubin 2005; Spradley 1979; Foley 2002) We conducted in-depth interviews, and participant observations with students, mentors and teachers from Freeway High School. In addition to casual hanging out, we standardized 12 interview protocols across all researchers and participants addressing subjects such as social media use or civic engagement. Our goal was to document the nuances of student's learning ecologies and new media practices over a long period of time, and to create a “thick description” (Geertz, 1973) of the elective classes and the afterschool program. All members of the research team wrote field notes immediately after each observation or interview, reviewed, and produced analytical reports that we shared through a private and secured online blog. Furthermore, we also tried “collaborative ethnography” (Lassiter, 2005; Foley and Valenzuela, 2005) by actively involving the participants in research process. We provided our participants with cameras to document their everyday lives, invited them to keep a journal of their social media usage, encourage them to map their home media environments, invited them to give us tours of their Facebook activities, helped teachers in curriculum design, and collaborated in the creation of a summer digital media design camp in which the students produced interactive media.

Theoretical Sampling

Selection of the subjects for my dissertation is based on theoretical sampling. Hence, it is not a representative sample of the Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth population.

Participants of the study are from a minority-majority, economically diverse, and low performing public high school in the Austin metropolitan area. Among the group of 18 students that participated in the Digital Edge study, I have chosen a smaller sample of 5 that are first, first and half and second generation immigrants with Mexican origin. They are also from low and low middle class.

The segmentation of social class and ethnicity matters for this study.

Grounded Theorizing

Grounded theory is a method used to build theory out of qualitative data.

Qualitative Data

1. Narrative Data

For my dissertation project, I draw upon interviews with only five of the eighteen focal students and their parents (home visits), including the two participants that I closely followed during the academic year. Furthermore I draw upon the participant observations I conducted at the after school space (which included approximately 40 students), the fieldnotes I wrote, as well as several formal and informal interviews with the mentors and teachers associated with this space. Although this data is rich in students references to the home/family, and the Internet, one significant limitation is that all of my observations, with the exception of the parents' interview that included a home visit, and the social media "tours" that participants gave us, were done in the after-school space. However, due to the longitudinal character of the ethnographic work and the amount of in-depth interviews where activities from the contexts of the family and the Internet where frequently discussed and narrated, it is possible to use this data in my analysis. Among the twelve interview protocols we used in our fieldwork, in my dissertation project I intend to analyze eight of them: Civic engagement, Social Media, Cinematic Arts Project, Pop Culture & Media, Home Life & Routines, Mobile Technologies, Online Information Seeking & Practices, and Home Visit. Further, I will also analyze the follow-up interviews and the focus group we did with some of the study participants and with the after school program supervisor.

2. Texts, Still Images, Videos, and Sounds

Besides drawing on narrative data from the semi-structured interviews and focus groups, I also use other kind of data that was created, consumed, and circulated by the study participants. Texts from the Social Media Journal entries, comments and status updates in SNSs, and multimodal content from the Cinematic Arts Project website; still images such as disposable camera photographs, home media maps, visual memes and digital pictures (published in Flickr, Instagram, and 9Gag web platforms); videos such as the ones produced within the after school program (published in the Vimeo web platform); and sounds such as the songs from participants’ favorite bands have been collected and will be analyzed.

3. Data Analysis

Qualitative data analysis is an ongoing and iterative process. Although all of the interview and focus group recordings have been transcribed and coded by the Digital Edge team, I will continue with an interim analysis of the data. The coding of the interviews has been done using Dedoose software, a mixed methods data management and analysis tool, that facilitates collaborative work. Members of the research team have read the transcribed data and identified meaningful analytical segments that we have marked with colors and code names. The team has developed a list of analytical codes (with 2 levels of hierarchy: categories and sub-categories) that help us to identify and organize all the meaningful segments. The codes correspond to several themes and topics including, for example, media production, social class, future orientation, family, learning, ethnicity and race, and participatory cultures. In my analysis for this dissertation project I will use the same codes created by the research team, but will explore the topics specific to my research study deeply. For this purpose I plan to use some of analytical tools that Dedoose have such as the quantification of coded data, exploration of all the corpus of the interviews according to codes and demographic information of the participants, and visualization of the relationships between different codes and their frequency of repetition.

Quantitative Data

Although in this research project I mainly use qualitative research methods, I also draw on secondary quantitative data about immigrant and native Latino/Hispanic population collected by governmental, academic, and independent organizations such as the U.S. Census Bureau, the Civic Rights Data Collection, the Pew Hispanic Center, and the Kaiser Family Foundation. By analyzing both relevant statistical secondary data (macro) and textured qualitative data (micro), I intend to establish a middle range theoretical perspective that reveals the interaction between individual and structural level factors in the process of Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth assimilation.