Ethnography of the University / Ethnography of the University: Focus on Diversity 2021 / Undergraduate Ethnography

Ethnography during a Global Pandemic, By Charlotte Millar (Ethnography of the University 2021: Focus on Diversity)

This blog post was part of the coursework for the Ethnographic Practicum course, “Ethnography of the University 2021: Focus on Diversity.” It was originally posted in the category “Concepts and Methods.”

How does one conduct ethnographic research when you cannot get within 6 feet of each other because of government regulations?  COVID 19 restrictions make conducting anthropological research, which essentially entails observing and communicating with a population, more difficult. However, this lack of in-person did not hinder my research. To my surprise, social media platforms can be one of the best in an anthropologist’s toolbox.  My desire to have a conversation with students of the computer science program led me to investigate which social media platforms they use.

One of the most helpful platforms I used was the U of T subreddit. The subreddit allowed me to optimize the audience for my post by a flair such as “the computer science program.”  My post sparked a conversation between outside high school students and those within the program. It was fascinating to observe those who were part of the program communicate with each other. Many offered explanations for observations others had made about the program; for example, the decrease in gender diversity in the higher-level classes comes from the lower classes being mandatory for all specialization, minors, and majors of the computer science program. 

Further, the platform allowed me to reach out individually to those who commented on my posty. Unfortunately, I had only one response from a student who agreed to an interview. As much as I would have loved to include it in my research, the discussion did not get proceed due to the student’s lack of availability during exam time. When researching a population such as students, these are conditions of the research population that one must respect and acknowledge will likely happen. 

Nonetheless, this experience as an ethnographer made me question the strength of the in-person experience versus the data I had collected through the social media platform. As I contemplated if my information was worthy, I realized that those who exist outside of social media are the minority today. In a time where humanity has a specified space for socializing, such as a social media platform, I suggest that those platforms are adequate and valid community representations, especially when you consider that the population of a community such as the Computer Science program relies heavily on technology in their everyday lives.

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