The Critical Processes of Negotiating Access and Developing Understanding
“All research protocols and permission documents will be created and translated into Indonesian, and human subjects research approval will be secured, prior to departure.”(Lammers, 2018, p. 3 of Fulbright Project Statement)
I had such a lofty plan for what the timeline of my research in Indonesia would look like, as evidenced by the above quote from my grant application. In many ways, that statement now feels not only ridiculously ambitious, but also somewhat arrogant and irresponsible. Allow me to explain…
I designed my exploratory research project to address the dearth of research available about Indonesian young people’s digital literacies, drawing on what I have learned about why educators and researchers should “bother” to theorize adolescents’ out-of-school, digital practices to make school-based literacy instruction more relevant and meaningful. Based on what I learned from supervising Puji’s dissertation work set here in Indonesia, there seemed to be motivation for the importance of studying technology-mediated literacy based on the 2013 curriculum mandates currently guiding secondary level instruction, which have been characterized as “IT-based.” Given our shared interests and experiences with teacher education, Puji and I were also excited to work together to see how we could take what we would learn from our research and disseminate it to Indonesian researchers, policymakers, teacher educators, and teachers to enact meaningful local change to secondary literacy and technology-related instruction in schools.
I always intended for this collaboration with Puji to generate an on-the-ground understanding about how and for what purposes local secondary students use technology for their own interest-driven learning. We planned to collect data from as broad a sample of secondary students as possible, and Puji set about almost immediately after I learned that I had been awarded my Fulbright grant to negotiate the permissions needed to gain access to the seven school sites that she had identified in the application process last summer (4 senior high schools and 3 junior high schools). Simultaneously, back in Rochester, I set about (with the help of a graduate student research apprentice) to familiarize myself with the many different surveys that researchers had previously used to capture insights about young people’s digital practices.
Over the summer, as I navigated the lengthy research permit and visa acquisition process, Puji found that local school sites needed to withhold their final approval to grant us access to conduct research until I could produce various permission letters from Indonesian ministries. And, I couldn’t obtain those letters until I was in Jakarta physically. So, we realized that our original timeline was not going to be possible.
I also realized that the data collection measures used in other research contexts, while useful for serving as mentor texts on which we could base our own, could not be wholly transported into our study design if we intended to maintain a commitment to generating an on-the-ground understanding. While scholars around the globe graciously agreed to share their insights, research, and instruments – thank you Dr. Sora Park – their work wasn’t our work, in our context, at our time, with our participants.
Since my arrival here in Semarang in early September, while we were able to get some of the paperwork processes moving along, we faced technology-related delays as my initial efforts to connect to the University systems via VPN were stymied (thanks to Bishes and Dave for their IT guidance from afar!). And, we learned that Puji would need to update her CITI Human Subjects research training before I could submit our protocol for review and approval. All this to say that we are far from our lofty initial timeline.
What Have We Accomplished?
- We obtained all of the necessary permits, permission letters, and approvals.
- We have negotiated city and regency level (think “school district” for a U.S. reference point) access to conduct research at the school sites.
- We conducted a focus group with four young people to learn more about their digital literacy practices, and used that information to design our study’s data collection protocols. Our survey draft was reviewed by one of these focus group participants, and it continued to be revised and informed by all of the interactions I’ve had with people here about what apps and practices are and are not popular in Indonesia.
- We visited all 7 schools, introducing ourselves and the research project to the individuals who will be facilitating our access to student participants in those sites. The teachers seem eager to support our research, but also mindful of their own time constraints as we will need to schedule our recruitment and data collection visits around examinations, upcoming breaks, and various school events.
- We prepared all of the necessary documents to finally be able to submit the application for Human Subjects Review approval through the University of Rochester’s online system last Sunday night. I’ve already responded to initial comments and now we wait for the go ahead to begin data collection.
- Our research assistant here, Anjar, has translated the initial versions surveys, recruitment, and consent documents into Indonesian. We wait for the RSRB process to run its course before we get copies of these ready to bring to the schools.
- I submitted two conference proposals to present eventual findings from this research at future academic conferences, one international and one U.S.
- I have had a LOT of conversations with teachers, administrators, teacher educators, researchers, college students, parents, ride-share drivers, and more. I have read published research and articles from The Jakarta Post and other media. I have listened to podcasts about Indonesia. All of this continues to inform my understanding about the Indonesian education landscape and about digital literacies, as I learn about how the policy makers, media, infrastructure, political realities, colonial history, and culture shape both here in Indonesia.
So, while data collection still has not yet begun, the learning I’ve done here has been invaluable to the research, and could not have been possible from Rochester. Whatever we are able to accomplish before I board a plane bound back to the U.S. (just 3 months from tomorrow!), it will be more than enough…and it will not be the end of my research and scholarship here.
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