Exploring Change: The creation of a hypermedia ethnography for the presentation and 're-presentation' of research on distance education in Swaziland

Stewart Marshall
Faculty of Education and Creative Arts, Central Queensland University, Australia
August, 2005
 

Abstract


This thesis addresses the role that hypermedia can play in an ethnographic study of the introduction of distance education in Swaziland. The thesis itself comprises a mixed-genre hypermedia ethnography. It is a "re-presentation" of a portion of the world populated with many voices and stories speaking to us about the introduction of distance education at the University of Swaziland (UNISWA) during 1996 to 1998. It "re-presents" the multitude of inter-connected lived realities during this period of change in Swaziland.


As the original problem for my PhD, I set out to create a rich description of an action research project that aimed to develop a post-industrial, post-colonial system of distance education suited to local knowledge, learning, and culture of Swaziland. Whilst undertaking this action research project, it became clear to me that its success or failure depended not just on the endeavours of the participants, but also on many factors and people external to the project. I also became aware of the many different perceptions of the project and of the reality surrounding the project. So my “rich description” needed to capture the multiple perceptions and the dense interconnectedness of the people and events in and around the action research project. My original intention was to use hypertext/hypermedia as the medium for presentation and "re-presentation" of the Swaziland project as a "website". However, I actually used hypertext/hypermedia throughout all phases of the research.


Very early in the research process, I captured my data in web pages. Using hyperlinks to reveal the interconnectedness of the data made exploration of the data simpler and encouraged re-exploration as new hypotheses emerged. In revisiting and re-exploring the web pages, I often made additional hyperlinks between events, and those events then took on new and additional aspects. Some of the data I collected in Swaziland was audio-recorded, photographed or video-recorded. Using hypermedia enabled me to include and hyperlink to "documents" in audio, graphical, and video formats. In this way, new aspects were created by viewing events through different media. Thus, the use of hypermedia became an essential part of the analysis and writing process - enabling me to "know" the data in new and complex ways.


Hypertext allows both the writer and the reader to create diverse and non-linear pathways through the text. There are some fairly well-defined paths through my thesis, which I present as “stories”. Each story has an internal logic that is well established and constitutive of the particular genre to which the story belongs. The navigation aids reveal the logic of the story and enable the reader to follow it. The “stories” overlap, each story being a particular interpretation and representation of the complex issues and events faced everyday by the IDE and UNISWA communities. When these “stories” use and refer to data found elsewhere in the thesis, the reader can click on hyperlinks to see those data.


As a bricoleur theorist, I used hypermedia as the tool with which to explore, cobble and assemble a mixed genre ethnographic bricolage. I called this the Swazi Econet - in which polyvocality and the multiple perceptions of the project reality are "re-presented" in a complex web with data (voices) hyperlinked to the various interpretations (stories). The voices and stories are presented in various genres and media. Thus, the Swazi Econet is an interactive, hypermedia, multi-vocal, multi­media, mixed genre ethnography.


From the action research part of the project, I conclude that in order to understand the problems faced by the introduction of distance education in UNISWA, we must take into account the broader economic, political, social and technological changes. There is recognition by many that African institutions of higher education also need to transform in response to these broader world changes, but more particularly that they need to change to be in line with the continent's new political and socio-economic environment. In the case of the UNISWA, the necessary transformation is not helped by the political situation in Swaziland.


From the hypermedia part of the project, I conclude that the use of hypermedia enables the researcher/writer to explore and "know" the data in new ways from different perspectives, through various genres and in a variety of media. The use of hypermedia facilitates the inclusion of visual, sonic and textual devices to present perspectives, and to re-present and evoke aspects of life in Swaziland. In a hypermedia ethnography, one is able to use photographs, images and video-recordings as a form of hypotyposis so as to locate the reader in the setting. The visual, sonic and textual devices are evocative and through a process of dialogic experience, seek to assist the reader to obtain an understanding of the particular perspective being re-presented. This hypermedia ethnography challenges the dominance of printed textual forms in the culture of the academy by using hypermedia as an analytical "writing tool" to facilitate multiple understandings by the researcher, and as a "presentation tool" in the creation of an interactive performance of the research study as an alternative mode of presenting research.
  •  Announcements
    Atom logo
    RSS2 logo
    RSS1 logo
  •  Current Issue
    Atom logo
    RSS2 logo
    RSS1 logo
  •  Thesis Abstracts
    Atom logo
    RSS2 logo
    RSS1 logo

We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

SSHRC LOGO