Conducting social science research in the age of social distancing and work from home

Conducting social science research in the age of social distancing and work from home

The new social circumstances of working from home due to the Covid-19 outbreak have transformed many aspects of our lives including conducting social science research. Various research components such as selecting a research topic, identifying an appropriate research design, implementing research procedures, and collecting data may be impacted by the outbreak. Given that the current social circumstances may last for months, researchers, doctoral students, and their committee members most likely need to revise their research projects based on the new conditions to be able to continue their studies. Some of the impacts of the new social order are so profound that they may reshape research practices beyond the current circumstances. Researchers need to learn how to adapt their practices to continue conducting research in this new age. The purpose of this article is to support researchers continuing their studies by providing a brief discussion about the current research topics and suggestions for adaptation of research designs and data collection forms.    

 

Research Topic Adaptations

The most major impact of the outbreak on the field of social science research is a shift in research topics to current, urgent, and applied matters. Many crucial COVID-19 related issues arise in field of education, health care, and business that call for immediate research-based solutions. In the field of education, for example, the focus is shifted to online education at all levels, K-12, higher education, and teaching and learning occurring outside of formal schools. This shift generates urgent new issues to study such as transitioning to an online setting in a very short time, homeschooling issues, and the prolonged dilemma of reopening schools amongst others. In healthcare, enormous current issues emerge such as managing emergency situations at hospitals, health care supplies, health care providers’ support, telehealth training, consulting, and therapies. In business, the unemployment rate is spiking to a record high and many sectors such as hospitability, tourism, the airline industry, car manufacturing, and others are shut down. Urgent issues include how to support these sectors and employees during this difficult hardship. Researchers may greatly contribute to these fields and society at large by focusing on these current topics and finding remedies to address these emerging problems.         

 

Research Design Adaptations

Research procedures and designs are transformed in the age of social distancing. For quantitative designs, implementing interventions or treatments in face-to-face settings can now be very difficult or even impossible. Instead of experimental or quasi-experimental designs, researchers may need to now use ex post facto or causal comparative designs focusing on examining the impacts of existing or already occurred matters. Collecting numerical data can be very challenging or impossible as many organizations are either closed or under work-from-home orders. As a result, using archived data for research can be more appropriate in the era of social distancing. Table 1 depicts the adaptation of quantitative designs into the age of social distancing and work-from-home.

Table 1.

Adaptation of quantitative designs in the age of social distancing/work-from home

Research design

Focus

Adaptation

Experimental/quasi experimental 

Test cause and effect;

Random sampling for experimental;

Not true random sampling for quasi experimental

Change face-to-face treatment to online treatment if possible;

If not, change the design.

Causal comparative/Ex Post Facto

Test cause and effect after the effect occurred

Use online survey, online instrument, online archived data

 

Correlation

Test relationship; Prediction (criterion and predictor variables)

Use online survey, online instrument, online archived data

 

Survey

Observational; describe variables

Use online survey, online archive data

 

 

For qualitative studies, some of the designs that require direct observations, field notes, immersion in the field, and close engagement with participants may no longer be properly done under social distancing order. Ethnography, for example, requires face-to-face, direct, and prolonged observations in the field and may not be carried out during social distancing. Phenomenology that requires researchers to spend extended time with the participants may not be properly conducted during social distancing. The remaining of qualitative designs may need adaptions. Table 2 depicts some of the most popular qualitative designs and adaptations in data collection forms.

 

 

Table 2.

Adaptation of quantitative designs in the age of social distancing/work-from home

Research designs

Focus

Adaptation in data collection forms

Ethnography

Describing a culture-sharing group

May not be conducted.

Direct observations and field notes are required but not possible

Phenomenology

Understanding the essence of the experience

Multiple prolonged video teleconference/audio interviews

Direct observations and field notes are recommended but not possible

Case Study

Developing an in-depth description and analysis of a case or multiple case

Online Survey, video teleconference/audio interviews, documents

Direct observations and field notes are recommended but not possible in social distancing

Narrative research

Exploring participants’ narratives

Video teleconference/audio interviews; documents; social media; online visual art

Grounded theory

Developing a theory grounded in data from the field

Video teleconference/audio interviews

Content Analysis

Interpret meaning from the content of text data

Documents, social media

The components of mixed methods studies such as program evaluation and action research such as program under evaluation, research site, and data collection form need to be revised as described in Table 3. 

Table 3.

Adaptation of mixed method designs in the age of social distancing/work-from home

Research design

Focus

Adaptation

Program evaluation  

Evaluating some intervention or process within an organization which is meant to have a specific outcome

If the intervention is online the research may continue. If not, change the design.

Use online research tools for data collection as shown in Table 4.

Action research 

Focusing on enacting immediate changes in the research settings

Change the research setting to online, if possible.

Use online research tools for data collection as shown in Table 4.  

Data Collection Adaptations

In addition to revising the research designs, data collection procedures may need to be changed and mostly switched to online settings in the social distancing era. Table 4 shows data collection forms and online tools. Some forms of data collection such as surveys may be enhanced by using Survey Monkey and Google Forms which provide additional support for data analysis and management. Interviews and focus groups can be conducted via audio/video teleconferencing and may simulate face-to-face interactions. Synchronous and asynchronous online discussions can be used to conduct written one-on-one interviews or focus groups. Direct observation of a research site or participant may be conducted to some limited extent by installing a webcam at the research site. Data related to online behaviors of participants and online artifacts can be collected via social media. Document data can only be collected if online versions are available. Archived online quantitative and qualitative data can provide great research sources for researchers. Evidently, not all these shifts in how data is collected will be negative; many shifts to online forms of data collection may enhance research approaches and make studies more effective. Moreover, new styles of data collection such as written interviews and participants’ observation in discussion boards and social media emerge as a result of online data collection.

Table 4.

Research tools for online data collection

Data collection form  

Online Tool

Survey  

Survey Monkey (up to 10 questions free)

Google Form (free)

Verbal Interviews (one to one)

Focus Groups

Video Tele Conferencing platforms

  • Zoom (Free for up to 10 minutes)
  • Google Hangouts (Free)
  • Microsoft Teams
  • WebEx

 

Written Interviews (one to one)

Focus Groups

Synchronous and Asynchronous Online Discussion Boards

Direct observation

Webcam at the research site 

Indirect observation of behavior

Social Media

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn

Artifacts

Online visual arts, via social media

  • Instagram
  • Pinterest

Documents

Online documents & sites

Archived open quantitative data   

Large quantitative databases; Examples, http://Data.gov; http://NCES.ed.gov

See additional archived data at resources

 

Archived open qualitative data

Archived online discussion boards

 

Conclusion

Social distancing and work-from-home mandates may last for a few months in 2020; however, some of their impacts on research practices may endure longer and reshape research practices profoundly. Most likely, online education and work remotely will remain intact as the more efficient cost-saving form of education and work. Thus, research topics related to these issues endure along with research design adaptations for studies conducted in online settings.   Furthermore, online data collection tools enhance quality of some collection forms and generate new opportunity for additional data collection forms via discussion boards and social media. Therefore, online data collection remains beyond the current social circumstances. Certainly, it is critical for researchers to learn how to adapt and effectively operate in the current situation and its aftermath. This article sheds light on social science research topics and adaptation practices in the age of social distancing to support researchers continue their studies, remain impactful, and meaningfully contribute to their fields and society at large.  

 

Comments

Avideh Sadaghiani-Tabrizi's picture Avideh Sadaghiani-Tabrizi | May 24, 2020 6:29 pm MST

Thank you Dr. Mansureh again, for these points of reference and bringing these cruicial current, urgent, and applied matters for consideration in this new age of COVID-19 pandemic and the like for social science research in fields of education, health care, and business and the continuation of operations during these times of uncertainties. This social distancing circumstance has infact presented many opportunities and consideration of potential research topics for risks of danger in our customised solutions in remote workforce and learning, entailing our needs for working from home, and covering the costs of equipment and services (Schofield, 2020). Accordingly, the presence of weaker security defenses at homes could expose vulnerablities of over 41% of the workforce who have the opportunity to work from home while possibly home-schooling children when 84% of students engage in remote learning (Schofield, 2020; Chen, 2020). The massive increases in phishing email attacks on the remote workforce and students work to weaponize the COVID-19 websites. The applications could impose risks of attacks in watering hole and crimeware, command and control malware, and compromising the smart devices.

 

 

 

 

References:

Chen, B. (2020, May 13). A guide to pandemic scams, and what not to fall for. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/13/technology/personaltech/pandemic-scams.html

Schofield, J. (2020, March 19). What do I need to work from home due to coronavirus? How best to setup a home office for the short or long term if you're self-isolating. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/askjack/2020/mar/19/work-at-home-...

 

 

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