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Video-ethnography: a technology to help students with disabilities

Peter Chan & John L.Bailey
School of Education
Brigham Young University - Hawaii Campus
Laie, Hawaii 96762
Email: chanp@byuh.edu 
Email: baileyj@byuh.edu 

New computer software tools appear every week in the marketplace. Most come and go very quickly while a very few find a niche somewhere and meet a market need. Video-ethnography is an example of the second type of software tool because its use of computer technology in the ethnographic research process enables visual, oral and textual resource involvement resulting in greater accuracy of conclusions.

Ethnographic research is the process of documenting changes from the position of the participant - a type of qualitative research (Brewer, 2002; Willis, 2002; Foley, 2002; Willis & Trondman, 2002 ). Typically the researcher documents by interview and observation the thoughts, feelings and actions of the research subject. These "documentations" are then composed into a description of the process and product which interested colleagues can experience by word and imagination.

Video-ethnographic research introduces a visual and oral dimension to the research process, enabling the researcher to actually record interviews and events, reducing the reliance on the "picture painted by words" with its attendant error, enriching the study with actual visual footage of the subject(s), their thinking and actions as well as events. Chan and Harris (2001) have created a process and product using video ethnography recorded on compact disks employing a customized template format.

For example, while initial research topics for this video ethnography method were US based, most recently the method has been employed in China in the study of the action research process as used among key teachers selected from each province under a national government grant. These teachers were invited to a conference in Xiamen, China, by the project partnership of Beijing Normal University and Brigham Young University where they learned the action research process. The research team then made follow up visits to selected participants to document planning and accomplishments on video, tape and in writing. The ethnographic product, ie the report of the participants developing thoughts, actions and plans, were recorded on a CD using the video-ethnographic template developed by the researchers (Chan & Harris, 2002).

Currently, research among disabled students in Beijing is being implemented on CD in the video-ethnographic template format to assist teachers of those students in self-improving student achievement. China has grown tremendously in recognizing and meeting the needs of students with disabilities (Deng, Poon-McBrayer & Farnsworth, 2001; Yang & Wang, 1994) in the areas of legislation and structure (Chen, 1996; Elliott, 1995; Zhengling, 1996) but with somewhat limited resources, and now compares positively in some areas with countries of the western world (Li & Altman, 1997; Merry & Wei, 1998; EFA 2000 Bulletin, 1998). However, it can also be said that there is room for further development and focus in meeting the needs of the total population of those with disabilities (Ashman, 1995; Mitchell, 1995; Unesco-ed-95/ws-7, 1995; Yun, 1995).

Technology has been implemented in Special Education in China on a limited basis (Osguthorpe, 1988; Kadlubowski, 2001; Tan, 1986), and teachers have been especially trained for the roles they have (Deng & Manset, 2000). Because efforts to assist teachers in improving their effectiveness are welcomed and assisted where possible, video-ethnography is receiving interest as a tool which will help teachers of students with disabilities in China.

In summary, ethnographic research with people with disabilities (Cutter, Palincsar & Magnusson, 2002; Higgins, Raskind, Goldberg & Herman, 2002; Shirley, 2002) is enhanced by the use of video-ethnography (Chan & Harris, 2002).


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