I live the life…

(This was written some twenty years ago, and is proof that I must have had some illegal substances when I went to university; either that or this was written the year I abstained from coffee – and paragraphs, it seems).

His world was the world of death; a marginal existence he lead, built upon the crimes of his own futile efforts to create a world outside of himself; a distraught and evil brownie in the realms of our dreams – that part of us that is more than Freddie Kruger. A hop, skip and a jump out of reality was a part of their lifestyle. I tried to delve into their minds but their minds were weak, they did not live life the way that they were supposed to jump; like rats in holes they lived lives that were only the merest sputum of the lives that they could have had. I looked upon their souls and saw the wintry nights of their despair leaping and frolicking in a hell of their own creation. Their hell was a mild panacea for the ranting of a paradise found and lost; John Milton dying, living and reaping the benefits and rewards of his blindness. He shot a paper clip through the heart of us all – a paper clip coloured a pastel orange shade of body odour. It was the odour of a body fed by its own stench, an odour that emanated from the swamp of the physical evidence of being. The spiritual evidence of being was the merest misstep in the skies of dismal wretchedness, a spiralling downward of hopes and dreams that were the remnants of a stage show that had long since closed to a forgetful public. A public that did not itself need to be a part of the myriad miracle and rich pageantry that was life enjoyed to the full. Audience members that wanted to die dull, and would never dream of showing their underwear at community meetings. These were meetings where the dress code for entry was the merest problem; a mere problem is but a challenge and a challenge is but heartache writ simple. My thoughts and ideals of Walter Cronkite died upon the field of glory and death; they fought for our independence and won us this. We did not know what they died for; we hoped they did. They died for us, they said, though we’d never asked. The media were our friends and our lives were more important to them than their own. Death was to become but a slight companion of inconvenience. The Baron was kept from a life that lead him to the valleys of death that do not die of their own accord, but instead require an edict from long forgotten powers that once ruled the world such as the Titans of Greek mythology. The Titans of our lives today are the monies, the mosaics of banking corporations that are not to be discouraged at any point in time from their main object of making money. A charge to these Titans was like a debit; a credit a complete pain in the arse, whereas an arse was a mere thing for which God provide them to sit upon and add kinky calculations. A thousand bank tellers accumulating on their butts their financial savings and tallying the half cent interest in favour of the bank. The bank makes the rules, you are played by them. I lived a life of freedom, I lived a life of happiness. Soon after I was born. I lived a life of misery that jumped upon the camel of my death train. A fighting death that needed no explanation by the President or the Prime Minister of any country. I died a Hindu. I died a Pakistani. I fell a thousand feet into a pit of tar and lived. My story is that of many. The few who live beyond the tales of imagination that cannot be told for fear of retribution and lies and pokings by sticks. Extraterrestrials we are not, we are pawns in a life of dedication to prawns. Leaders in a world of followers we are not; nor are we the followers. We lead but also follow. We are the silent majority that speaks with mind clamped and eyes shut. Our point of view was never a necessity in the roaring blue skies filled with grey clouds. I flew high in the sky like a kite needing no word to command it. I was a bird. I was a 747. I was blown out of the sky by a terrorist bomb attack. I fell like a stone into an ocean of pity with little white things floating in it that were not of me. They were Men, they that built me and their own. I am immortal, they are not. They show their capacity to die with a mask of absolute silliness on their faces. They look funny, but no sound of laughter lives in their bodies. I sink beyond the waveless sympathy into a world of green seas and pink roads. A daffodil without its petals greets me with a laughing stare and a jumping dance that looks like a highland fling. A nymph of dew alights on my shoulder and I talk to her with a lunatic’s raving and ranting. Only there is no moon, and I am sane. Deep down I am sane but I live the life of a dreamer, ever hoping to live and never wanting to die. I know that they who live are they that wish to die, and those that die wish to live. They have lives that do not want it; they have deaths that do not want it. The powers of the heavens are mere iron gauntlets encasing hands as cruel as the icy winter; they smack us with brands reeking of incense and burning flesh, spearing our foreheads with the pugnacity of tamed shrews. Film star smiles upon our faces as we realise that our life and fate and destiny is determined by he with the brand. The brand is metal but we are flesh. The brand is red, but we are white – then we are black and do not know how or why, but we have chosen our positions in this world and on it. We are where we have chosen to be, and what we have chosen to be, only we do not know it since the meaning of life escapes us as we enter it. Death is but a mere release from this restricted knowledge. A curse upon your toilet mouths, you foul excreta of dogs. You are a dingo. You are a life wrecker. I want you to pay for your sins, he with the brand, but I do not know who you are, and neither can I find you still. I want to die, and I want to live. If I die, I want to be able to find you, but I don’t know if I will still be me. So I will wreak the havoc I can upon your soul, if yours is what man calls soul, from my glorified position in a world of madness, insanity, and dead flowers. I choose to be sane, oh wondrous wizard of fate. I am against those that live the mild and dull death. I live the life.

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Phd Confirmation Document – Progress

I am really having to pull my finger out and get together this confirmation document for my phd. A confirmation is the first major milestone of the phd, and it is essentially the first ‘gate’ to be passed to show that the phd candidate has what it takes to get their doctorate.

I still have too many distractions but need to focus on writing this material up. Most of the thinking is there, but I need to bring it all together.

As part of the motivation, I will start to regularly post how progress is going on my blog – and perhaps see if I can get a blog post or two out of it in the area this research is delving into.

At the moment, I have a title (‘The effects of continued use of intelligent decision aids upon auditor knowledge’) and a word count of 9,030.

As Rebecca Sparrow said on 612 Brisbane radio last Thursday, to be a writer, you have to write!

to be a writer, write!

The effects of continued use of intelligent decision aids upon auditor procedural knowledge

This is the abstract of my confirmation document; this abstract won ‘best abstract for unconfirmed phd student’ at this year’s University of Queensland Research Colloquium:

Student:  Micheal Axelsen

Supervisor:  Professor Peter Green, Dr Fiona Rohde


This research proposal builds upon the theory of technology dominance (Sutton & Arnold 1998), which has as one of its propositions that the continued use of intelligent decision aids may have the effect of deskilling auditors over time.  A theoretical contribution is made through a consideration of this effect through the operation of the anchoring and adjustment heuristic (Epley & Gilovich, 2006; Kowalczyk & Wolfe, 1998; Tversky & Kahnemann, 1974) and cognitive load theory (Mascha & Smedley, 2007; Sweller, 1988).  The anchoring and adjustment heuristic is a technique used by people in judgment tasks to remove cognitive burden.  In making a judgment, the assessor ‘anchors’ upon the first value provided in making an estimate, and then ‘adjusts’ this estimate until a ‘reasonable’ estimate is reached.  This heuristic has the effect of a systematic adjustment bias in the final estimate made.  Cognitive load theory finds that an expert uses different and more efficient problem-solving strategies as a result of their past experiences in comparison to the novice.  The expert draws upon their experience with past problems to develop their problem-solving strategies.  Theoretically the argument is developed that the professional auditor’s ability to develop efficient problem-solving strategies is reduced as a result of their use of the anchoring and adjustment heuristics encouraged by the continued use of intelligent decision aids.

It is proposed that this integrated theory be empirically tested through a series of semi-structured interviews with audit professionals and a survey of public sector auditors designed to test the developed theoretical model.  This investigation will consider the role of the continued use of intelligent decision aids and any deskilling effect such use may have upon auditor ‘know-how’, or procedural knowledge.

The contributions of this proposed research are several.  Firstly, a theoretical contribution is made through extension and reconciliation of the theory of technology dominance with the anchoring and adjustment heuristic and cognitive load theory.  Secondly, a practical contribution is made by extension of the testing of the theory to the field rather than experimentally.  A third practical contribution is made through an empirical test of the theory of technology dominance in the context of procedural knowledge (auditor ‘know-how’), which has not previously been tested.

The effect of the use of business technologies upon user knowledge: a qualitative methodology literature review


This blog pot is an assignment I wrote for my subject at University of Queensland.  Since it is never likely to be published anywhere, I did the next best thing – turn it into a serious looking blog post.  Somewhat more of an experiment than anything else.

Author:  Micheal Axelsen

1 Introduction

This paper presents the result of a qualitative methodology literature review regarding the effect of the use of different business technologies upon user knowledge. This topic is of interest as the use of business technologies in carrying out duties and undertaking workplace learning generally enhances an individual’s workplace effectiveness (Dugas, Green, & Leckie, 1999; Sutton, Young, & McKenzie, 1994), but over time this use can ‘deskill’ the user by diminishing their expertise (Alavi & Liedner, 2001; Arnold & Sutton, 1998; Mitroff & Mason, 1989).

Section 2 of this review provides background to the topic. Section 3 selects papers addressing this topic with qualitative methodologies, and considers these papers in terms of their ontological and epistemological position, research aims, project design, and research method. Section 3 also explores the implications of these findings for research design. Section 4 identifies opportunities for potential contributions to theory development through the consideration of gaps in research, and provides concluding comments regarding this review.

2 Background

Technology is increasingly used in business in response to legal liability concerns that demand consistency from the business professional (Sutton, et al., 1994). Business technologies are increasingly used to improve the reliability of decision making (Dowling & Leech, 2007; Mascha, 2001; Sutton, et al., 1994), and to deliver workplace learning, as well technology is something for taking your business to a new level. (Dugas, et al., 1999).

By relying upon business technologies such as intelligent decision aids and expert systems, it is theorised (Alavi & Liedner, 2001; Arnold & Sutton, 1998; Mitroff & Mason, 1989) that the professional’s expertise is decreased. There is a role for technology in increasing the workplace effectiveness of the professional, but the use of such technologies may decrease their expertise over time. This process, and strategies to mitigate its impact, requires further research (Dowling & Leech, 2007).

3 Qualitative methodology literature review

3.1 Selected papers

For this review, a literature search identified peer-reviewed, published papers from a variety of sources. The selected papers examined the role of business technologies in the development of knowledge or expertise, also needed have adopted a qualitative research method in addressing the topic.

The six selected papers focussed on differing branches of the topic. Broadly, these branches of the topic are the effectiveness of technology’s use in continuing professional development programs and learning (Lainema & Lainema, 2007; Zhou, Varnhagen, Sears, Kasprzak, & Shervey, 2007), the use of information systems to distribute and share knowledge (Franco & Mariano, 2007; Hyvonen, Jarvinen, & Pellinen, 2006; McHenry & Stronen, 2008), and the differing use of technology by novices and experts (Schenk, Vitalari, & Davis, 1998).

3.2 Ontological and epistemological positions

Each selected paper addresses the same broadly-defined topic. However, the ontological and epistemological positions do differ between the papers. The ontological position, being ‘what we may know’ (Grix, 2002), can be either objectivist, whereby social phenomena have an existence independently of social actors, or constructivist, whereby social phenomena are produced by social interaction and continually revised (Grix, 2002).

The epistemological position, being ‘how we come to know what we know’ (Grix, 2002), particularly affects the selection of the research method. The epistemological position is generally aligned with the ontological position of a research paper, such that an objectivist researcher generally adopts a positive approach, whilst the constructivist adopts an interpretive approach.

Epistemologically, some of the papers selected are positivist in their approach rather than interpretive, despite the selection of qualitative research methods. Franco and Mariano (2007), Hyvonen et al (2006), and McHenry and Stronen (2008) tend to the interpretivist tradition, whereas Lainema and Lainema (2007), Schenk et al (1998) and Zhou et al (2007) tend to positivism. In each paper, this epistemological position is a primary consideration in the selection and application of the research method, such that the researchers from the interpretivist position have adopted purely qualitative methods rather than adopting the mixed method approach favoured by positivist researchers.

3.3 Research aims

The research aims of the papers – and the branch of the literature within which the papers operate – are related to the ontological position of the researchers.

Both Lainema and Lainema (2007) and Zhou et al (2007) examine the role of technology in continuing professional development and learning. Lainema and Lainema (2007) examine the development of knowledge specific to the business (‘business know-how’), particularly the elements that contribute to the acquisition of business know-how. Zhou et al (2007) investigate whether online delivery of professional development is a successful alternative to other forms of professional development.

Both papers are focussed upon the individual actors within the business and increasing their effectiveness and contribution through technology. The research aim in both cases is focussed upon a cause-and-effect relationship. This area of research has a long history (see, for example, Porter 1957). It is a more mature area of research and perhaps due to this maturity and history there is a general tendency towards positivism in research carried out in this area.

In contrast, Franco and Mariano (2007), Hyvonen et al (2006), and McHenry and Stronen (2008) examine the role of technology in distributing and sharing knowledge. Franco and Mariano (2007) sought to propose potential solutions and tactics to ensure the success of information technology knowledge repositories. Hyvonen et al (2006) focused upon the mediation of knowledge through the transfer of knowledge amongst the organisation’s staff through the implementation of ‘best practice’ standards enforced by standardised cost accounting systems, and McHenry and Stronen (2008) investigated the role of a competency management information system in the development of competency and knowledge within businesses.

This area of research is emergent, and the selected papers examine the development of a shared understanding of the factors at play rather than undertake an investigation of positivist ‘cause-and-effect’ relationships.

Schenk et al (1998) undertook a comparison of the behaviour of novice system analysts with the behaviours of expert system analysts. The research aim here belies an ontological position of objectivism, and particularly with the aim of comparing ‘novices’ with ‘experts’, the research question in some respects calls for a quantitative research method. However, the researchers have here selected a qualitative research method (protocol analysis), and applied the method in a positivist manner rather than from an interpretivist perspective.

3.4 Project design

The project design of each of the selected papers relies upon research subjects. The selected papers, excluding Lainema and Lainema (2007) and Schenk et al (1998), adopt a case study perspective by examining the research topic within a single organisation. Lainema and Lainema (2007) run a simulation game with participants from two organisations, whilst Schenk et al (1998) uses subjects from a university course and experienced professionals in the field.

In Franco and Mariano (2007), Hyvonen et al (2006), and McHenry and Stronen (2008) a representational sample strategy (J. Mason, 2002) is adopted within a single organisation, in that the sample selected is considered to represent the organisation as a whole. The sampling strategy used by Schenk et al (1998) is deliberately illustrative in seeking out extreme novices and extreme experts. Participants in the Lainema and Lainema (2007) simulation game were from two different organisations. Franco and Mariano (2007) adopted a representational case selection strategy (Miles & Huberman, 1994), which is an organic selection strategy whereby subjects are selected based upon recommendations made by key informants within the organisation.

It is not clear from the latter two papers whether the sampling strategy selected is intended to be a strategic sampling approach, or an illustrative sample of convenience. On the basis of the evidence presented, the sample in both cases is more opportunistic than strategic, and is intended to take advantage of opportunities representing themselves to the researchers in examining the research question. This is not to say, however, that the research is flawed. Fundamentally, so long as the researchers recognise any limitations in their conclusions, an opportunistic sample that explores legitimate and compelling questions within an emergent area of research offers potential contributions to its theory development. A refusal to consider a worthwhile opportunity as it arose would be counter to the aim of theory development.

Project design reflects the researcher’s ontological position. Interpretivist researchers tended to adopt qualitative methods requiring long-term commitments to the research. Positivist researchers adopting qualitative approaches, on the other hand, tended to adopt qualitative methods that did not require such extensive and long-term involvement.

3.5 Research method

Mason (2002) identifies three broad categories of qualitative research methods. The selected papers utilise these methods, including ‘interviewing’ (Franco & Mariano, 2007; Hyvonen, et al., 2006; Lainema & Lainema, 2007; McHenry & Stronen, 2008; Schenk, et al., 1998; Zhou, et al., 2007), ‘observation’ (Franco & Mariano, 2007), and the use of ‘documents for discussion’ (Franco & Mariano, 2007; Hyvonen, et al., 2006). None of the selected papers utilise a ‘visual methods for discussion’ approach in their analysis.

Some papers utilise a survey in addition to their qualitative research methods (Lainema & Lainema, 2007; Zhou, et al., 2007). Schenk et al (1998) present descriptive statistics in support of their qualitative results. Schenk et al (1998) used protocol analysis, which is based upon ‘talking aloud’ and is generally considered to be an ‘empiricist qualitative method’ (O. J. Mason, 2003).

The emphasis in the papers selected is definitely upon semi-structured interviews and focus groups. This is consistent with the observation that such an approach is respectful of the subjects’ time and less of an imposition than, say, an experiment or extended participation or observational techniques. Interviews nevertheless allow the researcher to generate significant insight and understanding, and are generally effective as a qualitative research method. Some papers (for example, Zhou et al 1998) used interviews together with unstructured, or open-ended, survey questions in order to assist with triangulation of their data (J. Mason, 2002).

Interestingly, although some of the selected papers are from a positivist tradition, and some papers adopt a mixed-methods approach and thus have quantitative results available for analysis, none of the selected papers emphasise the findings arising from the quantitative methods used. Instead the authors emphasise qualitative methods in their discussion of their findings. As Zhou et al (2007) note, these methods allow the authors to achieve ‘an in-depth understanding of … attitudes and experiences’. For those papers where quantitative results were reported and discussed, the quantitative results were illustrated with the qualitative data generated from interviews.

This approach elicited a rich understanding of the underlying factors in the context of the researchers’ research question. The selected papers drew their conclusions principally from data generated from the qualitative research methods adopted.

3.6 Implications

Each paper reflects the authors’ differing research aims and ontological position. From a positivist perspective, some papers appear inherently opportunistic and lacking ‘scientific’ rigour (for example, Hyvonen et al 2006, p.147: ‘Opportunity to research the processes of new system implementation surfaced in Autumn 2002’). However, the purpose of such papers is to build understanding of the area of research. So long as the authors do not purport to present scientific conclusions in the manner of the natural sciences, but rather aim for building a common understanding of the issues involved and contributing to theory development, such criticisms are meaningless (Chalmers, 1982).

The topic selected for review, being the effect of the use of business technologies upon user knowledge, may be inherently empiricist in its formulation. The topic has usually been examined within areas traditionally quantitative in approach. It seems that few papers utilising qualitative methods were available for consideration in this literature review.

The selected papers drew from the rich context provided by qualitative research methods for the significant bulk of their findings, rather than from the quantitative findings. Whilst quantitative approaches provided some insight, these methods generally did not allow researchers to draw significant conclusions. The researchers instead developed their knowledge, and reached important conclusions, on the basis of qualitative data.

These findings graphically illustrate one role for qualitative research methods. A qualitative approach enhances the understanding of the topic in a manner that quantitative research is generally unable to (Dubin, 1978), and this is particularly so for emergent research where the relevant issues are unidentified (and perhaps, in some cases, never will be).

Conversely, quantitative methods allow this understanding – expressed as theory models – to be tested in a wider context to see whether the relationships and findings hold outside of the specific context of the qualitative research. At their core, qualitative and quantitative research methods are complementary rather than competing (Fitzgerald & Howcroft, 1998), and to rely upon one approach to the exclusion of the other would be counter-productive to the aims of research (Weber, 2004).

4 Conclusion

4.1 Gaps in the research

A specific gap in the research regarding the use of the ‘visual methods for discussion’ approach (J. Mason, 2002) can be demonstrated. Past research has emphasised the use of semi-structured interviews, observation, and documentary analysis. Although documentary analysis is one form of a visual method, it is likely that researchers have found practical limitations and low applicability of the ‘purely visual’ (for example, video and photographs) methods for analysis.

Nonetheless, future research may find it advantageous to adopt this qualitative method. For example, a researcher might ask new graduates working in an audit firm to document their experiences and learning with a video camera, and present and discuss an edited video in an online forum such as YouTube. This allows documentary analysis (transcripts, comment interactions) to be carried out, but the researcher is also able to undertake visual analysis through identifying the setting, visual context (for example, user interfaces and interactions), and editing choices by the graduate. A contribution to understanding of the research topic might be possible in this manner, although of course pragmatically this approach may be difficult.

The major gap in the research, however, is less that of a singular qualitative method. There is a general lack of qualitative research addressing this topic. It may be that, although qualitative research has been undertaken, it remains unpublished. Given that this is an emerging topic, particularly in the context of rapid technological change (Cetron, 2009), it is important that the potential contributions of qualitative research methods, and an interpretivist position, be explored through future research.

4.2 Concluding comments

This literature review has identified a lack of published qualitative research into the effect of business technologies upon user knowledge. No area of research, particularly an area yet in its infancy, can be addressed exclusively with either approach (Fitzgerald & Howcroft, 1998). It seems likely that qualitative and quantitative approaches are best considered to be complementary to building understanding.

Echoing Weber (2004), it is unlikely that the extreme positivist and interpretivist epistemological positions are truly held by any researcher. The dichotomy is artificial, and the common concern is rather that researchers be able to justify the knowledge claims made in the context of the research method. However, this does not imply that ‘anything goes’ in the context of research (Chalmers, 1982). Quality research meeting a necessary high standard is needed for development of the body of knowledge.

Evaluation of the value of research requires less of an emphasis upon its epistemological position, and more upon its standard of quality and rigour. As identified in this review, there is a potentially significant contribution to be made by qualitative and quantitative methods in a research program addressing the topic of the effect of business technologies upon user knowledge.



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