Using Mobile Devices for Research

Mobile devices. Copyright

One of the most daunting tasks for any budding researcher is the data collection process as part of your study. For many researchers this is a part of your work that will test you to the limit and take you far out of your comfort zone. However as with all things there are methods and mechanisms which you can use to make your process as easy, efficient and painless as possible. How I hear you ask? Why mobile devices off course!

It is amazing the impact mobile devices have had on Society, Business and Education, opening up new avenues to learn, connect and transact. For researchers, mobile devices open up unique opportunities in the collection, retention and dissemination of data across of variety of channels. For this blog post I want to look at the role of mobile devices in helping to collect data for in-depth interviews.

As a researcher trying to collect all the rich data in an interview setting is difficult, I always left an interview feeling that I had left something behind or I could have asked this question in this way. I tried Dictaphones, phone interviews and Skype interviews, but in the back of mind the nagging doubt that I did not truly experience the phenomenon that I am researching was there. So with the interview process in mind, I needed to find tools that would not get in the way of the data collection process, thus I considered a variety of technologies that would be capable of collecting the data required and have a relatively low learning curve (easy to operate). With  simplicity being the key aspect of the research I identified three concerns which any mobile device needed to address (Also discussed in my paper):

  1.  Which technology will allow for maximum interaction with the respondent with minimal technological disruptions
  2. How can duplication of effort and work be minimised?
  3. How can data security and confidentiality be ensured?

Traditionally, interviewers have used audio-recording equipment which can, at times, be cumbersome and unreliable. In many cases these are plagued by potential backup and storage issues with file size limitations. Taking notes in a paper notebook requires additional work later on in digitising the notes taken. This adds an extra level to the pre-analysis work and slows down the write-up process.

Hence, I highly recommend the use of Mobile devices to record and transcribe the data. I have recently been testing the use of audio recording and instant transcription via Siri and Dragon dictate. While it is not perfect it works well in capturing a large amount of data accurately. This leaves the researcher to focus on collecting non-standard data such as body language and eye contact. The added advantage of such an approach is that it minimises the actual time needed in transcribing the interviews.

For backup and security purposes I have utilised Cloud based technology (Dropbox) which allows for the automatic synchronisation on multiple devices. Dropbox is an online storage tool which allows for the storage of files and documents in what is referred to as “cloud storage”. Cloud storage refers to a network of virtual servers generally hosted by third parties, allowing access to and from multiple devices at any given time. The audio recordings were automatically stored in the Dropbox to examine at a later date. This alleviated the problem of relying too heavily on the physical device’s storage capacity.



Beddall-Hill, N., Jabbar, A., & Shehri, S. (2011). Social Mobile Devices as Tools for Qualitative Research in Education: iPhones and iPads in Ethnography, Interviewing, and Design-Based Research. Journal of the Research Center for Educational Technology, 7(1), 67–89. Retrieved from


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