ACM Logo  An ACM Publication  |  CONTRIBUTE  |  FOLLOW    

Book Review: 'Online Interviews in Real Time,' by Janet Salmons

By Lorraine Williams / August 2010

Print Email
Comments (7) Instapaper

Book Review: 'Online Interviews in Real Time,' by Janet Salmons

August 17, 2010

Why do we assume that Internet communication tools are only useful for studying online behavior? Why not also for studying offline behaviors? Online Interviews in Real Time by Janet Salmons (2010) is a book for qualitative researchers and graduate students who want to make good decisions about the use of online communication tools for conducting interviews. Although the title calls attention to synchronous forms of communication for interviews, the book also focuses on asynchronous technologies in the context of pre- and post-interview best practices in research and ethics.

This book is innovative because it not only does fills a gap in the qualitative research literature and resources for researchers and students, but also suggests that the use of the Internet to conduct interviews is appropriate for studying online and offline behaviors. In other words, communication tools that happen to be online are communication tools like the telephone or any other, so interviews using these technologies can be about any research topic of interest to the researcher.

While Mann and Stewart's Internet Communication and Qualitative Research (2000), for example, emphasized the lack of visual and auditory cues in online research methods, in 2010, with the prevalence of web video conferencing, this is no longer the issue it once was. Salmons' book picks up where Anderson and Kanuka's e-Research Methods, Strategies and Issues (2003) leaves off in its chapter on online interviews, taking a deeper book-length dive.

Online Interviews in Real Time takes the form of a textbook with chapters about online interviewing in general, conducting research using technology, interviews for scholarly research, credible and ethical online research design, sampling interview participants, preparation for interviews, conducting interviews, visual research and future trends. Four kinds of interviews are described: text-based, videoconferencing, online meeting spaces or immersive virtual environments.

Each chapter includes features that provide real value to researchers, students and faculty. These features include key concepts, discussions and assignments, and definitions of terms. The discussions and assignments sections of each chapter offer useful possible means to engage students in research courses. The terms glossary at the end of each chapter is especially useful for those new to using Internet communication technologies.

The two most interesting and useful ones are the researchers' notebook and companion website chapter features.

The researchers' notebook sections of each chapter provides examples of how a diverse selection of researchers have made use of online communication technologies in their own work as well as how they approached issues related to design, sampling, ethics and technology use. These examples help make what might otherwise be theoretical ideas come to life for the reader and help make connections for applications to interview based research. The researchers' notebook feature in each chapter not only brings real-world examples from a variety of disciplines but also invites the reader to continue to connect with these researchers through reading about their current and on-going research.

Similarly, the book's companion website provides additional value to the reader. The website includes tools aligned with each chapter for students learning about and faculty teaching research methods, a sample syllabus for using this book as a text, as well as information about how to obtain a course cartridge for use in Blackboard. There are also practical tools for research planning including a template, in the form of a visual map. The template helps students to make more explicit and articulate the alignment of their research purpose, theoretical underpinnings, methods and methodologies. As technologies become obsolete or are used less in favor of newer more popular forms, Salmons promises that the website will provide updated information for the reader.

Ethics in Online Interviews
The importance of ethics is an integral theme throughout this book. For example, chapter four addresses the subject of public versus private space in the context of informed consent in research using online interviews. Here, Salmons is not reluctant to call attention to those "gray areas" at the bleeding edge of online research ethics. In the current conversation that attempts to define public and private spaces, there are differences of opinion about whether and how to ensure informed the consent of willing (or perhaps unwitting) research participants. This is of special concern in the use of data collected from online environments, like YouTube, that are open to all users to view or read, and that require free registration of those who post. She encourages further research and discussion on these ethical concerns related to using online communication tools in conducting research.

A companion to this text, Cases in Online Interview Research will be published in 2011. One of the chapters included in this text was written by Allison Deegan who conducted a study based on interviews with alumni participants of an after school creative writing and mentoring program for teen girls. Allison struggled initially with her university's Institutional Review Board to allow them to conduct her study. Of Online Interviews in Real Time, Deegan said,

"Once I was able to cite your work and make the case for the way the research world is shifting, they got it and approved my study. I think you have happened on the wave of the future and it is very exciting to be a part of it. Best, Allison"

Qualitative researchers and research methods faculty will find this book both a useful and enjoyable addition to their libraries.

About the Author
Lorraine Williams, Ph.D. is the executive director of the Center for Student Success at Walden University, an online university based in Minneapolis serving more than 40,000 students. She formerly served Laureate Education, the owner of Walden University, as vice president for product strategy & development, where she worked on online course development for Walden University, Kendall College, and development for partner institutions. She also has experience in instructional technology and distance learning, as well as online, blended and face-to-face college teaching. She hold a bachelor's degree from Rutgers College, a master's degree from Saint Michael's College, and PhD in interdisciplinary studies from Union Institute & University.


Anderson, T. & Kanuka, H. (2003). e-Research: Methods, strategies and issues. Boston: Pearson Education.

Mann, C. & Stewart, F. (2000). Internet communication and qualitative research: A handbook for researching online. London: Sage Publications.


  • Wed, 10 Nov 2010
    Post by Kimberly Pavlik

    As a new online instructor, I found this article to be very helpful.

  • Mon, 21 Jun 2010
    Post by Julia Sewell

    I have two opinions about the article. First opinion is from the student side. I have been able to work on my masters degree, continue to work full-time on my job, and teach part-time because the options of online classes. Being able to login to class anytime from anywhere at my convenice has been great. I often wait until my husband and children go to bed to work. I have had some difficult experiences with online classes. But I have been fortune to have instructors that were prompty, helpful to get me through.

    As a instructor, I often find myself having upgrade my personal computer to keep up with the current programs. I have spend a lot of time answering computer technical questions the first few weeks of class. Then there is the concern that students get lost in online classes. Now as for in person teaching, I too find myself performing in my lectures. In person classes instructors have to keep the students attention and keep them awake.

    I have the experince of in person and online teaching and the student stand point.

  • Sat, 16 Jan 2010
    Post by Craig Howard

    It is hard enough to teach when there really is only negative conditioning in the system. Teaching awards are rare, and often the most insightful and motivating teachers reach a small audience. When we translate this to online learning, the chances of picking up the cues that someone is motivated by your take on something or your insight is even smaller. How does one recognize an AH HA moment when teaching? The reward system for teachign well online is not there. Without online teaching being paid significantly more than face-to-face teaching, i think the absenteeism you address here will persist.

  • Fri, 27 Nov 2009
    Post by Janie McClain

    This will be my first time teaching an online class, so this article is perfect timing. I have taken several online classes and I can say that some professor/instructors do become absent. After reading this article, I trust it will make be a better instructor and the fact that I was an online student - I should know how to address the needs of the learner, especially after reading this article.

  • Sat, 04 Apr 2009
    Post by Bill Jarvie

    Great article - identifies the strengths and weaknesses associated with on-line learning.

  • Wed, 01 Apr 2009
    Post by Amie Blain

    This article helps me to determine areas that are lacking in my online instruction. The first step to improving teaching methods, or any skill for that matter, is to be willing to subject yourself to an evaluation in order to improve your skills and methods.

  • Thu, 07 Aug 2008
    Post by Tonya Patterson

    I found this articale very interesting and very helpful.