Digital ethnography



Explore issues and methods involved in conducting qualitative and/or ethnographic research in the social sciences related to the digital. This includes data gathering and analysis using “digital tools” such as mobile phones, GPS technology and software programmes  which supplement conventional ethnographic and qualitative research methods.  

You will also look at new approaches, strategies and techniques for conducting research which engage directly with online and digital environments, including social media platforms, blogs and discussions forums and fully immersive digital realms such as video games and virtual worlds. Understanding how to use these methods opens up novel areas for research and access to new forms of data and communities.

In light of the ongoing intensification of social interaction and association which occurs online and, in the wake of a global pandemic which has severely curtailed possibilities for conducting research in direct contact with others, the course explores both possibilities and opportunities for research of the digital and via the digital. For example, through the adaptation of research projects originally designed to be conducted ‘offline’ for remote, digital and ‘online’ methods and means.

Participants will be asked to design and undertake a small-scale project based on the topics covered in this module, to be presented for discussion in the final class meeting.

Programme details

The course will run over eight weeks. Participants can expect to engage with and contribute to the course for around 15 hours per week. Additional time to prepare for wider reading and assignment preparation is also required. The list of units is as follows:

Week 1: Online induction week
Week 2: Qualitative Social Sciences Research and the Digital: History of an Evolving Relationship
Week 3: Digital Tools and Digitally Mediated Research
Week 4: Digital Research and Best Practice in Data Management
Week 5: Digitally-Mediated Association, Interaction, and Sociality
Week 6: Fully Immersive Digital Spaces: Research Issues
Week 7: Ethnographic Explorations of Digitally Mediated Environments: Project Presentations
Week 8: Study week: Final Reflections


Accredited study

The University of Oxford Department for Continuing Education offers Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS) points for this course. Participants contributing to all the forums and successfully completing the assessments (see below) will obtain 20 CATS-equivalent points (FHEQ level 7) which may count towards a Master’s level qualification. For more information on CATS points, please click here.


Description Costs
Oxford DPhil student rate £0.00
Standard course fee £945.00
Student rate (for students outside University of Oxford) £450.00

Oxford students – student must be currently enrolled in an Oxford programme. Student rate (students outside University of Oxford) – students must be currently enrolled in a programme at an educational institution and provide proof of that enrolment. Standard rate – this applies to all other applicants, including research fellows.

Course aims

By the end of the course, the student will have:

  • gained familiarity with strategies, methods and tools available for conducting digital ethnographic and qualitative research in the social sciences, with particular reference to digital and online environments (discussion forums, social media platforms, fully immersive online realms)
  • developed strategies for conducting ethnographic research remotely, e.g. via the internet and other digital technologies
  • developed strategies for integrating digital tools (e.g., GPS, mobile phone and specialist software) into conventional research in the Social Sciences.
  • gained familiarity with themes and issues – ethical, practical and conceptual – involved in conducting research in digitally-mediated environments and/or research utilising digital research methods.

Assessment methods

Students are assessed on the basis of the following:

(1) Two written submissions:
a)  Project proposal (1+ page, c. 500 words); (20%)
b)  Final reflection (2-3 pages, c. 1,500 words); (40%)
(2) Project presentation, which will also include submission of presentation slides (if utilised) (40%)

Academic Credit

Applicants may take this course for academic credit. The University of Oxford Department for Continuing Education offers Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS) points for this course. Participants attending at least 80% of the taught course and successfully completing assessed assignments are eligible to earn credit equivalent to 20 CATS points which may be counted towards a postgraduate qualification.

Applicants can choose not to take the course for academic credit and will therefore not be eligible to undertake the academic assignment offered to students taking the course for credit. Applicants cannot receive CATS (Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme) points or equivalence. Credit cannot be attributed retrospectively. CATS accreditation is required if you wish for the course to count towards a further qualification in the future.

A Certificate of Completion is issued at the end of the course.

Applicants registered to attend ‘not for credit’ who subsequently wish to register for academic credit and complete the assignment are required to submit additional information, which must be received one calendar month in advance of the course start date. Please contact us for more details.

Please contact if you have any questions.


Application deadline is 3 weeks before the start date.

We strongly recommend that you download and save files before completing to ensure that all your changes are saved.

This course requires you to complete the application form above.

Please ensure you read the guidance notes before completing the application form, as any errors resulting from failure to do so may delay your application. In addition to their application, all DPhil students at the University of Oxford will be required to have a supporting letter from their supervisor.

Level and demands

At least some prior knowledge about and/or interest in qualitative/ethnographic research methods is required.

Whilst it will be useful to researchers at any stage of their projects, the course is primarily aimed at people who are at the beginning (pre-data collection) of their research project.