Visual Transcription: Workshop Reflections

It was a pleasure to be invited to talk at Bath Uni last week, where the focus of the event was multimodality and digital data. I talked about the children’s multimodal meaning making during Minecraft Club, also exemplifying my own multimodal meaning making by sharing visual and aural examples from my thesis. After the presentation (‘Comic Explorations’) I led a workshop on responding to video data; this blog post constitutes my reflections on this process. Trying to create a short, manageable workshop that reflected an aspect of my work whilst also being of potential use to other participants was potentially tricky, given the specific ways I have used images in relation to my project. After mulling over some alternatives I settled on an approach to video transcription, utilising some video data from the club. I have led workshops before that involve using Comic Life to generate content but in this case I was eager to try out a method that used pen and paper.

I began by showing a short extract of video from the club that I have transcribed elsewhere as ‘Dad Dancing’. Here, members of the club are seen giving their impressions of how their parents dance in social situations, as a kind of performed social commentary. I chose this data as it is rich in respect of the children’s visual and embodied meaning making: the use of movement, gaze and gesture, as well as their interactions with the camera.

An extract from my original ‘dad dancing’ transcript.

I asked participants to use drawing and abstract mark making as a way of transcribing visual aspects of the video, not to create an accurate depiction of the events portrayed, but as a means of noticing, exploring and responding to the video. I hoped that depicting the movement on the page, during repeated viewing on the screen, would encourage participants to consider the video in different ways, as a means of exploring how movement and physical performance manifested as part of the children’s social experience. I gave participants a blank six-box comic grid to use.  I also emphasised that no drawing proficiency was required; the resulting visual notes constituted a process rather than an end product. My own participation in workshops involving drawing (and my own lack of skill when drawing at speed or under pressure) means that I am aware of how vulnerable being asked to draw in public can be!

My own alternative response to the video.

 With this in mind, I was really excited to see how those present engaged with the task. There’s something quite artificial about responding to someone else’s data, using an unfamiliar approach in a workshop setting. Whether participants will decide to use this approach for themselves in the future isn’t necessarily the point. The overall message of the day was that there is no definitive way in which to engage with and analyse multimodal data, with the workshops therefore focussed on possibilities rather than definite solutions. Below are some of the examples created by participants on the day (mostly photographed by organiser Alison Douthwaite, who was more on the ball with the camera than I was…)

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Aside from the visual outcomes, once transcripts were completed I was mainly interested in the extent to which participants felt that this process had generated new understandings or interpretations of the data. Their answers suggested that it had certainly helped. Comments were made about how the movement seemed to link the individuals as a group, as certain moves were passed between participants. We discussed how the children’s movement drew on a number of cultural reference points, mimicking particular dances or types of visual practice (slow motion, for example). We talked about how the children (particularly two boys) seemed to use the camera as a focus for their performances and how they drew on shared social experience… These responses were particularly insightful, given that the workshop participants had no prior relationship with the video data or the club it was drawn from.

fullsizerender-25I had intended to repeat the activity with another video whilst taking away the six box structure, in order to compare the approaches when scaffolding / constraint removed. In the event time was short so we focussed on the first activity. Regardless, the participant’s responses (drawn and spoken) were extremely encouraging, both in their enthusiasm for the task and in terms of the insights that this approach seemed to generate.

Banterbury Library Transcripts

The following transcripts have not made it into the final version of my thesis about the lived experience of a Minecraft Club. However, I have referred to these particular comics, assembled from data around the children’s creation of what they called Banterbury Library, in a number of recent presentations. Therefore these two episodes are presented here without commentary as examples of children’s play in the club, and also as exemplars of a particular type of transcription.

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Incidentally, data around the children’s creation of the library and use of texts in Minecraft is discussed in more detail in a forthcoming collaborative chapter:  Bailey, C., Burnett, C. and Merchant, G. (forthcoming) Assembling Literacies in Virtual Play In: Eds. K. Mills, K., Stornaiuolu, A.,  Smith, A. & Pandya, J. (eds.) The Routledge Handbook of Digital Writing and Literacies in Education. Routledge

Multimodal Methodologies Abstract Bath 2016

Excited to have been invited to present and run a workshop at the Multimodal Methodololgies even in Bath in November. It’s open to doctoral students at GW4 universities (Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter) but I thought I would share the abstract here too…

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Comic Explorations Presentation

I had a great day yesterday at Sheffield University’s Literacies conference, which is always a brilliant event full of fascinating and generous people. Looking forward to the second day today. Here are (most of) the slides from my presentation…

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Comic Explorations: Representing data and visualising complexity in multi-sited, multimodal research

Abstract:

In this presentation I relate a number of ways in which comic strips were used as methodological tools during an ethnographic study of a children’s after-school Minecraft club. This longitudinal research project sought to examine the ‘lived experience’ of a group of participants engaged in collaborative videogame play using this popular world-building game; this included a focus on how players’ identities were explored and expressed in a complex space that enabled multimodal and multi-sited interactions. As the children played and worked collaboratively to construct a ‘virtual community’, a range of visual and participatory methods were used to generate data; this included participants’ use of a GoPro action camera, discussion sessions where players talked whilst constructing virtual ‘identity models’, screencasts of gameplay on multiple screens and photographs of the action in the room. Faced with the dilemma of how to represent this complex data in a way that felt ‘true’ to the original context, comic strips were employed as a medium that enabled multimodal transcription; using a combination of data from the multiple on- and off-screen sources, theses constructed narratives allowed me to take account of the children’s actions as well as their spoken interactions.

Drawing on the rich data generated during this project, I show how these comic strip transcriptions were constructed and how they contributed to an emerging process of data analysis. In addition, building on recent work around the affordances of visual methodologies in literacies research, I explain how I also used illustrated comic strips as a means of developing thought and illuminating ideas. I will demonstrate how these different types of comic strip were included in the final account of the project, helping the reader to visualise the data, whilst also revealing the process of analysis that led to the project’s findings.  As well as considering how this methodological approach helped to explore and represent the identities of participants, I also show how this process of experimentation with emergent visual research methodologies helped to expand my own thinking, therefore reflecting on how this approach impacted on my own identity as a researcher.

[More below]

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Minecraft Design Sessions at Games Britannia

I will be running two ‘Minecraft Design’ sessions for KS 3 children at this year’s Games Britannia Video Games Ed Festival at Sheffield Hallam University. More details here:

Minecraft Design Creating 3D Virtual Worlds (Half day workshop)

For: KS3 pupils interested in exploring the exciting world of Minecraft! Minecraft is a world-wide phenomenon which needs little introduction, but has endless possibilities for creative use.

Few are more aware of these creative possibilities than Chris Bailey, a former schoolteacher who is exploring the children’s participation in collaborative virtual play as part of his PhD research. Chris runs a regular Minecraft club as part of this research, and this workshop will build upon his research findings to ensure that participants get the most out the session.

Session 1: 10am-12pm on Thursday 9 th June 16

Session 2: 1pm-3pm on Thursday 9 th June 16

 

http://www.gamesbritannia.com/

Comic Explorations: Comic strips in qualitative research

This short post was written for the blog for the Literacy Research Centre at Lancaster University, following my recent presentation there. 

During my recent LRDG talk I shared data from my ethnography of an after-school Minecraft Club in comic strip form. Here I will briefly elaborate on how comic strips came to form an integral part of this project. My adoption of the comic form was not a case of me bringing an existing skill to my project; rather it arose as a need that emerged from the project itself. I use comic strips in two main ways: as a form of transcription, and as a means of exploring theory.

Comic Strips as Transcription

My first use of comic strips followed the funeral of a virtual horse. During their Minecraft play, children role-played a funeral for a horse that had ‘drowned’. This was captured using video (in the room) and a screencast of my screen (in the game). When I attempted to produce a multimodal transcription of this episode, using text alone, I felt that my written output did not represent the nature of the events I had observed; it felt like a reduction of what I had seen. As I gradually added visuals to my written account I realised that I was creating a form of comic strip. Rethinking my approach to transcription led me to produce around 25 more such comic strips, based on episodes from the club, identified by me and the participants.

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Comic strip transcripts have been used by others (Plowman and Stephen, 2008). My particular take on these combine visual data relating to the on- and off-screen action seen in the club, alongside the children’s speech and additional scene-setting comments. The ‘Horse Funeral’ comic uses mainly on-screen visuals, whereas some of the other comics draw more heavily on action in the room; an additional example of this technique can be found in Bailey (2015).

Comic Strips as Methodology

My use of comic strips spread beyond transcription to the development of my methodology. The pages below begin a longer exploration of Deleuze and Guattari’s (1980) image of thought, ‘the rhizome’, using my own staged screenshots from the game itself. The rhizome was fundamental to my methodological approach, which I called ‘Rhizomic Ethnography’.

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Where Minecraft screenshots felt insufficient, I turned, nervously, to pen and paper. Drawing did not come naturally, however the process helped me both to exemplify and expand my thinking. This chimes with Sousanis’ (2015) assertion that such techniques can lead to an ‘unflattening’ of ideas. The act of drawing pushed me well beyond my own comfort zone, also giving me an unexpected emotional attachment to the ideas I was seeking to explore.

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References:

These comic strips were produced with the help of the application Comic Life: https://plasq.com/apps/comiclife/ios/

Bailey, C.(2015) ‘Free the Sheep’. Literacy, Early View[online]: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/lit.12076/full

Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F.(1980) A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Plowman, L. and Stephen, C.(2008) ‘The Big Picture? Video and the representation of interaction’. British Educational Research Journal, 34 (4)541 – 565.

Sousanis, N.(2015) ‘Unflattening’. Cambridge. Harvard University Press.

 

Using Virtual Models #5

I have been using discussion activities throughout this year’s research of Minecraft Club in order to gather reflections from the children about the club. As before, this is inspired by David Gauntlett’s ‘Identity Models’ work. A small group of children build virtual models using a shared map in the iPad version of Minecraft.

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Yesterday I conducted two group interviews (#5 and #6) in school before the penultimate week of the club.

My intention was for discussion in each session to focus on three areas:

1. For the children to reflect on the nature of the club itself, with a focus on their motivation to continue attending weekly for a whole academic year.

2. For the children to discuss their perceptions of Banterbury, their ‘virtual community’. I asked them to describe what kind of place Banterbury is…

3. For the children to suggest some ‘episodes’, ‘events’ or ‘instances’ for me to look more closely at during my data analysis, based on what they felt had been ‘particularly interesting or important’. In order to prompt this part of the discussion I gave them two examples that I was already looking at – the horse funeral and the sheep song.

The following is a brief outline of the discussion session 5, centred around the models produced by the children, based on repeated re-watching of the screencast from the sessions.IMG_0470

Discussion Session #5

  • Model 1 created by Callum <Yoloface23jr> – A Place to Relax to convey the value of social gameplay

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Callum’s model represented relaxation in the game, which he suggested is one reason to play the game. He then began to focus on the importance of social gameplay, particularly for him as a new member of the class at the beginning of the year, who joined the group from another school: ‘It’s a really great way for me to join in….I’ve got to know people so well through Minecraft Club. I don’t think I’d know anyone this well or be this best friends with anybody without Minecraft Club.’ Asked why a club around Minecraft was a good place for this social time he replied:

‘People talk more, there’s a bit more chance to talk and demonstrate their feelings in what they build… so I think I’ve got to know them quite well… and what they like and stuff’.

I asked if, for example, a chess club would have helped in the same way. He replied that he wouldn’t have gone, neither would anyone else!

  • Model 2 created by Alex <Castaway112> – Mushroom House to convey variety in the game

Alex directed me over to his mushroom house and, after a bit of time establishing how to enter, he gave me a guided tour. This model was intended ‘to explain all of the places you can go’ (in Banterbury) ‘the forest… sand… mushrooms’. Above one of the doors was a sign reading ‘this is not a door’. Confused by this I asked why, to be told that ‘it’s clearly not a door’. Things are not what they appear to be.

As he led me around the house I saw ‘the most dangerous fireplace in the world, a baby sitting room, a room with a sign that says ‘do not enter because of chickens’ (we enter – there are no chickens) and a farm with cows with mushrooms on their heads’. He suggested that this ‘reminded him of the craziness of the world’ in Minecraft Club.

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  • Model 3 created by Joseph <Steve> – A Gallery to suggest ‘infinite possibilities’

Joseph created an art gallery as a chance to try out using things he had not used before. He said that this reflected that ‘there are lots of items that they don’t use in the club’ and therefore possibilities that they had not yet explored.

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Alex began by suggesting that I should look more closely at the events around the creation of Banterbury Library. This was interesting as this is already the focus of some of my data analysis. When asked why he suggested, ‘definitely when they were making the books… we were actually doing writing…. We actually tried to do something that is exciting’. Callum agreed and suggested that a focus on the library was important because ‘a lot of people think that Minecraft is just about building structures but you can build books and stories and stuff as well, which is quite good… It’s a feature that is in Minecraft all the time, and it’s part of real life… there’s books in real life…’

Joe discovered a glitch in the game where the doors were only half rendering. They then began to notice that it was possible to change skins in this new version – they left the game to change their skins: ‘Awesome! That is so cooool! Epicness!’

There was also some discussion over the legitimacy of the naming of the town Banterbury. Callum expressed frustration about the town being called ‘Banterbury’ – ‘WHY IS IT CALLED THAT?!’ He attributed its naming to one specific player’s particular interest in the word ‘banter’. Alex suggested a possible origin for the name Banterbury – a youtube video of another game ‘Terraria’ where a player names his world ‘Banterbury’ (I could not find this, however). There was a suggestion that there were some ‘power’ issues relating to the naming and the subsequent perceived ‘ownership’ of the town and control over certain activities was something that they found potentially frustrating and potentially led to the forming of groups within the club. They talked about how the girls (and some boys) like ‘all their stuff private and make a massive fuss when someone goes in’. I will pursue this more specifically elsewhere.

They also further emphasised the important of the social aspect of the gameplay in the club: ‘You can work together… sometimes we talk about other things, we talk about things while we are playing’. This ‘makes it more exciting’.

 

Diversity of Play in Minecraft Club

This research involves a group of children playing together during a club. As such, this work naturally draws upon work around play and the theories of play. Early on in his book ‘The Ambiguity of Play’ (2001), Brian Sutton Smith provides a (non-exhaustive) list of ‘activities that are often said to be play forms or play experiences’ (p. 4). What struck me about this list was how many of these examples have found their way into Minecraft Club over the preceding 19 weeks, either in the virtual or embodied space – or, often, across both. So while ‘vitual gameplay’ might suggest itself as a thing in itself, closer inspection reveals that it is a much more complex assemblage of multiple activities. The gamplay itself has temporal and spacial diversity (p. 6) in that it spans multiple weeks and places. Furthermore, whilst Minecraft itself is often an ‘agency for some kind of play’ (p. 6) it is not the only location or stimulus for play – drawing, as the children do, on a wide range of other influences.

[edit – I have noticed some additional examples that I accidentally neglected to highlight – most notably ‘reading and writing’ and ‘gardening’- but you get the idea!)

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The Banterbury Tales (Minecraft Club #16 24.03.15)

This week the children named their virtual community – after surprisingly little discussion they declared it to be ‘Banterbury‘ – based on their frequent usage of the word ‘banter’. We discussed what this word meant, which caused some disagreement. Some simply said it meant ‘chat‘, as they had ‘looked it up in the dictionary’ with their teacher. Others seemed to use it sometimes as a verb and sometimes as a noun, giving examples such as: ‘If someone falls over you’d be, like, BANTER!’ Either way, Banter is a word that is important in terms of how these children relate to each other and one that has often appeared in my field notes over the past weeks, where I have come to see it as being synonymous with a kind of good-natured teasing, the kind that is sustained by long running, secure friendships.  

This week I set the children a task, at their request. This came as a result of a plea from some children two weeks ago (last week’s club was cancelled as I had a migraine) that they wanted me to set them ‘a challenge’. I decided to work with this in the most open way I could, eventually suggesting that they could work on creating ‘entertainment spaces’ for their community – listing examples such as a theatre, bowling alley, swimming pool etc. This focus seemed to energise some children, whilst also allowing others to pursue their own projects. I did not follow through with the suggestion of a couple of children who asked to play ‘in hunger games mode’. The children began to plan their constructions, either on their own or with others, producing lists of materials that they would request from me as they were still playing in survivial mode with limited resources.  

Unfortunately, from the outset, this week’s club was largely dominated by technical problems. We had relocated from the classroom to the hall, due to the usual room being used for a staff meeting. Unfortunately, many of the laptops were without charge. Once we had hunted down chargers from around the school, and relocated to the end of the hall with the plug sockets, it became clear that there were a number of connection problems resulting in children being unable to enter the game. Many of those who could enter found that the game lagged and they were booted out frequently. A number of children persisted and played for the whole lesson, with various levels of verbal distress. ‘It’s painful!’ declared Ben, lying down on the floor in mock despair and I considered joining him in frustrated agreement.

A number of others decided to abandon the game entirely, using a packet of cards to play card games instead of battling with the problematic technology.

Children who were able to access the game worked on their constructions, revealing an enchantment room (‘for enchanting weapons‘) and a roller coaster, apparently featuring the face of a tiger, as part of a proposed theme park. 

In between work on the requested task there was other stuff going on too, most notably an attempt by Mia to steal Tobias’ horse. Somehow the horse ended up under water, prompting mock concern that it may drown, as the children recalled the horse funeral they performed for another of Tobias’ drowned horses many weeks earlier.  Banter?