GoPro Perspectives and AFK Performances – (Minecraft Club #9 13.01.15)

As mentioned last week, I have been using a GoPro Hero camera to record events during the club. For the first half of this week’s club the camera remained undisturbed, as usual, on a desk where had I positioned it to film a small group of players. However, approximately half an hour into the session, the camera itself became the focus of the activity for a group of children as they took charge of the filming process.

Away from Keyboard (AFK)

Away from Keyboard (AFK)

The focus on the camera began as one boy, turning away from his computer, waved and stared into the lens. He called across to another boy, who immediately left his seat and picked up the camera. At this point I made a conscious decision to allow them to continue – my alternative response would have been to insist that they put the camera back where I had placed it. However, my early conceptualisation of Minecraft Club as being driven by the children – defined by ongoing unfolding events rather than being purely the product of my design – has encouraged me to take a back seat more often and let things happen.

During the early stages of this project, I occasionally found myself slightly stressed and uptight when technical problems arose or things didn’t go quite ‘to plan’, worrying that these detours were keeping me from ‘researching’ the club. However, my realisation that these were as much a part of the lived experience of the club as the gameplay itself encouraged me to take the view that the club is whatever happens during the weekly allotted 75 minutes. Often this involves children seated in front of their computers playing Minecraft but, just as importantly, sometimes it does not.

Once in the hands of the children (or, more specifically, a small group of boys) the camera is used in a number of ways:

  • They filmed their screens during play, positioning the camera next to their laptop keyboard, at times also providing audio commentary.

Screenshot 2015-01-15 15.33.53

  • One child used the camera’s headstrap to enable him to wear the camera and to film his gameplay and discussions with others from his perspective.

edited screen

  • They introduced other members of the class, carrying the camera around the room.
  • They pulled silly faces into the lens.
  • They conduct conversations with the camera:

Sam: (pointing the camera at Ben) ‘Is your name Ben?’

Ben: (to camera) ‘Yes it is, GoPro!… What’s your name, GoPro?’

  • They held it at arms length and sing and dance to the camera:

Thomas: (singing) ‘I’m on a GoPro / I’m on a GoPro’.

Ben and Thomas: (singing and dancing) ‘We’re on a GoPro / We’re on a GoPro’

They are then joined by three other boys, who form a procession, dancing and singing the same song.

Eventually, as I had forgotten to fully charge the battery, the camera turned itself off, much to the children’s disappointment. But in this relatively short space of time, they had managed to film the club from multiple perspectives.

Although I had already toyed with the idea of giving the children some control of the camera in future weeks, I had not intended that this would happen in such an unplanned and unpolished way. Nevertheless, watching the footage back was both entertaining and enlightening, providing an interesting example of how the process of research can unexpectedly become enmeshed with the clubs events. It also serves to illustrate how Minecraft club is not always just about playing Minecraft but is also driven by the events that occur aside from the gameplay when children are away from their keyboard (AFK), framing their gameplay in a specific context.

The presence of the camera clearly prompted much of the performance element, explained in part by the excitement of having access to relatively novel piece of equipment in the classroom, particularly given the GoPro’s reputation of being an camera used to film adventurous pursuits rather than classroom practice. It is now for me to decide which, if any, of these child-led filming methods I choose to employ in future weeks. Perhaps this is what I meant when I stated my intention to take into account Law’s (2004) call for ‘a broader or more generous sense of method’ at the outset of my research.

Reference:

LAW, John (2004). After method: Mess in social science research. London, Routledge.

Using Virtual Models #2

I have written previously about my use of  David Gauntlett’s ‘Identity Models’ approach in order to discuss the club with the children, adapted to take place in Minecraft. This post relates to the second discussion session that took place before Christmas, the week after session #7 of the club.

overview

Four girls took part in the session, each accessing the shared Minecraft world on the iPads. I also entered the world, recording my screen using quicktime on my laptop, mirrored from the iPad. The children could also see my perspective on the laptop screen. I decided to continue using the same map used by the boys in the previous session in order to allow the players to see the models created by others. The idea of having an ongoing second world running in parallel with the whole-group world of the club was also appealing, not least as it would allow me to maintain some sort of historical record of the children’s models.

Again, I asked the children to create a model to convey their feelings about Minecraft and the club. Mindful of the seemingly default position taken by the last group of children who ended up producing very Minecraft-y buildings, I attempted (in retrospect, at annoyingly unnecessary length) to encourage the children to think of their creations as sculptures, drawing on their knowledge of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park as a point of reference.

The models

1. Molly’s model – relating to collaboration, togetherness and imagination

Model 1

Me: Are you going to show me around then?

Molly: Yeah. I’ll show you around. Ok, so basically…

Sophie: Nice one Molly, so is that your little castle? I can see it on Mr Bailey’s screen.

Molly: Ok, right, so basically, the signs are the eyes. The glass is the nose. The bricks are the eyebrows. Ummm.. the white stuff is the teeth… um…

Mia: Big grin…

Molly: Thank you.

Freya: Let’s have a look. Hahaha!

Molly: And, um, the torches are spyhole and I’m just gonna do brown things for hair.

Me: Great. And you’ve written on it.

Molly: Ummm… ‘I love Minecraft because it makes me feel happy’

Girls: ahhh!

Me: Can you explain… can you think about why?

Molly: Yeah umm…

Mia: It brings people together.

Molly: Cos it brings people together, its really fun to play and you’re doing it with your friends, So it’s basically your world, so you can, basically use your imagination, you can do everything you want.

Mia: [singing] ‘You control it / You the owner’

Me: So are you talking about Minecraft or Minecraft Club?

Molly: Minecraft and Club.

2. Mia’s model – relating to the social experience of playing with a group

model 2

Me: And can you explain why you’re creating a person?

Mia: To represent that people that are playing Minecraft.

Me: And that’s what you like about it? [sounding sarcastic by accident]

Mia: [Laughs]

Me: That wasn’t meant to sound bad, that was me trying to understand what you like about it!

Mia: I like how there’s people playing Minecraft and how everyone… and how other people are like brought together by Minecraft so that’s why I’m drawing a person / people to represent the people playing the game. [later]

…. All the people are extra important because if you didn’t have the people it wouldn’t be fun.

3. Lisa’s model – relating to exploration and the absence of restrictions

model 3

Me: Lisa, I’m watching your creation that you built. Would you like to talk to us about it?

Lisa: Yeah. Well, the animals represent people and it’s like having to explore? Like, together?

Me: So you’ve put a group of animals together and they represent people.

Lisa and Mia: [singing] ‘Together, forever, Skyfall’

Me: And it’s the exploring you like?

Lisa: Yeah!

Me: Can you say a little more about that?

Lisa: Well, you can, like, go wherever you want to and do whatever you want. There’s no restrictions.

Mia: [singing] no restrictions!

All: Hahaha!

Molly: The sky is the limit!

Lisa: That’s what [teacher] said earlier.

Molly: Literally the sky is the limit because you can’t get to the sun. I was trying to get to the sun in Minecraft, you go up there for hours and you’re looking down and moving but you can never get to the sun.

4. Freya’s model – relating to inclusiveness

model4

Freya: Basically I’m making a house to show… right.. .that like everyone is welcome in, cos people come into the house and it’ll show that everyone is welcome in minecraft, noone ever gets left.

Me: So you like it cos everyone’s welcome? What makes everyone welcome?

Freya: The people in it.  And everyone, like, is welcome cos everyone makes sure that everyone is ok.

Some initial observations and questions

  • Three of the children logged in to this session using their own names rather than their avatar names (the forth used the default name that had been input by a previous player). This was different to the usual club practise where they used their user names. Did this indicate a different approach to these sessions?
  • I wonder to what extent the children’s answers were still unconsciously framed by the traditional expectations of schooled behaviour – talk about everyone being included and everyone working together seemed to reflect more of an idealised version of events that the events I see during the club.
  • Text appeared on screen at various points during the session. Why did some things get spoken and others typed?
  • The responses emphasised the social aspect of the club as much as they did the children’s enjoyment of Minecraft.
  • Discussion around the models also extended to other areas, which provided a valuable opportunity to talk more widely (and also, at times, more specifically) about the club. The idea of gameplay as a social practice was raised on a number of occasions by the children, as they detailed their play at home where they often the game whilst talking with  friends over Skype.
  • At one point I referred to Mia’s statue as a male (Me: ‘Oh, your man’s taking shape really well’) At the time I missed it but when transcribing I noticed that she corrects me (Mia: ‘It’s a woman, if you don’t mind’).
  • There was often more than one focus, even in such a small group. For instance, while I was discussing Freya’s model, Molly was trying to catch our attention by ‘cannonballing’ (divebombing) from a great height elsewhere in the game.
  • Oh, and as I have come to expect, there was more singing!

Exploring Virtual Feelings (Minecraft Club #8 06.01.15)

I have been using a GoPro Hero action camera to film during the club. This week I placed the camera in a static location in order to capture a wider view of events than that provided by video at different resolutions.

gopro example

So far I am happy with the footage gained in this way, especially given that the audio is clear and the wide-screen image allows me to focus in on multiple areas of the classroom, in a way that would not be possible using conventional video. The camera also has the benefit of being virtually indestructible, allowing it to continue filming when someone knocked it from the chair I had balanced it on.

Picture1

In the words of one child who watched the fall: ‘GoPro be hard as heck: it’s basically a brick’. Given this, there’s also potential for giving the camera to the children to film from their perspectives, which I intend to do in future weeks.

After the club I returned a small section of the footage to re-examine a conversation that I noted in my field notes in more detail.

During the session, Ben (as <CBtekkersOP>) left the group in the game and to go ‘exploring’. He crafted a boat, with guidance from another member of the group and set out, apparently, in search of the sea. He later revealed that his intention was actually to find the members of the other part of the group – three boys who were building in a separate ‘secret’ location from the rest. However, he became frustrated when he found himself stranded on an island, isolated from the rest of his group’s avatars. He requested that I use the teleporting function to return him to his friends, even though he had requested at the beginning of the session that I should not to this for anyone as it often seemed to cause the game to crash!

boat

The following conversation was transcribed from an unplanned discussion, mainly with Ben, towards the end of the session, relating to his feelings about his current game state:

Ben: It’s just sad, though.

Me: Do you feel sad cos you’re not near everyone?

Ben: Yeah.

Me: But you’re in the room with everyone…. You’re actually right near everyone.

Ben: Am I?

Me: No, I mean, in the room. You’re sat next to people. How does it feel… how does it feel not being with everyone in the game?

Ben: Sad.

Mia: That’s what I felt like!

Ben: Because you feel lonely, because, like, there’s no-one else…

Mia: Stranded on an island, waiting for rescue.

Me: (laughs) But you’re in the room with them.

Ben: yeah, but they’re real life people… this is a game…

Me: But.. So… Yeah, but you’re a real life person.

Ben: In the game, I feel sad.

Me: You feel sad in the game?

Ben: Yes.

Me: H.. But… do you feel… How do you feel in the game?

Ben: Sad!

Me: (stuttering) But what is it about you that’s feeling in the game? As in… you said ‘as a real life person’ these people are here.. but how do you feel… how do you feel the game feeling?

Ben: Well, I’m used to being with everyone, you know like I have jobs and stuff and then suddenly I’m on an island by myself and I can’t get home.

Me: But are YOU on an island by yourself or is your avatar?

Ben: No, my avatar is on an island but my feelings are in the game!

Me: You’re feelings are in the game?

Ben: Yes!

Joseph: That’s a bit sad!

Ben: I know that is very sad!

Me: Your feelings are in the game is a very interesting thing to say.

Ben: and very sad… at the same time…

Thomas: (rapping) He’s sadder than sad, he’s badder than bad.

At the time I found this conversation fascinating – I think my intention was to try to help unravel the extent of Ben’s identification with his own avatar, but I found myself getting stuck on the questions to ask to take the conversation further. Nevertheless, I love Ben’s responses, particularly:

 In the game, I feel sad.

 No, my avatar is on an island but my feelings are in the game!

What the video allows me to revisit – and what I didn’t notice at the time – is the movement that accompanies Ben’s verbal responses. These two statments in particular are accompanied by dramatic hand gestures, as if to emphasise the significance of his words. During the first reply, Ben removes his right hand from the computer and makes one, forceful chopping motion from the side of his head towards the computer. By the second response, Ben has turned away from the computer to make eye contact with me directly. However, on the words ‘avatar’ and ‘feelings’ he turns again towards his laptop and makes forceful pointing gestures in the direction of the computer’s keyboard, making contact three times with the plastic, perhaps in an attempt to convey the strength of his feeling in relation to the virtual world somehow within the machine.

point

Ben’s notion of feelings being somehow being contained within the computer yet also felt by him is a theme I intend to explore further, and provides a good example of what I continually find so interesting about exploring this group’s interactions in and around the game.

Finding Friends and Influencing People (Minecraft Club #7 10.12.14)

This week’s session was the first for two weeks, the last before Christmas and also the last of this term. For the second week running, the children played in survival mode.

This entry elaborates on two short sections from my extensive (and messy) fieldnotes made during the session. Reflecting on my approach during previous sessions I found that I was becoming fairly reliant on video data. Therefore, in an attempt to break away from the limited frame imposed by screen based data I made more of an effort to take fieldnotes based on my observations. As a result, I was much less present in the game than in recent weeks.

live with you

Alongside these notes, video data was also collected in the form of screencasts and in class video, which I will use at a later time to add data from different perspectives. As for why I chose this extract, I think I’m framing it as a telling case to ‘make previously obscure theoretical relationships suddenly apparent” (Mitchell, 1984, p. 239).

  1. Finding Friends

On entering the game this week, many children found that they had spawned in dispersed locations, away from other members of the group. Getting back together became the motivation for  most of these children’s play. I observed the different methods they used to locate themselves in the game, navigating the landscape to find their friend’s avatars, and will attempt to detail these below. This process of finding their friends in the game occupied some players for almost the whole session. Whilst some children relied on just one of the methods below, most seem to employ a combination of these at different times.

IMG_20141209_160557Getting up high – Some children navigated their way up to the top of the highest point in the landscape in order to get a top-down view of the game, in the hope of seeing movement below. This reflected the method they often used for orientation in creative mode, where the avatars would levitate above the ground in order to get a view of events below.

Maps – Some children who were aware of the Map feature of Minecraft requested that I gave them access to a map that would have otherwise been available in creative mode. Impressed by the thought behind this request I provided each player with a map, which gave them an overview of the land they currently inhabited. Frustration came when they realised that there was no way of telling exactly which avatar was which, as all were marked with the same white icon. They were also unclear about their own locations on the map, meaning that it provided little help. (This recalls Alison Gazzard’s (2013) work on mapping mazes, where she reflects on the difficulty of pin pointing her location on the map whilst negotiating a maze (p. 72)

map screenshot

Landmarks – Children discussed their location in the game in relation to landmarks in the landscape. They told each other, for example, ‘I’m near the cave’ or ‘Go towards the big hill’. Again, there was frustration as some children found it difficult to find these landmarks in the first place, either because they had not seen them on their own screens or had visited them but forgotten the direction in which they had travelled.

Swapping laptops – Some children surrendered their laptops to another player, allowing them to control their avatar in the belief that they would be able to call upon their superior knowledge of the landscape in order to reunite their avatars in the same location. Sometimes this involved physically swapping laptops, at other times the children swapped seats.

Shared use of screens – Some children moved their hands from their own keyboards to point at their friends’ screens, in order to direct them through the landscape towards their own locations. They would then use their own screen to confirm the nature of their own location, in an attempt to help the other player.

shared use screenshot

Appropriating laptops – One child left early and another player seized the opportunity to use their computer to play the game, continuing the game as the avatar of the absent player in preference to playing as their own avatar away from the group.

Teleporting – Similar to the request for a map, some children asked me to use my teacher admin ‘powers’ to teleport them to the location of their friends. This initially seemed like the easy option, and on a couple of occasions I granted this request but stopped when I found that teleporting seemed to cause server overload, resulting in everyone being booted out of the game and needing to log back in.

IMG_20141209_160932

So, here I’m interested in the multitude of ways that the children tried to solve the same problem. Being together (Burnett and Bailey, 2014) seemed more important than working alone in the game, and this was mirrored by the way that the children arranged themselves in the classroom and the way they interacted with each other and their equipment.

  1. An Emerging Economy

The pattern of play this week (nine children, with two absent) seemed to fall into three distinct groups, reflected physically by their chosen seating patterns – a group of three boys, a group of four girls and a pair of boys. Towards the end of the session, the two boys moved across the room and relocated themselves with the girls, as a result of one of the boy’s laptops running out of charge, meaning he had to use a plug socket located near to the girls’ table. At some point during this relocation, the players’ in game activity also converged as they inhabited the same virtual location. At the centre of this location was a building built by the two boys. The girls, pleased to have located other players, asked to enter the boys house. They agreed, but on condition that the girl worked for them in the game. I was surprised by how quickly they seemed to agree to this request – seemingly willing to comply with the boy’s suggestion without question. Tasks were assigned to the girls – two were tasked with collecting wood, receiving a wage in the form of coal – one piece per 32 blocks of wood collected.

Tree collector

Another girl collected pumpkins, and it was reasoned that their relative scarcity would mean that she would be paid by the half hour for her efforts, again in coal. Food was briefly considered in place of coal as a means of payment, but this was discarded by the girls as they reasoned that food was of little value in the current context of the game.

Food's useless

For me, this event raises a number of questions. I’m particularly interested here in how these hierarchical roles formed so effortlessly, seemingly without question. What enabled the two boys to position themselves as leaders over the girl’s play? Is gender important here? Is it a case of capitalising on their in-game expertise and the resulting gaming capital? (Consalvo, 2007) Does the experience of being together in game offer compensation for their players suspension of thei avatars’ autonomy? In what ways do the player’s relationship with their own avatar – their avatar identity – mediate the decisions that the players are making? Is virtual identity important here – and would a model of identity that examines the personal, social, relational and material aspects (Nagy and Koles, 2014) be helpful in unpicking this? Does the nature of the game context lead to a submission to rules in a way that would not occur so readily in the physical space? And what does the imposition of the emerging, seemingly power-based economic system tell us about the children’s meaning making around the idea of a virtual community?

tool extract

I intend to focus on the issues around this example over the next few weeks, before the club begins again in the new year.

References

Burnett, C. & Bailey, C. (2014). Conceptualising collaboration in hybrid sites: Playing minecraft together and apart in a primary classroom. In: Burnett, C., Davies, J., Merchant, G. & J. Rowsell (ed.). New literacies around the globe: Policy and pedagogy. . Abingdon, Oxon, Routledge.

Nagy, P and Koles, B (2014) The digital transormation of human identity: Towards a conceptual model of virtual identity in virtual worlds in Convergence, 20:276

GAZZARD, Alison (2013). Mazes in videogames: Meaning, metaphor and design. McFarland.

Consalvo, Mia (2007) Cheating: Gaining Advantage in Video Games. Cambridge (MA): The MIT Press.

Mitchell, J. C. (1984). Case studies. In R. F. Ellen, Ethnographic research: A guide to general conduct. (pp. 237-241). Orlando, FL: Academic Press, Inc.

Avatars, Griefing and Screencasting (Minecraft Club #5 18.11.14)

Three observations from this week’s club:

1. Avatar names / More singing / Transcribing

I asked a number of children to talk about the user names that they have assigned to their avatars. Many of them used the same avatar name each week, others change the name regularly – even during the course of a session. For instance, <TimJim> was a new name this week, apparently reflecting a discussion around a song of the same name that some of the children had invented during a sleepover. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the song received a number of airings during the club:

‘Tim… / Jim… / I’m all… / alone… / Tim Jim / Tim Jim / Tim Jim / etc’. 

Screenshot 2014-11-18 16.18.46

<CBTekkersOP> was a name I had noticed every week. The player behind the avatar explained that the name reflects three things about him:

1. CB means centre back, the position he plays in football.

2. Tekkers means skills – which he has chosen ironically as – in his own words – he doesn’t have any skills. (Talk then turned to the origin of the work ‘tekkers’, which apparently comes from ‘Bob the Builder’ which – you guessed it – let to more singing: ‘Bob the Builder /  He has tekkers…’ etc)

3. O.P. was short for overpowered.

Foshee and Nelson (2014) suggest that avatar personalisation can create a connection between a player and a virtual environment by increasing the personal relevance and appeal, whilst also contributing to their sense of relatedness (p. 12). This may be worth considering in light of the children’s different appropriations of usernames for different purposes and from different origins.

Transcribing this name in particular led to me to tweet:

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This transcription process is challenging for a couple of main reasons – firstly, due to the sometimes impenetrable nature of the discussion in terms of the content – without insider knowledge the sentence above is akin to an unknown language. Even where the word itself is clear, there is also a danger in misrepresentation if assuming the intent behind it (eg. the above example of ‘tekkers’ being chosen to indicate a modest lack, rather than a confident presence, of skills)

Secondly, the number of voices present in the classroom at the same time and the ever changing network of discussions means it’s difficult to work out who is speaking to who, and frequently the other participant’s voice – often over the other side of the room – can be lost in the general noise.

2. Griefing / Changing the game mode

Screenshot 2014-11-18 16.32.36

A group of three boys seemed intent on causing mischief in the game, in spite of the reiterated objective to create a community space. (See also Burnett and Bailey, 2014, p. 56). This took the form of a bottomless pit – named ‘ the eternal hole’ – dug beneath the spawn point, hidden inside what otherwise appeared to be a normal house. Griefing extended to the embodied space too – when children left their desks there were attempts by others to sneak up to their unguarded laptops and direct their avatars in to this hole. There were also some familiar types of large scale, potentially anti-social, in-game behaviours, where individuals dominated parts of the game space through the mass spawning of animals. There is a perception that this then led to glitches in the game, where the world slows down for all players. This is worth considering in relation to Barltle’s (2003) four types of player, where ‘Controllers’ seek to establish control over others. Additionally, there may be similarities to the player types or ‘orientations’ seen in Jackson, Gauntlett and Steemer’s (2009).

Screenshot 2014-11-18 16.34.59

Some victims of this griefing found the behaviour funny. Others appeared to be less amused by these actions. When, towards the end of the game, it was discovered that someone had destroyed part of the water slides created during the previous week, the reactions of some children were akin to those that may have come about if their physical property had been damaged. One child suggested that ‘community service’ might be a suitable punishment, where the perpetrator is ordered to create things for the good of the community. There was speculation that this griefing happened because of the game being played in creative mode – the unlimited resources meaning that none were valued. Again, there were calls to change the club to survival mode, starting with a new map. I think this is actually worth pursuing.

3. Screencasting / Playthrough 

The use of screencasting software is popular with the children as a research method – the children requested to have their screens recorded and were disappointed that I had not set this up on all of the laptops. However, different children interacted and acknowledged the presence of this tool in different ways. I recorded the play of three children this week – for fifteen minutes each – and have transcribed two of the videos in full. One player makes constant reference to the video being recording, suggesting that he will take the imagined audience on a tour, using an ‘announcer’ voice to introduce himself, partly using it as a means of producing his own ‘playthrough’ video (Menotti, 2012, p. 81). The second player, however, makes no reference to the software at all. So, while this is a useful tool for charting children’s actions during the game, therefore, the different adaptations of the tool made by the players themselves should not be written out of the final account.

Screenshot 2014-11-18 15.17.26

References

Bartle, Richard, 2003, Designing Virtual Worlds, New Riders, Indianapolis.

Burnett, C. & Bailey, C. (2014). Conceptualising collaboration in hybrid sites: Playing minecraft together and apart in a primary classroom. In: Burnett, C., Davies, J., Merchant, G. & J. Rowsell (ed.). New literacies around the globe: Policy and pedagogy. Abingdon, Oxon, Routledge

Foshee and Nelson (2014), ‘Avatar Personalisation: Towards the Enhancement of Competence Beliefs’, International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations, (6)2 p. 1-12

JACKSON, Lizzie, GAUNTLETT, David and STEEMERS, Jeanette (2009). Children in virtual worlds: Adventure rock users and producers study.

MENOTTI, GABRIEL (2012). Videorec as gameplay. Video game subcultures, , 81.

Transcribing a Horse Funeral (Minecraft Club #4 11.11.14)

week 4Rather than posting my reflections on the full session this week I have chosen to share a method of transcription that I have been trialling. So far, alongside my fieldwork, I have produced transcripts of sections of each of the four club sessions. These transcripts have arisen both from screencasts and video of the children’s play. I have taken a number of different approaches: transcribing speech in isolation, transcribing speech on top of live video (using Camtasia), detailed multimodal microanalysis that includes gesture and gaze and, after week three, a musical score of the children’s singing. This week I have used a method that was bought to my attention by Lauran Doak during her presentation on methods of transcription. I was particularly interested in an example by Plowman and Stephen (2008) where they had created a transcript in the form of a comic strip, showing speech, direction and interaction (albeit using a very different example to the one presented here).

Using Comic Life I have adopted this technique to form an account of an event from this week’s club. This is a highly abridged version, mainly in order to ensure anonymity of participants. The longer version also includes additional dialogue and photographs from the classroom, along side the screenshots from the game.

comic 1 comic 2

As with all methods of transcription there are affordances and drawbacks, many of which only become fully apparent during the process of application. As with all methods of transcription, this is a fairly time consuming process but does, as a result, require a close focus on the original video. I like the ability to present text and action (whether embodied or virtual) together on the page. The storying technique seems appropriate for conveying events with a strong narrative element to them. However, whilst it is possible to present multiple voices through the use of different speech bubbles I’m not sure it’s always clear who is speaking. The nature of the genre also means that an event is necessarily reduced to short descriptive sentences, although this does not always have to be a problem – depending on the intended focus of the resulting analysis. What is clear is that transcription is not just one fixed process and I will add this version to my growing bank of methods.

Reference:

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

Notes on using a ‘Virtual Models’ Method

In this post, at an early stage in my research project, I provide a brief synopsis of my application of a ‘virtual models’ method – inspired by David Gauntlett’s non-virtual ‘Creative Explorations’– used to seek the children’s opinions and feelings about their participation in Minecraft Club.

Photo 24-10-2014 12 51 20

Background

In the methodological outline for this ethnography, I stated that I would set tasks for smaller groups of club participants to create virtual, in-game representations of their feelings about the club, at a number of interval during the project. This would happen aside from the regular timetabled club and would use the Pocket Edition of Minecraft on the iPads rather than the Laptop version of Minecraft Edu.

My rational for this approach was twofold: Firstly, I intended to further involve a version of the virtual world in the research process, thereby utilising a medium that the children are already enthusiastic about, and proficient in, acting as a stimulus for further group discussion.

Secondly, inspired by Gauntlett’s (2007) use of ‘identity models’ constructed using Lego, this method was chosen to give the children and opportunity to use their own ‘visual voice’ (Gauntlett, 2007, p.107), circumventing the ‘inherent linear mode of speech’ by presenting ‘a set of ideas all in one go’ (Gauntlett, 2007, p. 126). Adapting this method to work in a virtual context seemed appropriate given the focus of the study around a virtual world, particularly given Minecraft’s (admittedly simplified) status as something of a ‘virtual lego’. In this way, I hoped that children would be engaged in more sustained thinking, processing and representing of their ideas to supplement the other data collected during the fieldwork.

Outline of the session

Last week I conducted the first hybrid ‘virtual models’ / interview session with three club members, who attended voluntarily and enthusiastically. I had initially positioned this as ‘a group interview’ – which drew no volunteers from the group. However, when I subsequently mentioned that we would be using the game itself to aid our discussions, a number of hands were quickly raised (Another win for the pulling power of technology there, I think).

Seated around a table in their classroom during lunchtime, I generated a map in Minecraft on my iPad Mini and the three boys joined on their local network. As a result, all four of our avatars were present in the same virtual space, just as the four of us were also present in the same material setting. I verbally set them the task of building something that would reflect their feeling about Minecraft Club or Minecraft itself. I explained that this might seem like a challenging concept, but that anything they came up with was fine. It was refreshing how easily they took up this challenge, as if this was something they were asked to do on a regular basis. They created in game and we talked for around 20 minutes until it was their allotted lunchtime. I began drawing the session to a close but they requested to come back and continue once they had finished eating, so we continued the session on their return for another ten minutes. I took a video recording of the session, primarily to record the conversation and some of the action on my screen. I also took screenshots, at random intervals, to capture the construction of the models from my perspective. I have transcribed the conversations from the sessions.

While the children built I asked questions, sometimes leading the discussion and at other times being led by their agenda. Two of the three children were very vocal, one was less forthcoming during the discussion in general and seemed very focus on his task of creation, but was very happy to describe his model. Below I have briefly presented screenshots of the models in production, along with the transcripts of conversation that related directly to these models. Our conversations also covered a wide range of topics, including the group’s propensity to break into song, the origins of their ideas, their feelings about collaboration and the affordances of this ‘virtual models’ method.

The Models

  • Child 1’s Model – relating to infinite possibility

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Child 1: Do you need me to explain why I’m making a floating house…?

Me: You can explain it now if you like, if you’re prepared to.

Child 1: I’m making a floating house because simply because you can’t do that in real life. In Minecraft… there are no limits. You can do what… you… want! There’s no limits and you just don’t have that in real life. That’s one of the great things about Minecraft.

  • Child 2’s Model – relating to a feeling of belonging

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Child 2: Because I feel at home at Minecraft club, cos I’m with my friends.

Me: So you’re building a home? And Minecraft club makes you feel at home?

Child 2: Sometimes if I’m playing it at home… If I play it with my friends I feel like I’m at home.. or not at home it’s like magic!

Child 1: That makes a lot of sense!

Child 2: A lot of sense! Yeah I always make sense!

  • Child 3’s Model – relating to satisfaction and achievement

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Child 2: I built a village cos I like villages in Minecraft.

Me: Ok. What do you like about the villages?

Child 3: It’s like you can… Do lots of stuff in the village and there’s lots of different types of village.

Child 2: And you can trade with villagers

Child 3: Yeah and you can trade them

Me:  So these villages that you’ve built, they’re kind of erm… They exist in the game, the game makes them, is that right?

Child 1: Yeah generated game structures.

Me: You’ve built something that’s actually replicated something that the game generated?

Child 1: It just gives you that satisfaction like: ‘I can beat the game’ cos you can do the stuff that the game can!

Child 3: I can do the game. Basically… Do the game, at life, so…

Conclusions

These first models are perhaps more conventional in their traditional Minecraft-ness than I would have expected, given the unlimited scope of colour and variety afforded by the tools available in creative mode. In retrospect however, given the very limited introduction I gave the task, it should not be surprising that the children’s models are more literal than metaphorical in nature. This is something I will work on with other groups, and in my future sessions with this group, both through the nature of my introduction and the more conceptual nature of future questions, which may relate to ideas of identity and their experience of place and space. This said, I must also be careful not to push my aesthetic expectations on the children, just as I wouldn’t wish to put words in their mouths! Nevertheless, as a first attempt, this session enabled some effective discussion that would otherwise not have occurred, given a purely verbal focus.

Reference:

GAUNTLETT, David (2007). Creative explorations: New approaches to identities and audiences. London, Routledge.

Notes on Multimodal Ethnography

DICKS, Bella, SOYINKA, Bambo and COFFEY, Amanda (2006). Multimodal ethnography. Qualitative research, 6 (1), 77-96.

I think it is worth briefly summarising my notes on this article as it has given me a few things to consider with regards to multimodal ethnography.

Dicks et al suggest that different media afford different kinds of meaning (2006, p. 77). Comparing firstly photography with writing, and then video with writing, they draw out the different benefits and drawbacks of each media type for representing the multimodal fieldsite. However, they warn that ‘mixing media is a complex project (2006, p. 78) because ‘a multi-modal ethnography is not simply a mosaic’ (2006, p. 78) – thus problematising my existing view of ethnography… I may have been slightly blasé about neatly stitching together multiple accounts without yet having done enough thinking about how this might actually arise. I’ll hold that thought for now, though.

They define data as ‘the represented world as we know and experience it, rather than the ‘world in itself”, which is an important distinction when thinking about the limitations and affordances of different data collection methods. They go on to make a distinction between two levels of multimediality – that of the field itself and that of the representational media chosen (2006, p. 79), suggesting that ‘as soon as we use recording technologies… we are working with a much reduced range of media and modes than those occurring in the field’ (2006, p.84) So, videos, fieldnotes, photographs – these are not data but representations of the fieldsite data. They distinguish between modes and media – meaning-making in the fieldsite is multimodal, this is represented by multiple media (2006, p. 79). In the field, we observe the media, not the mode itself – the media is the specific form in which the mode is realised.

So, given the relative merits of different representational media in different contexts, this article further strengthens my intention to use multiple methods to represent the fieldsite data – whilst considering carefully the affordances of each. It has perhaps encouraged me to tighten up on my use of terms (not only those many ‘m’ words, but also to think carefully about how I am using the word ‘data’). Finally, if my final account of the ‘lived experience’ ultimately needs to be represented in writing, what meaning will be lost? And, more importantly, how could this challenge be overcome?

Notes on Narrative Accounts

‘Language is such an imprecise vehicle I sometimes wonder why we bother with it.’ – Karen Joy Fowler, ‘We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves’

Any attempt to create a readable account of a reality is inevitably constrained by the limitations inherent in the methods used to construct it, just as it is coloured by the perspective of the individual involved in its creation. As such, the weekly narrative accounts of fieldwork, presented on this blog, are not presented as a definitive summary of events – rather they are one particular retelling, arising from a filtering and editing process that looks something like the diagram below. However, from the moment of observation there begins an inevitable process of narrowing, of reduction.

process

In ‘Camera Lucida’, a book of reflections on photography, Barthes comments ‘…of all the objects in the world: why choose (why photograph) this object, this moment, rather than some other?’ (Barthes, p.6) Photography, as Barthes asserts, requires the photographer to make particular choices. The ethnographic observer is faced with a similar dilemma, with their representation of truth being inherently influenced by their own perspective. Any observer is required to make a choice when they observe a scene. As Ball suggests, ‘a decision to select or focus is of course also a decision to set aside or exclude other issues or contexts’ (1984). Furthermore, exclusion happens as a matter of sheer necessity: It is simply not possible to see everything.

Based on this limited view of events, the observer’s field notes, in their necessary brevity, further reduce the multiplicity of meanings into single strands – they are selective and involve choices made in the moment. Therefore, omissions are made; as ‘great parts of the real world experienced by the participant observer, probably the greater part, is selected out’ (Ball, 1984). Observed events are unintentionally edited out of being. Exact phrases spoken are paraphrased or transcribed in précis. Notes are taken as an aid to an unreliable memory whilst every choice of word excludes an almost infinite array of equally valid alternatives.

The process of converting and elaborating on these notes to transform them into a readable narrative account relies on the memory of the observer. In fleshing out these notes to make a final, readable account, I act quickly in order to ensure the most accurate recollections, sparked by the field notes, make it in to print. However, memory is notoriously unreliable and accuracy can never be guaranteed. In addition, events, actions, feelings do not directly translate into words – they can only strive to give an impression. Just as a note drawn on a stave can only represent a sound played, words are not an event – they are a mere impression, a trace.

So, given these limitations, why bother? Well, in spite of their limitations, written narrative accounts created in this way can still make a valuable contribution. Just as something is lost in their creation it is also possible to argue that something is gained. These accounts, told from a narrator’s perspective, are sometimes emotive and persuasive in tone and serve to capture the changes, the extremes, the most visible and audible events, the things that draw my attention, alongside the themes that I have consciously chosen to examine, based on my previous thinking. They give a flavour of events, an overview, written by someone who is familiar with the context of the action, who acknowledges their own role in creating the reality, who has reflected on the events and who intends to present a broad and representative picture over a number of weeks – constantly re-evaluating his perspective.

Contrast this for a moment with the type of observation created of an Ofsted inspector, also using observation as a tool, entering a classroom just once for twenty minutes with little understanding of the context, ignoring the impact of their own presence, with the express intention of reducing the events to a judgement in the final account – at best, a few sentences; at worse, a single number.

So, my narrative accounts are just one method, to ultimately be considered alongside my eventual analysis of the many other forms of data that I am collecting – the interviews, the screen shots, the screencasts, the video, the audio recordings, the artefacts created by the children etc. Every method has its benefits and drawbacks, and I will need to constantly reflect on these as the research continues. These accounts will then be combined – not as an attempt to crudely triangulate data to verify a final truth, but rather to weave them together into something that gives as full an account as possible – recalling the idea of the ‘researcher-as-bricoleur (Denzin and Lincoln, 2011, p.4) – presented alongside the detail that outlines the processes that went into constructing it.

References

BALL, Stephen J. (1984). Beachside reconsidered: Reflections on a methodological apprenticeship. The research process in educational settings: Ten case studies, , 69-96.

DENZIN, Norman K. and LINCOLN, Yvonna S. (2011). The discipline and practise of qualitative research. In: DENZIN, Norman K. and LINCOLN, Yvonna S. (eds.). The SAGE handbook of qualitative research. Thousand Oaks, Calif, Sage, 1-19.

FOWLER, Karen Joy (2013). We are all completely beside ourselves: A novel. Penguin.

Notes on Stuff

‘Objects make people’
                 – Daniel Miller (‘Stuff’, p.53)
Some stuff.

Some stuff.

I have come across reference to Daniel Miller’s work on material culture a number of times (most recently in a seminar by Susan Jones‘ around her brilliant paper ‘How people read and write and they don’t even notice’: everyday lives and literacies on a Midlands council estate). Here, I want to briefly explore, with relation to Miller’s work, why I think it is important for my ethnography to include a focus on the material as well as the social, and how these two elements are actually tied very closely. In his book, ‘Stuff’, Miller outlines why the ‘stuff’ (an all encompassing term that evades definition) that surrounds us is so important, suggesting that ‘Culture comes above all from stuff’ (p. 54). By way of illustration, he explains how the clothing we wear – rather than being purely functional or an expression of self – actively works to determine what the self is (p. 40). In other words, we are made by things and, therefore, as ethnography is ‘a devotion to the particular’ (p. 22) we should be concerned at least as much with how things make people as the other way round (p. 42).

In my current research setting, a cursory inventory of the most evident stuff would include the computers and other devices being used by the children. However, beyond this surface, the important stuff is not just technology stuff; a full account of the material culture needs to go much further than this to also focus the commonplace things, present in the classroom and the school, that often go unnoticed (eg. the furniture, the books and pens, the displays, the ceiling tiles, the dated pattern in the curtains) and the children’s stuff (eg. their uniform, their bags, their coats, their loom bands, their possessions). To what extent is the club, and the children’s interactions within it, informed by the nature of what surrounds them? Miller suggests that the less we are aware of objects the stronger their capacity to control us (‘They determine what takes place to the extent that we are unconscious of their capacity to do so’ (p. 50)) and so to focus only on the foregrounded objects, or indeed the human to human interactions (virtual or otherwise), would be in danger of excluding a whole level of meaning.

In this particular case, there is another level that needs considering too – that of the ‘virtual stuff’ that the children make, and work around, within Minecraft. In some ways, this virtual, in-game stuff seems more evident than the embodied stuff – the virtual is perhaps less familiar and less likely to go unnoticed. But whilst the virtual world is bound within a limited, unalterable context (there is a large but finite variety of building blocks, for example) the spacial landscape is infinite. Within this context, I will need to examine how the children appropriate and re-appropriate the game’s resources, sometimes / often not for their intended purpose. I will need to listen to and observe how their actions are framed and constrained by this virtual stuff. And, in that same way that a deconstruction of the virtual stuff that forms the videogame’s mechanics (the hidden code running in the background that makes decisions about what is and isn’t available and possible within the videogame) may help us to understand how children are making meaning in a virtual space, perhaps a similar deconstruction of the similarly hidden, taken for granted mechanics, ‘coded’ into the background by the material culture of the classroom  can also help shed further light on their embodied experiences. Continue reading