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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SiOE Doctoral Conference 2016 Comic Abstract

Very much looking forward to presenting at Sheffield Institute of Education’s Second Doctoral Conference on 5th November. As well as the text only version of the abstract I also put together the following comic strip version, which seemed appropriate given the focus of the talk.

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The conference website is here: http://iguest2.wixsite.com/sioedocconf2016

Expanding the Limits of Participatory Analysis: Forthcoming Workshop

Expanding the Limits of Participatory Analysis: New Ways of Seeing and Knowing.

I will be be discussing comics as a participatory methodology as part of a workshop at the Royal Geographical Societies International conference on 31st August – more details below:

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On Wednesday 31st August, at the 2016 Royal Geographies Society Annual International Conference, I will be jointly conducting a Participatory Geographies Research Group (PyGyRg) sponsored workshop on the use of visual, participatory methods at the conference with colleagues Larissa Povey (2) and Kiri Langmead (3). Details below:

Abstract: Discussing their use of participatory visual methods, Guillemin and Drew (2010, p.184) suggest that ‘participants, as producers of the image are the most […] appropriate persons to give meaning to the image.’  While aligning with the reflexive epistemologies of participatory methods, how to engage participants in analysis and how to balance this engagement with researchers’ own analytical endeavours demands further investigation.

Understanding analysis to be woven through the whole research process, the session will discuss and critique three approaches to participatory analysis: (1) the use of comic strips in the analysis of children’s engagement in collaborative video game play; (2) the use of photo-elicitation in analysing women’s experiences of conditionality and punishment; and (3) the use of narrative and ‘resonance response’ in the analysis of cooperative members understandings of work and economy.

In the spirit of PyGyRg, and recognising the need for critique and debate, the session will be structured to ‘promote openness and fluidity and not to ‘police the boundaries’ (Wynne-Jones, 2015) around what is and what is not participatory analysis.  To this end, the session will follow the format of the third approach, enabling attendees to reflect on past and lived experiences of participatory analysis through direct engagement.

Session outline: In the first 30 minutes of the session, the three researchers will present their experiences of participatory analysis as outlined in the abstract.  Attendees will be asked to listen and note down on post-it notes: any points that resonate with, challenge or contradict their own experiences; points they find interesting or problematic; and any questions.  Attendees will then be asked (as a whole group or in smaller groups of 10, depending on attendance) to share and group their notes into themes.  These themes will form a framework of a 30-40 minute discussion, exploring the challenges and potential of participatory analysis.

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.

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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/

‘This is not a door’: thoughts on directions in representation

Collecting a few quick thoughts, ideas and references, starting with a ‘sign’ above a ‘door’…

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During a Minecraft ‘virtual models’ discussion session, I noticed that a player had placed a sign above a door. It read ‘this is not a door‘. Asking why he had placed this particular sign here the player, <Castaway112>, simply insisted, ‘because it’s not a door’. Another player, <yoloface23jr>, repeated this assertion and, after my own comment that ‘so, everything is not always as it seems in Minecraft…’, we moved on elsewhere in the game and in our discussion. I wish I had pursued the issue further, but I didn’t.

Here, months later, returning to this screenshot of door (the ‘not-a-door’ door) provides me a ‘way in’ to thinking about representation. Recalling this sign now I am reminded of this image by Rene Magritte called ‘The Treachery of Images’.

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Of course (of course?) it’s not a pipe – it’s a picture of a pipe; a representation. Similarly, <Castaway112>’s door ‘n’est pas une porte‘; a number of other possible (imagined) responses could be…

“It’s not a door, it’s a picture of a door.”

“It’s not a door, it’s a Minecraft door.”

“It’s not a door, it’s pixels on a screen.”

“It’s not a door, it’s a sign.”

“It’s not a door, it’s some writing about a ‘not-a-door.”

Each of these possible answers return to the idea of representation, albeit from different directions (I’m resisting saying ‘layers’ as layers don’t feel very rhizomic). Throughout this project I have considered issues of representation;  how I am representing the lived experience of others, how different  ways of collecting and representing data have implications and, specifically, how comic strip transcription can represent a scene differently to a textual transcript.

horse funeral comicDeleuze and Guattari’s (1980) rhizome as an ‘image of thought’ has underpinned my thinking, itself a representation of a way of thinking about stuff (and one which includes itself). This has led me to, increasingly, exploring and representing my own thinking visually. For instance, in the following panel from a longer comic strip I use text and images to explain the idea of approaching the club’s soundscape as a rhizome, as an alternative to pursuing a more linear, chronological reading (or ‘listening’). Nick Sousanis’ ‘Unflattening’ (2015), which challenges ‘the primacy of words over images’, helped me to consider using images to explore metaphors of thought.

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Also in relation to the the soundscape of the club and considering the challenges of representing (and, in particular, visualising) sound, I have producing a number of visual representations (or non-cartographic, composite maps) of the club’s sound, drawing on John Cage’s (1969) anthology of unconventional music manuscripts.

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Here I was also recently inspired by Jon Dean’s recent presentation which included his representation of a particular soundscape, performed simultaneously verbally and through composite sound. I must also credit Diane A Rodger’s recent talk on underground comic strips as part of #focussheffield – in particular her drawing of ‘Rivelin Valley’ in Sheffield helped me to consider how a drawn composite image of a place can effectively represent a location in a particular way.

So, what is this door that’s not a door? It’s likely that I will never fully know what it represented for the player. But for me? I suggested at the beginning of this post that it was a way in: an introduction. But equally it could provide a way out: a conclusion. Whatever it is, for me, at this point, it definitely represents the challenge of representation.

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References:

Cage, J.  (1969) ‘Notations’ Something Else Press, New York.

Dean, J. (2015) “Submitting Love?” A Sensory Sociology of Southbourne. Qualitative Inquiry. 1-7.

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

Magritte, . R (1929) ‘The Treachery of Images’: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Treachery_of_Images

Rogers, D. A,  Blog here: https://missytassles.wordpress.com/

Sousanis, N. (1995) ‘Unflattening’. Harvard University Press, London.

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.