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.

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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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Reflecting on the Power of MOOC

I was recently pleased to be invited to contribute to a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) called ‘Exploring Play’, created by Sheffield University and hosted by Futurelearn. What was initially proposed as a written contribution turned into a short video segment. Whilst initially (internally) reluctant about appearing on video, I figured that I needed to overcome this aversion – partly as I had actively relied on my participants allowing me to film them, and also as it provided an opportunity to showcase some of the visual data I have collected during my Minecraft research.

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I named my contribution ‘The diversity of social play in a Minecraft club’. This drew upon three examples of the children’s play (in fact, the same three examples present in a recent poster – below)  in order to act as an overview of the kinds of play the children engaged in during the year-long Minecraft club that I ran last year, as a means of exemplifying the kinds of activities that are possible in such contexts. My contribution formed part of week five’s focus on virtual world play and, aware of the negative press that is often generated around such pursuits, I suppose I also saw this as a good opportunity to dispel the myth that video game play is necessarily isolating or anti-social – not by arguing a point but simply by presenting examples of children’s creative play that arose in and around the game.

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The comments generated during the course this week have been brilliant, and these alone have convinced me of the value of MOOC participation, both as a contributor and a learner. There are currently more than 125 comments posted in the discussion thread related to my video, from a wide range of participants from different backgrounds (academic and non-academic), from across the globe. As a means of broadening engagement with my research, therefore, it has been excellent. The MOOC’s open nature, and its wide focus on play in general (rather than on virtual play specifically) means that the video has been seen by many people for whom videogame play was an unfamiliar or even negative concept, with a number of the comments reflecting that their own views had been challenged or changed by what they had seen. Some were even quite emotional about the content of parts of the video, and the (very) few voices dissent were considered, considerate and open to discussion (the polar opposite of the usual comments stream I have seen on many other online sites, in fact!).

You can view the course (and my small contribution in Week 5) by signing up (for free) here: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/play/2/

Exploring Play MOOC

‘Virtual Worlds and Play – The diversity of social play in a Minecraft Club’

My video contribution about the range of play around Minecraft will form part of this free online course from Sheffield University.

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Perspectives (Minecraft Club #11 27.01.15)

Note: Although I try to write these accounts of the club in the past tense, they often slip into present tense – I’m not entirely sure why, or which is best for this purpose. My tendency to take the position of present tense narrator of events makes me think of a reality show and I wonder, therefore, if this derives from my reflections on video data as well as my fieldnotes. Does the presence of video on the screen in front of me make events seem present, or is it the fact that the club is ongoing that makes the present tense feel more natural?  Or could my tendency for present tense narration be an attempt to establish the fact that I was (am) there, present in the room alongside the children? Does past tense do this too? At the moment I suppose there’s a sense that any of these events have the potential to continue, to be revisited in a future session. When this year of fieldwork is over, then, will data analysis feel different? Will events be more fixed? And does my preference for tense reflect the way I think about the club?

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From the outset of this week, the children made it clear that they had regrouped. Even before the server was running, Rob was telling me that all of the boys had decided to work together on a building project that he had found in the Minecraft annual that he borrowed after last week’s club. He showed me a picture of a simple, multi-storey house that the group intended to build, indicating that their focus was still on creating the domestic space for their community.

The boys' chosen house design, page left, next to the door hanger.

The boys’ chosen house design, page left, next to the door hanger.

As usual, physical location in the classroom space indicated collaboration in the virtual space – where the boys were seated across two tables last week, this week they all joined together around one larger bank of desks. Interestingly, the group of boys who appeared less dominant – in the game and in the room – during previous weeks relocated to join the more dominant group. I asked them how this regrouping occurred, and when – they explain that it began last week but was also consolidated during discussions in the week in between. This makes me wonder how much talk away from the club relates to their gameplay. As last week, the girls were seated separately to the boys. Their gameplay occurred close to the boys in the virtual space, but was definitely separate. At times there was talk about trade between the groups – this type of talk did not occur within the groups, suggesting that all resources owned by individuals were available to pool between the members.

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This week, while the children were playing the game, at least 25 minutes of the session involved me discussing some school business (club related and otherwise) with other adults from the school. This does not happen very often as the club usually coincides with staff meetings, so teachers are generally needed elsewhere.  As a result of these discussions there was a significant period of time unaccounted for in this week’s fieldnotes and my notes were much shorter. This period, however, was covered by one player – Ben – filming from his perspective, using the GoPro camera attached to his forehead. I intend to look in more detail at this video in future. However, a quick re-watching – involving watching parts at double speed, pausing some bits and skipping over others, gives an interesting insight into the gameplay of one individual.

Even a brief look at the video demonstrated that Ben talked to every single one of the other ten players at some point during the club. This amounted to a significant amount of time spent away from the computer and looking away from the screen. These conversations generally appeared to be related to the game. Although I haven’t listened to every conversation, many of the ones I have heard related to trading resources with others. He can also be seen using other children’s computers, as well as his own. I intend to give the GoPro to one of the girls’ next week – Freya had a brief trial at the end of the session.

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I ended the session by asking children to tell me something about their experience:

  • Freya told me that she learnt how to chop down wood.
  • Thomas explained that he was trying to build another house but Callum accidentally burnt it.
  • Joe said,  ‘it’s been good!’ When I asked him to elaborate he suggested that he was happy that everyone was working together ‘in one community’ this week.
  • Rob told me that he had found a secret passage under the stairs.
  • Molly said that her group had built extension to house, with a garden and balcony, and were planning on building a farm next week.

Establishing Territory and Embodying Play (Minecraft Club #10 20.01.14)

Establishing Territory 

Before play began this week, some children were eager to discuss the events of last week with the group. Already, in the way the children had seated themselves, I could see allegiances being cemented. The larger group, previously made up of girls and boys, were split on to two separate tables – boys on one, girls on the other. The other group of boys were seated on a third table.

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The girls spoke first:

Freya: ’They kept invading our house They kept stealing the bed

Tom : ’The house is yours if we get to keep the bed!

The boys kept speaking over the girls, even though I asked them not to. Here, I had to revert to teacher mode and insist, firmly, that the boys gave the girls a chance to talk.

Freya: ’What annoyed me was that Thomas [said he] owned the house…. Because he put blocks there he said that he owned the house.

Me: [to Freya] ‘What made it your house?

Molly: [answering for Freya?] ’We built it! We put the stuff there.

Me: ‘So what would you like to change from last week?

Freya: ‘They don’t come in the house and steal our stuff and that they don’t break things

The boys responded:

Ben: ’I have three things – it’s called ‘banter’; the second one, the bed is coming back; number three, Thomas did kind of make the house….

Thomas: ’You can have your house on one condition that I’m allowed to come in, because we let you in our house’.

This wrestling with who was allowed to go where, and who owned what, has been a noticeable theme over the last few weeks. The word ‘banter – as an explanation for an event that has annoyed someone – is one that re-occurs too. Ben accused the girls of being ‘divas’ – they responded by laughing.

At some point during this week’s club the ‘House of Coolness – Girl’s Only sign was replaced with a sign reading, ‘Hi, some people can enter, only if you ask us and we say yes’. Two of the girls joined together in singing the chorus of ‘Our House’ by Madness – yet another example of in game associations sparking off songs.

Week 10 screenshot (9)

Signs also appeared outside rooms, indicating ownership:

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The first group of boys further established their shared in-game identity; Ben announced that they were wearing diamond helmets to identify that they were from ‘the same tribe’. (Not for the first time I am reminded of ‘Lord of the Flies’). Later, Thomas declared that he was building a fort ‘…just for me and my buddies: only people with diamond helmets’.

Embodying Play

This week, I was again struck by how much time some of the children spent away from their computers. One boy in particular seemed to be spending more time away from his computer than he spent using it. Interestingly, he was also the player who seemed to be the most visibly and verbally excited about events in the game; somehow, though, his excitement manifested itself in less time at the keyboard rather than more. His gameplay seemed to extend beyond a direct connection with the game through the computer, also encompassing his conversations with others and movement around the room – all of which seemed to relate to his participation in the game.

During this session, I noticed how he often seemed to be picking up and carrying objects around the room, particularly chairs and stools, seemingly without a reason that requires the relocation of a seat – thus prompting my (inevitable?) reaction: ‘PUT THAT DOWN!’ Looking back on this video I wonder now if this could be him acting out events from the game in the classroom – using stools and chairs in the place of blocks. Later he could certainly be seen miming the process of using a diamond pickaxe, holding the imaginary tool above his head before bringing it down on the equally imaginary blocks below.

Chairs as blocks?

Chairs as blocks?

Later when I asked him, again, why he away from his computer (a genuine question – not actually a thinly veiled instruction to sit down) he replied that he was waiting for his ‘iron to cook in the game – the waiting in the game seemingly being mirrored by an impatient wandering to fill time in the embodied space. I pointed out that he could still be doing something within the game while he waited and, returning to his keyboard, he agreed in a way that suggested that he genuinely hadn’t thought of this.

The Zombie Spawner

The Zombie Spawner

Later, when Rob discovered a ‘random zombie spawner’ all of the boys rushed over and gathered excitedly around his screen, seemingly in celebration. The girls, meanwhile, remained seated throughout.

Researcher Intentions

At the outset of each session I generally arrive with some idea of where I might try to focus my attention. Invariably, this ends up changing as I am led by events unfolding during the club. Nevertheless, I persist with this approach at the outset, in the belief that I will at least be starting the session taking a certain perspective. This week I had decided to focus on the play of the girl’s group. I had also decided to stay offline, in order to see what being absent from the game felt like. I managed to maintain the former approach to some extent, although I found the need to split my field notes into two columns – one column relating to the girls game play and a second relating to anything else that I noticed going on around them – often interactions and interruptions by the boys. In terms of staying out of the game, I was less successful, lasting about ten minutes before logging on, finding that I was missing the opportunity to be able to witness events that I was hearing being discussed. There was some discussion, for instance, of someone typing a message with the word ‘game spelt wrongly, much to the amusement of some – I was frustrated not being able to see what this referred to for myself.  Watching on the screens of others players didn’t give me the control or perspective I have been used to, reminding me of the rationale behind my early decision to make this a participatory ethnography.

Gifting blocks

Gifting blocks

There later came a point where I purposefully and directly influenced gameplay. I overheard a number of conversations where the children were unable to find iron – this seemed to be the most sought after block in the game, enabling them to craft tools and other items. In a moment of virtual generosity, therefore, I used my admin powers to secretly gift each child ten iron blocks. This prompted celebratory, grateful dancing from a number of boys. In addition I explained to them that they could have any other block if they could agree on a single choice, as a group. They decided on diamond, so I gave each player five diamond blocks to use; cue further celebration.