The World is Teeming: ‘Valuing the Visual’

The recent Literacies Conference at Sheffield University was, as usual, a brilliant event, populated by interesting people. I acted as discussant during the first day, tasked with summing up at the end of the day. The discussant role, it transpires, is challenging but also really rewarding as it forces you to make connections between presentations that you might not necessarily make as a regular conference attendee. It is definitely worth having a scroll through the conference hashtag #LitVis2017 

I presented on the second day, in part considering how the ideas of composer / artist / musician John Cage can be useful for thinking about the complexity of the world. For this I created some new comics, based on some of his reflections on the world via his art. With the conference’s focus on ‘valuing the visual’ I considered how visual and artistic methods open up possibilities for thinking about and representing the world, drawing on Cage’s concept of indeterminacy:

I have also been playing with the idea of motion, reflected in the use of some subtly animated aspects to some of my slides. I love Cage’s quote (from his book ‘Silence: Lectures and Writings‘) as a way of seeing the world as constantly in motion, ever changing and full of potential. Its also notable for its reference in Paul Auster’s recent novel ‘4-3-2-1’ where it becomes a pivotal quote for one of the versions of the book’s protagonist. Taken across these different contexts, the quote also serves as a reminder of the potential for literature / literacy to affect and influence lives.

 

During the event, artist Rachael Hand presented a brilliant curated exhibition of artists books and creative theses. This included my thesis, alongside the work of many others whose work includes visual elements of different kinds. Photos below are of Rachel Hand’s programme from the event. The final pic of the hands is the expert work of artist Jo Ray.

 

Free the Sheep Award #humblebrag

Warning: incoming #humblebrag

Life post viva has so far been a busy but enjoyable time. Earlier this month I was honored to receive the UKLA/ Wiley Research in Literacy Education Award 2017 for my paper ‘Free the Sheep: improvised song and performance in and around a minecraft community’. The award was given at the amazing Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow, and we were given free reign of the museum after the award ceremony. I also presented around the paper during the following day and nice people said nice things, not least Jackie Marsh:

The panel felt that the paper was highly original, and breaks new ground in the presentation and analysis of data. It is theoretically complex and demonstrates a high level of critical analysis, offering a highly topical review of literacy across hybrid physical and virtual spaces”.

The paper itself has been made public access for the year, and is available here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/lit.12076/full
Here are some photos from around the event… (note the incoming spitfire in the first photo, credit to @stollingsl for the pic)

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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