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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Using Virtual Models #4

Another lunchtime discussion session where four children built models using the iPad version, contributing to the ongoing map of models. This time I used some printed screenshots and photographs from the club as a form of photo elicitation to prompt discussion. I’m struck by how visually diverse the children’s creations continue to be – seen here are some new creations such as the massive spiral, the illuminated ‘FUN’ sign and a giant waterfall bridge. Again, I’ll keep this post text-light, based simply on some screenshots taken during the session.

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Annotating a Chat Log (Minecraft Club #13 24.02.15)

A first attempt at using the annotation function in Word to try to make sense of some of the chat log, adding some wider context.

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Bullet Points (Minecraft Club #13 24.02.15)

I have been reading my fieldnotes and reviewing some of the video from this week’s session. As usual, there is so much going on that it is hard to know where to begin. For some reason, it seems to become even more difficult over time. This week, I am simply going to list some things I noticed, to return to at a later stage.

  • Nick Clegg is scheduled to visit the school later in the week. Before the club the children discuss possible questions they could ask him. There is a suggestion that they could ask for more money to buy updated laptops.

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  • Desks are positioned differently – preparing for SATS, using a more ‘formal’ seating arrangement. Children don’t move these but squeeze three children and laptops around spaces made for two.

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  • Children talk about how they have Skyped each other at home ‘in the middle of the night’, and a mischievous telephone based game called ‘Find Neil’ involving phoning random numbers and asking for Neil.
  • Discussion about how Dads dance compared to Mums, with demonstrations. This leads to a discussion about the differences in boys’ and girls’ behaviour. The conclusion reached by two children was that girls are more concerned about being embarrassed than boys.
  • The term ‘house hacking’ is used by Joe to indicate that someone is trying to enter his house through the cellar. ‘Stop hacking my house!’

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  • There seems to be a move from creating domestic space to establishing more shared areas – there is a restaurant, an ice cream stand and a trading area.

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  • The farm continues, with the boys negotiating with the girls to join in with what they have started.

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  • More disagreements about territory and trespass. Ben: ‘She was invading our space’. At one point, Ben takes Mia’s laptop to move her out of his space, much to her amusement.

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  • My role in the game is suggested by one child as being ‘our God’ due to my ability to give resources to the children. Children make cases for why they should be given a particular resource. This is then given to each of the participants, whether they requested it or not. This then leads to negotiation between players. I approve requests for Netherrack (‘to light our rooms’) and seeds (‘to grow at the farm’), but not for flint as this is proposed as being necessary ‘to pretend to shoot people’.

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  • Some children found their way into the nether, where they gathered resources that they couldn’t get anywhere else in the game.

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  • Girls singing ‘The Pirate Song’: ‘When I was young, I had some fun, the day I went to sea’. Boys don’t join in.
  • Tom takes the GoPro and films himself playing for a while, talking to the camera and providing a dramatic, exaggerated commentary on his gameplay: ‘Last time I checked I’m not sure I was having fun, but still…. to be truthful, I think I’m having a bit of what an emotional breakdown feels like (He smiles to himself)… This is annoying. (Staring straight into the lens) This is probably going to make me go through all the flipping stages of grief…’

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  • He also reflects on the comments of others. To Molly: Why do you get every precious rock?(mocking voice) ‘It’s decorative, It’s decorative, It’s decorative ‘ (Mock annoyed) Molly! They are not decorative, they are precious rocks, used in many ways! aaarrrggghhh!’
  • Tom has a large ball of bluetac, that also makes its own GoPro appearance at the end of his video.

Using Virtual Models #3

In this post I will reflect on last week’s discussion activity – as before, loosely based on David Gauntlett’s ‘Identity Models’ work.

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Other events in school this week meant there was no time for full after-school club session. However, I took the opportunity to conduct another lunchtime discussion session with four of the participants. As before, discussion centred around the children’s creation of virtual models in a shared world – the same shared world that has been used for the previous two discussion sessions.

After updating all iPads to the same version of Minecraft (I had updated my version, forgetting the consequences of incompatibility with the school devices) the four children entered the world, hosted on my iPad. I recorded their dialogue as part of the screencast of my screen. I was present in the world, with the children. Two of the children had not participated in one of these discussion activities before so I briefly explained the presence of the existing models as ‘representations of people’s ideas’. I was later interested to note that the word ‘representation’ had obviously stuck with the two new children as this directed the nature of the virtual models they produced. While I was talking I noticed one of the players finishing off someone else’s ‘player’ model from the previous session by adding a head.

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This week I was interested in exploring the children’s use of space in the game, with a particular focus on the origin and development of the things they create in the game. The task set for the children, therefore, was to simply ‘build something that you think looks good‘. I then used their resulting activity as a basis for discussion with the children about why they had chosen to build the particular model, attempting to unpick their decision making process in relation to virtual creation. This revealed a range of different approaches to the task that demonstrated the children using the game’s resources in quite different ways, taking different routes from their own individual starting points.

None of the children seemed to take any time to think through their model – they all began building immediately.

The models:

  • Flags for England and Finland

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This was created to represent the players of the game in the club. The Finland flag represented this players’ imminent holiday destination. His choice to create something that ‘represented’ something presumably stemmed from my earlier use of the word in relation to previous models. He said he had build flags before ‘a couple of times’ so his idea was also based on his previous experience.

Joe: ‘Well, it’s something that represents us all…It’s not random flags… It sort of looks interesting, because it’s big….’

  • A large sign

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Rob: ‘I’m building me…. No I’m not, I’m building… a building… I’m building myself… no I’m not… Because I think I’m good… No, actually, I’m going to build a sign that says my name!’

Me: ‘Can you think how you got this idea?

Rob: ‘I saw the big person and had an idea ‘why don’t I build a person’, but it didn’t look right so I turned it into a sign.’

Later I noted that his sign had some blocks missing in the top left hand corner and asked if this was intentional. Rob said it’s wasn’t and returned to complete the project – I suspect he may have been occupied with his own alternative project (see the end of this post).

  • A Podium

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This player explained that his podium started out as a lighthouse but adapted when it didn’t look right. The idea for the lighthouse stemmed from the fact that Minecraft allows the player to use light in a number of ways and he wanted to explore the use of this resource:

Callum: ‘It was originally going to be a lighthouse, but after the first three sections I thought ‘this looks too square, it’s not going to work out so I’m going to change it into a podium’

Me: ‘So it’s a podium? Can you think what made you think ‘lighthouse’ in the first place?’

Callum: ‘Well, I like minecraft because as well as playing with blocks you can play with light? And I kind of like the whole ‘playing with light’ aspect, so I wanted to do something with that.’

Conversation then turned to using TNT and whether this was allowed in this alternative world – at this point I was not aware that this linked to Rob’s alternative project.

  • A 3D Chicken  

The chicken earned significant praise from the other children.

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Me: ‘What made you choose a chicken?’

Lisa: ‘Well, I like chickens…’

Me: ‘Real ones or Minecraft ones?’

Lisa: ‘Both. They’re cute. because they have a purpose in the world. To lay eggs’

Me: ‘Who are the eggs for?’

Lisa: ‘For the chicken. I suppose in Minecraft they’re for us….’

Me: ‘Does it look like you wanted it to look?’

Lisa: ‘I didn’t know, like, have an idea of what I wanted it to look like.’

Me: ‘Can you remember which bit of the chilcken you did first?’

Lisa: ‘I started with the feet first, then made a boat shape and then changed it to make it more round’

This model made me think about Lisa’s relationship with animals in the game. Her play often revolves around animals, and a previous model she build also involved animals. I recalled a conversation in a previous session where I heard her discussing an incident in the game where she had killed a pig for food.

Freya: [incredulously] ‘YOU killed a pig? How did you manage that?’

Lisa: ‘Well, I looked the other way!’

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As usual, other topics were discussed too.

  • The children discussed their preference for this type of discussion activity in comparison with their perceptions of what a more formal interview would entail:

Lisa: ‘It’s better than an interview’

Callum: ‘Yeah, I hate interviews. A proper interview, when they’re asking loads of questions about you, they just feel like when they ask all these questions of you they feel like the person doing the interview is intruding on your life, in a way because they’re asking questions about you, personal stuff in the interview, and they feel like they’re trying to intrude….it feel’s like an interrogation or something.’

  • There was some talk about the differences between engagement with different game modes:

Callum: ‘with survival you’ve got to concentrate a lot, you’ve got to stay on task, whereas with creative you can just chill out. If I’m on survival at home I can’t stop because I’m just terrified that I’m going to get blown up!’

  • Callum discussed a building project that he had undertaken at home:

Callum: ‘I had this idea for a community… I just thought… I was watching this TV programme, and there was this big, like, community with allsorts of things from the future and things from the past and from the present….  .so you have Aztec temples and rocket stations and stuff….. It was just a show, a real life thing, but with loads of… like a live action thing – and I thought ‘hey that’s a really good idea, I wonder how I could make something similar’. First I thought about a sketch or something but then I thought ‘hey!’ and then I did it on Minecraft.’

‘What I really love with Minecraft is you can just build anything you want, I mean, before Minecraft it was just dreams people had, and it was just really frustrating because you couldn’t make it in real life… For me, it’s, like, the next best thing to real life. The second most realistic thing, even though it’s make of blocks!’

Finally, as we reached the end of the session, Rob drew our attention to a hole in the ground, demonstrating why he had not perhaps had his full attention on finishing his sign:

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Inside revealed a basement had been dug and filled with Endermen and zombies, recalling the subversion of gameplay often seen during the early stages of the club.

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Context (Minecraft Club #12 03.02.15)

[NB: All names used on this blog are pseudonyms, just in case you wondered]

It seems to be becoming a tradition at the beginning of the club that Tom brings me something that he wants to show me. I think these short exchanges occur while he’s waiting for his computer to boot up, and are seemingly intended to make me smile – which they always do. A few weeks ago he bought me a fake £20 note printed on tissue paper:

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Last week he demonstrated how he could make the noise of a wasp by blowing into his hands. I observed that it didn’t sound much like a wasp. This week he showed how he could ‘magically’ change the colour of his hat by waving it in the air – turning the reversible hat inside out. I asked Tom if I could photograph his hat – he asked why – I said I didn’t want to forget it – he agreed and posed for the shot and continued to wear the hat for most of rest of the session. Had I been teaching this class I would no doubt have asked Tom to remove his hat on the basis that it was inappropriate inside wear, but such rules don’t apply in this club, even though they are the same children, seated at the same tables, in the same room. I noted that Tom’s hat was a Manchester City Football Club hat and wondered how this allegiance sits in a class full of Sheffield Wednesday Supporters.

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Soon, a discussion began between Ben and Mia, focussing on their use of Instagram. Connections are clearly being made between these children, using social media, outside of the classroom. Ben had apparently promised that he would ‘do a challenge’ if he got ten ‘likes’ on a photo he posted. There’s discussion about which challenge he is prepared to do:

Ben: [exaggerating for dramatic effect] ‘Not the chilli challenge – I’d kill myself! Tell me a challenge that doesn’t involve me killing myself!’

Mia suggested the cinnamon challenge, the lemon challenge, the egg challenge, the salt challenge and the ice bucket challenge. All were dismissed by Ben as being too dangerous or unpleasant. Freya told a cautionary tale about ‘a dodgy drink’ that killed someone during a challenge. ‘Some of my brother’s friends know this dude….’ The group fell quiet.

Ben and Tom started singing their version of ‘Uptown Funk’ by Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars.

Someone mentioned the GoPro camera, at this point being worn by Mia. The previous song quickly morphed into the GoPro song that they composed together three weeks ago (‘I’m on a GoPro / I’m on a GoPro’ etc) and the song spread around the room.