LEARNING SPACES / DIGITAL EDUCATION / MULTIMODALITY / SOUND
Recording the sound of the American History class, November 2016
Notes from a workshop delivered earlier today by Dr Martin Parker (Edinburgh College of Art) on the subject 'Processing Sound for Research'. This was part of the Digital Day of Ideas, organised by the Digital Scholarship team at Edinburgh University. Here is the abstract shared ahead of Martin’s session:
Outlined below are some of the ideas from the session that resonated most closely with my own research, including the gathering of ambient sound recordings as a way of investigating meaning making around assessment, as well as my work around the ways that online students negotiate and construct space for learning.
To begin, there's a growing attention (in terms of the number of interested researchers and accompanying funding) in research that looks to sound in its various forms: sound is “an increasingly lively issue”, according to Martin.
When undertaking these types of research however, we need to be aware that “sound is slippery”. It can be problematic in terms of how it is recorded, reproduced and more generally understood.
At the same time “it’s now or never with sound”: compared to some other forms of data, sound appears and then vanishes in an instant, never to be heard again in the same way.
The microphone is ambivalent to what we are interested in. As researchers we might be focused on what the interview participant is saying, however the microphone will likely be gathering many other (possibly competing) sounds - what Martin referred to as the "cocktail party" effect. This means its necessary to take extra care to where the recording device is placed and being pointed (for instance, the mic on an iPhone is counter-intuitively as the bottom of the device meaning it can often be unknowingly pointed towards the interviewee rather than the research participant).
When we listen to a sound recording we are hearing the effects of the device. The particular qualities (and limitations) of the devices used for recording and reproducing sound will produce an aural representation of what was heard, not an exact record. We need to recognise and acknowledge this when we come to analyse or discuss the gathered data.
When we play sounds, we need to recognise that an audience will hear more than we wanted them to hear. In Martin’s view this presents a need for particular methods and terminology designed around sound.
Every room has what Martin described as a "sonic signature". At the same time, in some of the spaces where we teach and learn we’re being “assaulted by a whole range of sounds” over which we can exercise little control. The place where learning takes place can be a “really fraught space”.
While there is a tendency in some places to fetishise the use of sophisticated technology around the recording of sound, this can act as a barrier to entry. In reality, all sorts of devices including SmartPhones and laptops are built with the capacity for recording sound. When we use devices such as the microphone on an iPhone to record sound we can actually gather a much richer set of data that extends beyond the research participant’s voice: we should acknowledge and exploit this.
Sounds get lost and can be hard to find again (for instance in the way that are saved on devices). It’s essential then that we take care to save, tag and then file sound files as soon as possible after they are recorded. This can be helped by adding metadata to the audio file, even including a photograph of where the sound was recorded. Within iTunes for instance, it's possible add a whole lot of metadata to an audio file which, as well as documenting some of the detail around the sound recording, makes it possible to more easily search for data that otherwise might be hard to find at a later stage in the research process.
Adding metadata to a sound recording.
My colleague (and supervisor) Jen Ross invited me to talk to staff and students here at Edinburgh University about how I use social media to support my research. These are the slides from the session, which took place earlier today:
I began my presentation by offering a rationale for using social media in my research, before going on to talk about some of the benefits and challenges I have experienced though the use of this blog and Twitter. More generally, I put across the following points:
With thanks to Jen Ross and Judy Robertson from the Centre for Research in Digital Education for inviting me to share my experiences.
Yesterday evening I visited the UCL Knowledge Lab where, as a guest of Sophia Diamantopolou and Gunther Kress, I spoke to the Visual and Multimodal Forum about one aspect of my Doctoral research, around the relationship between multimodality and assessment within increasingly digital educational environments. The central argument of my presentation was that our approach to richly multimodal assessment in the Humanities (and other disciplines and courses that heavily privilege language in its various form) might be informed by looking to existing practice around assessment and feedback within the overtly multimodal undergraduate Architecture studio. Based upon my ethnographic study of an Architectural Design course, combined with a review of the relevant literatures, I proposed a set of questions that those of us in the Humanities might ask in order to offer insights into:
Here are my slides:
To offer the group some context I showed a short video I recorded last year which brings together images, sounds and field notes recorded in the Architectural Design studio. Meanwhile, I drew my presentation to a close by delivering a commentary over the following screen capture which records me (or my avatar) marking a piece of coursework prepared by Graeme Hathaway, a student from the MSc in Digital Education at Edinburgh University (thank you, Graeme).
There's no sound on this, just images.
As the group watched my avatar go underwater in order to mark Graeme’s investigation into immersion within virtual worlds, I described the student-tutor dialogue that took place around the assignment. This included how Graeme and I discussed Kress’s (2005) worked around ‘aptness of mode and audience’. In a practical sense, this involved challenging Graeme to think about selecting the medium for his assignment that would most effectively convey his knowledge, understanding and arguments (aptness of mode). At the same time I invited Graeme to think about what he knew of his audience’s (my) interests that would be suggestive of a particular approach (aptness of audience). That Graeme answered these questions so effectively was reflected in a really imaginative and successful (and immersive!) piece of work.
As well as giving me the opportunity to try out ideas on others with an interest in multimodality, the discussion that followed my presentation yesterday evening had the effect of distilling some of the ideas that have been coming out of my research. Most significantly is the question of just how helpful it is describe a coursework exercise as a ‘multimodal assignment’ or similar. I think there’s a danger that this approach confuses the nature of multimodality itself (especially if we accept, as I do, that all communication is multimodal) whilst also framing multimodality as risky, experimental or somehow ‘other’ to what is scholarly. In my experience this can have the effect of discouraging students who do not believe themselves to be particularly creative, visual or technologically sophisticated, whilst at the same distracting other students from asking what is the most appropriate way of conveying their ideas.
The seminar drew to a close with a broad consensus that rather than pushing students to take a multimodal approach, we might instead invite them to think about the medium that is best suited to representing their ideas, as well as closely matching the interests of the audience and the nature of the course itself. The different is slight, however perhaps places greater attention on thinking about content, audience and form, rather than immediately trying to construct something that is first and foremost multimodal.
With thanks to Sophia Diamantopolou and Gunther Kress and other members of the Visual and Multimodal Forum for their valuable feedback.
Assessment, feedback and multimodality in Architectural Design
Assessment, learning and digital education
Looking beyond photos: the Architectural site visit
Camera and recorded, scissors and brush: ethnography of a pop-up exhibition
Earlier today (25 April), Michael Sean Gallagher and I delivered a seminar discussing our research around the way that sound features within learning spaces. Our session was part of a series of events for tutors and others working within online education and was organised by the Institute of Academic Development here at Edinburgh University. The central argument of our seminar was that, through an attention to sound, we can better understand the ways that online students experience and construct space for learning, which in turn has implications for learning design and delivery. Our seminar drew on a journal article and then a book chapter we wrote with Sian Bayne, which built upon earlier work undertaken with our colleagues from the MSc in Digital Education. Towards the end of our presentation we spent a bit of time talking about how we have each gone on to use this methodology (which looks for coherence between visual and aural data) within our individual research around mobile learning (Michael) and digital literacy practices around assessment (my work). Here is a recording of the session, kindly provided by Celeste McLaughlin from the Institute of Academic Development, and here are the slides we used:
Our work here should be seen in the context of growing critical interest in sound. This can be seen in a range of different disciplines and settings, including (but not limited to) Shcafer's work around Soundscape Studies (2012), Gandy and Nielsen's interest in the Acoustic City (2014), Fluegge's Consideration of Personal Sound Space (2011) to Van Leeuwen's discussion of the meaning carrying potential of Speech, Music and Sound from a social semiotic position (1999). With an attention to the research value of sound, we invited today's seminar participants to spend time listening and then reflecting upon the following aural representations of the learning spaces of online distance students. In each case the sound recording was submitted alongside an image and a short textual description, in what we called 'digital multimodal postcards'.
Aggie's Learning Space in Xalapa, Mexico
Elise's learning space in Port Harcourt, Nigeria
Looking to my own research meanwhile, I am currently half-way through a data collection exercise where undergraduate students from courses in American History and in Architectural Design have similarly been creating and then sending me digital postcards. For a period of one week in the lead up to a coursework deadline, the students are recording their learning space on every occasion they work on the essay or design project. On this occasion I am particularly interested in the way that a 'sociomaterial lens' (Gourlay & Oliver 2013) offers insights into the digital literacy practices of students, as part of a wider meaning-making assemblage.
Over the last year I have taken thousands of photographs whilst observing students and tutors from Edinburgh University's Architecture programme. At the beginning of this exercise I was mostly interested in recording what took place directly around assessment: preparing the portfolio, presenting work in a review exercise, practices around marking and moderation. Over time though I have sought to capture a broader range of phenomena as I have looked towards sociomateriality as the critical lens for my Doctoral research. From initially focusing on the meaning making rituals of students and tutors around assessment, I have instead been looking to the ways that knowledge construction in the Architecture studio is a more complex entanglement of human, technological and other material interests. Or as Fenwick and Landri describe in their work around sociomaterial assemblages in education:
If I was initially guilty of viewing assessment in an overly simplistic way, as a fairly clear-cut exchange between student and tutor, sociomaterial critiques of education have instead encouraged me to examine the messy reality of what takes in and around the classroom, where 'learning is embedded in action and emerges through practice, processes that produce the objects and characteristics of educational events.’ (Knox and Bayne 2013). In this way assessment can be seen as a performance that depends on the student and tutor, but also looks to the role of curriculum, technology, sound, light, clothing and other visible and invisible actors within an evolving pattern of materiality (Fenwick et al 2011:8).
What this has meant in practice is that, as well as continuing to photograph students and tutors in the Architecture studio, I have pointed my camera down at the floor and upwards to the ceiling. I have crawled under desks and balanced on chairs. I have photographed and recorded the sounds of ventilation shafts, data projectors, corridor conversation. I have attracted troubled glances from students unfamiliar with my research. Without having yet commenced my analysis of the gathered data, a recurring theme to emerge from my photographs and also my written field notes, is the way that food and drink seem to be an integral part of what takes place in the studio. Alongside the more recognisable tools of the architecture student we find snacks: pencils next to a packet of peanuts; chocolate alongside cardboard; Rhino with Red Bull.
click on image to enlarge
Through the image above I have tried to show how my field notes and photographs resonate with some of the principle ideas around sociomateriality within education, in this case echoing work by Gourlay and Oliver (2014) where they offer a sociomaterial account of digital literacy practices:
For the purpose of further illustration I have included below a small selection images which would seem to reiterate Gourlay and Oliver's call to remain alert to the way that our use of digital resources in education, for instance around assessment, is always and inevitably entangled with a much broader range of resources, influences, limitations and opportunities beyond the interests of the assignment task.
click on images to enlarge
Digital sociomaterial journaling
Camera, recorder, scissors, brush: ethnography in a pop-up exhibition
Architecture, multimodality and the ethnographic monograph
Taking a few moments here to talk about my ongoing - and evolving - research around assessment practice. Over time the interest of my PhD has broadened from the phenomenon of digital multimodal assessment to also ask questions more generally about the way that assessment practice in the Humanities is affected by the societal and pedagogical shift to the digital. In particular I am interested in investigating how:
In relation to the third of these lines of inquiry, I am particularly drawn towards sociomateriality's attention to the way that meaning emerges from a broader range of influences, opportunities, limitations and pressures beyond human interest and action. I think this is neatly captured by Fenwick, Sawchuk and Edwards when they propose that sociomaterial research looks to take account of:
In this way assessment feels less like a transaction between student and tutor, or a measure of academic performance, and much more like an assemblage of the seen and unseen, the human and machine, and beyond. As such, sociomateriality (supported by critical posthumanism) has had the effect of lifting my conceptual gaze from the ways that knowledge is conveyed and interpreted, to also take into account what previously seemed peripheral (or invisible or irrelevant) to assessment. This in turn has meant extending my ethnographic fieldwork where I have been observing students and tutors from undergraduate courses in Architecture and History. I have continued to investigate what takes place in the lecture theatre, studio, meeting room, corridor and canteen: at the same time though I have taken two further approaches in order to get a better sense of the resources and restrictions that influence the preparation of a piece of a coursework, whilst also investigating how digital literacy practices are enacted beyond what I was able to observe in class and around campus.
For the time being I am referring to this method as ‘digital sociomaterial journaling’, thereby acknowledging how my approach is influenced by Gourlay and Oliver’s recent proposal of longitudinal multimodal journaling (2016). Combining ethnographic approaches with an interest in sociomateriality and New Literacy Studies, Gourlay and Oliver describe research where they gathered journaling data in order to investigate the digital engagement of a group of postgraduate students. Amongst other methods, participants were provided with iPod Touch devices in order to gather data that would ‘document their day-to-day practices with texts and technologies in a range of settings’ (2016: 302), thereby offering insights into their digital literacy practices.
As well as drawing inspiration from Gourlay and Oliver’s work, I have looked to some of my own earlier research where, along with my colleagues Sian Bayne and Michael Gallagher, we used the elicitation of 'digital multimodal postcards’ alongside semi-structured interviews to investigate how online distance students understand and enact their university, and how they construct space for learning (Bayne, Gallagher & Lamb 2013; Gallagher, Lamb & Bayne 2016). Here then is how these different methodologies have shaped my current research.
Inviting students to record their surroundings as they work on an assignment
For a period of approximately one week in the lead up to a recent essay deadline, five students from the American History course were asked to ‘record their surroundings' on every occasion they worked on the assignment. This included taking a photograph, making a one-minute ambient sound recording, and writing a short description of their location and activity at that moment in time. The data were then submitted electronically using a drop box on this website, via e-mail or USB drive. For the purpose of illustration, this is one of the six submissions that Sarah made as she worked on her assignment about the Civil Rights Movement.
Shadowing students as they work on an assignment
Two of the same students who recorded their surroundings also agreed to let me shadow them at different times as they worked on the essay assignment. In Karen’s case this comprised an afternoon in her flat followed by a later period in the main university library. For Harry meanwhile this involved a full day studying in one of the university's smaller libraries, as well as a nearby common room. As Karen and Harry worked on their essays (and drank tea, checked Facebook, listened to music and so on) I made my own sound recordings, took photographs and typed field notes. The following video gathers together representative sights and sounds from my first observation of Karen (although not as yet with the inclusion of entries from my field notes or reference to her Internet history for the corresponding period that she kindly agreed to supply me with).
The approaches described here were designed to shed light on the some on the recent interest of my research (bulleted above). For instance, how does the algorithmic code that is concealed, as Edwards & Michael (2011) suggest, beneath the sophisticated interface of software applications, influence the search results that appear in Google Scholar? How do perceptions and practices around plagiarism detection software influence composition (a concern recognised in research by Introna & Hayes (2011))? How does the use of sophisticated hardware and software pictured in the different images advance the notion of shared authorship between human and machine (see Knox & Bayne 2013)? Meanwhile, through the shadowing exercise in particular I have sought to gain insights into the ‘minute dynamics and connections’ that Fenwick et al. (2011, p.8) believe to be overlooked when we look to understand educational activities.
For the time being I am resisting the temptation to offer any sort of this response to these questions, not least as next month I will interview the same five students from the American History course. This will include discussion around the sights and sounds each student gathered as they worked on their essay assignment. Before that, for the purpose of comparison, tomorrow morning I will begin the same process all over again with five students from an Architectural Design course.
A note on ethics
Pseudoynms have been used in place of participant's real names. Students gave their consent to participate in the research described above, including the sharing of their supplied data. Participants were offered a £20 gift voucher for participating in each part of this research.
The Assessment, Learning and Digital Education course, part of the MSc in Digital Education at Edinburgh University, sets out to explore how assessment is rapidly evolving in ways that exploit developments in digital technology and pedagogy. I'm glad to be a part of the course team, working with Clara O'Shea, Dai Hounsell and Tim Fawns. My major input to the course concerns multimodal assessment in digital contexts. Through the use of course readings, a discussion forum and an online seminar we explore ideas around digital literacies (see for example Lea & Jones 2011), the problematic nature of authorship (see for example Bayne 2006) and what happens when we newly introduce digital multimodal assessment into summative assessment (see for instance Adsanatham (2012) and De-Palma & Alexander (2015)). The recently re-designed assignment for this section of this course is a scenario-based activity where students are challenged to think critically about the conditions that support or exist in opposition to the introduction of richly digital multimodal assessment: I'm really looking forward to seeing what happens when students step into the tutor's shoes to advise colleagues on how to make digital multimodal approaches attractive and viable within the summative assessment setting!
For the recent online seminar, I took the approach that where we look to introduce richly multimodal assessment into courses or programmes that have been particularly essay-centric or language-based, we might find it helpful to look to existing approaches from colleagues in other parts of the campus, particularly within what we might call the creative disciplines. Within the seminar I talked about my own research where, for the last year, I have been undertaking an ethnographic study of meaning-making practices around assessment in Architecture. This research is already described elsewhere on this blog therefore I'll make do here with sharing my seminar slides, which interweave some of my observations from the Architecture studio, with the literatures around assessment and feedback, multimodal assessment and digital literacies.
As part of the series of events organised by the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh, I recently (18 November 2016) organised a walking seminar through Edinburgh's Old Town. Along with my colleague Jeremy Knox, and joined by participants from inside and beyond the university, we undertook an unscripted excursion where our path through the city was shaped by our varying personal interests as well as the digital mobile devices we brought to the exercise.
Our activity can be situated within the growing critical interest in urban walking (Richardson 2015) as well as the tradition of walking ethnography (Vergunst and Ingold, 2008). Going back further, this type of unrehearsed excursion has its roots in the flânerie of Walter Benjamin and later the dérive of Guy Debord and The Situationst International. By moving our seminar beyond the physical boundaries of the university we dispensed with the abstract or agenda that often lend structure to on-campus conversation, instead inviting participants to bring their own research or professional interests to the exercise. We imagined that the excursion would be of interest to colleagues concerned with digital culture and mobile learning (see for instance Sharples et al. 2007) and those with an interest in how we construct meaning from our surroundings, for instance through sensory ethnography (Pink 2011), multimodality (Kress and Van Leeuwen 2001) or a sociomaterial sensibility (Fenwick, Edwards & Sawchuk 2011).
Across the duration of a lunchtime we walked and talked, sharing our interests, ideas and observations with our newly-found colleagues. At different locations that we broadly agreed to find interesting, we paused to capture our experiences on our mobile devices. This included the gathering of images and audio recordings, some of which are gathered together in the short video that offers a more rich and evocative record of what took place than I would have been able to offer through words.
Photos by Nick Hood, Hamish MacLeod and by me.
Another alternative and imaginative way that technology merged with our trajectory across the Old Town was provided by my colleague Jen Ross, where she compiled a live playlist on Spotify, triggered by her surroundings at different stages of our journey. Members of the group were drawn to Jen's approach and in turn suggested search terms for what became a collaborative playlist. Jen has since mapped the different songs onto the corresponding locations within an interactive Google map. The compiled playlist and map are worthy of space in their own right, however this screengrab presents an alternative way of representing our walk.
The different digital artefacts to have emerged from the excursion - video, music playlist, interactive map - go some way to reflecting the varying interests that participants brought to the exercise. At different times during our walk conversation turned to whether and how we felt this type of exercise might be used in different educational settings. Emergent ideas included:
In the days following our walk my colleague Christine Sinclair used ideas and images from the exercise as a way of encouraging students to reflect on the nature of space and place within the Introduction to Digital Environments for Learning course on the MSc in Digital Education. At the same time I am intrigued by the suggestion that this type of activity might help to break down the "clusters" that can form in university programmes where students from the same international communities group together, meaning that they miss out on what might be learned from their peers and their experiencing of the city beyond the vicinity of the campus.
When Michael Sean Gallagher, Jeremy Knox and I first talked about the idea of enacting digital urban flânerie we were keen that, alongside a possible conceptual contribution, our methodology might be adopted and adapted into practical learning activities. Looking back on the excursion through the Old Town, I think there's mileage in this kind of activity.
Multimodal dérive in Amsterdam
Leaving do/Edinburgh Old and New
EC1 (Sights & Sounds)
The Manifesto for Teaching Online is a series of short statements created by the Digital Education group at the University of Edinburgh. The Manifesto articulates a position about online education that informs the work of the Digital Education group (of which I am part) and the MSc in Digital Education programme it leads.
Earlier today (1 November 2016) my colleague Siân Bayne (Professor and Personal Chair of Digital Education) spoke about the Manifesto during her keynote presentation to the Next Generation: Digital Learning Research Symposium being held by National Institute for Digital Learning in Dublin City University. Within her keynote Siân showed a short video that I prepared to support the Manifesto. As I sat at the back of an Architecture class this morning (as part of my Doctoral research into multimodal assessment) I sensed from the flurry of Twitter-notifications lighting up my phone that the Manifesto has attracted some interest.
I have since looked back through an impressively lengthy conference hashtag to pull together some of the responses to the Manifesto. The Manifesto was always intended to be provocative and to encourage reflection and debate therefore it has been intriguing to see how different statements from the Manifesto resonated across the audience. I'll let the Twitter commentary speak for itself.
What follows is a short video that gathers together images and sounds I collected around a pop-up exhibition by second year Architecture students. As I have explained elsewhere on this blog, I currently spend every Friday in the Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture where I observe students and tutors as they participate in teaching, learning and assessment. This ties in with my Doctoral research into multimodal assessment across the disciplines.
Across five hours last Friday (14 October) I made dozens of sound recordings and took hundreds of photographs as students set up the gallery, arranged models for display and finally attended an exhibition of their own work, where they were joined by tutors and other members of the architecture school. The work on display comprised more than 2000 models constructed over the first five weeks of the Architectural Design course. Situating myself in the gallery for the afternoon I was able to observe the small archipelago of buildings sprawl into a city-in-miniature, with a broad panorama of approaches and imagination on display. The quality of work can be seen within the images in the video, but is also heard in the excited laughter during the exhibition of work: listen carefully and you might hear a student expressing how proud she is of what the group had achieved.
Through the gathering of aural and visual data I wanted to make a record of the pop-up exhibition that would inform my research: a piece of video ethnography to represent what would have been hard to achieve through written description or images-in-isolation. In the unrehearsed setting of the pop-up exhibition however I was thrust into the role of general exhibition helper. As I swept the floor and cut display paper down to size I gained a better appreciation of what was taking place than would have possible had I sat on the outskirts. If the ethnographer’s main instrument is him- or herself, in this instance it was accompanied by camera and audio recorder, brush and scissors.
Architecture, multimodality and the ethnographic monograph
Looking beyond photos: the Architectural site visit
Listening to the street
I am an ESRC-funded Doctoral student in the Centre for Research in Digital Education at The University of Edinburgh.