Tag Archives: Practical Matters

The end…?

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Final Written Thesis

Tomorrow is submission day! I’ll be off fairly early to make my trip to Brighton, with three copies of my thesis and a collection of drawings to submit.

In six to eight weeks I’ll have to successfully negotiate a viva voce, after which, fingers crossed, the MRes will be finished.

I think that I won’t update the blog until I have officially finished, after which I will try to put together something which resembles a conclusion to the whole MRes experience as well as summarising the research and its outcomes.

The main purpose of this post is to say thank you to my supervisors Emma Stibbon and Dr Mary Anne Francis, and all my friends and family for their much needed love and support. Also, and most importantly, thank you to all of those who took part in the research, I shall be in touch soon to sort out returning your drawings, and to provide you with your books as promised.

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QR Codes

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QR codes in sketchbook

The main achievement today has been the addition of QR codes to the concertina sketchbook. I’m not usually a huge fan of QR codes, but I think they are probably the best way to help me achieve an effective link between the material on this online diary, and the material in the sketchbook. They appear in the book where the online/offline material coincides. For example, in the photo above, the left hand page carries the note I wrote to myself to help me remember what I needed to do to be prepared for the first research session. The QR code on the same page then links to the blog post I also wrote about preparing for the session.

The next two pages are the recreated notes I made during the first focus group interview. The QR code on this page links to the blog post about my initial thoughts after transcribing the interview.

The right hand page is the beginning of the section that covers the walking and drawing activity. Again, the code on this page links to the post about the event.

Pretty straightforward and not really that exciting, but using the codes does make seeing the overall progress that the research has taken that much easier, and much more coherent.

 

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Procrastination

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Dictaphone

So, I want to write a bit later on today about the content of the first focus group interview that I am currently transcribing, but first off I want to think a little bit about the actual process of transcribing interviews.

Since last Sunday, I have been slowly transcribing the recording of the first focus group interview that was held on 10th May. When I say slowly, I mean, s…l…o…w…l…y. I admit, I had been putting off starting this task. I had listened to the interviews again, and found them really interesting, but the idea of sitting down and typing them out word for word, well, it didn’t fill me with enthusiasm.

I’m pretty good at putting things off and not feeling bad about it, but by Sunday afternoon it was weighing on my mind so I forced myself to sit down to the task. But, I ended up thinking about the task instead of actually doing it (a great way of procrastinating while still being able to tell yourself that you’ve started). ‘How long will it take?’ I thought about it and settled on an hour or two. Its obvious now, but at the time I wasn’t considering the fact that if it took everyone an hour and a half to say what was on the recording, it wasn’t a task that would be completed in less time than this. So, to delay things further, I turned to Google and ended up on a site called Virtual Assistant Forums. The news wasn’t good:

“I heard one hour of audio takes 4 hours to transcribe!”

“As a general rule I figure 1 hour of audio = 5 hours of transcribing”

“I average about 3 to 4 times typing to audio too – hope that helps?”

Why did they all sound so happy about this? I have over three hours of audio recordings that need transcribing, so I quickly calculated –  worst case scenario: 15 hours. My desire to start this task decreased even more. I felt that things were better when I didn’t know what was waiting ahead. Then I realised, these people were reasonably experienced transcribers. My worst case scenario estimate of five hours was probably optimistic

So, I obviously needed to do some more thinking (rather than just getting on with it). My thoughts moved on to the subject of how interviews are actually transcribed. Should I type every ‘um’ and ‘erm’ and ‘you know’ or should I aim to make it easy to read, at the risk of losing the integrity of the recording. Once more I turned to Google. This time I sought advice from that well known authority on academic interview transcription – Ehow.com:

“Start the tape.”

Easy enough. But it continued:

“Use the foot pedal to stop and restart it as you work. You can use a regular tape player and simply hit pause to stop the tape, but keep in mind that the process will take much longer this way, and be more tedious.”

Great. Who has a foot pedal unless they do this for a living? Nobody does this for a hobby right? It looked like  I would would be stopping the tape frequently. By hand. Moving on:

“You won’t be able to type as fast as people speak — even professional court reporters use shorthand — so you’ll have to stop the tape each time you fall behind.”

I can confirm, this happens a lot. I can type three words before falling behind. As soon as I hit a word consisting of more than two syllables I’m done for. To combat this Ehow helpfully suggest:

“You may want to listen first to a sentence, then pause the tape and type it.”

Which is great, except people don’t tend to talk in whole, complete sentences. Instead sentences swerve, stop, change tack, turn into questions, pause and generally often don’t make much sense when written down. For example, this is a excerpt from the focus group interview:

“What I would like to know really is, if you can obviously tell us who you are, um,  a rough indication of where you live in relation to the coast here, and (pause) I won’t say ‘what do you do for a living?’, ‘how you usually spend your time?’ shall we say and, um, and also, what made you want to take part in the project if you wouldn’t mind, so, if anyone wants to take that and  go with it? Whoever wants to go first…”

This isn’t an answer given on the fly by a participant. This is a transcription of my first question! It’s a question I had planned out and written it down, so all I had to do was read it, and still, it’s a bit of a garbled mess. What it should say is:

“Could you please tell the group a little about yourself and where you live in relation to the coast here. Can you also tell us a bit about how you spend most of your time and what your reasons were for wanting to  participate in the project. Who would like to go first?”

So what I actually meant is best expressed by the second passage, but what I actually said in the first passage is how it came out. Is the difference important? I think it is. According to the ever dependable Ehow I should:

“Transcribe the interview exactly as you hear it. There will be time later to edit grammar and content.”

So, I decided to type exactly what I hear, including the ‘ums’ the ‘ahs’ and all the pauses. Thinking about it a little more, I think that it is best to try and capture the interviews in the most accurate way I can, as it will be easier to edit ‘out’ than ‘in’ later on should I decide the manner in which somebody says something is equally as important as what they say.

Fast forward to tonight, and I am proud to announce I have so far covered 41 minutes and 31 seconds of the first interview, and have been working on it for roughly eight hours. The irony isn’t lost on me however that the hour I’ve spent working on this entry could have possibly been better spent transcribing more of the interview, about 11 minutes of the interview in fact. So it looks like I’m still indulging in procrastination, but at least I’ve made a start.

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Final preparations…

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So, as ever, things have been so busy over the last week or so that I have ended up neglecting the online side of this diary. Therefore, an update.

Amid the chaos of the last week I have been slowly assembling an art materials pack for each of my participants (the number of which has now grown to eight) to use on our coastline walk this coming Saturday.

Putting the packs together has been pretty difficult. I know what I like to use when I draw, but I have been discovering what I like and don’t like over several years. It is a different matter to pick out art materials for somebody else however.

Materials Pack

Even though, as Ioana Literat points out, drawing as a type of image elicitation operates unaffected by the kind of knowledge hierarchy that conditions much photoelicitation, drawing can still be an intimidating activity to undertake. This is true enough when working alone, but is exacerbated in front of a group of people. This feeling of intimidation can come from lots of sources, but in putting these packs together I have been thinking about the kind of intimidation that can come from the type of materials we use.

There is a difference in using something like a sheet of St. Cuthberts Mill Somerset paper and a sheet of newsprint for example. Each has its uses, and there is a time for both, but for me, certain materials make me feel certain ways and this influences what I do with them. As wonderful as it is to work with them, I believe that high quality materials can invite hesitation or doubt. Say somebody knows that the single sheet of Arches Velin paper they are working on costs around eight or nine pounds per sheet. What I keep coming back to is this –  how does this knowledge not influence how they draw? Are we not always encouraged to think, wrongly in my opinion, that if it is expensive then it is to be valued, and valued things are treated with a special kind of reverenceMaybe experience leads to becoming comfortable with this situation. If I ever can afford eight pounds for a sheet of paper I’ll let you know. But my point is, I need to find materials that allow my participants to explore freely, but do not inhibit or intimidate them. After all, this project isn’t about judging what is a good or a bad drawing, so to possibly create a situation where it is being questioned whether what is being drawn is good enough for the materials I have provided will work against everything I am trying to achieve.

Having said that, among my participants there are those who I would consider to be experienced artists, alongside those who do not have much experience of drawing. This is exactly how I wanted it, but it makes it a little difficult to meet the needs of everybody. Those that are familiar with the usual apparatus of drawing, may have certain expectations of their materials, so to provide them with equipment which they might consider to be ‘amateurish’ may also unduly influence what they produce.

So, when putting these packs together I felt that I needed to strike the right balance between familiar, non-threatening materials and materials that aren’t unpleasant or frustrating to use.

I won’t know if I have done just that until we are under way, but I have done my best to reach a decent compromise.

So, each pack contains:

  • An A3 sketchpad –  I guess this could be described as ‘student quality’, the kind of pad that you would find in any art or stationery shop. It isn’t amazing quality but it looks decent enough to cope with a bit of heavy scribbling and rubbing out.
  • A disposable camera – It’s been a while since I have bought and used one of these (V Festival 1997 I think…) and it was a bit difficult finding somewhere that sold them cheap enough that buying eight and getting the photos developed wouldn’t cost more than a digital compact camera! I finally located them at Jessops and got eight, on a deal of buy two get one free, including processing for around £17.00 which I was pretty happy with. The camera is included as an optional extra for participants to use on the walk. It will be interesting to see how much this is relied upon to record observations.
  • A tin of sketching pencils – Nice, familiar pencils, but in a rage of different hardnesses.
  • A selection of colouring pencils – Just to add a further option to working in grey scale.
  • A black pen
  • A stick of willow charcoal
  • Two sticks of compressed charcoal – One black, one brown
  • A soft/medium charcoal pencil
  • A paper blending stump – Ideal for blending or blurring the charcoal.
  • A pencil sharpener
  • A rubber
  • A Zip-Lock bag – to be used to collect any interesting items (so long as they are allowed to be removed from the beach).

I am sure there are many things I could have included but haven’t, but considering the issues I highlighted above I think I have provided a wide enough selection of items to use without the choice being overwhelming. The quality of the items is also something I am pretty pleased with. I think I have worked hard to source items that I can afford, of a quality which doesn’t exude either cheapness or expense. That might raise a few eyebrows but for this project, for the reasons given above, I am happy with ‘average’!

All that remains now is to hand the packs out on Saturday after the morning’s group interview, hope for reasonable weather, and head out into the elements to do some watching, walking and drawing. I have to say, after all this planning, I am looking forward to getting back on the beach, looking, learning, experiencing.

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Research Information Event – Update

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Info Packs

 

I finally have the chance to sit down a write a little about the information event that I held on Saturday 12th April. The day arrived and I made my way up the A12 to Wrentham village hall having received a handful of emails during the weeks leading up to the 12th expressing an interest in the research and in attending the event. Despite the positive feedback I was still unsure if interest would convert into actual attendance.

Happily the vast majority of those who had emailed came along, and I was able to explain the project aims, and find out about those who had come along to learn more.

After a few cups of tea and coffee, and an enjoyable discussion about the local coastline (which was interestingly close to the kind of conversation I hope to capture later in the project), the event ended with encouraging comments, with most people saying that they would be in touch to sign up for the research. One of the main points that came out of the meeting was a change of dates for the four planned research events.

It is difficult to plan a timetable when you are not aware of who you will be working with, and what their time capabilities may be. The general consensus at the meeting was that it would be preferable to condense the four sessions into two longer session running on consecutive Saturdays in May, and it is far easier for me to be flexible than expecting several people to change their plans. In fact, I think it may be beneficial to have the drawing session followed swiftly by the interview session as thoughts will still be fresh in mind. Besides, I will always have the option of asking participants for more of their thoughts after a little more time has passed.

Since Saturday, I have had four confirmed participants (thank you kind people!) leaving me with another three or four to find. A slight concern to me was the fact that three of the four participants are from an arts-based background, so to balance things up I would like some of the remaining participants to come from a non arts-based background.  With this in mind I have been in touch today with several local museums and charities asking if they would advertise the research to their members in the hope of reaching out to those who have an interest in the coast, but don’t currently make art work around that theme. Thank you to the Southwold Sailor’s Reading Room for a very quick and helpful reply, along with a kind offer to display a copy of the book of participant drawings that will be one of the outcomes of the project.

So right now I feel I have made about fifty percent progress towards finding all the participants I would like to be working with, and the search will continue over the next week or so. Alongside this search I think I will take advantage of the Easter break to spend some time considering the art practice side of the research, in particular how art works can physically embody environmental processes.

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Thank yous and nervous beginnings…

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With just over a week to go before the research information event at Wrentham village hall I have been busy attempting to publicise the event so we are not sat there, drinking coffee alone, between 10:30 and 12:00.

Village hall notice board

Thanks to help from the Parish Council and several kindly people of Wrentham and the surrounding area, posters advertising the event have gone up on village notice boards and other locations around the community. I’ve also received a great deal of help publicising the event from Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB,  SCAR, Touching the Tide, Councillor Martin Parsons and Tidal Margins – thank you all. Apologies if I have omitted thanks to anybody, there have been so many helpful people that I have lost track of who represents each organisation!

So far, I have received a few emails expressing interest in the event, so I am hopeful that word is spreading and we will be meeting some people on the 12th. The event is crucial to the success of the research as it is the one chance we will have to convince potential participants that taking part in the research will be fun and worthwhile for them.

So, in keeping with the practical administration theme dominating the research recently, I have had to prepare a participant information pack to hand out on the 12th.

The pack needs to contain:

  1. An information sheet that lets potential participants know about the purpose of the research, what they will be asked to do and informs them about issues such as confidentiality etc.
  2. A sheet to record their contact details (modified slightly in case any under 18s wish to take part under parent/guardian supervision.
  3. A project timetable that lists when events are happening and where.
  4. Consent forms – One for taking part in the research and one that covers the photography and future use of any drawings that participants make and any research materials that they generate.

So, after much procrastination I finally completed these forms today and have sent them over to my research supervisor to sign off on before they get printed.

Adding research into my practice has been testing at times (I hope to return to this theme at  a later date) and this is reflected in the fact that I can’t say I have found this process easy so far. However, whilst it is a little out of my comfort zone, it is providing me with valuable lessons about promotion and  local networking. That said, I’ll be glad when I can concentrate less on administration and devote more time to drawing.

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An introduction…

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Over the next few months this website will be used to document and reflect upon the progress of the main research project that I am undertaking as part of my MRes in Arts and Cultural Research at the University of Brighton. This blog forms the online component of a larger Visual Research diary that  will chart the course of the research in a reflexive space that pulls together art practice and research.

My research aims to work with participants from a region of Suffolk in the United Kingdom affected by coastal erosion. As part of the research participants will take part in a combination of drawing activities and participatory field research that will help them explore and articulate their connections to, and experiences of, a disappearing coastline.

Covehithe OS Map

To help address the aims of the research, the ‘data generation’ section of the project will follow four stages:

Initial Focus Group Interview  –  The first research activity will be to carry out an initial focus group interview with the participants. The main purpose of the  interview will be to establish a baseline appreciation of how participants relate to the coastline and to discuss some of the concerns participants may have regarding the use of drawing in this research as a way of exploring their experiences.

Participatory Field Research – With participant relationship to the coastline forming an important feature of the research, it is important for us to actually engage physically with the landscape that we are investigating.  With this in mind a group walk will be carried out, during which visual and word based observations will be recorded alongside participant discussions of the coastline.

Drawing Activity – The core of the research takes the form of a communal drawing activity that will allow the participants to explore their experiences and reflections of the coastline. The purpose of the drawing activity is to attempt to visually depict coastal experiences through mark marking and erasure, techniques that can be said to represent the coastal erosion processes at work in the region. The process of creating the drawings will be recorded photographically, and a stop-motion animation of the process will be placed on this website as part of the research findings.

Final Focus Group Interview – The final focus group interview will be where participant reactions to the drawing activities will be discussed alongside encouraging participants to play a role in the interpretation of their own drawings.

IMG_3293

This is a very brief overview of the project, and over the next weeks and months everything will be expanded and reflected upon. Right now, practical matters are dominating the research progress and it is practical matters that will be the subject of the next few posts.

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