Reflections on attending the Mode Seminar “Multimodal Transcription”

Author: Adam Wood, Manchester Metropolitan University

A key assumption of multimodal approaches is that words tell only one part of a story. When it comes to transcription then, this raises some questions:

  • How can we recount other parts of the story (visual, audio and spatial amongst others) and represent the interaction between these modes without becoming too complex and risk confusing our audience?
  • A transcription choice will foreground some modes over others – what is the most appropriate selection and arrangement for what we want to communicate and for our audience?
  • What opportunities (and restrictions) do different software packages allow and impose?

These questions returned throughout the seminar – Multimodal Transcription (17/10/13), which wasn’t going to set out what worked best (how could it?) but, much more usefully, to encourage our own critical decision-making about the gains and losses of different transcription techniques.

But the most important message of the seminar for me was the reminder that to ignore multimodality in research is not a neutral position. It becomes a decision to reject what visual, spatial and audio modes have to offer in terms of meaning-making potential.

For example, in my research at a Manchester secondary school, I’m investigating the production of discourse in relation to learning. However, I’m keen to emphasise students’ contribution to that process and doing so with words seems unnecessarily restrictive. How students think and feel about such a complex physical and social space as school – and how these thoughts and feelings can be reproduced in my research – isn’t something to turn to at the end of three years. I need to consider it now. Getting, and showing, a richer view of things is enabled by multimodal transcription and this was a very useful opportunity to think about how to build it into my design from the very beginning.

Thinking through these issues was easier in the context of a seminar since we were a range of researchers working on very different research designs. Twenty seven of us had come from around the country and the structure of the day allowed time to discuss and share ideas about design implications. In addition we got the chance to see the issues underlying a number of transcription choices in the work of the facilitators, Rosie Flewitt, Kate Cowan and Myrrh Domingo. These included the use of a range of software packages and their different affordances. As a result it was an invigorating seminar giving both the theoretical and practical tools necessary to develop a more considered approach not just to transcription but to research design.


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