Video-based research offers ‘a rich ecology of meaning’


Erik Ketcherside

Technology has long had a role in education research. Accurate capture and transcription of live observation is key to documentation and analysis. That capture has traditionally been accomplished by audio recordings of research sessions. Now, with video recording so accessible and affordable, researchers would seem to have an invaluable tool to add to their kit: a visual record of the interaction of research subjects.

But there’s an implementation gap between academia and this technology. That’s why Sherman Dorn, professor at Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College and director of the Division of Educational Leadership and Innovation, along with Alfredo Artiles and Frederick Erickson, created “Learning How to Look and Listen,” an initiative to promote video research. Artiles is MLFTC’s Ryan C. Harris Memorial Endowed Professor of Special Education. Erickson is George F. Kneller Professor Emeritus of Education and Anthropology at UCLA.


Adding video to the research toolbox

Dorn, Artiles and Erickson used funding from the Spencer Foundation to assemble the “Learning How to Look and Listen Conference” at ASU in November 2016. Participants were researchers from 15 universities throughout North America, and University College London, representing “a pioneer generation and a second generation of scholars,” according to the project website. The pioneers — established scholars who currently employ video in their research — included “many of the world’s experts on video analysis,” Dorn says. “They and their students use it.” The second generation comprised researchers who wanted to learn from the experts, add video to their own research toolboxes and teach others how to do the same. “Everyone involved in the conference wants to see video more widely used,” Dorn says.

All the conference attendees were true believers, Dorn says, because video recording offers a significant advantage over audio-only. The project’s website calls that advantage “a rich ecology of meaning found in real-time social interaction.”

“Video captures information from nonverbal behavior that audio does not,” Dorn says, “such as where a student’s attention lies and how that changes; or relationships — who is looking at whom.”


A matter of interpretation

Dorn says interpreting that information is a learned skill, because the addition of a visual component to audio adds another layer of potential ambiguity; a challenge the conference took head on.

“The group sessions showed a vigorous critical perspective on video analysis,” Dorn says. “As with all research methods, both qualitative and quantitative, video-based researchers rely on peers to identify where an analysis is on target or needs correction. And scholars in all fields disagree sometimes about interpretation of data. Video analysis is no different.”

In fact, that vigorous critical perspective was vital to the conference, which featured spirited group analyses of sample videos. It is also key to the second component of the project: Learning How to Look & Listen, a website where researchers can view one of the videos presented at the conference, then watch as 18 scholars, working alone or in pairs, interpret the observation in real time. There is also a video of a “whole-group viewing session,” hosted by Erickson, with an open discussion and interpretation of the research video by all the attendees.

Erickson told the group, “The sheer amount of potential information in an unedited audio-visual record is so huge, we’ve got to be selective in what we pay attention to and what we disattend to. And as we develop an analysis and a transcription we’re even more selective in what we revisit by way of looking and listening. Those practices are what we’re trying to articulate for the purpose of future generations.”

Dorn said the conference and the resulting website were designed to showcase looking-and-listening best practices for those future generations of scholars, “so that you do not have to be a student in these experts’ classes to learn about video analysis.”

The Learning How to Look & Listen website is hosted by Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College and is free to all users.

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