TLang Phase One: Practitioner Research Programme, the view from Leeds

By Jessica Bradley (Doctoral Researcher)

University of Birmingham, 25-26 September 2014.

The first TLang Practitioner Research Programme took place at the University of Birmingham over two days in September 2014 and three members of the University of Leeds team were present: Jolana, one of the Research Assistants, Z, the team’s Key Participant for the first phase, and me (one of two doctoral researchers on the project). This was the first of the training programmes organised for the project teams, and, importantly, the Key Participants, three of whom were able to join us. As the project is multi-site, it was a great opportunity for all members of the project team from the four universities involved to meet together and discuss progress with the work across the current ‘business’ phase, which started in September.

Key considerations for project reseaechers include how to collect social media data, what kind of ethical issues there might be and how we work as ethnographers in the wider community. We hoped to be able to further explore these important areas over the two days.

The training was led by researchers from across different disciplines, from Applied Linguistics to Social Policy, demonstrating the interdisciplinarity of the project and enabling us to have the insights of researchers in diverse areas. The theme for the training was ‘making transcripts available for interpretation’, which is to be a key part of the data collection carried out by the four teams.

The majority of the team have met at team meetings and the launch conference but this was the first opportunity for us to get together and discuss the various considerations and, indeed, challenges which are directly associated with community research and multilingual data collection. The programme was organised in such a way to allow in-depth discussion of each issue in small groups, and I found this to be a very useful way of reflecting on the points raised as well as mirroring the main project, in which different viewpoints and experiences are essential.

During the first day, we were first given the opportunity to reflect again on the aims and objectives of the project and what we will ultimately be delivering. Dr Lisa Goodson from the School of Social Policy discussed community research with us, looking at what a community researcher is and what we mean by ‘community research’. This was particularly important in terms of the broader project as the Key Participants have a significant role in terms of being representatives from within their community and giving us important insights into how people communicate in their workplaces and within the family home: Key Participants are an integral part of our research team.

Dr Lisa Goodson asked "What is a community researcher?"
Dr Lisa Goodson asked “What is a community researcher?”

Principal Investigator Professor Angela Creese then talked to us about the data collection process. The project team will be collecting data in a number of different ways: from field notes, research diaries and photos to audio recordings and interviews. She discussed the reasons why each of these actions is important and we considered the role of observational data and our position as researchers. Angela shared some of her own draft field notes with us as examples and then the second drafts, which I found particularly interesting as I am just starting to make field notes myself. We reflected as a group on what happens to our data and how it gets used later on in the process, looking at different examples of these that have been produced so far by the team during the observations of the Key Participants across the four sites.

Principal Investigator Professor Angela Creese led a session about Fieldnotes as data
Principal Investigator Professor Angela Creese led a session about Fieldnotes as data

In groups we considered the different ways of producing field notes and the types of observations that we make. It was interesting to think about particular cases for which field notes had been produced by two researchers, each with a different focus and with more detail on particular observations. We talked about the significance of researcher’s own viewpoint and the way that this differs from person to person, something I look forward to exploring further through consideration of different research projects.

This was then an appropriate point to turn our attention to the importance of ethical issues in research, and Dr Frances Rock from the University of Cardiff led a workshop on confidentiality and anonymisation. We considered that as ethnographic researchers we should ‘do no harm’ and ensure we ‘leave something good’, something that I have been reflecting on in terms of my own doctoral research. Frances discussed the challenge of information given and informed consent not being constant, for example, a participant may be happy to share information at one stage but a few years later may take a different view, and therefore the importance of researchers having considered this and being sensitive to the needs (both current and hypothetical future) of the participants. We considered the ethical issues directly related to the TLang project, including the multimodal nature of the data collected and challenges raised by the different settings, as well as those raised by anonymisation, such as how to do this without losing authenticity.

We talked about collecting audio data, key to this type of research, and why it is important to have this, as well as the potential challenges of collecting this kind of data. During the coffee break, we tested out our audio recorders and made recordings of our informal conversations, an experience which was very new to me! This helped us talk about the technical hitches that can occur, as well as the impact that a recorder can have on ‘natural conversation’ and we reflected on how we ourselves felt being recorded as we chatted.

During the second day of the training, Dr Caroline Tagg led a discussion about social media, including an enjoyable (and illuminating!) exercise in which we were invited to map our own social media use and networks, the purposes for which we use each tool and with whom we connect. We considered the multiple reasons for collecting social media data and looked at examples of how translanguaging occurs in text messages. During the afternoon session we then went on to think about the ethical considerations of collecting social media, which we discussed in more depth in small groups. Multiple challenges arise when considering the ethics of collecting data of this kind, and we discussed these in general terms before moving on to the kinds of social media data we would be collecting across the lifespan of the TLang project. We were able to think in practical terms about the methods we could use to collect social media data and how we can start to do this.

It was great to be able to spend a couple of days together as a team and consider and discuss these crucial topics in such detail. Thank you to all the team who organised and presented the workshops and gave us so much food for thought!

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