0.2 Methodology and Methods

I can best describe the methodology for this project as a methodology of interdependence enacted through digital video as method. When I use the term interdependence, I draw from Kristie S. Fleckenstein, Clay Spinuzzi, Rebecca J. Rickly, and Carole Clark Papper’s approach to research, what they call “ecological research enacted rhetorically” (390), which assumes that “activities, actors, situations, and phenomena are conceived as interdependent, diverse, and fused through feedback” (Fleckenstein et al. 389); that is, each element of the research scene is linked to another and has an active part in meaning-making, including the technologies used. Considering grounded theory and video methods through this lens of research as an ecological-rhetorical situation highlights how tools, actors, texts, and environments intermingle and inform one another.

In many ways, I have learned much about the ecological-rhetorical situation that is the first-year writing study as it has unfolded. I planned carefully, of course, and I made and revised choices about study design, participant recruitment, gathering data with video cameras, camera placement in classrooms and interview spaces, analyzing data with traditional methods and with a video editor, and the ethical collection, analysis, and presentation of video and written data. As I made and re-made these choices, the interdependent nature of elements in the research scene became important to pay attention to, continually reminding me that research is co-constructed and always rhetorical. I learned and re-learned to notice, question, and reflect on the interplay of my own role as researcher, the role of the learners and instructors I was observing and working with, the role of context and environmental factors, and the role of the cameras and microphones I brought into the research scene.

This video provides several glimpses into the complex web of interdependent factors that are part of the first-year writing study’s methodology and methods.

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This video provides an overview of the first-year writing study’s methodology of interdependence through video as method.

Descriptive Transcript

Crystal: I started collecting data for the first-year writing study in 2012 at the University of Michigan. I conducted observations in two different first-yearCrystal is shown in Angie's first-year writing classroom with a camera in hand. In groups of three or four, students are sitting around tables working with laptops, and Crystal records as students talk and work. A zooming effect is used that moves toward Crystal.
Crystal: writing classrooms there, and I brought cameras, tripods, and microphones with me, recording what I saw and heard as students learned to compose videos. Crystal is shown in Kelly's first-year writing classroom with a camera in hand. Students sit at computer monitors located in rows throughout the classroom, and Crystal records as students talk and work. A zooming effect is used that moves toward Crystal.
Crystal: I interviewed 3 students from each class and both instructors, recording our interviews on video.Travon is shown listening and talking, seated at a table in an interview setting. Travon is an African American male wearing a brown sweater.
Crystal: I also collected, watched, and re-watched the students' own video compositions.The beginning of Marlee's video composition is shown. The camera zooms in on a black book. The book has "Camp Davis" written in white text and a photo below the text in the center. The photo is of white cabins on green grass with mountains in the background. Next, a photo of a fenced pathway is shown with green grass, a large green mountain, and blue sky in the background. White text is shown on top of the image, reading "Nestled High in the Rockies / Above Jackson Hole, WY"
Crystal: Then, I sifted through all of this data in various ways: I watched the recordings,Instructor Kelly is shown talking, seated at a table in an interview setting. Kelly is a white female with red hair wearing a black sweater and scarf.
Crystal: I read transcripts, and I used qualitative coding softwareA typed transcript of an interview with Kelly is shown. A zooming effect is used that moves toward the center of the transcript.
Crystal: to place codes and categories on meaningful excerpts from the interviews.The interface of Atlas TI, a qualitative coding software program, is shown. On the left is a typed transcript of an interview, and on the right are blue and red color-coded labels.
Crystal: In 2016, I continued data collection in three additional first-year classroomsCrystal is shown in Katie's first-year writing classroom with a camera in hand. Students sit working at tables in rows folding paper, and Crystal records as students work.
Crystal: at a second site, Oakland University. Again, I observed and recorded class sessions with multiple cameras,Crystal is shown in Julie's first-year writing classroom with a camera in hand. Students sit at computer monitors or laptops in groups of two or three, and Crystal records as students talk and work.
Crystal: and I conducted interviews with twelve additional students and their teachers. This time, I recorded the interviews with two cameras: Madison is shown listening and preparing for an interview, seated at a table with hands folded. Madison is a white female with long dark hair wearing a white long-sleeved t-shirt with writing on the front. Crystal's arm and clothing can be seen on the right of the screen. Crystal moves away and adjusts the camera, and the shot shakes.
Crystal: one to focus on the participant, and the second to capture my own interactions with the participant.A second camera angle of the interview with Madison is shown. This angle shows Madison seated from the side, along with Crystal across the table from her. Crystal sits down and begins to talk to Madison.
Crystal: And I collected students' video compositions again, but I also asked for surrounding assignments:The beginning of Madison's video composition is shown. The words "Is Cheerleading A Sport?" appear in white text on a blue background, growing larger. Next, a woman in an orange sweatshirt addresses the camera and the words "OU Student" appear in white at the bottom of the screen.
Crystal: essays from the beginning and the end of the course, reflective materials, and smaller assignments like online message board posts.A screeshot of Madison's written proposal is shown, entitled "Is Cheerleading A Sport?" A zooming effect is used that moves toward the beginning of the proposal.
Crystal: Then, I sifted through the data once more, using both traditional qualitative methods and methods based in multimodal video production.The interface of video editing software Final Cut Pro is shown. At the bottom, footage in the timeline is being edited, and the clip plays in the video player at the top right.
Crystal: I describe the overall methodology for this project as a methodology of interdependence through video as method.Crystal is shown in Julie's first-year writing classroom with a camera in hand. Students sit at computer monitors or laptops in groups of two or three, and Crystal records as students talk and work. Crystal stands and points the camera toward Gerry, D'mitria, and Sam, who are discussing a video composition.
[Sam and Gerry's talking to one another can be heard in the background.] Crystal: The interdependent nature of elements in the research scene is something I continued to learn and re-learn as I went through data, A different camera angle showing Gerry, D'mitria, and Sam is shown. The shot is closer to them than the previous shot, and they are discussing a video composition.
Crystal: composed video products, and wrote up the findings. I was continually reminded as I watched and listened Crystal is shown once more pointing the camera toward Gerry, D'mitria, and Sam, who continue to discuss a video composition.
Crystal: of my own presence in the research scene and of other influencing contextual factors.The closer shot of Gerry, D'mitria, and Sam is shown once more. Sam talks and gestures with his hands in a wave-like motion.
Crystal: Moments of confusion, of excitement, of questions, and of particular ethical significance are captured both visually and orally through this video data. I am present as the researcher—in the data and in much of this eBook—in ways that are not common in a lot of qualitative research.John and Crystal are shown together seated at a table in an interview setting. John is an African American male wearing a blue t-shirt. John talks to Crystal, and she takes notes on a paper. Crystal laughs at one of John's statements, and John smiles and continues talking.
Crystal: Student products can also be seen and heard, overlaid with the students' own commentary on the work's composition.An excerpt of Crystal's video "Functional Literacy - Madison's Educational goals" from section 3.1 is shown. On screen, Madison, wearing a pink shirt, is shown speaking during an interview in the lower right.. Footage from her "Is Cheerleading A Sport?" video is shown in the center of the screen, and on the left, the quotation "A functionally literate student... 'uses computers effectively to achieve educational goals' (Selber 44)." appears in white text.
Crystal: The faces, voices, and the bodies of the student participants themselves also fill the screen.Student Crystal is shown speaking in class, sitting at a table with two other students. Crystal is a white female with blonde hair wearing a black jacket.
Crystal: This methodology and these methods, then, are exciting, but risky. They are revealing in the audio-visual pictures they paint of these students and their experiences with video,Crystal is shown in the center of Kelly's first-year writing classroom with a camera in hand. Students sit at computer monitors located in rows throughout the classroom, and Crystal records as students talk and work. A zooming effect is used that moves toward Crystal.
Crystal: but they are also constructed and partial. They offer rich multimodal snapshots of student experiences and their learning, as well as glimpses into my experiences as the researcher and the influence of the other elements in the research scene.Kelly's students are shown working at their computers during class. Student Lauren points to her computer screen where she is editing video. Lauren is a white female wearing a cream sweater. Two of Lauren's classmates sit next to her, watching her actions and interacting with her.
Student: This is the first time I've ever tried to make a video. It's actually pretty cool.
Classmate: Yeah, I know. It was really interesting.
Two students, Lauren's classmates, sit next to Lauren and each other in class discussing their video projects. The first student to speak is a white female with brown hair wearing a black jacket. The second student is a white female with brown hair wearing a striped shirt and orange scarf.

Below, I further describe the research sites and first-year courses that were part of this IRB-approved first-year writing study, the data collection procedures and methods I used, and how I analyzed the data. I close with some reflection on what I’ve learned through studying transfer and digital media through both qualitative analysis and my own use of digital video.

The Research Sites

Both research sites are public research universities located in the Midwest. Site 1 (The University of Michigan) required all students at the university to complete one first-year writing requirement (FYWR) course within its English department, and this course focused on preparing students to write in diverse academic contexts. Students opted into the FYWR course through a Directed Self Placement process, which allowed them the choice of taking an ungraded transition-to-college-writing course or a course for international and multilingual undergraduate students before the FYWR if they wished.

Site 2 (Oakland University) required students to complete the general education writing foundations requirement course (Composition II, or WRT 160) within its Writing and Rhetoric department, and this course focused on the elements of effective writing and rhetoric. Some students at the university qualified to take the writing foundations requirement right away based on their scores on the SAT, the ACT, or the AP English Language and Composition test, and other students were placed into Basic Writing (WRT 102) or Composition I (WRT 150) based on test scores, transfer credits, or prior completion of an ESL writing course.

Participant Recruitment and Data Collection

Through email, I recruited five instructors who were willing to participate in the study and to start using or continue to use video composition in their curricula: Angie and Kelly from Site 1 and Julie, Katie, and Lauren from Site 2. I use real names for Angie, Kelly, Katie, and Lauren and use images, video footage, and audio recordings of their voices with their permission. Julie chose to be identified using a pseudonym and requested that images and footage of her not be used in publications and presentations, but she gave permission for the use of audio recordings of her voice, which you will hear in the videos to come.

Because most of the instructors in the study had not taught video before, I offered a video composition unit they could adapt and/or use if desired. In 2012, Angie and Kelly both adapted the unit as they shaped their video assignment and lessons. In 2016, Katie adapted a revised version of the unit in her course. Julie wanted to embed the video assignment within Project 2 in her Basic Writing course, and thus I worked with her individually to develop and teach lessons that would fit within her established curriculum. Lauren was already using video in her course as part of the Career Investigation Project, so she used her own pedagogical materials. I have included the video unit adapted by Angie and Kelly in Appendix A and the lessons Julie, Katie, and Lauren used in Appendix B.

After instructor participants were recruited, I recruited student participants from each course through classroom visits before data collection began. For more detailed information about the student participants, read section 0.3 of this chapter, which offers a brief video introduction to each student I interviewed.

I collected research data about these instructors’ and students’ experiences in two sets across multiple years at these two sites. At Site 1, I gathered the first set of data in fall 2012 and winter 2013 within two sections of the FYWR course. At Site 2, I gathered a second set of data in winter 2016 within one section of WRT 102, one section of WRT 150, and one section of WRT 160. In these classrooms, I functioned as external researcher and participant-observer, although I did serve as a guest lecturer at the instructor’s request once in Angie’s course and several times in Julie’s course.

At Site 1 in 2012 and 2013, I interviewed participating students and instructors three times across the semester: near the start of the course, after the video composition was completed, and after the course was completed. I observed and recorded class lessons during the video composition unit, and I collected documents such as student-authored video compositions and written reflections if used. At Site 2 in 2016, I interviewed participating students and instructors two times each: once during the video composition assignment and a second time near the end of the course once the video had been completed. I also observed and recorded class sessions and collected relevant documents at Site 2. I have included the interview protocols for all interviews in Appendix C.

I collected interview and observation data on video for several reasons. First, I wanted to capture student learning related to meta-awareness and transfer as it developed or was revealed in the moment. I hoped to record moments when markers of learning might be seen or heard as students completed tasks and conversed with one another, their instructor, or me. Video also allowed me to collect more data from various participants simultaneously: I recorded with multiple cameras in each classroom using tripods, and I carried another camera with me as I observed. I recorded interviews in 2012 and 2013 with one camera, but chose to record interviews in 2016 with two cameras to capture visuals not only of the participants, but also of me and my interactions. Third, I wanted to be able to return to the data and analyze student and instructor comments, interactions, actions, facial expressions, and body movements. Video, I hoped, would allow me to do this. Finally, I wanted to present data and findings through video, featuring participant experiences through audio-visual representations of their voices and bodies.

Analysis of Data: Traditional and Audio-Visual Methods

To find evidence of learning and transfer across media, I employ a grounded theory approach to analysis (Corbin and Strauss; Merriam) in which I code and analyze data from student interviews, classroom observations, and documents. As Sharan B. Merriam explains, in a grounded theory approach to qualitative research, “the investigator as the primary instrument of data collection and analysis assumes an inductive stance and strives to derive meaning from the data. The end result of this type of qualitative study is a theory that emerges from, or is ‘grounded’ in, the data” (29). Thus through coding and analysis, I pay attention to where and how I can see and hear evidence of students developing knowledge that speaks to the transfer of compositional knowledge across media.

After interview data had been transcribed, I open coded all interviews, focusing on the data collected from Site 2 in 2016, as I had not previously worked with this data (data collected in 2012 was open coded in 2012 and 2013). Some notable themes that began to emerge across the interviews included concepts I asked about through my interview questions: collaboration, feedback, functional/critical/rhetorical literacies, the role of music in video composition, process, and different kinds of transfer. Themes that emerged unprompted by me included confidence, level of experience with technologies and video, and primary or secondary research.

I present and discuss some of these key themes in Chapter 2, which focuses on transfer across assignments, and chapter 3, which focuses on the development of functional, critical, and rhetorical literacies. As I drafted these chapters, I combined the data collected at Sites 1 and 2 and made a second coding pass through all interview data, re-coding for themes related to Selber’s functional, critical, and rhetorical literacies. The examples used throughout chapter 3 to illustrate transfer through multiliteracies came directly from this analytical coding process.

In addition to these more traditional grounded theory methods of coding and analysis, I have also used video editing for data analysis. The videos you see and hear within the chapters of this eBook are the result of many hours of selecting, viewing, listening to, arranging and re-arranging, juxtaposing, and organizing video data. While some of this analytical work is evident through the video products I present within the chapters, much of it is, as is also true with traditional qualitative analysis, hidden behind the scenes.

Using a video editor as an analytical and presentational tool has allowed me to work with, see, and hear the data from this study many, many times through various senses. I have experimented with extra-linguistic analytical methods such as designing and reviewing visual and aural juxtapositions, assembling what I call multimodal quotations, and composing captions and narration that emphasize, contextualize, or explain important pieces of data (for additional reflection on these video methods, please see VanKooten, “A Research Methodology...”). I have found it generative, as well, to use a more traditional qualitative coding process to identity and organize themes and categories within the data and then bring clips of the data identified through these processes into a video editor for more analysis as I compose video products.

I have learned much about research methodology and methods through composing videos for this project alongside processes of alphabetic composition. Video presents rich, round representations of participants and their experiences, reminding me repeatedly that participants are real people in the world with meaningful emotions, motivations, and desires. There is more to remember and get to know about participants as I watch faces, bodies, and mannerisms and listen to accents, laughter, and groans. Through video, I analyze with my eyes and my ears, not only through reading and re-reading alphabetic text. I think, hear, connect, and feel. When I place clips featuring different participants or clips recorded at various times next to or on top of one another in a video editor, I am able to look at, listen to, and piece together themes across examples and across the data set in ways not afforded by written transcripts. I see and hear myself on the recordings, too, as well as environmental elements like computers, tables, and classroom spaces. These images and sounds provide a continual reminder of the complex interdependence of elements in the research scene and my own positionality as researcher.

More might be said regarding how this methodology of interdependence has been and is still being formed by and through particular research methods, especially in relation to digital video. I have made additional space for more of these detailed reflections about methodology and methods elsewhere (VanKooten, “A Research Methodology...”), and I invite readers who desire more detail about my methodological decisions and the role of video in this work to seek them out there.

Overall, designing and conducting the first-year writing study has taught and retaught me that methodology and methods for digital writing research are complex, messy, ever-evolving, and vital to consider and reflect on with care. As I have used video to help me look for and listen to moments of transfer across media in this study, I have realized again and again how much there is still to learn about how theories, practices, methods, pedagogies, and technologies collide in classroom-based research about digital writing. Conversations about these tools and spaces are complicated and time-consuming, but extremely important. I hope that these brief descriptions of some of my methodological choices can provide a source of inspiration and reflection for other teachers and researchers doing this work.