Happy new year everyone!

After all the fun and frivolities of the holiday season, I am left with not only the feeling that I probably shouldn’t have munched all those cookies and candies, but also the grave realization that crunch time for my dissertation has commenced. I’d like to have it completed by Spring and, just like Katie, I’ve hit the analysis phase of my research and am desperately trying not to fall into the pit of never-ending data. All those current and former graduate students out there, I’m sure you can relate to this – all those wonderful hours, weeks and months I have to look forward to of frantically trying to make sense of the vast pool of data I have spent the last year planning for and collecting.


But fear not! ’tis qualitative data sir! And seeing as I have really enjoyed working with my participants and collecting data so far, I am going to attempt to enjoy discovering the outcomes of all my hard work. To me, the beauty of working with qualitative data is developing the pictures of the answers to the questions that initiated the research in the first place. It’s a jigsaw puzzle with only knowing a rough idea of what the image might look like at the end – you slowly keep adding the pieces until that image comes clear. I’m looking forward to seeing that image.

So what do I have to analyze? Well, namely ~20 interviews with docents, ~75 docent observations, ~100 visitor surveys and 2 focus groups (which will hopefully take place in the next couple of weeks).  I will be using the  research analysis tool, Nvivo, which will aid me in cross-analyzing the different forms of data using a thematic coding approach – analyzing for reoccuring themes within each data set. What I’m particularly psyched about is getting into the video analysis of the participant observations, whereby I’m finally going to get the chance to unpack some of that docent practice I’ve been harping on about for the last two years. Here, I’ll be taking a little multimodal discourse analysis and a little activity theory to break down docent-visitor interaction and interpretative strategies observed.

Right now, the enthusiasm is high! Let’s see how long I can keep it up 🙂 It’s Kilimanjaro, but there’s no turning back now.


Well the data collection for my research has been underway for nearly 2 months now, how time flies! For those of you new to this project, my research centers on documenting the practice of science center docents as they interact with visitors. Data collection includes video observations of voluntary docents at HMSC using “visitor-mounted” looxcie cameras, as well as pre- and post-observation interviews with those participating docents.

“Visitor-eye view using the looxcies”

My current focus is getting the video observations of  each of the 10 participating docents collected. In order to conduct a post observation interview (which asks docents to reflect on their practice), I need to get about 10-15 minutes of video data of each of the docents interacting with the public. This doesn’t sound like much, but when you can’t guarantee a recruited family will interact with a recruited docent,  and an actual interaction will likely only last from 30 seconds to a few minutes, it takes a fair few families wearing cameras to get what you need. However, I’m finding this process really enjoyable both in getting to know the docents and meeting visitors.

When I first started this project I was worried that visitors would be a little repelled about the idea of having their whole visit recorded. What I’m actually finding is that either a) they want to help the poor grad student complete her thesis, b) they think the cameras are fun and “want a go” or c) they totally want one of the HMSC tote bags being used as an incentive (what can I say, everyone loves free stuff right?!) The enthusiasm for the cameras has gone as far as one gentleman running up to a docent, jumping up and down and shouting “I’m wearing a camera, I’m wearing a camera!” Additionally, and for those star trek fans out there, a number of visitors and colleagues alike have remarked how much wearing a looxcie makes a person look like a borg (i.e. cyborg), particularly with that red light thing…

Now how, may you ask, does that not influence those lovely naturalistic interactions you’re supposed to be observing? Well, as many of us qualitative researchers know, that unless you hide the fact you are observing a person (an element our IRB process is not particularly fond of) you can never truly remove that influence, but you can assume that if particular practices are observed often enough, they are part of the landscape you are observing. The influence of the cameras may alter how naturalistic that interaction may be, but that interaction is still a reflection of social behaviors taking place. People do not completely change their personality and ways of life simply because a camera is around; more likely any behavior changes may simply be over- or under-exaggerated normative actions. And I am finding patterns, lots of patterns, in the discourse and action taking place between docents and visitors.

However, I am paying attention to how visitors and docents react to the cameras. When filtering the footage for interactions, I look out for any discourse that indicates camera influence is an issue. As examples, the docent in the “jumping man” footage reacts surprised to the man’s sudden shouting, open’s his eyes wide and nervously laughs – to which I noted on the video that the interaction from then on may irregular. In one clip I have a docent talking non-stop about waves seemingly without taking a breath for nearly 8 minutes – to which I noted seemed unnatural in comparison to their other shorter dialogue events. Another clip has a docent bursting out laughing at a visitor wearing one of the looxices attached to his baseball cap using a special clip I have (not something I expected!) – to which I noted would have likely made the ability for the visitor to forget about the looxcie less possible.

All in all, however, most visitors remark they actually forget they are wearing the camera as they visit goes on, simply because they are distracted by their actual visit. This makes me happy, as the purpose of incorporating the looxcies was to reduce the influence of being videod as a whole. Visitors forget to a point where, during pilots, one man actually walked into the bathroom wearing his looxcie, and recorded some footage I wasn’t exactly intending to observe… suffice to say, I instantly deleted that video and and updated my recruitment spiel to include a reminder not to take the cameras in to the bathroom. Social science never ceases to surprise me!