Technologies of Interviewing: Revamping Qualitative Methods Lessons
A couple of weeks ago, in my Social Issues in Qualitative Methodology course, I was assigned to give a presentation on the “technologies of interviewing.” At first, I was told by older cohort members that I was lucky because I had the easiest topic: “Just do the history of the recorder.” As I googled the topic, thinking that it would then be some cool history and development I found that my predecessors had just done a timeline of photos of how the recorder has changed over time. How boring! Who would want to sit through a 20 minute lecture, slide after slide, talking about the recorder, especially when we’re supposed to be talking about the social issues involved in qualitative methods?
My advice to you, graduate students, today is to avoid this typical pitfall in your methods classes (as both student and instructor): revamp your lessons so they can be of some actual use! Below I offer an example of how I revamped this “simple and easy topic” to something that students can actually use and learn from.
One of the major takeaways that I wanted my fellow students to grasp is the different utilities of different forms of technologies. I began the class with a 10 minute exercise where I passed out a transcription of a 3 minute interview I found on YouTube. I really enjoy using modern technology in my classes and presentations in order to keep energy fresh and to engage different styles of learning. I gave the students about 4 minutes to read over the transcript. I then played just the sound (no video) of the same interview, and they had the ability to read along with the transcript. I chose to throw in a little curveball in this, as the interview itself was in English, but was of two British individuals, thus adding a dialect/accent to the mix. After listening to the sound clip, I showed them the YouTube video of the interview. With all three formats, I opened the class up to discussing which format they preferred or disliked and why; what aspects did you gain or miss in other formats? What about dialects in the transcription? What about pauses or intonation? What about body language?
With students beginning to actually think about the different types of ways the same interview can be recorded, I proceeded to break down the different types of technology available- not just simply recorders. First, there are the “simple” technologies, that aren’t actually so simple such as utilizing your senses and taking field notes. Then, of course, are the more classic technologies such as the recorder, microphones, headphones, and the transcription foot pedal. Lastly are newer and more modern technologies that we rarely discuss in qualitative methods courses such as Skype and other video conferencing, phone interviews, online forums such as chat rooms, social media, tablets, online surveys, photography, and software (including NVivo, Dedoose, Atlas.ti, Survey Monkey, Qualtrics, Garage Band, Audacity, WireTap Studio, and Express Scribe).
What I found most important in this whole lecture, however, is how this information was disseminated. Rather than the simple “here are the classic technologies and the history of them” lecture, I took the same information and applied a sociological lens to it. What social and political (not to mention ethical) considerations are there with new technologies? What about cost, money, access, accuracy, electricity and access to wifi, setup? What about the public/privacy of the internet and confidentiality measures? What do you do when technology fails us? When is state-of-the-art technology necessary?
I find that in my classes, regardless of educational level, that simply lecturing is never enough. Rather, trying to find a way to critically engage students and have them think about even the most mundane topics can open up their minds and a whole world of possibilities for learning. Something as simple as a 5-10 minute “warm-up activity” really gets the students’ “feet wet” into a topic. Sure, sometimes it can be difficult to come up with an activity for certain topics, but what questions can be asked for even small group discussion in order to critically examine what we think is so “ordinary” or even the most routine lecture? Feel free to comment below with other pedagogical and methodological teaching strategies you have to engage your students and peers!
Pieces to Read:
Rapley, Tim. 2007. Doing Conversation, Discourse, and Document Analysis. London: Sage.
Mehrabian, Albert. 1971. Silent Messages. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.