Listening to Learners’ Voices
I presented some ideas on Listening to Learners’ Voices at the ELESIG webinar recently.The recording is available at this forum thread, at the section starting at 52:45, and going through to 1:02:00.The slides for the session are available here:

The crux of the matter is that in slide 3, below, the top half of the slide, the narrator is only present for a short time, and as soon as they have produced an audio file, their involvement is no longer relevant. That's a typical research scenario. Alternatively, in the bottom half of the slide, the narrator becomes a sense-maker, and their sense-making continues for as long as it is of value to them. The researcher becomes a facilitator and an observer, of the narrator's sense-making.


A number of queries came up, particularly about the notion of gifting – the idea that for the audio stories in particular, it is vital to place control of access and sharing in the ‘gift’ of the narrator or, if it is a collaborative exercise, in the gift of the collaborators.

Here are some responses to the issues …

The Gift Economy
One of the things I find interesting about 'gifts' is that within a 'gift economy' (as opposed to a contractual or financial economy) mutual obligation is a crucial part of what is happening, and it is built on trust and community, not 'exchange'.

There are a number of issues that need to be distinguished, across three different areas: Transcribed Research Issues, Sense-making Issues, and Collaborative Sense-making Issues:

1. Transcribed Research Issues
Anonymous transcript mode
In this mode, the narrator has contractually agreed to provide the researcher with rights of access and anonymous text publication.That is not always explicit, and (see below) maybe it should, rather be:"I agree that anonymous TEXT use of the audio is granted for research and publication purposes".

This still leaves a obligation on the researcher to be sensitive to whether the narrator has said 'too much' or not, but I won’t go into that here.

Audio mode
It is now possible to publish in multimedia mode, including text and audio, if we publish in electronic journals.This is different …
Audio is (always, in my experience) much richer, and carries lots more information. A 'rich' analysis and discussion should try to capture this in some way.The 'unprocessed' or 'raw' audio is one of the best ways to do this. Capturing it in descriptive text is difficult, and always somewhat unsatisfactory, and too interpretative.
Question: if the 'data' that supports and analysis or argument is already substantially 'processed', what does that do for the veracity of the argument? What do we have to do in order to 'respect the presence' of the narrator in the text in which the narrator's voice had just been stripped out? Its perfectly possible, but not without difficulties.

The speaker is clearly identifiable in audio (that's pretty obvious), but it wipes out most anonymity. So, if the 'contract' was for anonymous publication, audio cannot be included (except by exceptional agreement).

First, it is not in the 'gift' of the narrator to rescind permission for circulation of text.

However, if we move across the fuzzy boundary between text publications and electronic journal publications, which are starting to accept multimedia inputs, if not full multimedia texts, things change.In practical terms, what do we do?

Default to permission to publish anonymised text.And treat any circulation of audio text as an exception, requiring additional permission.
This is more difficult than it seems though, as the kind of 'blanket' permissions that we regularly 'contract' for text are unlikely to apply to audio. Audio can vary much more, in terms of the degree of presence, emotional loading, and attitude to the event (or worse, person) concerned.

2.Sense-making Issues
If we shift to a sense making frame, we make life for ourselves more difficult, and also more interesting. The narrator becomes a sense maker. The researcher becomes an observer (and facilitator) of the narrator's sense-making.This generates different data (horses for courses: this is different, not necessarily better - it depends on what you have in mind).
If sharing of sense-making artefacts is in the gift of the narrator, the artefacts are substantially richer, and disclose substantially more about how the narrator goes about their learning, and goes about negotiating meaning, identity, and membership of a range of communities.Under a default regime of sharing and publication of audio/multimedia,, this is not going to happen.
This has a number of layers:

  • Anon text mode: this remains open for the researcher to do what researchers normally do.
  • Audio mode: this is reserved, and remains in the gift of the narrator, for all circulation purposes.
  • Multimedia mode: i.e. audio, with additional multimedia commentary, associative texts, etc, added by the narrator.This is definitely reserved within the gift of the narrator.

3.Collaborative Sense Making
Research that gathers, facilitates, constructs audio stories can generate a number of outputs:
Transcribed, anonymised, texts, analysis, etc (see default mode above)

It often yields rich audio stories, in their own right,in the process (in nested narratives, audio diaries, video diaries, etc).These can, in principle, be circulated to great effect, not primarily as 'research artefacts' but as 'narrative artefacts'. Narrative artefacts, however you construct them (incorporating lots of multimedia, or minimal multimedia, just interactive navigation) can be used in further learning, individually or collaboratively.

One of the criteria for a good story is that a good story elicits other stories in the mind of the listener, even before the story has ended: i.e. transference, metaphor, resonance are the hallmarks of good stories.

This does not necessarily have to alter the way the artefact is created in the first place, beyond the addition of basic, interactive, navigational affordances. But such an artefact is, precisely, loaded with additional information, association, emotional, relational and contextual values, colour, personal style, etc, not to mention additional tacit, personal information.If this is done collaboratively, the artefact is similarly loaded, but at a collaborative rather than individual level.

This rich data, beyond text, and beyond the (merely) cognitive, must be within the gift of the creator (individually) or creators (collaboratively) to share.

The researcher now has more dilemmas, and more choices. The learner, to put it plainly, can just be the source of a research input, or they can be a sense-maker. The researcher can be the collector of research data, or they can be a facilitator and/or collaborator in the learner's sense-making, in collaborative sense-making, and in creating artefacts for other learners' sense making via shared (gifted) narratives artefacts.

These choices are technical, methodological, epistemological, ontological, and political, not to mention ethical.