Me and my recordings: a lesson

The best advice I took away from the 2013 AAAs in Chicago was what to do with recordings after completing fieldwork.  Specifically, I gained insight from a panel of students who candidly spoke about their methods and experiences in their fieldwork and analysis stages. I’m just starting the fieldwork stage of my PhD, collecting recordings on a small voice recorder of various lessons in schools to analyze the languages teachers and students use while interacting.  Already, I’ve started to process some of them as I go along, to better shape my research and observations.  In this post, I’m going to break down some of the methods I learned from the Chicago panel speakers and how to put them to use. 

Live in your recordings– One piece of advice that one of the panel members gave was to “live in your recordings.” She explained that this meant listening to them over and over again.  The key was, listening to recordings was not solely restricted to a work atmosphere.  She talked about how she would listen to them outside of a work setting too- for instance, when she would go on walks or wash the dishes, she played back interviews, almost to the effect of white noise.  I’ve been employing this method of playing back my recordings and have found that this passive listening style allows me to mentally process my recordings in new settings which sometimes brings out new insights and aspects. Listening to them multiple times also has the same effect. Especially since I am often busy, this method means that I can listen to recordings and interviews while I go about my day and multitask, so I don’t have to always carve out time to sit and listen.

Listen Actively– While going about my daily life and listening to my recordings at the same time is useful, I also need time to actively listen to my classroom recordings and interviews. Active listening for me entails listening to recordings playing back on a transcription program that timestamps recordings as I transcribe them and make additional notes. I’ve found that I can often only intently actively listen to my recordings for about 45 minute stretches, after that my mind begins to wander.  I also begin missing things, which is why listening to recordings multiple times is important. Thus it’s crucial to know yourself and your work habits.  My strategy is to let myself work for shorter spurts of time and then give myself a break rather than trying to power through a whole recording at a time.  I also slow down my recording when I listen back to it while transcribing, in order to catch all sounds made in the classroom. This means a twenty minute recording can end up taking over an hour to play back.

Layer the Process and Notes– Along with the different listening styles that I’ve been employing, different styles of note-taking and transcribing have also come in handy. I expect to do many versions or layers of transcribing with the recordings I’m listening to now. My first time listening through a recording to transcribe it, I often take meta-notes or spot notes. For example, I’ll write “storytelling” or “evaluation” to label the overall activity occurring in the flow of the lesson and recording. I’ve also been marking what I call, “exceptionally interesting moments”. These are points that relate to my research questions and that stand out to me on the first time listening through the recording. Sometimes I briefly transcribe a whole passage if it strongly exemplifies some of my main research interests.

The second time I listen to the recording, I transcribe the minutes around those exceptionally interesting moments in greater detail. I’ll also flag them in some way, like with a preliminary code, such as “codeswitching,” so I can remember the spot and why I found that part to be a fruitful location to return to. When I next listen through the recordings, I’ll try and transcribe more and more of the recording to fill in the parts between the exceptional moments or key incidents that I have previously transcribed.

Finally, I tend to take notes in the transcription about what is happening at a particular moment and how I can see it connecting to other moments or theory. In the future, I can see it being very useful to compile these notes in a separate and supplemental document to consolidate coded moments.

Tools– As with any profession, it is important to understand and utilize the tools available that will complement your work.  First, it is important to save multiple copies of recordings, just in case.  I upload all my recordings onto my music device so I can carry them with me and listen to them away from my computer. I have them saved in multiple locations like my phone, recorder, iTunes, and transcription program. I try and immediately make copies of them just in case something should happen to the originals on my recording device. Second, my life was radically changed when I purchased my foot pedal. I recommend that anybody doing any sort of transcription invest in one. I use the free version of F5 for transcription and a foot pedal to easily stop and start my recordings.

So far in my research, these are the ways that I’m working with and “living in” my recordings. While I often have an organization plan in place before I begin any sort of transcription, usually the path I end up taking is a mix of multiple methods of re-listening and transcription styles. I sometimes also let the nature of the recording dictate how I process and transcribe it.


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