Monday, January 4, 2010

Visual Memos in Qualitative Research

In yesterday's blog, I talked about the Journal Project and my attempts to stretch myself using arts-based research.  Today, I'll share an example--a Visual Memo

As I was writing in the Journal about the Journal Project, I was led to consider the issue of how the journal is a very different container from the academic prose into which I've been so deeply socialized.  Later I extracted this set of entries (xeroxed them out) and sat down to work with them in visual form.  The result of which is what I would consider a Visual Memo.  

Here's where it starts.  I used an old collage.  I cut it up and used the back of it.

My next thought, see below, was about the way I conceptualize the two genres.  Imaginatively speaking, I see the containers as different looking. 

 Within the genre of the journal, I see the contents represented in a different way from that of academic prose.  It's colorful, filled with curved lines.  It has accents, punctuation, and places of heat, depth, and surfacing. 

Academic prose, on the other hand...well you can see for yourself in this visual that is dominated by the structure of the outline, the lines of text, and comments that are carefully separated from the body of the text.
Two things that seem particularly different to me between these two genres--are at the heart of the Journal Project--emotion!  [Feelings, subjectivity, sensitivity, personal concerns and reactions--how else can I name thee?] 
In the journal--I would refer to it as emotion, and it feels, like it looks like, this:
In academic prose, specifically the world of qualitative research, I conceptualize it as subjectivity, a boxed item that has a place within the outline.  Within that box, there seems to be emotional content, but it is carefully contained--like a kind of hazardous waste!

A goal of the journal project is to help me bring these two different worlds of prose (and ideas) together in some meaningful way.  I imagine that this will have to be a process. In this illustration they are just beginning to touch, but they are being drawn together by some kind of surrounding net. 

Over time, I can assume that the forms will create a closer and more integrated merger.  In the merger depicted below--the outline and text of academic prose are distinct and yet one with the curves and colors of the journal...the journal content is held within the framework of the academic prose, which has also expanded in new ways. 

 Thinking about the containers of the journal vs the kind of container formed by academic prose...leads me to my other big container:  the E-Project.  As mentioned earlier, this is a term that I am using to describe the electronic container that Qualitative Data Analysis Software provides as a place to store, organize, and interpret qualitative research materials.  I've given a lot of thought to how I, and my students, came to visualize the E-Project as we used them over time for different kinds of qualitative research work.  Here is a visualization of my sense of the E-Project:

 And now the trick for me is going to be how to think with visual memos in the E-Project.

If you are interested in the notion of Visual Memos, I highly recommend the graphic novel and work available on illustrated journals.  Two sources that I really like are:
1.  Linda Barry's book:  What It Is

2.   Danny Gregory's book:  An Illustrated Life♠

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SPRJ said...

Sometimes it is interesting to capture an initial stream of consciousness response to new ideas. That is what I offer here.

This exploration is rich in possibilities. As I was reading through the post one of the things that struck me was that fact that any piece of writing must be thought about from at least two perspectives; the author and reader. It is possible for the interaction of the author and the material take place in one container, while the interaction between the material and the reader takes place in a different type of container. This does require the author to be able to work in multiple styles, but if the goal is to share with a greater audience this is a necessary ability. In fact, if you want to reach a wide audience the information must be presented in multiple containers.

If understanding in a major goal of the writing process, re-presenting the data in various containers encourages the writer to view the material from a variety of perspectives. In turn this can provide a glimpse at themes, patterns, or possibilities that are obscured by one form of writing or another.

As for the E-project, this can certainly have an impact on how qualitative research is organized and shared. However, as more general changes are emerging in the way information is shared, the potential to create complex interactive electronic documents will impact this discussion. At the end of course I recently taught, I asked the students to create an E-portfolio in which they revised the various projects they had created over the semester. Using presentation software as a foundation they created an overview page for each project and then linked to the project itself. Some were text based while others were visual. If I had chose, I could have had each student represent her or his understanding in both a text-based and visual format. Then, as the reader, I could chose which format I would prefer to view the final product. To extrapolate a bit, I could have asked them to journal about their experiences, review their journal and present their revelations in a more academic format, and then present them visually. In one “document” the reader could explore the presentation that most intrigued them.

Reflecting on this last example, the containers do remain separate, but available. However, this does fit with the idea put forth earlier that the reader does have a role in the process.
Thank you for letting me share some of my initial thoughts.

Judith Davidson said...

SPRJ...thank you for this very thoughtful reflection. It is much appreciated. Judy