A few years ago I was lucky enough to do some professional development with Dr John Edwards of Edwards Exploration. John Edwards is an Australian from Brisbane and has worked with Edward DeBono, particularly in the area of thinking and learning. During his sessions he disccussed how he used a method called "stimulated recall" when studying in-class thinking.
How it worked was that students were video taped during a science lesson about the jaw of a prehistoric horse. There were two video cameras, one pointing at the student, and another pointed at the teacher. After the lesson was over, the two video feeds were put through a video mixer and the student was able to see him/herself as well as the teacher during the lesson. The student had the ability to stop and start the playback, and said what he or she was thinking during specific parts of the lesson. This dialogue was transcribed and analysed.
What they discovered was what we suspected all along. Students thinking during a lesson was all over the place. One example was a girl, who, as soon a she heard the word "horse" was then off in her mind riding her horse and jumping fences. She took in very little of the lesson at all. I loved the expression a "sea of blah", which was how the teacher's talking through the lesson was described. Certain words were a trigger for the thinking which would then go off on a tangent.
Here is a snippet from Dr John Edwards:
"The way we get this data is by using a technique called stimulated recall (Marland: 1984, O'Brien: 1993). A video camera placed at the back of the room follows the teacher wherever the teacher goes. A second camera at the front of the room is focused on the children we are studying, and a microphone is placed so that the talk of both students and teacher is recorded. The two images are put through a video mixer so that both appear on the same screen. At the end of the lesson we make rapid copies of that split screen tape and use it to interview individual children about what they were thinking during the lesson.
So I interview one child while fellow researchers separately interview others. The child presses play on the tape and says what they were thinking. For example, the teacher says something and the child presses pause and says "When he said that I was thinking this and that and the other". They then restart the tape until they pause it again: "see there, when I was reaching down into my bag - I was getting so and so out of my bag and thinking ...." or "There I am talking to my neighbour, she said this to me and I said this to her, and I was thinking this and then that" and on it goes...you get a stream of consciousness recall of their thinking in the lesson. These interviews are recorded and transcribed. It is very rich illuminative data.
Let me take you for a gentle stroll through the minds of some children in a grade eleven Biology classroom in North Queensland (Edwards and Marland: 1982).
Yvonne says: "There's just bits and pieces of it that do sink in but most of it just kind of doesn't register. I do usually get the important bits, 'cause you just learn to kind of half listen and half not listen, just in case he does ask you a question, and you just learn to do it, 'cause there's always his voice there."
Isn't that delightful, - "There's always his voice there."
It is like a security blanket. What I call the sea of blah. The teacher stands at the front of the room and blahs all over the place - blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. The sea of blah fills the room and the students bob up and down in this sea. Every now and again they go under and take a gulp then bob up again for air, and then down again. The gulps are somewhat random. So students spend their days gulping from the sea of blah.
What do they ingest from the sea of blah? Well here is one example from this classroom. The teacher is teaching a Biology lesson about the jawbone of an ancient horse. He says: "Today we are going to study the jaw bone of an ancient horse." Yvonne is a horse enthusiast and she “goes off” jumping hurdles on her horse, on a mental tangent, she's gone.
In the post-lesson interview she cannot remember the teacher's words and instead describes to me the feelings she gets as she goes over the hurdles, during her mental tangent in the lesson. The teacher then says: "The Latin name for this horse is...." and one of the other students is a Latin enthusiast, so off he goes thinking about all the Latin words he knows. All the while the teacher continues to teach Biology - Yvonne is mentally jumping hurdles on her horse and Oscar is thinking about Latin words. What we found was a bewildering array of attention patterns.
When a teacher says "I've got them with me", I would suggest the teacher needs to think again - you never have them all with you! Just as I do not have all of you with me constantly today.
From every delivered lecture using the sea of blah technique each listener takes home a different story. The reason is that when you come back from your mental tangent, all that I have been saying has gone. You can't press rewind and then play it back. All the words have gone.
This is where books and computers have a great advantage over us as information givers. The best analogy I can give you is to imagine you are reading your favourite novel, you go off on a mental tangent, when you come back half of the page has just vanished. Imagine the frustration. That is what sea of blah learning is like for the listeners. Yet teacher talk is the major mode of instruction still in schools (see, for example, Goodlad: 1984) and universities across the world, even though we all know better.
If you must use sea of blah techniques I recommend that every 7 to 10 minutes you stop and give the students what I call a one-minute perception check. One minute where you stop and let the students think about what you have been saying. They can wake if they have been sleeping or dreaming, check understanding with their neighbour, reflect for themselves, or just take a break from intensive information processing, whatever.
The point is, they will take the breaks whether you offer them or not. So why not use them to everyone's advantage? Students can have the technique explained to them, and then learn to use it powerfully in teacher-centred lessons. It is also great for teachers as it helps them to plan and monitor the flow of their lessons. Allowing students time for mental processing encourages a new technique I am trying to introduce into Australian classrooms: it is called learning.".
How could I utilise this method of research?
When I was grappling with my research - studying the socio-cultural learning while taking six year 9 students in to an internet cafe and playing "Rappelz" - a Massive Multiplayer Online Game. I was trying to document their socio-cultural interaction both in the room, and from within the game -quite complex and daunting! I had an epiphany that I could use what John Edwards had told us about all those years ago.
So I set up a video camera in the room and taped their conversations while they were playing. I also used desktop screen capture software to capture each player's screen while they were playing.
Of course this was a multi-player game, so often I was getting the interactions of players working together within the game. I then interviewed the players watching themselves play the game. They talked about what they were thinking while they were playing. I then transcribed these interviews and analysed them looking for evidence of James Gee's 36 learning principles.
What video games have to teach us about Learning and Literacy - James Paul Gee
My problem was remembering and understanding the principles when trying to make connections between the complex behaviors in the game. At one point in my research, when faced with the enormity of the job I had set myself, a friend suggested colour coding the principles and attaching colour coded digital "stickies" to the dialogue in the transcripts - this was my breakthrough. I made each of these in a word document as colored text boxes, which I was then able to copy and paste into the transcripts.
I was able to analyse sections of dialogue, scan the coloured digital "stickes" of the learning priciples and attach them with a click and drag. Then I began a quantitative exercise. I counted the ocuurence of the "stickies' and looked for patterns.
Some fascinating evidence came out - briefly, here are some examples:
The learning in video games is active and critical - students are constantly doing and then reflecting on their actions.
Students are constantly probing in a video game - that is doing, thinking and strategising.
Probing is where they are exploring the game, and trying out different hypotheses, their consequential actions are then based on the outcome of that experiment.
Semiotics - or how symbols have meaning - Game playing is complex and layered, students are constantly making connections between symbols, objects, text, behaviours, actions and reactions.
Learning can be random - the nature of the game environment means students can follow hunches, change their mind, reject common pathways and find their own way, take multiple ruoutes to get to the same place -they get to do things their way.
The learning in games is constantly challenging, yet never too hard to achieve.
The learning is ongoing with new skills to be mastered at each level, with tasks neither being too easy or too hard.
They are rewarded for achievement and encouraged to practice and to make mistakes, without severe consequences.
Often the rewards are amplified - so they seem to get more out than what they put in.
And yes there are gender differences in how boys and girls play!
- Boys are often more competitive and pragmatic - they are goal driven - often good at "getting there first", by learning the fastest way to a place or the most efficient way to gain points, health and power.
- Girls tend to play "together", they enjoy moving through in a group or in pairs and exploring the environments, yes especially their inventory and wardrobe!
- Girls will explore their environment and often discover quirky or interesting ways to do things, often "out-smarting" the boys.
- Boys will often "win" at all costs, but will often not have as much fun exploring on the way.
- Boys will often appreciate the way the girls play and quickly take on what the girls have discovered.
- Girls and Boys enhance each others methods and make great teams.
The focus of the boys was building up armour and weapons, but of course this made them heavier and slower - the girls had discovered that they could temporarily "take off" their armour and run faster. Once the group worked out what they had done, this method spread througout the group and they all started doing it - like monkeys washing the potatoes!
It is difficult to find stuff on "Stimulated Recall" on the net - here are some links I found.
Stimulated Recall Methodology in Second Language Research
Action research through stimulated recall
The Stimulated Recall Technique A Qualitative Evaluation of an In-Service Workshop
No one that I can find is using Stimulated Recall in digital ethnography. Perhaps the work of Mike Wesch comes into this arena. I would be interested if anyone else has heard of this being used as a research tool, as I would like to build on this methodology - perhaps for my Masters in Computer Games in Education!
This is a movie by Mike Wesch: The Machine is Us/ing Us: