MASCLab goes to the Penn Ethnography Forum 2019

How do we attend to the in-between? What is our role as researchers to innovate methods as agents of change? These seemingly large (and they are) questions are two I want to pose at the outset of this post about the Media and Social Change Lab’s (MASCLab) presentation at the Penn University Ethnography Forum last month in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Ethnography Forum, now in its 40th year, has a long tradition of developing spaces for doctoral students, junior and senior scholars to come and share, celebrate, challenge, question and grapple with the field of ethnography and more specifically how it informs and impacts the field of educational research.

The MASClab session was an alternative format session, a hybrid presentation session and hands-on workshop, which established the ethos of MASCLab within the presentation space at the Ethno forum. I would borrow from the MASCLab ‘About us’ section to highlight the way MASCLab engages with multimodal and digital scholarship to explore the relationship between media and social change. This way strongly communicated across all three presentations and discussions/hands-on workshop portion of the session.

The session was titled: Media in and as Research and Scholarship featured three presentations from MASCLab members: Kyle Oliver, Joe Riina-Ferrie and Elyse Blake, along with support from Carlo DeVoe, Ellie Smith and the director of the MASCLab, Dr. Lalitha Vasudevan. Each presentation was located at the intersection of media-making and social change and to steal a line from their presentation description, “supported and explored the creation of media in and as scholarship”. In line with the work of MASCLab’s Director, Dr. Lalitha Vasudevan, who introduced the session, the workshop embodied the ideas that are often played with during the weekly MASClab meetings at Teachers College, such as media making’s role in scholarship, but also to consider media-making as a form of scholarship itself. This includes ways to think about working with instead of “for” or “in” and collaborative participation as we engage in ethnographic research.

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Director of the MASCLab Dr. Lalitha Vasudevan welcoming session attendees and providing a brief description of the MASCLab at Teachers College. 

The session began with Kyle Oliver’s presentation documenting a digital storytelling research project in a faith-based setting. It was a strong nod to the ethos of the MASCLab, inviting us to consider the affordances of media, as Kyle played us a podcast he produced. It also served as a super logistical life-hack, if you get nervous public speaking consider pre-recording a main section of your talk as a podcast (not that this is the case with Kyle, he is an eloquent and engaging public speaker). In his opening remarks, Kyle encouraged the audience to listen, however, we felt comfortable, and encouraged us to doodle or draw as we attended to the podcast he developed on faith-based education. Thinking back to my second big question, Kyle helped us understand one way to think about media making as social change and a way to engage in scholarship that holds space in the university but in the community setting as well.

Joe Riina-Ferrie, brought us in another, but equally compelling direction with his presentation about the alumni interviews with young adults who participated in the Educational Video Center (EVC) program. In this session, Joe described another MASCLab project that invites alumni of the EVC program to view their videos, which were often created while the young person was a teenager participating in an EVC program. Joe and his colleagues then film the young adult as they watch and respond to their original piece of media. This brings me back to my first question about capturing in-between moments. Watching a young adult’s face shift as he watches a film he made in his teenage years serves as the beginning of a way of thinking about youth and well-being that I would argue provides a more authentic way to attend to lived experiences. This also suggests a way to address the challenge that many researchers take up when thinking about ways to address voice in their scholarship.

In the third presentation, Elyse Baker highlighted the ongoing MascLab podcast series (check it out on iTunes) and shared some clips of her most recent podcast on ‘Craftivism’; rounding out the session’s emphasis on ways to bridge relationships both inside and outside the University. Elyse’s podcast focuses on an interview with Sandra Markus who is researching ‘craftivism’ as part of her dissertation with a craft group in Westchester that is involved in projects, such as, the knitted pussy hats which became an iconic symbol during the first Women’s March. Elyse provided yet another example for gathering and sharing data through audio recording and media making. Her podcast on ‘Craftivism” highlights yet another way to move scholarship and research both in, out and around the University space.

After three engaging presentations a typical conference session would wrap up and possibly include some Questions and Answer/Discussion time. Again, in something I can only describe as the MASCLab aesthetic, the presenters joined by Carol and Ellie brought out sound recorders and headphones, and invited all session attendees to engage in some sound recording of their own.

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The blackboard behind Kyle includes the discussion prompts for the Q&A session, it reads: 1) Brainstorm questions about the role media can/might/could play in your own work (scholarship)? 2) Conduct mini-interview and respond to questions above. 3) When you record, please include name and institution and anything else (if you are willing!)

The presenters shared that they will use the audio recordings from the session to develop a podcast, one that I can imagine will exist as a collage of sound capturing, if only for a brief moment, the thinking, questions, conversation and ideas percolating after listening and thinking with the three presentations. As I sat with my group, conducting a short interview/discussion thinking together about ways to use some of the audio recording methods in our own research, I was struck by the various conferences I’ve attended in my seven years of doctoral study, not a huge amount, but a fair enough sample size. Never once in a conference session have I engaged in a sustained conversation with the person seated beside me, unless by happenstance we strike up a conversation, but rarely, if ever, does that conversation lead to me sharing my research and questions I have about multimodal methods.

Not to say that others are not doing this type of work, but to me, the final portion of this session further developed the innovation that is happening at the intersection of multimodal and digital methods in the MASCLab at Teachers College. It also again, brought me back to the nature of embodiment and how through the act of conversation and recording these conversations as they occurred, the entire audience became MASCLab collaborators and contributors. When I think about Leigh Patel’s writing on decolonizing the project of educational research, I view this MASCLab session (to paraphrase Lin-Manuel Miranda) as “not a moment, but a movement” pointing us (educational researchers and media makers) towards ways of de-colonizing our own thinking, seeing and listening. In turn, encouraging us to take up new ways of understanding and sharing our own scholarship. This is a group to watch, innovation is happening and I look forward to participating in the future MASCLab work and presentations.

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