3 Challenges to Recordings & Their Solutions

Two people can witness the exact same conversation and have two different interpretations of what happened.  It’s called marriage.  Jokes aside, this differentiation is rather common.  I’m not necessarily saying that people are liars, but rather that their perceptions of a conversation will differ from that of others.  Recordings offer the chance to view a situation first-hand and use more scientific methods of analysis of human interaction.  However, with any form of data collection, there are a few challenges with gathering recordings.

“The hardest thing to see is what is in front of your eyes.” ~ Johan Wolfgang von Goethe

Challenge #1: Obtaining Participation

Despite the overabundance of YouTube videos that provide a snapshot into our staged personal lives, many people still cringe at the idea of being videotaped in their natural personal and even professional lives.  In the past, I’ve offered compensation for participants willing to be recorded.  However, experience has taught me that people join these kinds of studies for a variety of reasons that bore no relation to the compensation I provided.  For example in my own study on writing tutoring sessions, I had two tutors who loved the idea of being recorded so they could use the videos to perfect their craft.

In general the tutors in my study felt like they could trust me because I spent a year in their circle before the study began.  So it was most likely not my offer of compensation that inspired participation but the fact that I spent a year establishing myself in the community before recruitment.  A year of service is not always an option for research, but if the request comes from someone who is an established member of the community, obtaining participation is easier.

Challenge # 2: Staging the People & Equipment

Using recording devices involves coordinating how participants are seated, what the camera captures, and using additional audio for crowded locations.  Busier locations require the use of both the video camera and an audio recorder, because the audio recorder can be situated closer to the participants and thus can pick up their conversation more clearly than just the video camera.

In order to capture everyone within the camera’s view, either a fortuitous position for the camera has to be found or the research participants have to be staged—thus taking away from the naturalistic quality of the research.  Another issue recordings present is finding an adequate location.  Shooting film in public locations means staging the people and the equipment so that people who are not in the research won’t be in the shot.

Challenge #3: Identifying Natural vs. Staged

Adding recording equipment will most likely alter the behaviors of people aware of the equipment.  In my own study, Shelly, a writing tutor, claimed that she often censored her behaviors because she felt the need to be less condescending while on camera. However, such alterations of behavior would most likely have occurred if she tutored in a more public arena like most of the other participants did in the study.  Despite her drive to seem less condescending on camera, during her playback interview, she mentioned that she still seemed condescending.  Comments such as this one suggest that certain behaviors will still assert themselves despite trying to censor oneself in front of the camera.

To Sum Up:

  • Recordings provide a scientific method of understanding conversations
  • Tricks to obtaining participation include:
    • offering compensation
    • spending time within the community and thus earning trust
    • asking an established member of the community to request participation
    • In a noisy area, use both an audio recorder & video recorder
    • Although staging how people are seated takes away from the naturalistic quality of the recorded conversations, it is often necessary
    • Natural tendencies will prevail even if recording devices inspires someone to be on their “best behavior.”

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