Guest blog: doing a data-session ‘remotely’

Some researchers are lucky enough to work in a community of like-minded scholars, with whom they can easily chat, meet up and collaborate; when that’s not the case, the isolation can be damaging. That’s why it’s so heartening to see a group of UK postgraduates inaugurate a regular “remote” data session, bringing people together who would otherwise be apart. This lively blog by Marina Cantarutti, Jack Joyce and Tilly Flint gives the story.


Marina Cantarutti

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Jack Joyce

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Tilly Flint





The Remote Data Sessions (RDS) is a monthly online data session coordinated by Marina (University of York), Jack (Loughborough University) and Tilly (Ulster University). The initiative came about at the EMCA Doctoral Network meeting in September 2017; we were discussing that with the network becoming increasingly popular, it meant more parallel sessions, which meant missing out on seeing some of our peers’ data – something which seems incongruous with the ethos of the network. In this guest blog post, we wanted to share some of the background behind our reasoning as to why the RDS came about, explain the practicalities of how it works, the technical hitches we have encountered and have a brief look at the future of the sessions.

Great data sessions – if you’re in the right place

Doing Conversation Analysis (CA), and being a Conversation Analyst irrespective of discipline means at one time or another you’ll find yourself in a data session. In CA, a data session involves poring over and scrutinizing audio and/or video recordings with colleagues to discuss some of the interactional features occurring within. Data sessions are central to CA and they “constitute a central locus of socializing new members into the CA community” (Stevanovic & Weiste, 2017: 2). We (the coordinators) are very fortunate to come from universities with regular and well-attended data sessions (DARG and CASLC; but see elsewhere on this site for a list of sessions elsewhere); but for some, accessing data sessions often means travelling to another institution – which isn’t usually feasible for regular attendance.

The solution, and next logical step for collaboration, was to utilise EMCA’s strong online presence to plan for an online synchronous experience for (not exclusively) EMCA PGRs. The first step was deciding on a platform which could facilitate at least 15 participants, suited CA data sessions, allowed us to share and play data to all participants at the same time, and was easily accessible to anyone across the world. This ruled out Skype, Google Hangouts and Adobe Connect; the closest platform to our criteria was BigMarker.

Learning how to wrangle with “Big Marker”

BigMarker is a web-based platform so it’s accessible to anyone with a reliable unfiltered internet connection. It has features such as ‘hands up’ so the coordinators, and/or the presenter can organise turn-taking to reduce echo or overlap which can happen with multiparty video-calls. It also includes a chat box so if someone’s audio fails we can send instant messages, and BigMarker enables the simultaneous playing of data to all participants which means the presenter can play and pause the recording at specific moments if they so choose. It is, however, not without its problems and we have encountered most.

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Our first session was marred with technical hitches, it took us around 45 minutes just to play the data to the participants, and longer to organise turn-taking. Despite the problems — when the platform worked as we expected it to work, it went really well. Gradually over the following sessions we ironed out the problems and established a step-by-step ‘manual’ for presenters and ourselves to prevent and remedy any potential hitches. One remaining problem, and biggest drawback, is that it is a paid-for platform and we are currently hosting the sessions with the personal account of one of the coordinators, which means that we run the risk of losing access to the platform in the future, as free features tend to become premium features with time. This will eventually become something to consider for the continuity of the project.

Straightforward for the participants

For the time being, we are continuing with this account and platform. For attenders, and presenters, the process is really straightforward. Once the presenter has applied to be session leader, and a date has been settled, all they need to do is test the webinar room in their own time. They can then focus on providing a transcript, and editing and anonymising their video file. The coordinators take care of the virtual room booking, set up the registration process, and manage all communication and technical issues. Sessions last 1 hour and 45 minutes, with the first 15 minutes devoted to technical testing

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Recent Webinar group photo: Magnus Hamann, Jack Joyce, Tilly Flint, Melissa Bliss, Hongmei Zhu, Marc Alexander, Emma Greenhalgh and Marina Cantarutti

and familiarisation with the platform, as well as for introductions. After the introduction by the leader and the (re)playing of the data, all participants are given a slot to make
their own contribution, and immediately after that, the floor is open for further comments.
 And no session is complete without a group photo!

Most of our sessions have been fully-booked so far, we capped the number of ‘participants’* at 15 so that everyone has an opportunity to contribute to the data during the session. Almost all of our participants have been PhD students, representing 23 institutions from across the globe; our only requirements being: Google Chrome, a reliable internet connection and at least a basic understanding of CA / Discourse Analysis.

If you’ve never participated in a data session before and would like to attend / share data then you can read Saul Albert’s blog post on what a data session entails. The next session will be held in May, if you’d like to offer some data for that session then please do get in touch here.


*A “participant” can be an individual with their own mic and/or camera, or a group of individuals in the same location, participating with one camera.

Stevanovic, M. & Weiste, E. (2017). Conversation-analytic data session as a pedagogical institution, Learning, Culture and Social Interaction, vol. 15, pp. 1-17. (And also as a guest blog on this site)