Conversation analysis is increasingly being rolled out as a method for practitioners to use in their work, or at least as a corrective to the idea that all qualitative research is simply a matter of interviewing people. If it has the effect of sensitising them to the ebb and flow of talk in their everyday practices , that’s a bonus. I’m delighted that Oxford early-career researcher Charlotte Albury has written us a blog about her experiences in putting CA in front of a group of medical practitioners.
Recently I was invited to teach Conversation Analysis at the University of Antwerp. Their qualitative research methods summer school trains clinicians, quantitative researchers, and research students in qualitative research design; analysis; and appraisal, with a focus on clinical settings.
This year, three lectures were dedicated to conversation analysis. The aim was to provide the group with an overview of CA, how it can be used in clinical settings, and discuss the types of research questions that CA can best answer.
Test out some new teaching ideas
This was a good opportunity to test some new activities, which I had designed to be relevant for the range of learners and experience in the class. Here I’ve described three activities that I found worked particularly well for introducing CA to a mixed experience learning group.
- Find a partner
I gave each student a piece of paper with one turn at talk on it. In the corner of these it said either 1stpp or 2ndpp. I encouraged everyone to search the group to find the person they thought was their pair: for example, “How are you?” found “Fine thanks” and “See you later” found “Bye”. When everyone had found their partner, I asked them to work in small groups for about fifteen minutes and tell me what they discovered about talk from this exercise. They decided that:
- Talk comes in pairs
- Some responses are more relevant than others
- Where things are in sequence is important
I started a session with this exercise and it was great to refer back to, as I expanded on each of these concepts throughout the day.
- Introducing transcription
I put up a slide that said “I didn’t call him stupid”, then asked someone to read it out (I didn’t call him stupid). After this I asked if anyone could interpret this differently, and another learner read is emphasising a different word (I didn’t call him stupid). I repeated this until we’d drawn out 5or 6 different meanings, which initiated a discussion about what we might be missing when working with a verbatim transcription. I asked how we can make the meaning clearer, students suggested underling the emphasised word, or sound, and indicating where the pauses were, as this could change the meaning. I enjoyed this exercise as students identified for themselves the value of capturing how talk was delivered, and it introduced our subsequent activities and discussions about Jeffersonian transcription.
- 1-minute transcription challenge
Most learners had come to learn skills in interviewing and thematic analysis and were not planning on using CA in their research projects. However, CA literature has much to offer their research, and their literature reviews. Previous discussions with similar groups identified ‘unusual transcripts’ as a barrier to incorporating CA literature, so I was keen for learners to be familiar enough with transcription conventions to go looking for literature, and to confidently be able to read and interpret these studies. Doing transcription is a brilliant way to learn what it all means, but asking learners who are new to qualitative research to transcribe a large amount of data can be quite overwhelming, so I decided to try a “1 min transcription challenge”. Two lines of talk, a transcription key, audio on a loop and 1 minute to see what they can do. This was really successful, and the learners were more confident as we went on to read and discuss CA studies.
I designed all activities to be as learner-led as possible so they could discover for themselves the key principles underlying CA. Learners said they found these sessions a “fantastic first introduction to the world of conversation analysis”, and one particular clinician said “it’s made me see conversation in a whole new light”.
Most learners reported that they would take many of the concepts we uncovered with them into clinical practice, and were keen to learn if CA research has explored their clinical speciality “Are there studies on end of life care?” “How about unexplained medical symptoms, or giving bad news?” “What about smoking cessation advice?”. In our last session we had a dynamic discussion about clinical CA studies and I could see the learners had realised the exciting possibilities of conversation analytic research.
For more on CA teaching, see the “CA Teaching” page, and the pages in the CA Teach drop-down menu