Monday, March 15, 2010

Learning welding #3: Analysing interpersonal communications and gestures

Doing a read up on ‘ body language’ as so much of the video data we are collecting on the welding project has limited dialogue or has dialogue which is highly contextualised to the practical task at hand. Not only is learning welding a very individualised pursuit, but interpersonal communications are hampered by high noise levels prevalent in the welding workshop. The young men in the welding class we are observing are also not normally very articulate or prone to chatter away. Therefore, voice recordings of individual students yield long minutes of recordings made up of the noise generated while welding and preparing metal for and after welding. So lots of banging and other industrial noise but not a lot of talk.

However, our initial concentrated study of a couple of our trial videos indicate many bodily gestures which tell us much about how the student is approaching and engaging with the task.
1) There is usually a pre- task check, indicating knowledge of the need to have tools, pieces of metal to be prepared / welded / cleaned up / cut set up correctly.
2) During welding, sawing or filing, students stop not only to catch their breathes :) but also to

make ongoing checks to ensure all goes well.
3) Checks can be observed via gestures like a cocked head and concerted peering at the article being worked on.
4) In some cases, there are physical gestures which indicate a need to relate mental images (size / shape) to the actual task. We see this as the use of fingers to estimate width or height while the student also turns his head in several directions in order to make the estimation from different angles. We will need to work out a way which is not intrusive to find out what is happening in the students’ heads as they ‘study’ their sample before they progress on to the next part of the process they are working on.
5) Other things observed include the use of touch to ascertain smoothness of metal surfaces being polished. This occurs regularly as students have to remove hacksaw marks from their work before they are able to check if their welds have been accomplished effectively. 
6) There is also decision making as when choosing when to stop a processes like filing to change over to a finer polishing ‘tool’ using sandpaper. Students may then revert from sandpaper back to file when the sandpaper does not make any inroads into their polishing action.
7) Frequencies of checks may be one way to compare various students’ improvement in recognising occasions for change in filing angles or technique. This may be something we could do as a preliminary data analysis exercise.

A trawl through the CPIT CPIT library came up with the “ Handbook on interpersonal communication’” second edition edited by M.L. Knapp and G.R. Miller (1994) with at chapter by J.D. Burgoon on non- verbal signals. Most of the chapter is also available on google books.

In the above chapter, the 7 forms of non-verbal communications are summarised as:

  • Kinesics – visual bodily movements, including gestures, facial expressions, trunk & limb movements, posture, gaze etc. – as exampled in my above description in paragraph 2.
  • Vocalic or paralanguage – use of verbal cues other than words themselves including pitch, loudness, tempo, pauses, inflection which are studied using discourse analysis.
  • Physical appearance – includes manipulable features which include dress, hairstyle, cosmetics, fragrances and adornments (perhaps also uniforms) and NOT non –manipulable features like physiognomy and height. – perhaps useful.
  • Haptics – use of touch – something we will need to observe more closely.
  • Proxemics – interpersonal distance and spacing relationships – when we analyse group /peer / tutor interaction.
  • Chronemics – use of time as a message system, including code elements like punctuality, waiting, lead time and amount of time spent with someone – need to work this one out for relevance and to see if hesitancy or over-checking is a sign of a lack of confidence in students' judgement.
  • Artifacts – manipulable objects and environmental features which convey messages from their designers of users – we will need to code task & artifacts being worked on.
So we will need to do a deeper study of kinesics in order to deduce more out of our video data. 

The several hours of data we have collected so far has already yielded several items to follow through. These include a compartive study of frequency of checks students make while undertaking a tasks, identification of signs of hesitancy when decision making and the use of touch in checking on progress with certain tasks.

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