Transcribing the DALN: Part I

Partnering with the DALN for a Transcription Project in a Graduate Research Methods Class

By: Ashley J. Holmes, Associate Professor of English & Director of Writing Across the Curriculum at Georgia State University

I began teaching English 8125: Writing & Research Methodologies in 2018; it’s a required course for Ph.D. students, and an optional course for M.A. students, in the Rhetoric and Composition graduate program in the English Department at Georgia State University. As a Deweyan pragmatist committed to experiential learning, my approach to the course has always involved hands-on projects that allow students to not just read about research methods but to experience and enact research practices and to learn-by-doing. In the last two iterations I’ve taught of English 8125, I have partnered with the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives for a transcription project students are assigned early in the semester.

Why transcription? 

One of the reasons I assign transcription is because I think it is an essential skill for graduate-level researchers. Looking back to my own dissertation research, I conducted interviews with nearly 20 writing program administrators and graduate teaching assistants, and the process of transcribing that data set taught me a lot about research–about how time-intensive transcription is when it’s done well, how the process of re-listening and typing out the interviews helped with my analysis and coding of the data, and how many choices there are in the process of representing someone’s words and perspective accurately and ethically. As Blake Poland writes in his entry on “transcription,” in The SAGE Encyclopedia of Research Methods, the “interpretive process” of transcription is often taken for granted and underestimated: “this is unfortunate because in the translation from richly textured lived experience to audio-recording to two-dimensional written prose, the data are transformed in ways that have particular consequences for interpretation” (884). While there are plenty of paid  transcription services out there for researchers to use, I wanted to use this opportunity to invite students to experience and grapple with the interpretive components of transcribing someone’s life and words to paper. 

Partnering with the DALN

Once I had settled on wanting students to transcribe as part of the English 8125 course, I needed something for them to transcribe. This assignment is placed at the beginning of the semester to build students’ skill sets before embarking on their own pilot studies in the latter half of the semester, so we didn’t have time to plan and conduct interviews ourselves. As I was thinking through options, I learned in a conference presentation about the DALN at Computers and Writing that they were hoping to make the archive more accessible by posting transcripts alongside video or audio literacy narratives, but this was a huge undertaking for such a large archive. I approached the DALN about a partnership where students in my course would use literacy narratives for their transcription project, and then we would turn over the final, edited transcripts to the DALN to post on the website. The DALN was enthusiastic, and, given my background and interests in community partnerships, I was thrilled that this project reciprocally served students’ learning, the DALN, and the field of Rhetoric and Composition. I also appreciated the opportunity, with their permission, for students to have their transcripts published on the DALN, providing a real world purpose for their work beyond our class.

The Assignment

The transcription project asks students to select 1 or more video or audio narratives from the DALN that total approximately 12-15 minutes to transcribe. Students are allowed to use free programs that aid in the process transcription (such as Express Scribe) but can’t use a paid service that will do the work for them. While they are conducting the transcription, we have debriefing discussions in class about problems they are encountering and we share strategies and tips. Students then participate in peer review of their draft transcripts and submit the final draft to me for a grade and for a final round of editing. I provide a final formatted and copy-edited version of the transcripts to the students for one last review and approval before, with their permission, sending the transcripts to the DALN to be published. 

Over the next few days in this DALN Blog series, students in the Spring 2021 English 8125 course share their experiences with and reflections on the transcription project. Thanks for reading!

Author Bio: Ashley J. Holmes is Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Across the Curriculum at Georgia State University. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in composition theory and pedagogy, civic and community-engaged writing, public rhetorics, and research methods. Holmes published Public Pedagogy in Composition Studies (2016) with the CCCC Studies in Writing and Rhetoric series, and her recent articles have appeared in International Journal of Students as Partners, Composition Forum, and Community Literacy Journal. She is Managing Co-Editor of Composition Forum.