Over the past few years, we have been exploring the use of camera phones and other mobile media technologies for qualitative research methods, with a particular focus on a participatory mode of learning. Guided by the idea of an alternative "classroom," these projects were designed to create experiential learning opportunities outside the university "campus." By incorporating the ideas of experiential learning, our projects consist of field research and interviews, together with collaborative workshops, and debriefing sessions.
Such a mode of learning can be characterized as a "camp," in that participants seek to understand the resources available, and attempt to expand their capacities to organize their ideas within given situations. A "camp" is an attempt to design a place at which we can reflect upon things that are regarded as 'taken-for-granted' in our day-to-day activities. I suggest that such form of learning may promote communication among participants, through the set of goals, roles, and rules that constructs the situation.
A "camp," as a mode of learning, consists of three steps that are closely interrelated. Each step has its own emphasis in terms of our process of knowing. The design of the learning process is primarily based on the theory of experiential learning, and it unfolds as three steps. As shown in the figure below, these three steps of the "camp" create a cyclic process. Typically, participants work in groups of two, in that one can concentrate on taking photos while the other can work on generating fieldnotes.
1: Get in touch with people
In the first step, we conduct interview sessions with members of the local community. A primary purpose here is to listen to the "real" voices of the ones who live their lives in the community, and collect and compile data (i.e., include photos, voice-recordings, sketches, and other forms of fieldnotes). It can be understood as a pile of "life documents," with which one can begin to weave a story about his/her experiences in the area. Through this phase, participants will learn about the ways in which he/she can get closer to the interviewee, and to develop the relationships with her/him in the given situation.
2: Making sense out of interview sessions
The next step of the "camp" is to reflect upon the interview session, and to think about the person interviewed, and her/his day-to-day activities in the community. After the fieldwork, participants are asked to select photo(s), and to come up with a catch copy, phrases, short texts to illustrate the situation created by both the interviewers and the interviewee. As a form to organize and present this process of understanding, we create a set of posters. Through this process, one has to distanciate oneself from the situation within which he/she was embedded. It triggers a mode of self-reflection, in that one has to look back and make sense of things and events he/she observed during the fieldwork.
3: Sharing posters with interviewees
When conducting a field research in a local community, it is important to deliver the result of the research back to the community members. As mentioned, as a way to distribute the images of the person (that is, in fact, the images of the community) the photos, phrases, and texts are organized into a set of posters. I suggest that a poster is a distinct, useful medium for presenting one’s experiences in the field. By delivering and sharing these posters, one can begin to further develop the relationship with the interviewee. This process initiates to pursue additional interviews, as well as to incorporate new participants for the future research activities. Also, this cyclic process may expand the scope and perspective of the research itself.