Welcome to my project updates!

Thanks for expressing an interest in my research. These termly updates give a short summary of activities and events surrounding my work on children’s communication and assistive technology.

Over the course of 2021, I will be sharing snippets from my research. I hope these are helpful for classroom and therapy practice. I will also be sharing ideas for how assistive communication technologies might be improved to reflect some of the findings from my recent PhD

If you are interested in discussing any of these ideas, please get in touch! I can be contacted here. Have a restful and safe Easter break! –Seray.

Bite-sized videos

I’m excited to share the first in a series of short videos designed as practitioner resources. These illustrate some of my design insights for supporting interactions that involve people and augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) technologies.

In this first video, I explore three possibilities for building on the design of AAC technologies. The focus is on:

  • Scaffolding learning in flexible ways
  • Regulating privacy through AAC
  • Offering lightweight ways for children to signal misunderstandings.

The second bite size video will focus on strategies for supporting interaction in the classroom. Looking forward to sharing this next term!

Activities and events

  • Practice sharing both within and beyond academia is a large focus of this project. In June 2020, I co-organised an academic workshop at the ACM Interaction Design and Children conference, on ‘What we learn when designing with marginalised children’. A summary of discussions from the workshop can be found here.
  • In December 2020, I presented a talk at the Multimodality talks series held across UCL, University of Leeds and the University of Stockholm. The talk was titled: Communication and non speaking children with physical disabilities: The issue of recognition.
  • In February 2020, I attended the AAC journal club for SLTs in the UK. A summary of the discussion can be found in my blog post on AAC research and practice.
  • Later in February 2020, I was invited to give a talk on the UCL Multimodal communication MA module which generated great discussions on AAC for students of applied linguistics!
  • I’m delighted that my paper was accepted at the International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication conference. The presentation will focus on a slice of my research that considers how multimodal communication theory can inform the study of communication. The conference is scheduled to take place in August 2022 (postponed owing to pandemic). More details to follow next term!
  • The Communication Matters conference call for participation is out! I’m looking forward to hearing from the AAC community at the virtual conference in September this year and hoping to contribute as well!

If this newsletter has been forwarded on, you can sign up to these updates via this link

AAC research and practice

Stake of newspapers tied with rope

Last week I was grateful to be invited by the AAC journal club team to host a session which asked: What has changed with AAC technology and what next?

The AAC journal club is a lively forum where speech and language therapists come together to discuss chosen papers in the context of clinical work. In past years, therapists have informally met for discussions and after work drinks in some of the lovely pubs of Camden, London. In its online edition, attendees participated from all over the UK.

For the discussion, I chose four papers that have separately considered some of the complexities around adopting AAC technologies within people’s conversations and ultimately, within their lives.

Waller, A (2018) Telling tales: Unlocking the potential of AAC technologies. International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders, March/April 2019, Vol 54:2 159-169 doi: 10.1111/1460-6984.12449

Smith, M.M. & Murray, J. (2011) Parachute without a ripcord: The skydive of communication interaction. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 27:4, 292-303, doi: 10.3109/07434618.2011.630022

Light, J., McNaughton, D., Beukelman, D., Fager, S.K., Fried-Oken, M., Jakobs, T., & Jakobs, E. (2019) Challenges and opportunities in augmentative and alternative communication: Research and technology development to enhance communication and participation for individuals with complex communication needs, Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 35:1, 1-12, DOI: 10.1080/07434618.2018.1556732

Ibrahim, S., Vasalou, A., Clarke, M. (2018) Design opportunities for AAC and children with severe speech and physical impairments. In Proceedings of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 227:1-227:13. CHI ’18. New York, NY, USA: ACM. https://doi.org/10.1145/3173574.3173801.*

*Note: Yes, this last one may appear like a shameless plug, but I was invited to talk about my paper and chose the other three articles as they offered related discussion points.

The discussions were incredibly stimulating and the best part for me was hearing from colleagues about their experiences of negotiating expectations about what communication therapy can and should entail. Some of the key take home from our discussions are summarised below. These are mainly reflections from how the discussions related to my own clinical practice.

  • In the past, I’ve spent a scandalous amount of time trying to operationally manage children’s AAC technologies (software updates, resolving tech issues, personalising vocabulary and symbol sets, reorganising screen layouts for access issues etc). Yes, these aspects are also a part of it, but they also take away from the valuable time that is needed to plan useful interventions that reflect the complexities of children’s lives.
  • Prioritising linguistic goals is undoubtedly important for supporting access to inclusion, but there is a balance to be struck. There are many other interactional and technological aspects that are in desperate need of attention.
  • Speech therapy interventions should prioritise autonomy. This is no different if working with very young children or adults. Choosing to focus on formal teaching contexts alone means that young adults leaving educational settings quickly find themselves with a limited set of resources that were context dependent from years gone by. Therapists have a key role in supporting people who use AAC to develop strategies and tools that advance agency to communicate with different people in different places.

Huge thank you to Clare Parsons, Ruth Carr and Samia Malik for coordinating the event and to all the SLTs who attended the session. I really enjoyed the discussion!

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Throughout 2021, a central part of my ESRC postdoctoral fellowship will be to disseminate the findings of my doctoral research that investigated communication involving children with severe speech and physical impairments and their social groups.

The aim is to share this work beyond academia so that the findings can be translated as meaningful insights for practice*.

I will focus on producing resources for three main communities:

  • Families
  • School and therapy teams
  • Industry

I’m really looking forward to creating and sharing these resources as well as holding events that will communicate some of the fascinating insights from empirical research. I hope that the findings will be useful in helping to consider the interventions and technologies we choose for supporting communication.

To access these resources and to hear about news and events held throughout 2021, please sign up to the project’s termly newsletter.

*Until now, and throughout the course of my PhD, the focus has been on sharing this research within academia through conferences and journal publications. A list of research outputs that were generated between 2015-2020 can be found in the work menu item.

Cultivating Care

photo of yellow green red and brown plastic pieces on surface that shows they are connected through a web

For the benefit of three years down the line, when the pace of London life will likely resume to ‘business as normal’, I’m writing this post as daily routines are disrupted, relations protracted, and thoughts linger a little while longer. Like many others who are reflecting on the social impact of the corona virus pandemic, the past few weeks have made me acutely aware of how care practices are being enacted right now; what this means for how care can be cultivated, and what I choose to leave behind.

In my PhD research, one of the most unanticipated insights was observing the ways that children with severe speech and physical impairments enacted care practices with others. Care was a key value, evident both through children’s forms of engagement and through the subject matter of what they communicated.

For instance, when children in my study spent time out of school or in hospital for extended periods, a networked arrangement of people, technologies, artefacts and processes all allowed for care to be enacted as an ongoing process. I watched as children repeatedly asked after their friends and made cards for them in their absence. ‘We miss you’ cards were physically created, electronically transported and digitally remade in new contexts. People, crafted materials and online platforms and processes all allowed for these co-created and ongoing practices to take place (see also Light & Akama, 2014 and Brown & Choi, 2018 for more discussion on designing for care).

Care was expressed through material objects, like decorating children’s belongings in their absence and making cards, but also by finding affinity in what children said they liked to do, by trading stories and creating common ground. Care was evidenced through closeness and touch; holding hands, leaning on each other, and perhaps most powerfully, being at another’s side.  

Fast forward to March 2020, I observe how similar arrangements are both cultivating and inhibiting care. Having spent the past two weeks largely by myself, my laptop and mobile phone have been a lifeline for care. Regular video and audio calls, messaging, exchanges of funny memes and videos, as well as daily YouTube yoga and mindfulness sessions, are all collaboratively practiced in one form or another. Added to this, in my working hours, regular video calls, emails, chat forums (and hopefully more social virtual coffee and lunch breaks) are all reinforcing networks of care in my daily routine, in the absence of closeness and touch.

What is less helpful, are those shared ‘beware’ threads and videos that are making their rounds. I appreciate that these are probably shared with all good intention, but they do nothing more than exacerbate panic and stress. No, I won’t keep my groceries outdoors for 5 days before bringing them in the house, nor will I use that 50% homemade Cypriot ‘zivania’ brandy I have in my cupboard to clean my worktops (I mean, seriously…).

Right now, I’m trying to turn down the volume of all that unnecessary chatter to learn from insights gained from children. Right now, I’m attending more to making care. Right now, I’m making in a physical sense and drawing on technology and networks to remake this in new and care-ful ways. I highly recommend it!

What we Learn When Designing with Marginalised Children

IDC 2020 Workshop 12: What we Learn When Designing with Marginalised Children

June 2020, online event

So much child computer interaction (CCI) research has focused on the process of how to involve children and technology artifact production, especially when there’s a ‘problem’ to be ‘fixed’. These insights have been hugely important, but to allow for design work with marginalised children to mature and grow in pace with the concerns of the broader CCI community we propose that there’s a need to be clear about what is learned from past experiences.

Can we learn from these encounters?

What can we learn?

What are some of the challenges?

What forms of transferable knowledge does this take?

Really pleased that we were able to carry out this workshop at the ACM Interaction Design and Children conference in June 2020, in Virtual-London 😉

To read about the discussions that this workshop generated, please visit the Inclusive education technologies website. A very big thanks to the workshop participants and co-organisers for being part of it.

So you’re thinking of academia? – An open letter to my fellow allied health professionals

Photo of green grass by Gravitylicious.com from Pexels

As the UK healthcare system becomes evermore fraught with cutbacks in it’s decade of austerity, many allied healthcare professionals are choosing to side-step into academia. When I first became interested in research, my aim was not to leave the NHS totally, but to find a better balance in doing things that I enjoyed more in my working day. Naively, what I did not anticipate was that the academie would be equally taxing in so many different ways.

In writing about my experiences, I hope to share some of the things that I wish I had known more about or at least appreciated. I hope others might find these reflections helpful. I will try my best to reflect without rose tinted glasses but acknowledge that the distance away from clinical work has probably made me less jaded over time.

Things that keep you awake at night
There are many things in my NHS job that I did not even imagine I would miss or long for. Juggling swelling caseloads where everything is urgent; managing complex clinical decision-making; mediating relationships between fraught services, and many other horrors to name a few. I was mostly aware of wanting to step away from paper-pushing practices as the next new government brought in new NHS agendas for our clinical, IT and operational processes. These things I knew I would not miss. However those complex cases and difficult conditions were the glue that brought team members together. Knowing that I needed to work closely with every other member of my team: the physio assistant, the physio, the OT, the school nurse, the teacher, the dietician, the paediatrician, the list goes on. Each of these members all brought with them different skill sets and flavours, that made the job interesting and colourful each time a new challenge arose.

All the beautiful things
Working in community settings meant being embedded in people’s lives. Having the luxury of being in the same school or health centre for most days of the week meant that decisions did not always have to be instant or reactive. Instead, drawing on knowledge of what had happened before, on people’s local values and the local supports that I had access to, offered opportunities for making positive changes in people’s lives. Being in a stable place over time was the ultimate antidote to sudden action as myself, other colleagues, families and children were all able to regain some element of control in situations where health conditions and resources were changing constantly.
Separately, I’ll also never underestimate the privilege of how much time I was able to spend with the children and families in their home settings. Unlike research fieldwork, the door is (likely) always open. Seeing a child more frequently than they see their grandma or cousins means that families are both desperate for your support and have faith in what you are doing. Experiencing this meant being closer to people and empathising with where they are coming from. Whilst, of course, I’ve always tried to keep my work and personal lives separate, with this closeness, also comes grief. I regularly think about the 14 children on my caseload who have sadly died over the years and wonder what it must be like for their families and friends as time passes too.

Fresh ideas, exciting paths
Clinical work is largely driven by evidence based practice of established methods and processes. Busy working days leave little time for rethinking higher level decisions beyond ground-level problems. For this reason, universities and other research contexts are ideal places for innovation. Studying new disciplines and talking to people with different experiences has given me a fresh burst of energy to in my working day. Of course, academia is HARD WORK. Compared with my previous jobs, the deadlines are harder, the intellectual effort greater and like before, most things are urgent all of the time. For early career people who are thinking about research and teaching, there’s the extra load of planning classes, marking, and supporting students. Since recently submitting my thesis, I’ve chosen to focus on the research bit for now. I’ve been fortunate to work with an incredibly skilled and supportive team who are on hand to guide me through these early stages and new territories. What’s been great? Finding like minded people who share similar attitudes to the kind of work that excites me. Find your tribe. It’s so important.

In my very first speech therapy job I was supported by two amazing women who inspired me to pursue assistive tech and communication; Miranda Macaulay and Bonnee Harkess. On the wall above her desk, Bonnee used to have that Harold Thurman quote about doing what makes you come alive; you know the one. I end this post with that in mind. Whilst I’m learning that the grass is neither greener nor drier on either side, what’s important to me is being faithful to the core beliefs and values I hold in both roles. Let’s see how all this research business pans out!

Transcription, representation and children’s voices

Image from British social reform newspaper, published 1869 - 1932

 

A large focus of my PhD work has been on finding ways of hearing and amplifying the voices of non-speaking children with physical disabilities. Generating children’s voices that are faithful to what children want to express about their values and priorities, as well as legitimately capturing how communication happens has been a central issue.

 

For a long time, I’ve thought the data that was generated has been so rich with many implications for design, education, therapy and more. Children’s meaning making practices revealed new complexities and highlight some of the incredibly strategic and expert ways that they achieved their communication goals. Finding ways of conveying this whilst keeping the data alive has been such a challenge. Of course, my interpretations have a big effect on shaping the findings, but regulating this interpretive effect and transcribing examples from the data that closer align with child centred accounts has been an enormous challenge.

 

The issue of transcription has been problematised in different fields with a growing concern for treating transcription as a form of transduction (Cowan & Kress, 2017), with the products of this work becoming documents (Cowan, 2017). As I attempt to ‘tie things together’ in writing up and working on my transcriptions, I’ve increasingly questioned how (and whether) my representations of the data are portraying what children appear to prioritise. I’ve taken a social semiotic multimodal approach to transcribing (Bezemer & Kress, 2016; Kress, 2010) that embraces the many different modes that people use, distributing value that is traditionally placed on speech. I’ve attempted to document simultaneous actions, structural arrangements, proximity, looking behaviours and other aspects through time marking, line drawings, emboldening text, and other ways. I imagine that this is not something I’m going fully address (or be happy with) through the PhD work but hopefully it will act as a starting point for the next bit!

 

Having not been satisfied with using tradition orthographic transcription methods that represent how communication is organised around talk, I’ve looked to other examples that deal with ways of representing people. Some of these cases are situated within academic research, for example Bezemer et al, 2011; Cowan, 2017; Mavers, 2011, others have been drawn from the art world.

 

I recently managed to visit the latest Van Gogh exhibition at the Tate Britain and despite the crowds, had the opportunity to ponder on how his works represent people. As the show focused mainly on the ways that Van Gogh was inspired by and inspired British artists, the show captured situated influences of the time, for instance, Charles Dickens and the British social reform newspaper ‘The Graphic’. The texts that accompanied art works describe how Van Gogh wanted artists to contribute to society through the ways in which they portrayed the people. Looking at some of the works as someone who is removed from the time and context within which they were produced, I was struck by the focus on struggle and angst. Offset against what is known about Van Gogh and mental illness, his works (and how they are curated) are designed to document these themes.

Image from 'The Graphic' newspaper. Exhibited at EY Van Gogh Exhibition at Tate Britain.
Image from British social reform newspaper, ‘The Graphic’ newspaper, published 1869 – 1932. Exhibited at EY Van Gogh Exhibition at Tate Britain.

 

Image of illustration and page from Charles Dickens' Hard Times
Illustration and page from Charles Dickens’ Hard Times

 

 

 

 

Image of sketch by Van Gogh titled 'Worn out'. Man leans on his knees holding his head in his hands, sitting on a wooden chair.
Vincent Van Gogh – Worn Out, 1881

In a related way, I’m constantly intrigued by how artists convey their mark in representing people. For instance, my drawing class teacher Frank Gambini (see: https://www.instagram.com/frankgambinoart/) has an alternative and somewhat stylised way of representing people that can appear shocking for the sitter. Other artists prioritise technical precision in figurative works, or alternatively use a multitude of techniques for hiding and revealing different foci (for example, Alain Urrutia’s works often deal with ways of concealing and exposing).

Portrait drawing of female face. Charcoal on paper
Frank Gambini, 2019

Portrait drawing of female face. Charcoal on paper
Alain Urrutia, 2017

 

These examples have somewhat strayed from the issue in question, which is: how do I go about capturing children’s voices? Well in a divergent way, I’m getting there.

 

Whereas the examples drawn from the art world have documented ways of representing by prioritising what the artist perceives as central in representation, I (as a social sciences researcher) have a different priority. For example, instead of foregrounding human struggle, people’s personalities or conveying my technical skill, my intended goal is to present what children appear to prioritise through their communication experiences. There may also be an element of wanting to convey technical skill (it’s an examined PhD thesis!), conveying children’s personalities, struggle, expertise and many other aspects too, as transcription does not happen in a vacuum.

 

On the matter of representation, I acknowledge that children’s voices are in dialogue with the voices around them. Through triangulation, different data sets are helping to confirm inductively generated ideas. This gradual movement between data and interpretation; as well as interpretation through documenting in different ways, is helping to build a picture that captures some of the complexities of what is happening and why this might be.

 

 

References

Bezemer, J, & Kress, G. R. (2016). Multimodality, learning and communication: a social semiotic frame. London ; New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

Bezemer, J, Murtagh, G., Cope, A., Kress, G., & Kneebone, R. (2011). ‘Scissors, Please’: The Practical Accomplishment of Surgical Work in the Operating Theater. Symbolic Interaction, 34(3), 398–414. https://doi.org/10.1525/si.2011.34.3.398

Cowan, K. (2017). Visualising Young Children’s Play: Exploring Multimodal Transcription of Video-recorded Interaction (Doctoral thesis, unpublished). UCL Institute of Education, London, UK.

Cowan, K; Kress, G; (2017) Documenting and transferring meaning in the multimodal world: reconsidering “transcription”. In: Serafini, F and Gee, E, (eds.) Remixing Multiliteracies: Theory and Practice from New London to New Times. Teachers College Press: New York.

Kress, G. R. (2010). Multimodality: a social semiotic approach to contemporary communication. London ; New York: Routledge.

Mavers, D. (2011). Children’s drawing and writing : the remarkable in the unremarkable (1st ed). Retrieved from https://trove.nla.gov.au/work/37196806

A video study on AAC use in conversations

line drawing of two girls facing each other with their eye gaze devices mounted in front of them. Their deivces are blocking their view of each other.

 

I’m so delighted to share details of my first full paper co-authored with Mina Vasalou and Mike Clarke. It’s to appear in the CHI 2018 proceedings and has been awarded an honourable mention.

 

Design Opportunities for AAC and Children with Severe Speech and Physical Impairments

 

My PhD project is loosely split into three slices which inform each other. The first slice investigates how high tech AAC devices are used in conversations involving children and adults in school, with design implications in mind. The second slice is exploring how communication manifests more broadly; with and without technology. The focus is on how children with severe speech and physical impairments communicate meanings about themselves and their lives. The third slice is looking at representing this information from a child-centred perspective with empathy. The broader goal is to generate a tool for design that prompts new ways of thinking about how digital technologies can advance communication. (wow. my whole phd in six sentences 😉 )

 

The paper documents the first part of the project, examining how communication is created when AAC is present. I focus on analysing video data from conversations in school involving five child participants, their peers and adults. Please get in touch to share your thoughts.

 

line drawing of two girls facing each other with their eye gaze devices mounted in front of them. Their deivces are blocking their view of each other.
‘AAC as a material object’

A focus on values

silos of lego

 

 

Over recent years, child computer interaction (CCI) research has pushed the agenda for interaction design, embedding the contributions of children throughout the design process. Researchers are teasing out and critiquing the roles that children are proposed to play and the impact this has on their contributions (see for example Alison Druin’s work on the hierarchy of roles, 1999). What is less clear, particularly for children who have neurodiverse profiles, is how their contributions actually impact on design decisions in practice. This leads me to side-step and explore what we are actually expecting from kids in research.

 

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that we as adults cannot begin to assume what children might want from their technologies without asking them, which pretty much just repeats and reinforces the direction of recent qualitative CCI research. What I have struggled to gauge is how we begin to describe children’s meaningful contributions in terms of reflecting what is important to them and what we call this.

 

I’ve noted that some researchers, particularly those working in the fields of co-design (or related) are exploring the notion of values. It is increasingly becoming apparent that defining the term ‘values’ is a tricky task as any variation on its definition consequently impacts on its exploration.  But how can we investigate it if we can’t define it? Surely there’s some synergy to be had!

 

This post isn’t intended to be a review of the literature so I won’t be defining and cross-referencing here (but look out for that soon).  This post is intended to shine a light on adult expectations for what we think children will want to share (overtly or indirectly) then challenge this so that we can once again reflect on all the things that actually reflect meaningful life experiences for children that we miss – because we define in narrow terms.

 

Confused, right?  Well, yes.  It’s a muddy topic that has silos of mind-blowing advancements which are just that; self contained and not quite applicable for real-life cases that challenge predefined scenarios.

 

More on this topic to follow in later posts.

 

.silos of lego

Ethics & integrity – How do we make it meaningful?

crying child

Judging from the nature of this post, you’ll probably gather that I’m reflecting on how to plan and carry out research that is ethical. The bigger challenge is being able to reflect this process in an application that is useful for purpose and relevant whilst steering clear of a tick box, paper-pushing exercise.

 

Actually, I’m noticing that the topic of ethics appears to be something of a life choice (no, seriously). A stroll down my local supermarket isle uncovers ‘ethically sourced food’ and ‘free range eggs’. In another context, healthcare, education and social care workers all sign up to practicing within the remits of their governing bodies, safeguarding children through our professional roles, whistle-blowing and engaging in regular training practices to ensure we are up to date with relevant policy. It appears that we are all working harder to protect our knowledge and experiences of protecting others.

 

Research ethics committees often seek to understand how projects overtly demonstrate informed consent but this is trickier when children cannot sign a form or understand the immense jargon-ridden language we splatter.

“I can see from your high tone and asymmetric tonic neck reflex that you are telling me to get lost!”

Do we then work with what we have and assume consent? Of course, not. But isn’t one person’s perception of a child’s non-verbal assent just as subjective as the next? If a neuro-typical child says ‘yes’ just to please an adult, who’s to say that a non-verbal child will respond any differently? Questions are raised in terms of gauging authentic views that use trustworthy practices for seeking them.

 

I’ve had some really valuable guidance from lecturers and course peers, especially on the process of working with children and young people, not to mention copious literature on the topic of sociological research. Most discussions on the topic are increasingly suggesting that working ethically is a highly dialogic process that spans the life cycle of all research and beyond. Asking questions, even when there is no clear answer.

 

crying_child