IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Transcript: RFTRW S10E01

Getting a feel for interdisciplinary and collaborative research

Professor Carey Jewitt


[Please note that this transcript is automatically generated by artificial intelligence so there may be errors and misspellings which will corrected in due course].

00:00:02 Female voiceover 

You're listening to an IOE podcast from the UCL Institute of Education. Powered by UCL Minds. 

00:00:22 Male voiceover 

This is Research for the Real World. Conversations with researchers about the paths they've taken to shape our everyday lives. 

00:00:44 Dr Sam Sims 

This is Research for the Real World, I'm Sam Sims. I'm a lecturer at the UCL Institute of Education, and on today's episode I'm talking to Carey Jewitt, professor of learning and technology. Carey's work is focused on digitally mediated interaction and communication touch, and she's also interested in interdisciplinary research. Carrie works at UCL Knowledge Lab, which she was director of between 2016 and 2018. 

Carey is also the founding director of the Journals Visual Communication and Multimodality and SoC, as well as being on the editorial board of the British Journal of Educational Technology, amongst other journals. 

00:01:24 Dr Sam Sims 

Today we're going to be discussing how we communicate through touch as well as in other ways, and whether and how this can be done remotely as well as what we can learn as researchers through collaborating across disciplines rebound. 

00:01:38 Dr Sam Sims 

Hi Carey, welcome to the podcast. 

00:01:41 Professor Carey Jewitt 

Hi, thanks for having me on the podcast. 

00:01:43 Dr Sam Sims 

Carey, before joining the IOE, I think you worked in healthcare settings researching how GPs and patients as well as other healthcare professionals communicate with one another. 

Tell us about what you learned in that research and how you got from studying healthcare to studying education. 

00:01:59 Professor Carey Jewitt 

Yeah it was. It was quite a journey and so I was working in healthcare in the moment of their AIDS pandemic. HIV and AIDS pandemic in the UK. 

And really, big issue was that people couldn't professionals and the general public suddenly had to talk about this really difficult to taboo subject of sex and sexual relations. 

And that's a difficult thing to do. And when someones you know health and well being really relies on it, it becomes a very high stakes conversation. 

So my research was trying to understand how those conversations happen and how they could be improved and what kind of resources general practitioners and other healthcare workers needed to enable them to have those difficult conversations. 

So it is all about communication. Bailey and I was doing lots of observations of these consultations in healthcare settings, in GP practises and in sexually transmitted infection clinics and various other spaces, and what I realised was that so much of what was going on because it was so hard to talk about was happening, not through what people were saying, but the the kind of gaps between what they were saying and very a very. 

Non verbal way of communicating about these taboo issues and I became fascinated with. 

That aspect of communication that took me to go and do a masters in Social Research theory and methods an I started to specialise in non viewbook verbal communication or what we would now call multi modal communication and that brought me to the Ioe to work with a very dear colleague who going to Crest who sadly passed away and we started to work together around under China. Find methods for mapping and researching. 

This complex aspect of communication. 

00:04:05 Dr Sam Sims 

That's fascinating, Carey, and some of these issues have recently been back in the public eye due to the Russell T Davies TV show. 

Its ascend which did really good job I think of illustrating some of those difficulties around communication of these sort of taboo subjects to do with HIV, AIDS between medics and patients and families as well actually. 

So what did you observe and what did you learn about the importance of non verbal communications? In what ways was it being used? 

00:04:35 Professor Carey Jewitt 

I suppose what I learned is that we need to pay attention. 

To it and that when language fails us which it does for all of us in so many different moments in life that we need to not see that as silence as such. 

But we need to understand what other forms of communication come into that gap. So I think if we take it's a sin. 

As an example, we can see these moments where say, like when the one of the characters is coming out to his parents. Everybody knows this is massive silence. 

Everybody knows something's not being said. 

And we can either take the ambiguity of those moments and open them up, or we can take the ambiguity of those moments and just ignore it and let that silence persist. 

So I think those ambiguous moments of communication really offer an opportunity to explore what one another have to say and by honing in on the ways of people's facial expressions, the ways that maybe people stop looking at one another, their bodily posture. 

Movement, you know we're picking up on so much in those ways, so when it's a sin, you know where being the. 

You know it's quite a few of the characters are being silently told to shut up, and they're responding to that, so I think it's about trying to take seriously these other ways of communicating. 

00:06:01 Dr Sam Sims 

You've obviously moved into the field of education where you study similar ideas around communication. 

And non verbal communication in particular, and I think you're one of your current research projects, is focused on touch and the importance of touching communicating. 

This has been in the news this week. Obviously because in the week were recording. This is the week that you know two households are allowed to meet outside for the first time in months. 

And there have been stories, you know, in the news of grandparents who have now been fully vaccinated, were able to hug their grandchildren for the first time, and what that meant to them. 

What exactly do we mean by touch and why is it so important to us? 

00:06:44 Professor Carey Jewitt 

Well, it's great that touches come into everybody's awareness a bit more. 

It's obviously it's awful that it's come to our awareness through this in this tragic, very difficult and strange moment. 

But touch is always been vital, and although it's in my research now, it's always been a part of looking at this multi modal landscape of learning and communicating and interacting. 

So in terms of why it's important when we're born, I mean just become human requires being touched like the ways in which people are born into the world. 

The ways in which were nurtured and cared for without touch, we would quite literally not thrive. And I'm not survive. 

That's incredibly base their kind of importance of touch, but it's also in terms of the research that's done around. Touch is being researched that shows the kinds of information we gleaned from our world through touch. 

The ways in which we form bonds, not just with other people or really intense relationships, but in retail. For example, if someone goes into a shop which obviously none of us have done for a long time, but if we go into a place and where we talk, we touch an object were much more likely to buy it. 

So if you go into like a furniture store, something you'll notice that shop assistants will start trying to get you to engage physically with the furniture in the shop, I mean. 

It surrounds building bonds between ourselves and objects as well. 

But also in a likes a healthcare setting will be talking about just now or even in an educational setting where touch actually is quite different. 

I suppose as a different set of constraints around it, but in the healthcare setting, if somebody if a doctor giving information or a nurse where to touch the person they're speaking to, their more likely to comply with that information. 

So it has very kind of subtle ways of influencing our decision, making our thinking and our relationships with one another. 

And I think education is a very interesting space to think about touch because. 

With all the concerns about abusive touch, quite vitally concerned around abusive touch. Also story, that's in the headlines this week, so those become touches become a very regulated space in educational settings. 

And one thing that can happen in response to that is touches just entirely removed because it's no problem. 

Stick and that brings us back to this question of ambiguity and around how we manage touch. The complexity of touch. 

I don't think removing all touch from educational settings so between teacher and very young children in the kindergarten is necessarily the most productive thing to do, but it requires a conversation about limits and boundaries and comfort and cultural difference. So it and gender, and it's very complex space to operate in. 

00:09:41 Dr Sam Sims 


00:09:42 Professor Carey Jewitt 

So this week, the opening up of the UK lockdown restrictions, in which we can kind of go out and meet people again. 

I think it's a really momentous moment for everybody, and it's interesting as it also were still being advised to be guarded against. 

Who who we touch and and how we touch so it still got restriction around this character of how touch can come in. 

We've been doing one of our case studies about newspaper stories about COVID-19 and what we've been looking at is how the way that touch is being talked about and how technology is being talked about in coke. The moment of COVID-19. So we've been looking at changes in the lead up to the pandemic and the last year of the pandemic and that shown that. 

Touches really. There's been an explosion of headlines around touching the news and in the newspapers, partly around fear than hygiene and control, but also really understanding the importance of touch for everybody. 

The lack of touch and exploring the different ways in which people have tried to compensate for touch, so we've had. 

Lot of headlines about virtual hugging, you mentioned grandparents and the kind of risk of hugging their grandchild and people are just endlessly inventive. 

The ways in which people have found ways to feel a sense of hugging a feel, a sense of connection that takes me to this the view of touch that we have, we said. 

What is touch know said why it's important, and we said that it can change as well in this mode. 

Women in all projects. In my research, we move beyond the sense of touch just as a direct physical contact to encompass a much wider range of sensorial and social aspects of touch. 

So for example, instead just thinking of touches like touching one another with our kind of, you know, with patting someone or hat stroke or. 

Something the missing. Well, there's also your bodily awareness. How close you feel to somebody, the position of the body in relation to another. 

That's a form of touch as well, but also thinking about the environment, how the winds touches our skin, how the cold feels, something we've all experienced through social distancing throughout the UK. 

So I'm thinking about notions of remote touch touch norms and practises and also touch metaphors, which I think a lot of people have been using in this online communicative environment. 

So we're taking this very broad view of touch to understand how the situation of covert is stretching. What touches on how digital technologies support that rethinking of touch. 

00:12:39 Dr Sam Sims 

That's fascinating, Carey. And yeah, as he as he touched on there, another result of the pandemic is that many of us have got used to seeing and hearing our friends and colleagues and family virtually, you know, mediated by a screen through zoo, more teams or FaceTime. But I think you are also researching how we might be able to experience touch virtually as well as quite sort of mind bending thing to kind of get your head around. So can you tell us more about that in practise? 

Some examples of how how it might be possible to touch. 


00:13:14 Professor Carey Jewitt 

Okay, so there's quite a few devices on the market now around enabling remote touch, so there's some wearable devices like there's a bracelet that you can buy where two people had their bracelets repaired and the wirelessly connected to their phone. But basically so you can send a squeeze. You can send a series of squeezes to somebody. 

In the through these devices and what they are, the people who made this device were trying to do was, I suppose, say when were often on having a remote conversation or or want to kind of feel connected with her with another person. 

Actually, we might not have anything to say. We just want to be with them. We just want to have that sense of. 

Essence, so this very small squeeze. If you like, it's just a way of saying on there. I'm with you. 

You don't have to have some information content, and I suppose that's what a lot of these touch technologies are doing there. 

Recognising that communication isn't just about saying a whole heap of words about a particular event that happened, and specially at especially useful when. 

I don't know about you, but I've often found myself on your zoom call with a close friend and I'm like, well, nothing's happened, got no information content for this call. 

00:14:39 Dr Sam Sims 

So what have you been up to yet? Not much. 

00:14:40 Professor Carey Jewitt 

Yeah, we just want to be with each other, but you know that might normally happen by going for a walk or you know these moments where you're not having to speak non stop. 

00:14:51 Professor Carey Jewitt 

And so zoom and all of these other online platforms become very transactional. They're very much very much about, and what I mean by transactional is I give you something. 

You give me something back. They become about information and business and so much of touch isn't about information and business. So much of feeling connected isn't about information. 

Business so this digital technologies are very much filling that gap, so there's another one that I particularly like, which is a prototype, which means there very early lot of these technologies are very early ideas that aren't yet in our everyday life. Said they're living in labs at the moment and there being ***** 

Explode and so another one is a little device that is connected to your laptop and to your friends laptop and Scott little creature on it, and you can hit that little creature and the little creature at the other person's laptop will react to that to the touch that you've given it, so it's a sense of sending something quite ephemera. 

So quite open and quite ambiguous in our research project in touch we designed with the help of colleagues from UCL Informatics and computing, we designed what we call tactile emoticone 

It looks a bit like rather unglamorous oven mitts, and you can put your hand into it and another person has the same device and you can send through this technology. You can send them heat. 


Vibration, so these three different forms of touch if you like, and we explored how people we got together. Pairs of good friends, family members, and people in in romantic relationships and we got them to send each other touch messages related to emotions like feeling sad or feeling lonely. Feeling really excited and happy. 

And we were really interested to see that another research has shown that people are incredibly good at reading touch messages even without any words around that. 

So they picked up the emotional content of these touches even when they were sent remotely and they couldn't see one another cause they're in separate rooms. 

And started they started to build quite complex messages and drawing on their knowledge of the of the person involved. 

Knowing what kind of things they liked that. So maybe they would say well when they're upset, they just wanna be warm. 

Oh, when when? The When they're upset they don't want to be touched at all so I'm not going to send them anything. 

00:17:40 Dr Sam Sims 

That's a fascinating sort of experimental setup, and I'm interested in as well as whether the participants were able to kind of decode the the messages or the feelings. 

Being sent through the device, what was their reaction like to just taking part in that? Did they enjoy it? Did they find it interesting? 

00:17:59 Professor Carey Jewitt 

The participants varied in their in their responses to this strange device, and we went through a process of designing it with them. So we had an early prototype. 

Where we use quite different kinds of materials, we were using silicon. 

And yeah, it was funny to watch people using it because it's this glove like incase space and they would be really hesitant about putting their hand into this space because they couldn't see what was going to happen. So there was this kind of moment of fear. 

Alright, yeah. 

I'm service some moments of absolutely potion because after you'd used it for awhile, the silicon got quite kind of hot and sweaty inside the glove, so we had to change the materials because they were really too clammy. 

And they started to feel like a quite unpleasant hand for some of the people. So we learnt a lot from peoples reactions to this strange device. 

But quite a few people were like I could imagine, using something like this. I think we it. This was pre pandemic. This particular study and I think it's the kind of thing that people. 

So if we if we were able to do it now, I think people would really see a different kind of possibility for that device than they could have imagined at that time. 

Where really what they were saying was kind of. Why would I want to do this when I can just go and hug my my partner, even if you know that, just wait till the evening, it's just silly so let you know. I think the context is everything as always. 

00:19:36 Dr Sam Sims 

Yeah, it's not hard to think of applications of this, or at least you know the scope for trialling something like this in care homes that have been, you know, completely locked down. 

Yeah, the pandemic suggests allsorts of knew uses and applications and use cases for this sort of technology. So interesting. Thank you Carrie. I know that in a lot of your work, and indeed. 

The example of the clubs you just mentioning there. You've worked with artists, designers, engineers. I think even dancers to try and understand touch and it's important. 

Tell me how did that work and what kind of insights do you get from working with people across such a broad range of areas? 

00:20:24 Professor Carey Jewitt 

The project started to work with artists in order to open up new questions and partly we need to do that because people find it really hard to think and talk about touch. 

We haven't got very good language over Cadbury for talking about touch and. 

So most laypeople there's some specialists who are very good at talking about touch, but mostly people, members of the public find it really difficult to even articulate what's happened or or to be able to recall a touch in any great detail and why we were working with artists like we did a performance called thresholds of Touch while work that the sound artist Anna Digital performance artist. 

To create a one hour performance, all focused around the experience of touch and the idea was that it attuned people to touch and what I mean by that is it made people acutely aware of their skin, their interaction with others, and the kind of sensations that that gives an through the performance it opened up this really imaginative, exploratory, slightly risky space. 

For people to get in touch with touch if you like so it started, it says it's it's fascinating to think about now, because this was in January 2020, so it's just before covert hit the UK and it would be an impossible thing to do. Now, it being irresponsible and unethical thing to do now, but the performance then we started with a ritualistic washing of every participants hands which I was a part of doing. 

And through that washing of hands. 

People started to tell stories and talk about their. You know how they've learnt to wash their hands, stories of always being told off for being dirty or getting too mucky store stories about teachers like washing their hands when they were in kindergarten. So it was in quite different cultural stories. Coz there is a very international audience. 


Then people were invited to shake hands with one another to explore each other's pulses and the artistic experience like that gave permission for people to do touching in a different kind of way and a safe space to do that in as well. 

And it was a bit somewhat one of the participants described it as an incredibly tense, intense experience where they kind of suddenly kind of felt like they were through the performance. Going into this tunnel. 

Well, they were kind of really. 

Imbedded in thinking about touch and after that performance which took people to really think about touch and that their artist described it as a touch preparation chamber and she described it with you. 

See analogy of how astronauts are trained to go into space through going into a zero gravity chamber. She said we're creating a tactile preparation chain. 

So after that hour we then did a workshop where we got people to process the experience they had around touch and to explore that experience and what touch meant to them and the kinds of social norms and practises that they were embedded in. 

So working with an artist created and you kind of research environment for us to explore it gave people and you set of resources and you set of experiences that could really think within a very deep. 

In which way? 

One of our case studies in the Intouch project is called designing Digital Touch. We through our contacts, we set up a design module with colleagues at Loughborough Design Design School and we ran a whole module on focusing in on designing digital touch for user experience module and what we found after the module which included rapid prototyping, which is just a basically way of making. 

Ideas, so you've got an idea for a digital device market up with some cardboard and some some air clay, that kind of stuff. 

And what when we saw what people have done, we realise how very difficult even designers found it in thinking about touch. And so we started to develop with the lecturers that we worked with at Loughborough Design School to develop a toolkit to. 

Kind of intervening, that thinking process and to give people young novice designers ways of thinking about the social and the sensory aspects of touch. 

So things like setting them tasks to go and, you know, go now find 3 objects that are nearby described their texture. Feel them, make an inventory of the kind of dimensions that are important to you. 

That kind of thing. So it had activities in it, some kind of questions and prompts to think about touch experiences, thinking about relationship between touch and memory, touch and context, and the kind of physical properties of touch as well. 

And we through working with our design colleagues, we were able to take that that an early version of the toolkit. Try it out with a different cohort of students. 

And we developed the toolkit and now we're about to launch it as a digital toolkit for designers. So that's you know, we never went into that case study, thinking that we would make a toolkit. 

So I think one of the exciting things about working with designers and artists is you always go in pretty open and you're never quite sure where you're gonna end up. And that's very exciting and useful space to be in. 

00:26:33 Dr Sam Sims 

That's a great example of yeah, true interdisciplinary collaboration. I think you know you've learned from the designers and artists and in some sense through the toolkit they've also learned. 

And I know Carey, you're interested in interdisciplinary research more broadly. 

And this is the sort of you know when I'm talking to leaders in higher education or when I'm reading briefs from research councils. You always see this word, interdisciplinary. It's a. 

Thing, but at the same time you know, as we all know, disciplines provide distinctive and useful ways of looking at the world. 

You know, biologists are powerful ways of studying the living world. Economists have very different but powerful ways of studying strategic human interactions and markets. 

So what is it that we gain? You know, if you were trying to persuade somebody if the value of interdisciplinary research, what would you point to? 

00:27:30 Professor Carey Jewitt 

So interdisciplinary work enables us to bring lots of different ways of looking at the same. 

Phenomena, so yesterday me and my team did a in a workshop with German research lab who's one of our case studies around interactive skin. So interactive skin is. 

Basically, a whole variety of knew technologies that really sit across the skin. There. Ultra thin technologies that, and they're really the cutting one of the cutting edges of touch technology. 

And working together, we did what we call a speculative workshop and what that means is this very new technology has an amazing future, but we don't know what it is. So we're going to speculate around that. 


We imagined this is might sound unusual. We imagined we were 50 years ahead in the future and it was 2071. 

And then we work backwards from 2071 to 2021 to say how would we have got to the place in the future where this technology is as ubiquitous and possibly Monday, NAZ and I was attacked as a mobile phone. 

And what we did was we took two starting couple of starting points to do that, but the two main ones were technology and the other one was the social practises. 

And what we did there was we mapped this future as an idea with lots of different pathways and good things and bad things that might happen along the way. 

And we were responding to the social and the technology all the way through this dialogue of the future. And at the end, what their computer science colleagues said was that it would really help them think differently about what they were building and designing, but also their focus on technology and materials. Because materials are such an important part of the of what touch. 

Toby had really helped us think about things like regulation, the sustainability, what's what contact might be, the kind of scenarios social between us we built social scenarios of where that technology might land in relation to touch. 

Without them, we wouldn't have been able to do that, and without us they wouldn't be enough to think about the social in the same way. So I see these interdisciplinary research. 

As a collaborative dialogue across difference. 

And sometimes why it's very can be very hard to do. Is this real tensions between the different disciplines in that conversation and a bit like coming back to the ambiguities that we're talking about in all conversations. 

Those spaces are really interesting because it's there these tensions that if we explore them, we can often find you know, like a key challenge or a key opportunity for thinking about a technology. So it really. 

Interdisciplinarity is about shining different disciplinary lens on a phenomena that's always. 

00:30:54 Dr Sam Sims 

So do you have any advice for other researchers, perhaps early career researchers know just things that they should keep in mind if they want to make this kind of research work. 

00:31:05 Professor Carey Jewitt 

So I'm lucky enough to be the chair of the UCL collective social science domain, which is the domains that you see. 

I'll sit across all of the faculties. They're meant to kind of operate higher level than the faculty level and bring together researchers from from across UCL to to collaborate on on various topics. 

And we're also lucky enough to have a really active. 

Early career network attached to the domain Annanu PhD group attached the domain so they've got lots of ideas themselves about how what was helpful, and one thing that they would really like is more opportunities to discipline hop and spend time in these other spaces. 

I guess that would be one of my key tips I suppose would be to spend time in the other discipline. 

Spend time observing how people work in a in a respectful way and to manage the chaos of trying to see another discipline through your own lens so it can also shine back. 

Reflect back some really interesting ideas about or views on your on our own discipline, which could be useful to think about, but it's a bit of a cliche, but it does all come down to finding ways to have a respectful dialogue. 

Across different. 

Also, I think it's not about merging, so it's not about me when I work with an artist, I work very hard to not suddenly think Oh my God. 

I'm so Arty and I I'm an artist too. You know, like I always hold onto, which I do see quite a lot in this collaborative working system. 

Some dreadful pieces of work created by social scientists who suddenly think they have an artist and you know so. 

So I think for me it's about understanding where I'm located in that space. Taking up the offer to move across the boundary. So in the work some of the work with artists that I'm doing, I have become a performer. 

System I've become a kind of giver of ideas to scripts and such like that there's movement across these boundaries and at times you have to let them be fluid and you have to open up to the uncertainty of someone else's process. 

So I think it's about the top tip. Is this name not shying away from the very difficult conversations which is really hard because we're not always well equipped to have difficult conversation. 

But it's about finding points of difference in points of connection and then working with both of those things. Not going for the merging, avoiding, merging. And yeah, that would probably be my my tips. 

00:34:06 Dr Sam Sims 

That's really useful carriage. It's been so interesting talking to you today. Thanks for coming on the podcast. 

00:34:12 Professor Carey Jewitt 

Thanks, it's been great talking to you and have the opportunity to share our work with everybody. 

00:34:18 Dr Sam Sims 

You can find out more about Carey’s research by following @IN_TOUCH_UCL on Twitter or searching for UCL Knowledge Lab. 

If you have questions or topics you would like us to address in future into these, follow the links in the show notes where you can record your questions using either voice or text. 

If you enjoyed listening to the podcast, today are now nine seasons of conversations with IOE researchers, all available from wherever you get your podcasts. 

And as an added bonus, you can find the research for the real world playlist featuring tracks contributed by previous guests and producers. 

Follow the links in the show notes to Spotify. I'm Sam Sims and this has been Research for the Real World. Goodbye. 

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