Mobile alone-together walks in an intergenerational research study

Harriet Hand (ESRC-funded PhD student)

Jennifer Rowsell (Professor of Literacies and Social Innovation)

School of Education, University of Bristol, England

Mark Shillitoe (Digital Pedagogies and Makerspace Expert and Teacher)

International School Delft, Delft, The Netherlands

*Versión en español aquí*

From January until May 2021, Harriet Hand, Mark Shillitoe and I have conducted an intergenerational research study with two undergraduates at the University of Bristol and children in a Year 4 (8-9 year-olds) classroom in Delft, the Netherlands. To conduct the research, we staged synchronous and asynchronous events using multimodal and multisensory mapping as a method to analyse analogue and digital engagements. The goal of this kind of research is to step back to explore our creative processes online and offline – how they differ and how they are alike. Mapping and multimodal text-making is a way to understand these creative processes more deeply and replicate them in other studies and teaching and learning contexts. This way of working emerged from our observations about teaching and learning online and our constant movements on and off screens in our homes and out in the community and nature. These digital-analogue movements were also part of the fabric of Covid-19 life.

Engaging in mapping activities offered child and adult participants in our research another way of seeing their worlds through the active practices of describing, making associations, envisaging and possibility thinking (Corner 1999). At the centre of our activities have been parallel events in both research sites. In Bristol, visual sketch maps (Lynch 1960, Gieseking 2013) of outside, inside, physical and digital spaces, before and during the pandemic, were created and talked about. In Delft, Mark planned sound, artifactual, embodied, and visual activities that all played on the riff of alone-together/digital/analogue and being in the middle of Covid-19 life. On the whole, our mapping events have untangled our sense of self to consider different spaces separately: inside and outside, digital and analogue.

Throughout the research we have also adopted mobile phone methods to conduct our research. To be specific, at various points in the research Harriet, Mark, and I have taken parallel walks, talking on our phones through Microsoft Teams about the research, about embodied experiences, and about life in general. These mobile alone-together walks have given us a way of enacting theory that undergirds the research. Walking has been a curative and grounding practice during the pandemic, but it has also served as a critical and aesthetic practice (Solnit, 2000: Springgay & Truman, 2018). After reading an article by Springgay and Truman (2018), we mapped out Bristol walks and parallel types of walks took place with Mark and his class in Delft in order to be ´inside´ of the research event/process as we enacted the research. The Springgay and Truman article argues for new ways to engage in research by experiencing research in the moment, on the move, and more embedded in the ways that people live, think, feel, and act. Their article focuses on walking as a method of embodied data collection. Literally, walking and talking on our phones stimulated talking about thoughts, feelings, ideas, and memories; in short, it became a way of embodying the research process.

After one walk, Harriet mapped out our paths and trajectories during the walk in Bristol and Delft (see visual map below). Experiencing the walk and interpreting Harriet’s visual depiction brought into relief affective intensities such as Mark’s cold hands and Harriet getting flustered by cars and negotiating the phone whilst talking. There were two dogs present during the conversation who also played a role. The Springgay and Truman article circulated within the phone conversation and elided in moments of experiencing the walking method. As well, random popular culture references bubbled up into our discussion such as the notion of ‘soft eyes’ in season four of The Wire when Prez and his fellow teachers talk about having ‘soft eyes with students’.

Source: provided by authors.

So it is that mobile phone methods were valuable research tools to connect with our methodological orientation and to relate to each other as co-researchers. There was an entangled and emplaced feel to such moments when Bristol and Delft came together as research sites such as Mark talking about where the Delftse Schie Canal connects to Delfshaven, Rotterdam running through the city and connections with Delft’s history, or Jennifer walked by Brunel’s suspension bridge in Bristol and spoke briefly about it. In other words, cities conjoined and histories collided during a 30 minute walk on phones in Microsoft Teams. As well, technology and wifi defied us at various points when Harriet cut out, Jennifer froze on screen, and Mark disappeared entirely. These slippery, sporadic communications typify Covid-19 life with the unpredictability of wifi and connectivity. Adopting mobile phone methods also involves ambient noises such trucks, children, and barking dogs that inhabited our phone experiences.

We had no expectations about our mobile phone walking methods. The truth is, they were tricky and we felt mixed about their success as a method to enact our research. But, it is without doubt that they set us on a path to dive deeper into embodied, immanent research methods that thread throughout the Alone-Together research.


Corner, J. 1999. "The Agency of Mapping: Speculation, Critique and Invention." In Mappings, edited by Denis E. Cosgrove, 213–252. London: Reaktion Books.

Gieseking, Jack Jen. 2013. "Where We Go From Here: The Mental Sketch Mapping Method and Its Analytic Components." Qualitative Inquiry 19 (9):712-724. doi:

Lynch, Kevin. 1960. The image of the city. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Solnit, R. (2000). Wanderlust: A History of Walking. New York, NY: Viking Penguin.

Springgay, S., and S. E. Truman. 2018. "On the Need for Methods Beyond Proceduralism: Speculative Middles, (In)Tensions, and Response-Ability in Research." Qualitative Inquiry 24 (3):203-214. doi: 10.1177/1077800417704464.

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