Language, and by extension, technology, is a force that, like fire, can be used for burning, but it can also burn those who use it. (Johnson, 1998, p. 18)
As I noted in SIZE UP, the overreaching goal of this project is to develop research methods, tools, and practices sensitive to and representative of the richly layered, multimodal literacies that firefighters mobilize within work practices. Indeed, writing studies stands to gain much by developing tools that account for the ways intellectual work is embedded within and unfolds alongside of physical activity in blue-collar work. In this section, I reflect on three key lessons that I've learned through the process of visualizing firefighters' multimodal literacies. Then, I present two screen recordings that demonstrate how these visualizations might be used analytically and the types of insights they afford.
One of the most significant takeaways from the process of building these visualizations is just how much they don't show. By juxtaposing images, audio, and video alongside the data visualizations, my aim has been to make that point clear and present. Certainly, the data visualizations abstract practice in ways helpful for analytical and distanced reading of various elements—tools, objectives, human agents, modalities—that are coordinated within situated literate practice. Still, they are abstractions that offer just a glimpse of a specific firefighter or group of firefighters' situated literacy practices on a given day. They reflect the limitations of the data sets and methodological choices I've made. For instance, I've weighted each node equally, whereas different nodes might influence practice in more and less significant ways. I also haven't offered a full account of the practices Chief Burke described using while responding to emergencies or working in firehouses. These are also significant aspects of practice, but they aren't the aspects of practice I've featured here. It also makes me wonder just how much about literate practice isn't captured in research write-ups because of methodological assumptions and choices we make or the limitations of research methods, tools, and practices we use to study, model, and report on literate practice.
This has been the single most time-intensive project that I've undertaken in my career thus far. The majority of the time has involved working with data in a variety of ways: collecting data; processing data; organizing data; taking notes on data; developing a coding schema; selecting data sets to apply a coding schema to; tabulating data; cleaning data; re-organizing and re-structuring data; styling data; finding where I've broken or introduced a bug into the data structure; making interactive networks out of data. It's incredibly mundane work, and it's work where I've encountered a lot of problems I just didn't know how to solve. Turning to colleagues for feedback and help has been an incredibly important part of the design process. For instance, at Clay Spinuzzi's (2016) ATTW Research Methods Workshop, "Modeling Qualitative Data," Ann Shivers-McNair and Emma Rose helped me think through ways of structuring data to allow for different types of comparison. Similarly, Chris Lindgren helped me solve a JS problem that I was stuck on for over 6 months! Ultimately, readers might find that the visualizations I've offered here to be more or less helpful as aides for exploring firefighters' literacy practices. Regardless, the process of building these visualizations has offered insights into my own practice as a researcher that I've found indispensable. It's also helped me become a more critical reader of the data visualizations I encounter in scholarship and news media.
Finally, I've learned that by re-structuring, re-organizing, and re-visualizing data in different ways, it becomes easier (and sometimes more difficult) to make sense of a networked view of literate practice. To really grasp the Orderville visualization, I had to immerse myself in it. However, by identifying key branches and segments and slicing these out I was able to better appreciate what was happening within that area of the network. For example, consider Figure 25 (below), which depicts a view of the environmental branch of the Orderville data visualization. Or, consider how slicing segments of Lieutenant Lamb's and Chief Burke's ecologies and populating them within another visualization allows an analyst to compare how two incident commanders make use of similar and different literacy practices when managing a structure fire (Figure 26).
In the following two screen recordings, I demonstrate how the visualizations might be used as analytical tools, while describing notable elements of practice within the Chief Burke and Orderville data visualizations.
Figure 23. In this screen recording, I walk through and discuss noteworthy elements of the data visualization surrounding Chief Burke's practice. Figure 23 transcript.
Figure 24. In this screen recording, I walk through and discuss noteworthy elements of the data visualization surrounding the practices utilized by members of the Orderville Fire Department's Special Hazards Company. Figure 24 transcript.
Figure 25. In this screen recording, I walk through the file and data structure, describing and showing how organizing data differently within visualizations allow for different types of comparisons and insights to be garnered. Figure 25 transcript.
The following supplemental data visualizations offer, respectively, a visualization of an Orderville branch isolated and a visualization that allows for comparative analysis of practices that Chief Burke and Lieutenant Lamb (Orderville drill) used to manage a structure fire. (Please note that these visualizations only allow for hover over and isolate-by-modality interaction.)
Figure 26. This data visualization offers an interactive depiction of relationships between genres, objectives, tools, and modes within Orderville on-scene practices. Isolate genres by mode by clicking on icons within the view box.
Figure 27. This data visualization offers an interactive depiction of relationships between genres, objectives, tools, and modes within Orderville on-scene practices comparing Chief Burke and Lieutenant Lamb's practices. Isolate genres by mode by clicking on icons within the view box.