This blog was contributed by Simone Eringfeld is an educational researcher, poet and musician who uses sound-based methods such as podcasting and spoken word poetry in her academic work. For her MPhil thesis on hopes and fears for the post-coronial university, she received the BERA Masters Dissertation Award (2021).
PLEASE HOLD. In other words: stay on the line and wait. Patience has been essential during this time of COVID as most people’s lives were put on hold. This is certainly the case for students, for whom their computer has become their classroom and their bedroom their world. For academic staff too, the pandemic has radically altered teaching styles, with the forced shift to online instruction significantly impacting higher education practices and pedagogies. As an educational researcher, I spent my time during the pandemic talking to students and staff, to better understand: how do they feel? What do they miss? What do they hope for in the future, and which fears prevail for education after COVID? To capture the current zeitgeist and convey the emotions behind the data I collected in this project, I decided to present my research outcomes in an entirely novel way: in the form of a spoken word music album, titled ‘PLEASE HOLD’.
PLEASE HOLD is the artistic outcome of a sound-based research methodology involving a variety of spoken word practices, which I developed as a direct response to the coronavirus crisis. I was undertaking a master’s degree at Cambridge University when the pandemic also turned my (student) life upside down. To document the crisis rapidly evolving around me in real time, I started a weekly podcast in which I interviewed students and professors about the impact of the coronavirus on their lives and perceptions of higher education. These ‘Cambridge Quaranchats’ were so well received by the Cambridge community that I decided to develop podcasting as a new research method. By using podcasting as a sonic elicitation device in research interviews, I began collecting data on the ways in which students and staff at Cambridge reimagine the future of the university after COVID. This is what I also refer to as the ‘post-coronial university’.
In these interviews, I asked students and staff to imagine their most fearful dystopian visions as well as their most hopeful utopian visions for the future of higher education. I then transcribed, analysed and coded these interviews before selecting the most meaningful fragments to write ‘data poetry’ with. In these poems, a wide range of emotions emerges, from nostalgia about the things we miss (such as hugs, serendipitous encounters, cafe ambience) to dystopian scenarios that would not misfit a Black Mirror script. Above all, the poetry evokes a sense of recognition: from Zoom fatigue to frustration about disrupted video calls, from loneliness and alienation to hopes for a more connected academic community.
For my album PLEASE HOLD, I composed original arrangements and set the poems to music, thereby turning the data into music (‘data music’). These musical interpretations of the poetry are informed by the data analysis that preceded the music composition stage, as I took note of the emotions and the rhetorical and vocal qualities with which participants shared their hopes and fears: where they laughed, sniffed, or sounded upset, where they fell silent, were searching for words or raised their voice, which words received emphasis and which ones had undertones of sarcasm, frustration, humor or questioning doubt.
The result of this work is a moving spoken word performance which takes the listener on an auditory journey, made available not just to other researchers and academics but also to diverse non-academic audiences, in line with my own vision for the post-coronial university to create and share knowledge in more accessible and creative ways. Simultaneously, this work represents a new form of sonically informed research methods and communication formats, from podcasting (data collection) to spoken word poetry (data analysis) and the music album itself (research communication).
As an additional stage to this project, I am organising an international ‘album tour’ consisting of talks, performances, seminars, and workshops for students and faculty at universities within the UK and abroad. You can read more about this on my website and are warmly invited to get in touch with me.
WHERE TO LISTEN
PLEASE HOLD can be streamed, downloaded, or purchased on all major platforms including Spotify, Bandcamp, Apple, YouTube and Deezer. Visit the album webpage on HearNow for all the platform links in one place.
We love this blog because of Simone’s innovative way of presenting data about the experience of university during COVID. We would encourage you to listen to her tracks and to check out our other output on the student experience during COVID. A good place to start would be our most recent polling on students’ views about their experiences this year.