A free event-logger for field workers (timestamp your field notes)

movie_timestampSocial scientists are increasingly using video cameras as a tool for data collection as it allows them to go back to certain interesting moments and study them in much greater detail than would be possible based on written notes or memory. So  how do you find those important moments in your hours of video footage? Of course it’s possible, to do it from your memory of when in the sequence of events it happened or because you noted down the time. But I found this method somewhat laborious and I wanted to find a way of “synchronizing” my field notes with the video footage.

I would have loved to use the solution provided by a new free software called Chronoviz which integrates all kinds of time coded data, including my Livescribe Pen. The problem is, I am on Windows and Chronoviz is only available on Mac. But if you are on a Mac, you may not have to read any further and head directly off to the Chronoviz website and try it out. (And feel free to share your impressions in the comments below!). For the rest of us Windows folks (or for the Mac folks who might want something much more simple than Chronoviz) here is how I just solved this challenge for myself: it’s a simple Excel spreadsheet (three to be precise).

When you open it, it looks like this:

The first version of Eventlogger before entering any data
The first version of Eventlogger before entering any data

As you can see, it’s still under development, but the basic features should work. Here is how you use it: enter something (it doesn’t matter what) into the green field (E2) and hit enter at the same time as you start your camera(s). You will get something like this:

Eventlogger after starting the video recording
Eventlogger after starting the video recording

Now you can take notes in the blue-white striped table and whenever you enter an event (in the Events column), the time of the event will be logged in the Time column and the Video Timestamp column will show the respective time code on the video (i.e. the time passed since the recording started).

The time of an event is logged when you navigate away from the event description
The time of an event is logged when you navigate away from the event description

As you will notice, the time for an event is logged only after you wrote something into the event-column and hit enter. So if you intend to write a lot about a particular event (and therefore will hit Enter only after the Event is long over), you might want to adjust the logged time manually. But please do this using the column “Manual time” on the right. These Time and Timestamp columns should not be touched at all, they are entirely automated and messing with them will probably mess up your log.

Instead of changing the time manually, it might be easier to develop a habit of hitting enter after writing the first few words and then navigating back to complete the entry. Or you could use the “Event” column for a short description and elaborate in the Notes column. In that case you will hit Tab instead of Enter, which will also create a time log.

And there is another way to adjust the logged time. You can also set a permanent offset in the Config-tab (another spreadsheet underneath the main one). For example, if you set the offset to 20 seconds, the time logged will be the current time minus 20 seconds. I find this useful because when you eventually use the time code to jump to the corresponding moment in your video, you will not have to manually move back another bit in order to see the moment that actually triggered you to take note of what happened.

The rest is pretty self explanatory. You just go on taking your notes (don’t forget to make sure that autosave is enabled while you’re in the field. Otherwise you risk losing a day’s work.

Once you have logged your events, the next step is to import them into whichever CAQDAS  package (Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis Software package) you are using to analyze your videos.  I use Transana, so that’s what I will describe and that’s what the Export format of the Eventlogger is designed for at the moment. But it should be easy (if not unnecessary) to adapt it to another software like NVivo, MaxQDA, or Atlas.ti.

So here are the steps to get import the logged events into Transana:

  1. Hide the Column C (“Time”) by clicking on it’s header (and thereby selecting it), right clicking it and selecting hide. (If you want to keep the “real” times for each event in your transcript, skip this step). To unhinde it again, select column B and D, right click and select “Unhide”
  2. Select the area of the table that contains your data as shown in the screenshot below, copy it, and paste it into a new Transcript window in Transana (or any Text document that you can later import as a transcript). If you are using a text editor like Word which understands the formatting of what you paste, make sure you “paste as text”, cause you don’t want a table.

    To export your data, simply copy and paste it your CAQDAS.
    To export your data, simply copy and paste it your CAQDAS.
  3. In Transana, you then use the “Text Time Code Conversion” tool which will convert the time stamps from the Eventlogger into Transana time stamps and link them with your video. Now you can easily navigate to each of the special moments you observed in the field, simply by clicking on where you describe that moment in the transcript.

Surely, the export function could be more luxurious and I have fiddled a bit with automatically importing the data into a Word document (via a Mail merge directory), but so far this solution is very context dependent and therefore not fit for sharing. And the advantage of the copy&paste solution is that not much can go wrong. So go ahead and give it a try. Let me know if it works for you.

You can download Eventlogger_v0.9 here.

Some more little things to consider:

  • The original Eventlogger file is an .xlsm file (excel file with macro) but for some reason WordPress won’t allow me to upload xlsm files, so I change the ending to .xls. If you open the file as it is, Excel will give you a warning message that the file content does not match the file type. If you just accept that an allow Excel to open it, will work fine. But you can avoid this by just renaming it to .xlsm before opening it.
  • As you can see in the Screenshot above, the size of the stripy table is somewhat limited, but don’t worry. The table expands automatically as soon as you start writing into the first row below the table. (UPDATE: I just realized that this auto-expansion is currently not working. So you need to expand the table manually for the time being.)
  • When you open the Excel file for the first time, it will warn you that it contains a Macro and it will block this macro from being executed until you give it the permission. You don’t have to activate the Macro, but then you will have to manually change your Excel settings to “Enable iterative calculation” by going to Options => Formulas => Enable iterative calculations (see here with pictures). The Macro does this for you automatically. Nothing else. Without this setting, the whole thing won’t work.
  • The timestamp format that Transana reads is h:mm:ss.sss. Note the dot before the sss. If you open the Eventlogger and you see a comma or something else instead of the dot, that is because your computer’s “decimal symbol” is set to something else than a point. To change this, in Windows 7, you need to go to the control panel => Region and Language => Formats => Additional Settings => Decimal symbol. I suggest you change also the “Digit grouping symbol” in order to avoid confusion. (But this has nothing to do with the Eventlogger.)
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Problems importing Facebook posts with NCapture into NVivo10?

I just want to mention this quickly, since I found it rather difficult to find this information on the web: if you are having trouble importing posts from facebook  into NVivo10, this is probably because you are trying to capture your newsstream. In that case you will only get the option to import the webpage as a pdf, but not as a dataset.

What’s the solution? Well, the “solution” is simply that  “NCapture does not capture posts from your News Feed—you need to navigate to wall posts for a User, Page or Group.” This is what it says in the NVivo help. There you go.

NVivo 10 is out!

In case you haven’t noticed yet: the latest version of NVivo is out. And guess what? It’s version 10! According to QSRInternational, we can expect some significant progress from this version, both in terms of usability and features: According to their announcement, NVivo now…

  • … captures and works with web pages and online PDFs [That’s what I’ve long been waiting for!]
  • … imports Facebook posts, LinkedIn discussions and tweets from Twitter [not so relevant for my work, but interesting feature, for people doing “netnograpgy”]
  • … automatically codes social media data quickly and easily visualizes the results
  • … works with content like memos, photos and web clips from Evernote [Now that is… wow!]
  • … is even more user-friendly and efficient to use [Blah. OK, could have left that one out…]
  • Handles 150% more data than NVivo 9 [That refers to the larger File Size that your NVivo project can have, something for people with many interview recordings or videos]
  • Performs 50% faster than NVivo 9 [Now if it’s true this one should be listed first! So considering just how slooooow NVivo 9 was, let’s see how much less slow “50% faster” is…]

I have not had the time to look into the new version so I have to leave it at that for today. But please  comment below if you have tried it and let us know what you think!

Forget Atlas.ti and MaxQDA: NVivo is your friend!

NVivo

[UPDATE: Please note the updates at the end of this post, which basically revoke my enthusiastic statement in the main post]

Okay, I admit that the headline is perhaps a bit premature since I have not yet extensively worked with NVivo, but I just have to note that I am absolutely thrilled with what I’ve seen so far (NVivo 9.2)! I’m just wondering how it could happen to me that I did not see this earlier. I know I looked at it about 5 years ago so maybe it just wasn’t so good then or maybe it was too expensive for an underpaid PhD student? Maybe I was turned off by its rather commercial rather than academic appearance and self-presentation?

I can’t remember the reasons why I ended up choosing between Atlas.ti and MaxQDA, but I’m pretty sure I’ll work with NVivo from now on. I will write more about my NVivo experiences in a couple of months. At this point I can just mention some of the features that completely won me over:

Firstly, Since NVivo 9, several people can work simmultaneously on the same project (coding data etc). This is only possible in connection with NVivo Server, an extra software with an extra license (and hence extra costs), but I am not aware that any other QDA software offers such excellent team work features. In Atlas.ti, for example, you have to bundle your project and send it to your colleague who then can work on it, bundle it again and send it back to you. You can also merge projects in Atlas.ti, but once they are merged, its again only one user who can work on them at a time. (A note of caution: I have not yet had the chance to try out NVivo server but a colleague told me that there still seem to be some instability and connectivity problems that need to be resolved. So I’m not yet praising NVivo server! I’m just saying that there is huge potential!)

A second feature which is a must for me is the possibility to code scanned pdfs (handwritten fieldnotes!) Atlas.ti can do this but not MaxQDA. And NVivo can do it. I’ve tested it! Excellent!

Thirdly, I like to have my audiofiles linked and synchronized with my transcripts, which allows me to do rough transcripts at first and then go into detail where necessary by jumping to the respective audiosegment by clicking into the text. Again, Atlas.ti can do that. I think MaxQDA also introduced it recently (not sure though). Well, and NVivo can too, but my first impression here was actually a bit disappoiting since it does not seem to support “karaoke mode” when playing the audio and it puts the transcript into a table in which every row corresponds to a segment in the audio file. Its a bit clumsy to handle compared to the pure text version in Atlas.ti, but the problem with Atlas.ti transcripts for me has always been that they easily get messed up and the deitor is behaving strangely, for example by inserting a timestamp in front of the cursor instead of behaind it and and sometimes not allowing you to move the cursor past it. Well, anyway, the table layout of transcripts in NVivo seems to make the whole thing more stable. Hopefully anyway.

Another thing I like about NVivo is the way it displays code stripes not only down alongside your transcript (or other texts) but also across, along the envelope of your audio. It is also very flexible regarding which codes you want to have displayed.

Finally, I will just mention the incredible variety of analysis features, including the possibility to cluster your texts according to similarities in word use, the possibility to show the contexts in which a word is frequently used, and the possibility to automatically include synonyms and similar words in a word search. So for example, if you search for “tourist”, it can also look for “traveller” etc.

Let me know what your experiences witj NVivo or, if you prefer another QDA program, why you think it is better. Just post your comments below!

[UPDATE 04/11/2011: Here is a blogpost that came to a different conclusion than me, and I think Abdulrahman is making some valid points, especially about the speed…]

[UPDATE 13/10/2012: I don’t have time to write much today, but since this post is still one of the most popular ones on this blog, I need to say that I basically revoke my judgement: I cannot recommend NVivo 10 any more than Atlas.ti 7! The main reason why I am annoyed with NVivo is not so much about certain functionalities (if you want to import web-pages or study posts on social networks, NVivio 10 probably is still your choice) but about those little annoyances that keep bugging you while you work. I have a whole list of these, but the most annoying thing has been the way that NVivo links a transcript with the respective audio file: the transcript is in a table and one paragraph is a table cell. In addition, scrolling through the transcript table doesn’t go smoothly but takes quite big jumps so that you don’t know where actually you are in the transcript whenever you move the mouse wheel. It is also cumbersome to play a specific passage that you are looking at. Firstly because the way to get the audio playing is not intuitive and once you get it to play, it always starts at the beginning of that particular table cell. So if you got a long text within one cell, you cant’ really count that as text-audio synchronization in a meaningful way. The second huge drawback that I want to mention is that although NVivo 10 has become somewhat faster, it is still very slow (at least when you use it with NVivo server) which gets the more  annoying the more you are accustomed to the program and want to move around quickly. Finally, it seems that Atlas.ti has greatly improved with version 7.0 and I will check it out in the coming days to see if it still annoys me as much as when I decided to move to Atlas.ti with my new project.]

MaxQDA or Atlas.ti?

I just received an email from a colleague asking me a simple question that is probably relevant vor many people: “A student of mine is looking for a good qualitative software program to analyze interviews. Perhaps you have some recomendations?” So here’s my answer:

There are basically two alternatives: MaxQDA and Atlas.ti. [Update Nov. 2011: I now also consider NVivo worth considering] I myself still work with Atlas.ti simply because it allows me to scan my handwritten field into pdf-files and code them like images. Although MAXqda does now support pdf files, it only supports coding of text in these pdf-files, which renders it useless for coding scanned fieldnotes. Apart from this difference, which is essential for me, (and putting asside the rather restrictive license terms which allow you to install the student license on one single computer only) my personal impression is that MAXqda is the better software package at this point. But my judgement is based only on a quick look at the trial version of MAXqda. I have not actually worked with it (while I’ve used Atlas.ti for years). What makes me think that MaxQDA is better is its more intuitive (and prettier) user interface and such things as its visualization tools.

Apart from the better pdf-support, another advantage of Atlas.ti might be the better integration of audio transcription (and what they call “Text-to-Media Synchronization”). But there are probably other important differences depending on the type of analysis one wants to make. If you work in a team, check especially for team-functionality (i.e. sharing of data, collaborative coding etc). If you are wondering which dimensions of comparison might be relevant for you, check out the following book: Lewins, Ann & Silver, Christina (2007): Using software in qualitative research: A step-by-step guide. Los Angeles: Sage. Note, however, that this book reviews older versions of both programs, so that you should make an up-to-date comparison yourself. But the book might guide your comparison. Feel free to post the results of your comparison as a comment below.

P.S. If you’ve been wondering what the “Max” in MaxQDA stands for: In an introductory workshop held by one of the MaxQDA developers, I was told that “Max” is a reference in honour of Max Weber.

Misleading advertising by MAXqda (pdf support)

On 15 March 2010, a new version of MAXqda was released (MAXqda10). The website boasts that the program now offers “Complete support for PDF files“. Unfortunately, this is not true. It only supports text in pdf-files. Images in pdfs cannot be selected and hence not be coded. This means that if you scan your field notes in order to code them, this will not work because the pdf will only contain images and nothing else. MAXqda cannot do anything with it. 😦

For me this means that I have to stick with Atlas.ti, even though I dont’t like it particularly much. But it’s still the only QDA program that supports scanned pdf files (since version 6, which was released in Februar 2009).

It should be mentioned, however, that with the new release, MAXqda pulled quite close to Atlas.ti: like Atlas, it now also allows for transcription and synchronization of audiofiles and coding of image files (though still with some bugs). Besides, it seems to have better functions for the visual representation of data and the whole desktop seems much more convenient than the one from Atlas.ti. But I’ve not worked with MAXqda yet, so maybe there are troubles below the shiny surface. (Feel free to report them here.)