Fashioning Circuits, Research Methods

Participation Observation Method

In constructing the curriculum chapter for the Fashioning Circuit book* being developed by Dr. Kim Knight (a.k.a. @purplekimchi), I utilizing a few exploratory research methods to review the current workshop materials, lessons, and learning on the subject matter. The first method: Participant Observation. As I work through evaluation and assessment of the curriculum, I might as well share and get feedback on the process.

EFC Camp

Participation observation allows for the collection of information and qualitative data, rooted in the ethnographic research tradition. For this method, participation observers report on the physical, social, and cultural context to reveal relationships, activities, and behaviors of subjects. This is an effective method to gather information to support project design, data collection development, and to interpret other research. Data collection for this method includes note-taking, mapping-relationships, and media (video, audio or images) that might be translated into textual artifacts. Challenges to this method include diligent documentation and objective account from observers in the field, and this process can be time-consuming.

Specific responsibilities for Participant Observers include:

  • observing individuals as they engage in activities (as if you were not present and watching)
  • engaging in the activities to gain a better understanding
  • interacting in a controlled research environment
  • identifying and developing relationships with key informants and stakeholders

For the purpose of this research, I developed a field guide for our research team of three. Basics for the observation guide include listing the observer name/background, research setting, materials used, and concentration areas to focus on for the workshop observation. Other tips and general guidelines were provided to outline expectations for observing.

The research team divided and conquered today by taking notes related to the following categories:

  1. Lesson/Curriculum (Electronic Fashioning Circuits Camp)
  2. Lead Instructor/Facilitator (a.k.a. Dr. Knight)
  3. Learners/Students (participants in the workshop)
  4. Facilitators/Helpers (those supporting the workshop)

The observation guides were segmented by the 4 categories and included questions to prompt observers and focus their field notes.  The observation goal was to focus on the physical space and set up, participant attributes and involvement, verbal behavior and interactions, physical gestures, personal space, lesson understanding, instructional support, and individuals or examples that stood out from the workshop.

At the beginning of the day our group met to review the research context, expectations, behavior as an observer, and potential problems that might occur during the workshop. Another item we discussed was distinguishing interpretation (I) from observation (O), and labeling our notes accordingly (Kawulich, 2005). To help with strategic note-taking, I encouraged leaving space to expand on notes, using shorthand to follow up with later, writing observations in  sections, and encouraged our team of researchers to consider body language, attitudes, conversations, ambiance, and general interactions that might be relevant for the curriculum.

Participant Observatin Continuums

Image c/o Chapter 3: Participation Observation (Guest, Namey, & Mitchell, 2012)

During the day the three of us took notes on tablets, laptops, mobile phones, and pads of paper with the following platforms: Google docs, Word, Evernote (audio & images), etc. We reconvened the end of the workshop to process and discuss what we observed. This debriefing provided ideas for supporting a research team, specifically with regards to:

  • general observations, ideas, and questions about the workshop
  • how to create anonymous identifiers for research subjects in notes
  • expectations for field note-taking and organization submission for the lead researcher
  • roles and responsibility for how to effectively observe a single group within in a workshop, i.e. instructor, learners, and helpers
  • future planning needs and ideas for upcoming participation observation

I am truly grateful for the UT Dallas EMAC students, Jodi & Lari, who volunteered their time to observe and be a part this exploratory study. Their insights and ideas are very helpful for future field observations and research method development. Once everyone’s participation observation notes and artifacts are collected, I will share how to analyze this data.

Lily pad

*Interested in learning more about Fashioning Circuits? There’s a few social spaces for that! Check out the Fashioning Circuit’s website, Facebook page, Twitter handle or hashtag #FashioningCircuits. Feel free to follow along, and join the conversation.

 

References:

Guest, G., Namey, E. E., & Mitchell, M. L. (2012). Collecting qualitative data: A field manual for applied research. Sage.

Kawulich, B. B. (2005). Participant observation as a data collection methodForum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research6(2), Art. 43, http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0502430.

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