Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Ed research: Competencies for analysis and applications (1)

Gay, L. R., Mills, G. E., & Airasian, P. (2006). Educational research : competencies for analysis and applications (8th Ed). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

Chapter 17. Ethnographic research

1. Definition: the study of the cultural patterns and perspectives of participants in their natural setting (p. 441).

2. Goal: describe, analyze, and interpret the culture of a group, over time, in terms of the group's shared beliefs, behaviors, and language.

3. A construct central to the understanding of ethnography is culture.

Culture: the set of attitudes, values, concepts, beliefs, and practices shared by members of a group.

Three conceptual areas that focus on tangible behaviors (Wolcott, 1999):
  • Cultural orientation: where the people being studied are situated in terms of physical space and activities
  • Cultural know-how: how a group goes about its daily activities
  • Cultural beliefs (why a group does what it does)
4. Ethnographic research process (p. 442)
  • Identify the purpose of the research study
  • Frame the study as a larger theoretical, policy, or practical problem
  • Pose initial ethnographic research questions
  • Describe the overall approach and rationale for the study
  • Describe the site and sample selection
  • Describe the researcher's role (entry to the research site, reciprocity, and ethics)
  • Describe data collection methods
  • Describe appropriate strategies for the analysis and interpretation of data
  • Write the ethnographic account
5. Types of ethnographic research (p. 445)
  • Critical ethnography: a highly politicized form of ethnography written by a researcher in order to advocate against inequalities and domination of particular groups that exist in society (including schools)
  • Realist ethnography: written with an objective style and uses common categories for cultural description, analysis, and interpretation
  • Ethnographic case study (less likely to focus on cultural themes): focuses on describing the activities of a specific group and the shared patterns of behavior it develops over time
6. Key characteristics of ethnographic research (p. 445)
  • carried out in a natural setting
  • involves intimate, face-to-face interaction with participants
  • presents an accurate refection of participants' perspectives and behaviors
  • uses inductive, interactive, and repetitious collection of "unstructured" data and analytic strategies to build local cultural theories
  • Data is primarily collected through fieldwork experiences
  • typically uses multiple methods for data collection, including conducting interviews and observations, and reviewing documents, artifacts, and visual materials
  • frames all human behavior and belief within a sociopolitical and historical context
  • uses the concept of culture as a lens through which to interpret results
  • places an emphasis on exploring the nature of particular social phenomena, rather than setting out to test hypotheses about them
  • investigates a small number of cases, perhaps just one case, in detail
  • uses data analysis procedures that involve the explicit interpretation of the meanings and functions of human actions. Interpretations occur within the context or group setting and are presented through the description of themes
  • requires that researchers be reflective about their impact on the research site and the cultural group
  • offers interpretations of people's actions and behaviors that must be uncovered through an investigation of what people actually do and their reasons for doing it
  • offers a representation of a person's life and behavior that is neither the researcher's nor the person's. Instead, it is built upon points of understanding and misunderstanding that occur between researcher and participant (446)
  • cannot provide an exhaustive, absolute description of anything. Rather, ethnographic descriptions are necessarily partial, bound by what can be handled within a certain time, under specific circumstances, and from a particular perspective
7. Ethnographic research techniques

7.1. Triangulation: the use of multiple methods, data collection strategies, and data sources to get a more complete picture of what is being studied and to cross-check information (ensure the trustworthiness/validity of the data)

7.2. Participate observation:
  • Purposes: Observe the activities, people, and physical aspects of a situation; Engage in activities that are appropriate to a given situation and that provide useful information
  • Active participant observer (p. 447) (e.g., researchers often negotiate roles as teacher's aides, student teachers, or even substitute teachers in order to gain access to schools and classrooms)
  • Privileged, active observer (e.g., move in and out as of the role of teacher's aide and observer)
  • Passive observer (e.g. the visitor is present only to see what's going on around here)
  • Guidelines for participant observation (Wolcott, 1999) (p. 448, 449)
    • Gaining entry and maintaining rapport
    • Reciprocity
    • A tolerance for ambiguity
    • Personal determination coupled with faith in oneself
    • Letting go of control
7.3. Field notes: written records of the researcher's (participant observer) understandings of the lives, people, and events that are the focus of the research. They should be written up as soon as possible after completion of the observation. In addition to providing literal descriptions, the observer also records personal reactions, generally referred to as reflective field notes (p. 455).

7.4. Observing and recording everything you possibly can (p. 451)

7.5. Observing and looking for nothing in particular (p. 452)

7.6. Looking for "bumps" or paradoxes (p. 453)

7.7 Top 10 guidelines for fieldwork and field notes (Patton, 1990, pp. 272-273)
  • be descriptive in taking field notes
  • gather a variety of info from different perspectives
  • cross-validate and triangulate by gathering different kinds of data (e.g., observations, documents, interviews) and by using multiple methods
  • using quotations; represent people in their own terms. Capture their experiences in their own words
  • select "key informants" wisely and use them carefully. Draw on the wisdom of their informed perspectives, but keep in mind that their perspectives are limited
  • be aware of and sensitive to different stages of fieldwork
    • build trust and rapport at the beginning. Remember that the observer is also being observed
    • stay alert and disciplined during the more routine, middle phase of fieldwork
    • focus on pulling together a useful synthesis as fieldwork draws to close
  • be disciplined and conscientious in taking fieldnotes at all stages of fieldwork
  • be as involved as possible in experiencing the situation as fully as possible while maintaining an analytical perspective grounded in the purpose of the fieldwork
  • clearly separate description from interpretation and judgment
  • include in your fieldnotes and report your own experiences, thoughts and feelings

Wolcott, H. F. (1999). Ethnography: A way of seeing. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.

Patton, M. Q. (1990). Qualitative evaluation and research methods (2nd ed.). Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

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