Observation VS. Interview Observation Interview Takes place in the setting where the phenomenon of interest actually occurs Data represents first hand encounter with the phenomenon of interest Another location designated for interviewing Second hand account of the world
Observation is a Research Tool Systematic-addresses a specific research question When it is subject to the checks and balances in producing trustworthy results. Negative-highly subjective and therefore unreliable nature of human perception.
Training to be a Skilled Observer Learning to pay attention Learning how to write descriptively Practicing the disciplined recording of field notes Knowing how to separate detail from trivia Using rigorous methods to validate observations
Ways to Practice Being a complete observer in a public place Being a participant observer in your work or social settings Watching films or video tapes Apprentice yourself to be an experienced field researcher and compare his or her observations to yours
Reasons for Observations
As an outsider an observer will notice things that have become routine to the participants themselves.
Conducted to triangulate emerging findings(used in with interviewing and document analysis)
Observer sees things firsthand and uses own knowledge to interpret what is observed rather than relying on once-removed accounts from interviews.
Observations make it possible to record data as it is happening.
Used to provide knowledge of the context or to specific incidents.
People may not feel free to talk about or want to discuss all topics.
Best technique when an activity, event, or situation can be observed firsthand and a fresh perspective is desired.
What to Observe Most important is the researcher’s purpose in conducting the study The problem and the questions of interest determine what is to be observed. Observer can decide to focus on certain events, behaviors, or persons.
Where to start? The physical setting: The participants: Activities and interactions: Conversation: Subtle factors: Your own behavior:
Things to remember No ideal amount of time to spend observing Recommended to start with sessions one hour or less. Also recommended to write up field notes as soon as possible.
The Process of collecting Data through Observation Entry, Data collection, and Exit
Entry Gain confidence and permission of those who can approve the activity. Mutual contact Some groups difficult to gain entry Most want answers to the following: What are actually doing? Will you be disruptive? What are you going to do with your findings? Why us? What will we get out of this? Bogdan and Biklen have some suggestions for the first few days in the field.
RECORDING OBSERVATIONS Whatever is written or recorded during an observation becomes the raw data from which a study’s findings occur. Merriam states, this written account of the observation constitutes field notes, which are analogous, to the interview transcript (2009, page 128). Even if you, the researcher, have been able to take detailed notes, you must write them in a narrative form as soon as possible as to not forget any details.
TECHNIQUES FOR REMEMBERING AND RECORDING Pay attention Shift to a “narrow angle” by focusing on just one person, interaction, or activity Look for key words in people’s remarks Concentrate on the first and last remarks Mentally play back remarks and scenes during breaks.
FIELD NOTES Field notes based on observation need to be in a format that will allow the researcher to find desired information easily (Merriam, 2009, page 130). Highly descriptive Begin with time, place, and purpose List the number of participants and any meaningful characteristics Create a diagram of the setting (example on pg. 132 Merriam) Describe the activities or behaviors of the participant and how the observer responds
SUMMARY Observation is a major means of collecting data in qualitative research. It offers a firsthand account of the situation under study and, when combined with interviewing and document analysis, allows for a holistic interpretation of the phenomenon being investigated (Merriam, 2009, page 136).