Five Dimensions of Variations in Approaches to Observation
I. ROLE OF THE RESEARCHER
|Full participant observation||———–||Partial observation||———–||Onlooker observation as an outsider|
II. PORTRAYAL OF THE RESEARCHER’S ROLE TO OTHERS
|Overt observations: program staff and participants know that observations are being made and who the observer is||———-||Observer role known by some, not by others||———–||Covert observations: program staff and participants do not know that observations are bing made or that there is an observer|
III. PORTRAYAL OF THE PURPOSE OF THE RESEARCH TO OTHERS
|Full explanation of real purpose to everyone||—–||Partial explanations||—–||Covert evaluations: no explanation given to either staff or participants||——||False explanations: deceived staff and/or participants about research purpose|
IV. DURATION OF THE RESEARCH OBSERVATIONS
|Single observation, limited duration (e.g., 1 hour)||————————————-||Long-term, multiple observations (e.g., months, years)|
V. FOCUS OF THE OBSERVATIONS
|Narrow focus: single element or component in the setting observed||————————————-||Broad focus: holistic view of the entire setting and all of its elements is sought|
…..Patton, M. Q. (1980). Qualitative evaluation methods. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
Changes in the Scope of Observation
Participant observation begins with wide-focused descriptive observations. Although these continue until the end of the field project, as indicted by the broken line, the emphasis shifts first to focused observations and later to selective observations.
…..Spradley, J. (1980). Participant observation. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Checklist of Elements Likely to be Present in an Observation
It is impossible to observe and record everything in a setting, and therefore one must begin somewhere with some type of plan.
1. The setting:
What is the physical environment like?
What is the context?
What kinds of behavior does the setting promote or prevent?
2. The participants:
Describe who is in the scene, how many people, and their roles.
What brings these people together?
Who is allowed here?
3. Activities and interactions:
What is going on?
Is there a definable sequence of activities?
How do the people interact with the activity and with one another?
How are people and activities connected or interrelated?
4. Frequency and duration:
When did the situation begin?
How long does it last?
Is it a recurring type of situation or is it unique?
If it recurs, how frequently?
How typical of such situations is the one being observed?
5. Subtle factors:
Less obvious but perhaps as important to the observation are:
- informal and unplanned activities
- symbolic and connotative meaning of words
- nonverbal communication such as dress and physical space
- unobtrusive measures such as physical clues
- what does not happenespecially if it ought to have happened.
Checklist by Merriam, S. B. (1988). Case study research in education: A qualitative approach. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
as published in Erlandson, D. A., Harris, E. L., Skipper, B. L., & Allen , S. D. (1993). Doing naturalistic inquiry: A guide to methods. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.
“The interview provides leads for the researcher’s observations. Observation suggests probes for interviews. The interaction of the two sources of data not only enriches them both, but also provides a basis for analysis that would be impossible with only one source”
(Erlandson, Harris, Skipper, & Allen, p. 99).
Del Siegle, PhD