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Qualitative Research: Observations

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1 Qualitative Research: Observations
Chapter 10.3 Qualitative Research: Observations

2 Observations Participant observation:
The observer takes part in the situation being studied while doing the research. Aimed to get an intimate perspective for the area of interest. The researcher is responsible for building rapport while observing, participating, and producing clear data in field notes. Researcher can be in dangerous situations or places uncomfortable to them. The researcher’s continuous reflections become part of interpreting the data. Example of participant observation: Festinger et al (1956) research on a cult.

3 Observations Participant observation cont. Strengths Limitations
Combine emic dimensions (subjective) with etic dimensions (objective.) Detailed and in-depth knowledge of a topic that can not be gained by other methods. A good way to avoid bias (don’t impose their own reality.) Provides a holistic interpretation of a topic and allows a generation on “theory” to explain observation. Limitations Difficult to record data in a timely manner and objectively. Time-consuming and demanding in order to enter the group and build rapport. Possible risk of losing objectivity by immersing themselves into a culture.

4 Observations Non-participant observation:
The researcher is not part of the situation being studied. Example of non-participant observation: researcher studying gender differences in teacher feedback in a school class. Occasionally, deception is used in non-participant observation to help gain validity. Can be done in a lab setting with on-way mirrors, but then questions association with real-life. Critics believe that those who are knowingly observed may not behave naturally.

5 Observations Naturalistic observations:
The research takes place in the participants natural environment without the researcher interfering with the observable behavior. Ex: Kampman (1998) studied children develop friendships in kindergarten for 6 months. Made the determination that friendships should be developed at an early age to strengthen social competency. Unstructured observations: the researcher records all relevant behavior which is unpredictable and hard to analyze. Semi-structured observations: There is no predetermined categories of analysis but the researcher decides on what to look for making data collection easier. Structured observations: predetermined features of behavior are recorded using a checklist. Easier for data collection and analysis is restricted to the categories previously decided which may skew results.

6 Observations Naturalistic observations cont. Strengths: Limitations:
Ecologically valid in a natural setting (assumed that participants behave in a natural way.) Can be used to collect data that would be impossible or unethical otherwise. (ex: Alzheimer’s disease) Limitations: Risk of people reacting to being observed (reactivity.) Individual collection can cause problems in checking the data. (may use inter-observer reliability) Ethical considerations with viewing people without consent.

7 Observations Overt observations:
Participants know they are being observed. Can include both participant and non-participant observations. Considered ethical. Consent may or may not be given (depends on the research.) Quality of data depends on the researchers relationship with the participants.

8 Observations Covert observations:
Participants are not aware they are being studied or not agreed to it. Identity of researcher needs to be masked. Used in areas where it is difficult to gain access. Many ethical problems with covert observations. Ex: Festinger et al (1956) and their work with a cult who claimed the world would end on a certain date with a flood. What examples can you think of?

9 Observations Preparing for an observation: Conducting the experiment:
Arrangements need to be set up by the researcher. Decision of a participant or non-participant observation. Type of notes needs to be decided. Descriptive, Inferential, or Evaluative. Personal reflection needs to be taken into account. Conducting the experiment: Researcher meeting with participants to build rapport. In participant observations, the researcher needs to remain objective. Reactivity may occur along with researcher bias. The data should be rich.

10 Observations After the observations: Analysis of the data:
Post-observational interviews can be conducted. The participants need to be debriefed unless it was a covert observation. Analysis of the data: Inductive approach to data analysis. Begin to create a picture as data is collected and examined. Field notes are often compared with data from other sources (interview transcripts, pictures, narratives, etc.)

11 Observations Grounded theory analysis:
Description – provide a complete description of the phenomenon of interest. Denzin 1978 – the context of the action, the intentions of the actors, and the process which the action is embedded are all included in the description. Coding and connecting themes – organizing the data into categories. The process is reading and rereading of the field notes. A summary of the analysis needs to be written by the researcher so that independent readers can follow how and why connections are reached. Memos – notes about notes

12 Observations Grounded theory analysis cont.
Producing an account – elements of the analysis are a written account of the basis of the end product. The theoretical framework is “grounded” or based on the categories identified during the observation. Researchers may also use theoretical triangulation or alternative theories to explain the phenomenon. Participants can be consulted to ask for support of interpretations. Other researchers may be consulted to look critically at the findings to make sure there is enough support in the data.

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