Summary and Keywords
Qualitative observation is an attempt to view and interpret social worlds by immersing oneself in a particular setting. Observation draws on theoretical assumptions associated with the interpretivist paradigm. Thus, researchers who engage in qualitative observations believe that the world cannot be fully known, but must be interpreted. Observation is one way for researchers to seek to understand and interpret situations based on the social and cultural meanings of those involved. In the field of education, observation can be a meaningful tool for understanding the experiences of teachers, students, caregivers, and administrators.
Rigorous qualitative research is long-term, and demands in-depth engagement in the field. In general, the research process is cyclical, with the researcher(s) moving through three domains: prior-to-field, in-field, and post- or inter-field. Prior to entering the field, the researcher(s) examine their assumptions about research as well as their own biases, and obtain approval from an Institutional Review Board. This is also the time when researcher(s) make decisions about how data will be collected. Upon entering the field of study, the researcher(s) work to establish rapport with participants, take detailed “jottings,” and record their own feelings or preliminary impressions alongside these quick notes. After leaving an observation, the researcher(s) should expand jottings into extended field notes that include significant detail. This should be completed no later than 48 hours after the observation, to preserve recall. At this point, the researcher may return to the field to collect additional data. Focus should move from observation to analysis when the researcher(s) feel that they have reached theoretical data saturation.
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