Week 5 Assignment Handout: Participant Observation Guidelines
In this week’s assignment, you become a participant observer. Participant observation is a method of research in the social sciences wherein an investigator studies the life of a group by sharing in its activities.That is, as an investigator, you participate within the area you are observing and from which you are gathering data. (DeWalt & DeWalt, 2010). Participant observation is foundational to the field of qualitative research known as ethnography. This process is the opposite of observing a phenomenon from the outside, making sure you do not influence or interact with the people or system you are studying.
For the Week 5 Assignment, select a public place in your area and gather data as a participant observer. Public places include any of the following: a local coffee shop, diner/restaurant, youth sports field, grocery store, gas station, group public transportation (a bus, train, subway), amusement park, or similar places where people frequent and where there is activity. Places where there is a static audience, like a movie theater, a lecture hall, or a classroom, will not work well for this observation. Spend at least 45 minutes in this public place, observing and recording the activity. It may take you a while to identify what to look for. Consider including some acclimation time before you start recording observations.
As a participant observer, you will determine what is of interest and what is noteworthy. For example, in a coffee shop you may be interested in the age of the people who frequent the shop at that particular time of day. Or you may want to record how many people drink plain coffee in a coffee shop in comparison to, for example, how many order a “double shot, low fat, no whip, macchiato Frappuccino latte with an extra cherry.” You will determine what categories to focus on and what types of information is important or relevant. Once you collect information from your observations, you will need to interpret and make meaning of the data you gathered.
You are asked to do three things with your observations:
- Create categories of what you find interesting and salient to observe and record.
- Collect some numerical data (for example, how many people drink coffee instead of another drink).
- Collect data that does not strictly fit within numerical categories (for example, ambiance, satisfaction, cordial staff interactions).
Your next task is to interpret your observations. What meaning does this information have? Then, you create a slide show with a minimum of 5 to 6 slides that compares the quantitative and qualitative results of your participant observations, including your interpretation. You are to include an imaging tool and evaluate the benefits of both quantitative and qualitative approaches.