Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Reader 6 - part 2 (Observations)

The second section of the Reader is concerned with data collection tools:
  1. Observation (including participant observation)
  2. Interviews
  3. Focus Groups
  4. Surveys and Questionnaires
The method that I use to collect data will not only affect the type of information that I can gather but also whether the information I collect will be relevant to my inquiry so it's important that I am informed about their relative merits/ disadvantages and that I choose carefully.
I have found reading The Good Research Guide by Martin Denscombe (2007) really useful. It thoroughly explains the different methods of data collection in a clear and easy to understand way and then, at the end of each chapter, compiles a list of the good and bad aspects of using that particular method.

In this blog I will look at the questions raised on observation.

What preparation do you need to do for your pilot survey? Are there specific things on which you are focusing? How are you recording the  data? Why?
Do you need to contact the Gatekeeper or the participants directly? Will this be different for you final professional inquiry? (Reader 6, p.10)

My inquiry area is the motivation of adolescents in local dance schools from the perceptions of the students themselves.

In order to do a survey I would need to get permission from the principle(s) of the school(s) I would want to observe at. As there are children involved, and within their lesson time too, I would need to carefully explain the reasons for observing and how I would position myself so as to cause minimal interruption to their dance education.
I feel that I would also need to have permission from the parents of the students, and given the age range of my study group I feel the children should know why I am there. However, this then raises issues of how much natural behaviour I would be seeing in class. Even by having someone 'unusual' in their class will I not be seeing behaviour (both student and teacher) that is 'for my benefit'? If so, then any data collected would be unreliable at best!

How do I pick what I am going to observe? Why does this matter?
In the Reader it mentions purposive (choosing specific people) and representative samples (picking at random) (p.8-9) as ways of choosing participants. In my inquiry I would be purposive in the sense that I want to choose adolescent students who are not in full-time training or who harbour dreams of becoming professional dancers - these are the students that I am most interested in. However, in choosing class(es) to observe I would want a random cross-section of the average dance school so that any findings would be more reflective of the wider population.

Another careful consideration would have to be, 'What exactly am I looking for?'
In looking for what motivates students I would probably be relying on non-verbal movements in the students as well as possibly verbal and non-verbal clues from the teacher. For example:
  1. Draw up a chart listing each pupil. Then record how many times they were praised, corrected kindly, chastised or belittled during the class.
  2. Write down any non-verbal signs that showed whether the children were motivated or demotivated, and how many times they occur during the class. For example: yawning, looking out windows, avoiding teacher eye-contact, answering questions, smiling, etc.
  3. Split the paper into two columns and record evidence of task-involving and ego-involving climates (Nordin-Bates, S., Quested, E., Walker, I., & Redding, E. (2012))
  4. Observe how engaged the teacher is with the subject - knowledge, enthusiasm, how actively she engages the students, how relevant she makes the subject, etc.

'What type of data am I recording?'
Do I want data that can be recorded in a more scientific manner but is quite straight-forward and linear or that is more in-depth but open to interpretation and bias?
As my inquiry is about student perceptions I don't really see how I can accurately or usefully record data through observation. The two main reasons, for me, are:
  1. Whatever I see, and record, is going to be my interpretation of events and not the primary source of information - the student's perceptions.
  2. Personal bias may affect 'what I see' and be a distortion of the situation.

Reflecting on the thoughts and ideas above I don't think that I will be using observation within my final inquiry but I will aim to create a pilot observation just to make sure that I am not closing off a valid area of data collection. However, it is the end of the Spring Term and most students have broken up so I will have to look at arranging a time for the beginning of next term.


BAPP (Arts). (2012). Reader 6 Tools of Professional Inquiry. School of Media and Performing Arts Institute for Work Based Learning.

Denscombe, M. (2010). The good research guide: for small-scale social research projects. Open University Press.

Nordin-Bates, S. M., Quested, E., Walker, I. J., & Redding, E. (2012). Climate Change in the Dance Studio. Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology, 1(1), 3-16.

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