Assignment 2: Field Experience
This will involve a non-participant naturalistic observation of a public place. The purpose of this exercise is to provide the student with some firsthand experience with a qualitative data-gathering technique. The exercise focuses on how to make detailed field observations, as well as learning to distinguish between your observations and your inferences and interpretations. (Inferences and interpretations will occur in the Final Project). Naturalist observation is a primary method of data collection in qualitative research, especially ethnography. In some qualitative studies, this important source of data is the basis upon which analyses are possible.
Make notes regarding the atmosphere, the scents, smells, noises, spatial arrangements, activities, movements, interactions, etc. The first phase of taking field notes is to keenly observe and jot down your observations with as little interpretation as possible. Record what you see, hear, touch, and smell.
Usually field notes are initially handwritten. Since your original field notes will not be submitted, and only read by yourself, it is preferable that they are handwritten. Later, they will be written up, typed, and the typed field notes will be submitted. You will likely spend much more time writing up your field notes as you did observing. A great deal of detail can be recorded during the two hours of observation. Write up longer descriptions immediately after leaving the observation site. You should begin writing up your field notes as soon as possible so that detail is not lost or forgotten. Describe as much as you can about the setting. Your field notes should now describe the setting, individuals, interactions, events, and activities in a highly detailed and descriptive manner. Strive for “thick” and rich description. The level of detail should be such that someone who was not there with you would be able to clearly “see” the setting based on reading your description. Also, be reflective and reflexive. That is, include in your field notes your own experiences, thoughts, and feelings.
When writing up your field notes after leaving the setting, create a wide margin on the right side of the page. For now, leave this area blank. Later in the course, for your Final Project, this margin area will be used for notes, comments, coding, themes, interpretations, etc. On the left side of the page will be the write up of your field notes, and the larger-than-normal margin on the right side will allow room for you to later introduce your comments and interpretation of the observed events.