What Multiple Research Methods Were Used?


Qualitative research methods, those that tract the qualities of a situation, were used. Six features of qualitative study are 1) field-focused, 2) constructed so that the researcher is an instrument, 3) interpretive in nature, 4) expressive in language, 5) highly detailed, and 6) persuasive (Eisner, 1991). Qualitative research can be divided into several types, depending on the field (anthropology--ethnography; philosophy--phenomenology; linguistics--semiology; art--educational criticism). What these types have in common is the stance of participant observation.


What is Participant Observation?

Participant Observation is a process of description, analysis, and interpretation in order to understand an everyday activity more fully (Smith, 1978). As a systematic study of an everyday event, such research is a search for patterns of contextual behavior and meaning (Stokrocki, 1997). I was part observer (photographer and note taker) and participant (constantly asked students questions as they worked). Observations totaled 360 hours; 6 visits of 60 minutes throughout 1996.


What Research Procedures Did We Use?

Participant Observation research utilizes multi-methods, multi-persons, and multi-findings as a check for validity (Pohland, 1976). Research unfolded in three stages: data collection, content analysis, and comparative analysis (Strauss & Corbin, 1990).


Data collection is a process of gathering daily information. I wrote notes, used pre and post questionnaires, took photographs, and recorded dialogue by audiotapes and action through videotapes.


Content analysis is a process of finding concepts and their meaning in everyday behaviors (Glaser, 1992). I transcribed my notes and tapes into the computer and coded them for the first concepts--dominant teaching styles. I then searched photographs of students in action for second concepts--reoccurring behaviors and problems. I borrowed some concepts, such as art orientations, to understand the meanings of these student behavior (Michael, 1983). Other concepts and meanings evolved, such as making miniature clay props.

I enlisted the help of others. A graduate student analyzed students' pre and post questionnaires by charting and counting results on spreadsheets. For more specific understanding, one of my undergraduate students documented and analyzed instruction [substantive, managerial, appraisal, and nonfunctional behaviors] at Tavan Elementary School, interviewed students, and offered her own insights.


Comparative analysis is a process of internal and external comparison of findings (Stokrocki, 1997).

a) Internal comparison is a discussion of findings--similarities and differences of behaviors or meanings within the parameter of the study. For example, I recorded students' answers in four sites during art criticism classes from audio and video tapes and typed their answers onto a spreadsheet. I then counted and recorded the frequent answers at the bottom.


Focus Group: I met with my participating teachers four times to discuss these findings. [The fourth teacher could not meet because of medical reasons.] A focus group is a research technique (that began in marketing field) in which people of similar demographics and interests meet to share their impressions and changes of thinking or behavior. This study used a type of focus group called a triad and its advantage is that the leader can obtain more information from them than in a full group (Greenbaum, 1998, 253).


b) External comparison involves contrasting my findings with other outside experts. Eisner and Peshkin's (1990) anthology on alternative qualitative approaches included the work of Christopher Clark (1990) as qualitative inquiry in use. As a professor-in-residence in an elementary school, Clark wrote about his experience during an afternoon session in a preliminary article, "What You Can Learn From Applesauce." He then solicited comments on this article from researchers, teachers, teacher-educators, administrators, students, and civilians. The resulting published essay included all the opinions, which merged into a collaborative effort on how others have interpreted or used his work. Such a final report allows conflicting interpretations to exist and shows how theory and practice work in context.


External Reviewers: Following Clark's practice, I sent my study to different experts (a creativity expert, an architect, an education expert in cooperative learning, and an interdisciplinary education scholar) for their opinions. I listed their ideas and mine in a chart and then contrasted the issues. For example, I tried to negotiate Stahl's (1997) cooperative learning structures with the learning behaviors of students in my study. I discovered that my study did not contain the optimal conditions of Stahl's and reasons why these conditions couldn't exist in these schools at this time. Finally, the focus group commented on the experts' opinions and offered cogent arguments of their own. Participant observation research does not depend on consensus of opinions, but allows them to exist side-by-side. Reflection takes time.


What Major Research Questions Did We Ask?

1. What concepts about Southwest culture were taught?

2. How were they taught?

3. How were architecture and model building in clay taught?

4. What did student groups make? [Description]

5. What did they learn?

6. How did students develop cooperative learning?

7. How can cooperate learning in architecture be improved?

8. What did collaborating teachers learn?

9. What problems and issues evolved?


Discussion Questions:

What other Questions Might you Ask?


What are the Pros and Cons of Participant Observation Research?



Clark, C. (1990). What you can learn from applesauce: A case of qualitative inquiry in use. In E. Eisner & A. Peshkin (Eds.) Qualitative inquiry in education: The continuing debate (pp.327-338). New York: Teachers College Press.

Eisner, E., & Peshkin, A. (Eds.). (1990). Qualitative inquiry in education: The continuing debate. New York: Teachers College Press

Eisner, E. (1991). The enlightened eye: Qualitative inquiry and the enhancemnt of educational practice. New York: Macmillan.

Glaser, B. (1992). Basics of grounded theory analysis. Mill Valley, CA: Sociology Press.

Greenbaum, T. (1998). The handbook for focus group research (2nd. ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Michael, J. (1983). Art and adolescence: Teaching art at the secondary level. New York: Teachers College Press.

Pohland, P. (1976). Participant observation as a research metholodology, Studies in Art Education, 13 (3), 4-24.

Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1990). Basics of qualitative research: Grounded theory procedures and techniques. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Smith, L. (1978). An evolving logic of participant observation, educational ethnography, and other case studies. In L. Schlman (Ed.). Review of Research in Education, 7 (pp. 316-377). Ithasca, IL: I.E. Peacock for the American Eductional Reseaerch Association.

Stahl, R. (1997). The essential elements of cooperative learning in the classroom. Bloomington, IN: (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 370881, March 94, ERIC Digest).

Stokrocki, M. (1997a). Qualitative forms of research method. In S. LaPierre & E. Zimmerman (Eds.). Research methods and methodologies for art education (pp. 33-55). Reston, VA: NAEA.