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Advantages and disadvantages of relying on field notes

Advantages and disadvantages of relying on field notes

When designing a research project a researcher could use data collection methods such as field notes and transcription of audio or video recordings. This essay will describe what are the advantages and disadvantages of relying solely on field notes. This will come along with a comparison of producing a transcription of audio or video recording.

Field notes are the observation data produced by the researcher. These are describing what is observed in a plain and concrete language. According to Wallen and Fraenkel (2000) field notes are just what their name implies, the notes researcher takes in the field. In the educational research, this usually means the detailed notes researchers take in the educational setting (e.g. classroom or school) as they observe what is going on or as they interview their informants. They are the researchers’ written account of what they hear, see, experience, and think in the course of collecting and reflecting on their data.

On the other hand video and audio transcription is an activity where the researcher is required to write down the words the people say. Video transcription enables the researcher to record also non verbal behavior. This is accomplished through the play back of audio or video recording of events. According to Edware and Lampert (1993, p.3) ‘transcription plays a central role in research on spoken discourse distilling and freezing in time the complex events and aspects of interaction in categories of interest to the researcher’.

There are several reasons why field notes are attractive, one of them is that they are very simple to keep they are taken down by the researcher and no outsider is required. On the other hand when using video/audio transcription matters are much more complicated. This is evident because there is a need to use equipment such as video cameras, tape recorders, microphones, tripods etc. In addition back up procedures must be followed so the event is not lost. Finally the presence of recording equipment in a class can be distractive and could affect the students’ reactions.

Another advantage of field notes is that they provide a good ongoing record and can be used as a diary in order to give continuity. The information is produced first hand and can be studied conveniently in the teachers own time. In addition they help a teacher to relate incidents and explore emerging trends. They give a good general impression of the classroom and its climate. On the other hand the continuity in video/audio transcription could be disturbed because of the practical problems of operating the equipment.

However as others have pointed out, there are also disadvantages. One argument against is that the task of writing field notes is time consuming, something that is also evident in video transcription. In both of the approaches the researcher must focus on the theoretical basis of the study which is conducted. This will help a researcher manage their time effectively.

A further disadvantage is that field notes can be highly subjective, this is because of the researcher personal beliefs and discipline. In contrast, according to Hamo, et al.,(2004) ‘transcription distance the researcher from the main field in two ways (a) Transcription produces physical distance because it is done in an office and (b) it produces emotional distance by transforming participants into text-broken limited and fragmented.’

Another line of attack comes from the fact that conversation is difficult to record by field notes. The researcher is hard to write down everything while observing. According to Beebe and Takahashi (1989) the speed of writing is slower as compared to speech. As a researcher you must rely on your memory and on personal discipline to write down and expand your observation as soon and as completely as possible. On the other hand one of the advantages of audio/video transcription is that a researcher can play back the film/tape and gather all the data needed.

Another drawback of field notes is that they have low reliability since the circumstances of a particular event cannot be repeated. This means that another researcher cannot validate the original findings and conclusions. On the contrary video/audio transcription opens up the data to public scrutiny by other researchers, who can evaluate the analysis that is carried out by the original researchers of the data. This can help and prove that the analysis has not been influenced by the personal bias or values of the researcher. It allows the data to be reused in other ways for example in the light of new theoretical ideas or analytic strategies.

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Both approaches have advantages and disadvantages as well as similarities. The researcher must decide in what is more appropriate for them to use, according to the research question they have in hand.

Word count : 784

References

Beebe, L.M., & Takashi, T (1989), Do you have a bag? Social Status and patterned variation second language acquisition. In S. Gass, C. Madden, D. Preston, & L. Selinker (Eds), Variation in Second language acquisition : Discourse and pragmatics (pp. 103-125) Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Wallen, E. Norman & Fraenkel, R.Jack (2000) Educational Research: A Guide to the Process Publication: Mahwah, N.J. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., ISBN: 9780805832808

Hamo, M., Blum-Kulka,S. & Hacohen, G. (2004) From Observation to Transcription and back: Theory Practice, and Interpretation in the Analysis of Children’s Naturally Occuring Discource, Research on Language and Social Interaction, 37(I), 71-92.

Hammersley, M. (2007) Study Guide – Masters in Education The Open University, Milton Keynes

Edwards J.A., & Lampert, M.D. (Eds) (1993) Talking data: transcription and coding in discourse research. HillsdaLE, NJ:Erlbaum.

2. What would be lost by relying on an audio recording rather than a video recording? (Again, your answer should be approximately 750 words long.)

In educational research using audio and video recordings is useful in collecting data in order to conduct a study. This essay will illustrate, using the approach of the ethnography method what would be lost if audio recording was used rather than a video recording.

Using the example of an ethnographic research someone can demonstrate what would be lost by relying on an audio recording rather than a video. An ethnographic research aims on the rich detailed description of observed events. These are used to explain the social processes which are involved. In other words an Ethnographic research focuses on the behavior of the members of a particular community. For example someone can examine how Turkish Cypriot children express a range of social identities through discussion in the classroom and playground in their Greek Cypriot school.

The video recording provides a number of advantages in an ethnographic research. Grimshaw (1982a) identifies that one of the advantages is that the visual recordings provide density of data. Since in an ethnographic approach real people are studied in real situation Gass & Houck, 1999 and Iino (1999) identify that video recordings can provide more contextual data than audio recorded data.

Video recordings can provide the setting of where the people are and the activities they are engaging. The video will accurately identify the person who is speaking and also give the researcher important information such as gender, posture, gesture, and clothing. These provide important information concerning the learners, in this case our Turkish Cypriot students. Gestures, facial expression and other visual interactional use provide important data for the study. In addition, the video recording provides information on the directionality and the intensity of attention which is important in determining the levels of comfort and involvement of the conversationalist. On the contrary, the audio recording means that everything that is not heard is excluded and therefore all of the above details will be also excluded. Only the conversations of the people will be available to the researcher. But this could result to another problem, if the researcher is unfamiliar with the speakers he may find it difficult to distinguish their voices and he will need to supplement with field notes or a diary.

On the other hand, the video can capture only what is observable, it cannot capture the feelings and thoughts of the students. However in the video recordings we have the advantage to play back to the participants and ask them about their feelings and thoughts during a given event in the classroom or the playground. This is not possible using audio because the participants cannot visualize themselves so such an activity cannot be undertaken.

Another advantage of the video recording is the permanence (Grimshawn 1982a) which allows a researcher to experience an event repeatedly by playing it back. With each repeated viewing someone can change focus and see things that have not been seen at the time of taping or during previous viewings. Being able to view the event allows more time to contemplate, deliberate and reflect on the data before drawing conclusions. Similarly the audio can be played back again and again, however it will not be able to provide the density of information that a video recording will.

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However, as many consider video recordings have disadvantages. One of this is that it will record only what the cameraman has chosen to focus the camera on. It is highly selective and cannot pick up everything that is going on in the classroom. It could be that our group of Turkish Cypriot students are selected and focused upon carrying a certain activity.

Another disadvantage of the video recordings is that it can be very conspicuous and distracting for the students. Using a camera in a classroom is more intrusive than an audio-cassette recorder. The researcher must be careful and give the opportunity to the students to get used to the equipment in a classroom.

A further problem is that the production of sound using cameras with build-in microphones is not always of high quality. It is important to hear what everybody says so it could be that you will need to complement with separate audio-recording. Nevertheless technical problems are found in both of the approaches whether someone is using an audio-recorder or a video-recorder.

In conclusion, we have identified things that will be lost by relying on an audio recording rather than a video recording. When designing a research project using audio or video recordings, we provide data relevant to the task. A researcher must decide what data they is needed and then use the methods appropriately.

Word count: 765

References

Collier, J.& Collier, M (1986) Visual Anthropology : Photography as a research method. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Diesing,P (1971) Patterns of discovery in the social sciences. Chigago:Aldine.

Heath, C & J. Hindmarsh (2002) Analysing Interaction : Video, ethnography and situated conduct. In Hughes, J.A & Sharrock, W (1997) The philosophy of Social Research. London: Longman

Gass, S. M., & Houck, N (1999) Interlanguage refusals, New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Goldman-Segal, R. (1995) ‘Configurational validity: A Proposal for analyzing ethnographic multimedia narratives’, Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 4(2/3), pp 163-182.

Goldman-Segal , R. (1998) Points of viewing children’s thinking : A digital ethnographer’s journey, Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Grimshaw, A.D. (1982a) ‘Sound-image data records for research on social interaction: some questions and answers’, Sociological Methods and Research,11(2),pp.121-144.

Iino, M. (1999)’Issues of video recording in language studies’, Obirin Studies in Language and Literature, 39, 65-85.

Sevingy, M.J (1981) Triangulated Inquiry: A methodology for the analysis of classroom interaction. In J.L Green & C. Wallat (Eds), Ethnography language in educational settings. Advances in discourse processes, Vol.5 (pp. 65-85). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

3. What are the advantages and disadvantages of structured interviewing? (Your answer should be approximately 1500 words long.)

When an educational researcher is designing a study, one of the data collection methods that can be used is structured interviewing. This method has many advantages, but it also has some disadvantages. Therefore, before a researcher comes to a decision about using structured interviewing he should consider the advantages and disadvantages of this data collection method. This essay will examine the above by defining interviewing for research and structured interview and finally discussing the advantages and disadvantages of structured interviews.

In conducting a useful research one key element is the collection of reliable information. According to Hammersley, M. (2007, p.122) interviewing has for a long time being used as a method of data collection. The educational researchers use this method as a major source of data in qualitative enquiry. In its simplest form structured interviewing involves one person asking another person a number of predetermined questions regarding a particular topic.

Before we start outlining the advantages and disadvantages of structured interviews, we should consider what an interview is. According to Frey and Oishi (1995,p.1) it is “a purposeful conversation in which one person asks prepared questions (interviewer) and another answers them (respondent)”. This activity is performed in order to obtain information regarding a particular topic or a particular area to be researched. According to Jensen and Jankowski (1991, p.101) interviews are considered to be useful tools that can be used for further research using other methodologies such as observation and experiments. Interviews usually have two basic structures; these can be either structured or unstructured.

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A good definition regarding structured interviews is given by Corbetra (2003, p.269) who states that structure interviews are: ‘.. interviews in which all respondents are asked the same questions with the same wording and in the same sequence.’ In addition Gray (2004, p.215) supports that it would be ideal if questions can be read out in the same tone of voice so that the respondents would not be influenced by the tone of the interviewer. Along the same lines Bryman (2001, p.107) explains that structured interviews are:

… the administration of an interview schedule by an interviewer. The aim is for all the interviewees to be given exactly the same context of questioning. This means that each respondent receives exactly the same interview stimulus as any other. The goal of this style of interview is to ensure that the interviewees’ replies can be aggregated … Questions are usually very specific and very often the interviewee gives a fixed range of answers (this type of question is often called closed, closed ended, pre-coded, or fixed choice)

Therefore, a researcher using structured interviewing designs a list of answers for the interviewee to choose from. Of course the questions that the researcher is giving to the interviewee are all the same.

As mentioned in the introduction we will examine now in which way the structure interview is attractive. Structure interviews provide the researcher with a number of advantages such as control over the topics and the format of the interview. Since the researcher is present, he is therefore able to examine the level of understanding a respondent has about a particular topic – usually in slightly more depth than with a postal questionnaire. This gives the opportunity to the researcher to explain the questions of the interview which can look unclear or obscure to the respondents. Further to the above, if for example a respondent is unable or unwilling to answer a question the researcher being present at the interview is aware of the reasons of a failure to answer all questions. The attendance of the researcher in the interview enables the interviewer to establish rapport and trust making it possible to obtain information that the individual would not reveal by any other data method. In addition the interviewee knows exactly what is required from them in the interview. Further the researcher does not have to worry about response rates, biased samples incomplete questionnaires by conducting the interviews.

Moreover according to David and Sutton (2004, p160) another strength of structured interviews is “prompting can be included with the questions and if a question is inappropriate, data on why no response was made can be recorded.” Furthermore, non verbal cues, such as facial expressions, gestures can be recorded.

A further point in favor of the structured interview is that it can be used as a powerful form of formative assessment. That is, it can be used to explore how a respondent feels about a particular topic before using a second method (e.g. such as observation or in-depth interviewing) to gather a greater depth of information. Structure interviews can also be used to identify responders whose views you may want to explore in more detail (through the use of focused interviews, for example).

Additionally, in a structured interview all respondents are asked the same questions in the same way. This makes it easy to repeat the interview. Therefore it makes this type of research method easy to standardize. As a result a large number of people can be contacted quickly easily and efficiently. What is more, this makes information easily quantifiable and allows the responses to be compared? The above nature of structure interview makes it easy to create code and interpret especially if closed questions are used.

Those who opposed to structured interviews identify a number of disadvantages. In the first place the method can be described as time consuming if the sample group is large. That is because the researcher or their representative needs to be present during the delivery of the structured interview. Another drawback is that the quality and usefulness of the information is highly dependent upon the quality of the questions asked. The interviewer cannot add or subtract questions.

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A common problem to both postal questionnaires and structured interviews is the fact that by designing a list of questions a researcher has effectively decided prior to collecting any data the things that are considered to be important and unimportant. Due to the lack of flexibility in this approach, it means that there is “little room for unanticipated discoveries” (Breakwell, Hammond and Fife-Schaw (1995,p.231). People may feel that their response does not fit any of the designated answers. A further problem is that substantial amount of pre-planning is required. Moreover, the format of a questionnaire design makes it difficult for the researcher to examine complex issues and opinions. Even where open-ended questions are used, the depth of answers the responded can provide tend to be more-limited than with almost any other method. Therefore the structured interview gives a limited scope for the respondent to answer the questions in any detail or depth.

Furthermore the presence of the researcher may influence the way a respondent answers various questions, thereby biasing the responses. Interviewers are human beings so they have their own perspective and biases. The opportunity for bias occurrence comes from the fact that the contact of the interviewer is face to face and may be intensive. Without having the intention, interviewers may give clues to their own attitudes and values and even the kind of answers they would like to receive from the respondents.

In addition, in structured interviewing the respondents cannot hide their identities although interviewers never reveal their names they just use the responses that they give, some people could refuse to be interviewed.

One of the biggest disadvantages of interviews is that they cost compared to other methods such as mail or telephone surveys. This is because training on interviewing skills is required for the staff. In addition interviewers must allocate a substantial amount of time and effort in order to plan and attend interviews.

Finally someone should keep in mind that the success of an interview depends on the skills of the interviewer and of course of the respondent. According to Huseyin (2009,p210), unfortunately in educational research the interviewers are usually research assistants, research students that need to perform the interviews themselves. This is a consequence of the low budget they have at their disposal. Therefore, these interviewers have no interviewing skill which as a consequence affects the performance of their interviews.

The application of a structured interview will of course be guided by the research question in hand. The method must relate to the objectives of the study. For example if information is to be collected from respondents who have reading or language difficulties then a structure interview could be necessary. For instance Daun (1997) performed a survey to find out the relationship between pupil success and certain pupils variables. This brings out some important issues that an educational researcher must consider, that is those of validity and reliability. These two concepts are used to test the usefulness of the data collected. The concept of validity of data refers to the extent to which the data collected gives a true measurement description of educational reality. As Joppe (2000,p.1) points out ‘ In other words, does the research instrument allow you to hit ‘the bull’s eye’ of your research object?’. On the other hand reliability of data means the consistency, the precision of the data collection and the repeatability of the data collection method.

To conclude, this essay has examined the structured interview in education research. It has given a basic definition of the interview and focused on the advantages and disadvantages of the structured interview. The educational researcher must assess the question in hand and therefore decide on which data method to use.

Word count 1570



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