Education | Qualitative Inquiry in Education
Y611 | 5781 | Dr. Phil Carspecken
This is a very labor-intensive course, requiring a large amount of
work as well as effort to master some challenging theory. Both a
field project and extensive reading are required. Students should
not take this course unless they are prepared to devote an unusually
large amount of time and effort.
The course has two main objectives:
For students to become familiar with basic field and analytic methods
in qualitative research
For students to learn basic principles of social theory necessary for
a sound understanding of qualitative field methods and, especially,
All students will have to conduct a small-scale field project to meet
course requirements. You should take immediate steps to put a
project into place and get permission to conduct it. By the end of
January you will need to have the beginnings of a set of
observational notes on human interactions so that you will be able to
practice analytic techniques on your own data. The field project
will be time consuming. You will need a tape recorder and a word
processor for your project.
There will be many readings assigned and class lectures will not use
up too much time amplifying these readings. Students are expected to
take responsibility for the readings and to ask for help if they have
difficulty understanding any of them. Class lectures will be most
closely associated with my book on critical ethnography from which
readings will be assigned regularly. Students are encouraged to
email the instructor regularly to get help with questions that will
arise from readings and their project. Class participation and, of
course, attendance, is very important. Missing classes would put you
at a great disadvantage so, once again, do not take this course
unless you are committed to coming to class regularly.
I have a “no incompletes” policy. For most of the course at least
one written assignment will be due every week. Students must not get
behind in these assignments.
Students who wish to produce a qualitative dissertation will not be
fully prepared by the end of this course. Such students will have to
take the initiative to read many ethnographies on their own and also
read various works on qualitative method and theory not covered in
this course. There is no hope of getting me on your committee for a
dissertation unless you take the advanced course on qualitative
research that I teach in the Spring each year.
Assignments and Assessment
Here is a list of assignments for this course:
A) Field Project Set Up and Ready to Go
Starting at the end of January you will have to turn in assignments
based on fieldwork. This means that you should have a project in
mind right now! Get Human Subjects approval for it immediately.
This project will be small, as far as qualitative studies go. You
need to choose some site in which fairly complex human interaction
takes place and conduct two observations to produce two sets
of “thick notes.” A thick record is one in which an effort has been
made to capture all speech acts and much of the accompanying para-
linguistic activity (gestures, facial expressions, tones of voice,
body postures, eye contact, etc.). It is a lot of work to produce
thick notes but you only have to do this twice. Choose a site in
which people interact in flexible ways so that you will have
instances of humor, arguments, multiple roles, and subtle bids for
power. You will have to check out your ideas on a site with me
before beginning your thick record. Good examples include, fairly to
highly interactive classrooms, discussion groups, meetings,
counseling sessions (dyadic or group).
B) You will have to turn in the following during the semester,
A description of your study:
Give a brief description of the site (instructions to come)
Provide a list of questions you wish answers to through research on
Provide a list of what information you will have to collect to get
answers to these questions.
Excerpts (3-4 pages each) from two “thick” observations, about one
From your first observation.
From your second observation.
Meaning field analyses until passed by me.
Validity reconstructions until passed by me.
A role analysis until passed by me.
A power analysis until passed by me.
An interactive sequence analysis until passed by me. This will
include attention to:
Setting bids and negotiations
Use of normative reconstructions, role analysis and power analysis to
provide details on features of the sequence.
Coding scheme for observational data until passed by me.
Interview protocol until passed by me.
Essay comparing three ethnographies, two read in common by all class
members and one of your own choosing.
Final project summary.
Additional assignments are possible, such as short essays on some of
the reading assignments. I will determine whether I think these
necessary based on my sense of student understandings as the course
Because there are two observations required the total minimum of
required pieces of work is 12. Many times I will ask you to do an
assignment over, my goal being to move you all to a high level of
mastery for each skill. Sometimes I have students do one assignment
over multiple times until a good level of competency has been
C) Evaluation system: Most of the fieldwork based assignments will
be on a pass/do-over basis. You turn them in, receive comments from
me, and do them over if I ask you to. Once the work has met my
expectations I will give it a ‘grade’ ranging from “barely
satisfactory” (S-) through excellent (E): S-, S, G, (good), and E.
A “G+” generally translates into an “A” and a “G” into an “A-“. The
essay and project summary will be graded in the traditional manner.
When it is time to determine a final grade for you all pieces of work
will have roughly the same weight.
All assignments must be sent in electronically, as attached email
files. I do not want hard copy, only soft copy. That makes it much
easier for me to provide you will commentary on your work and to keep
a record of all your work.
Summary of assignments:
Last week it will be accepted
Site description and research questions
January 27-31: Week three
February 17-21: Week six
February 24-28: Week seven
March 3-7: Week eight
March 10-14: Week nine
March 24-28: Week ten
March 31-April 4: Week eleven
April 7-11: Week twelve
April 14-18: Week thirteen
April 21-25: Week fourteen
Essay comparing three ethnographies
April 28-May 2: Week fifteen
Project summary and preliminary analysis
May 6: Week sixteen
In other words, assignments are due during various weeks rather than
on precise days. You may turn your assignment in on any day of the
week during which it is due.
Carspecken, P. (1996). Critical Ethnography in Educational
Research. New York and London: Routledge.
Denzin, N. and Lincoln, Y. (1998). The Landscape of Qualitative
Research. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.
Calvino, I. (1983). Mr. Palomar. San Diego: Harvest Book, Harcourt
Brace & Co.
Davidson, A. (1996). Making and Molding Identity in Schools.
Soto, L. (1997). Language, Culture and Power. Albany: SUNY
Reading and work assignments by week:
Assignment (due this week)
Readings (due this class)
*Denzin and Lincoln: 1, 2,
*Carspecken: 1, 2
*Question guides to these chapters sent electronically
Jan 28 Site description and research questions
*Denzin and Lincoln: 3 (optional), 6, 8
*Examples of thick observational notes sent electronically or handed
*Carspecken: 4, 5
*Denzin and Lincoln: 5 (optional)
*Calvino: 1, 2, 3 plus reading notes on these chapters sent
electronically or handed out
Observation 1 *Carspecken: 6
*Calvino: 4, 5, 6 plus reading notes on these chapters handed out or
Observation 2 *Carspecken: 7
*Denzin and Lincoln: 4
*Carspecken: 8, 9
*Examples of coding sent electronically
*Davidson: entire book plus reading guide
10 March 25 Role Analysis
*Carspecken: 10, 11
*Soto: entire book plus reading guide
*Carspecken: 12, 13
Essay comparing three ethnographies
Things to remember:
Do not get behind on assignments
Submit all work electronically, as attachments to emails
Start immediately, during the first week, to get your field project
Check your idea out with me before proceeding with it
Make sure your study falls within human subjects protection guidelines
There may be additional assignments made as per my judgment as the