Education | Distance Education: Qualitative Inquiry in Education
Y611 | 6345 | Dr. Phil Carspecken
I. Course Description
This course will keep you busy. Both a small field project and
extensive reading are required. Twelve written assignments must be
completed and there may be tests and/or additional take-home
assignments as I determine necessary through interacting with all of
you to produce a good understanding of the course contents. Do not
take this class if you are not prepared to work hard. Do not take
this class if you are exceptionally busy with other matters this
No Incompletes Policy and Basic Student Responsibilities
Incompletes are not an option unless there are exceptional
circumstances. I expect assignments turned in on time. Course
lectures will not cover everything in the assigned readings. It is
the students’ responsibility to read what is assigned and to contact
me, through email, if there are any difficulties in grasping the
reading material. Tests may be given on the reading material with a
one or two week warning. Take notes as you read and read difficult
sections more than once.
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
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.
The field project consists of two one-hour observations of human
interactions on a social site of your choice. Choose a site
involving human interactions in which many people participate. This
could be a classroom, but in this case it should be a highly
interactive classroom rather than a fully teacher-dominated one.
Faculty meetings, graduate student project groups, interactive
gaming, friendship groups, book discussion groups, counseling dyads,
group therapy sessions, parent-child interactions, and office
interactions would all be good choices. You must make sure that all
people observed consent to your project. You will observe the
interactions, take notes while observing, and tape record. After
each observation session you will have to type up a synthesis of what
is on the tape and what you wrote in your notebook. This is very
time consuming. However, I do not require transcribing the entire
hour of interactions. Rather, you will listen to your entire tape,
taking summary notes at the same time, and then select one or two
portions for full transcription. The result will be a “thick record”
of these selected portions totaling about 4 to 6 pages of
transcription. You will use your thick records to practice meaning
field, validity horizon, and sequence analysis. You will need the
summary notes on the entire one hour observations to do your power
and role analysis and to produce a coding scheme.
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 and other qualitative
research publications on their own and also read various works on
qualitative method and theory not covered in this course.
Lastly, many students ask me to be on their dissertation committee
after taking Y611 with me. I have to be selective in deciding which
committees to serve. I will not serve on any students committee
unless they also take the advanced qualitative research course with
me, Y750. But taking both Y611 and Y750 with me is not a guarantee
that I will agree to serve on your committee.
II. 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! Find out whether you will need Human Subjects
approval for it immediately. If you think you may use the data you
collect for a dissertation, conference paper, or publication you will
definitely need Human Subjects approval. If you plan to study minors
(17 years old or less) you will need Human Subjects approval.
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. Email me your ideas as soon as
you can, between the first and second classes.
B) You will have to turn in the following during the semester,
1) A site description:
a. Give a brief description of the site (instructions to come)
b. Provide a list of questions you wish answers to through research
on this site
c. Provide a list of what information you would have to collect to
get answers to these questions.
2-3) Excerpts (4-6 pages each) from two “thick” observations, about
one hour each:
a. From your first observation.
b. From your second observation.
In addition, take summary notes on your first and second observations
in total. You will need these for coding, power analysis, and
coding. These need not be turned in.
4) Meaning field analyses until passed by me.
5) Validity reconstructions until passed by me.
6) A role analysis until passed by me.
7) A power analysis until passed by me.
8) An interactive sequence analysis until passed by me. This will
include attention to:
a. Setting bids and negotiations
b. Setting shifts
c. Interactive rhythms
d. Use of normative reconstructions, role analysis and power analysis
to provide details on features of the sequence.
9) Coding scheme for observational data until passed by me.
10) Interview protocol until passed by me.
11) Essay comparing three ethnographies, two read in common by all
class members and one of your own choosing.
12) Final project summary and preliminary analysis.
13) 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
14) Similarly, tests are possible.
Hence 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 demonstrated. When asked to do an assignment
over, students must complete this in a timely manner.
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-, G (good), G+, 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.
D) Electronic submissions:
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.
III. Summary of assignments:
Assignment Last week it will be accepted
Site description and research questions
January 27-February 2:
Essay comparing three ethnographies
April 27-May 3:
Project summary and preliminary analysis
In other words, assignments are due during various weeks rather than
on precise days. These are “course weeks,” in that they start on a
Tuesday and end the following Monday. You may turn your assignment
in on any day of the “course week” during which it is due.
IV. Required books
Carspecken, P. (1996). Critical Ethnography in Educational
Research. New York and London: Routledge.
Denzin, N. and Lincoln, Y. (2003). 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.
Nespor, Jan (1997). Tangled Up in School; Politics, Space, Bodies,
and Signs in the Educational Process. Mahwah N.J: Lawrenece Erlbaum
V. Things to remember:
1.Do not get behind on assignments
3.Submit all work electronically, as attachments to emails
4.Start immediately, during the first week, to get your field project
5.Check your field project idea out with me before proceeding with it
6.Make sure your study falls within human subjects protection
7.There may be additional assignments made as per my judgment as the
8.There may be tests.
VI. Reading and work assignments by week:
Week/Assignment (due this “course week”)/Readings (due this class)
1 Jan. 13
2 Jan. 20
*Denzin and Lincoln: 1, 2,
*Carspecken: 1, 2
*Question guides to these chapters sent electronically
3 Jan 27
Site description and research questions *Denzin and Lincoln: 4, 10
*Examples of thick observational notes sent electronically or handed
4 Feb. 3
*Carspecken: 4, 5
*Denzin and Lincoln: 5
5 Feb. 10
*Calvino: 1, 2, 3 plus reading notes on these chapters sent
electronically or handed out
6 Feb. 17
*Calvino: 4, 5, 6 plus reading notes on these chapters handed out or
7 Feb. 24
*Denzin and Lincoln: 6
8 March 2
*Denzin and Lincoln: 7
9 March 9
*Davidson: entire book plus reading guide
10 March 23
* Nestor, ch. 1-4
11 March 30
* Nestor, chs. 5-7
12 April 6
*Carspecken: 8, 9
*Examples of coding sent electronically
13 April 13
*Carspecken: 10, 11
*Denzin and Lincoln: 14
14 April 20
*Carspecken: 12, 13
*Denzin and Lincoln: 8, 12
15 April 27
Essay comparing three ethnographies
16 May 4-8
Final Project Report