Participant Observation

Participant Observation

McKinney (2007) explains that the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning is an inquiry process investigating teaching in your own classroom. Therefore, if you are teaching then you are a participant within your own study. So learning the qualitative processes behind the ethnography approach of participant observation would be beneficial. 

Key points to consider:
An ethnographic approach requires you to:

Participant Observers can conceal their research function or explain their research role to participants within the research site (Davies, 2007). Explaining your research role is more commonly used within the scholarship of teaching and learning context. With this explanation, the teacher and students can learn from each other through the research process. With this distinction, you may take on the role of participant as observer or observer as participant (Lodico, Spaulding, & Voegtle, 2006; Ely, 1991). Your level of participation will dictate your role. For example, a teacher participating in the lesson while researching the lesson would be a participant as observer and a co-teacher observing his/her partner in the classroom may be classified as an observer as participant. The main task of a participant observer is to observe and take copious notes of what is seen and heard. Traditionally, notes are then shared with participants to make sure bias was not introduced during note-taking, such as an inference recorded instead of an observation. Organizing and classifying the notes to identify themes would be the next step, the analysis.


Davies, Martin Brett. (2007). Doing a successful research project: Using qualitative or quantitative methods. New York: Palgrave/Macmillan.

Ely, Margot. (1991). Doing qualitative research: Circles within circles. London; New York: The Falmer Press.

Krueger, R.A. & Casey, M.A. (2009). Focus groups: A practical guide for applied research. Los Angeles: Sage.

Lodico, M.G., Spaulding, D.T., & Voegtle, K.H. (2006) Methods in educational research: From theory to practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Lofland, John & Lofland, Lyn H. (2004). Analysing social situations: A guide to qualitative observation and analysis. London: Wadsworth

McKinney, Kathleen. (2007). Enhancing learning through the scholarship of teaching and learning: The challenges and joys of juggling. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Saam, Mack @ FACET, 2014

Web-based Resources

Indepth information from Duke Assessment office (pdf)

Discussion of history, ethics and process of participant observation from Institute for Qualitative Research