Conducting Educational Research: A Comparative View

By R. Murray Thomas | Go to book overview

12
Interpreting Observations

As explained earlier, the term observation refers to an investigator's (a) directly witnessing the actions of individuals, groups, institutions, and environments or (b) inspecting products created by individuals, groups, or institutions. Observers can either be bystanders who play no role in the witnessed events or be participants, as happens when they are active members of an organization they are studying. The things that people say in conversation--when giving orders, making requests, lecturing before a class, engaging in debate, and the like--are included among the observed actions that are the focus of Chapter 12. However, respondents' replies to questions that researchers ask in direct interviews are considered in Chapter 13 along with people's answers to written questionnaires.

This chapter offers a motley collection of ways that results of observations can be interpreted. The dual purpose is to suggest something of the diversity of available approaches and to illustrate the approaches with examples of specific educational investigations. The approaches are offered under the following topics: (a) behavior summaries, (b) inferred constructs, (c) learning environments, (d) person-context interactions, (e) instrument validation, (f) alternative cause estimates, and (g) behavior and attitude explorations.


BEHAVIOR SUMMARIES

At the outset, we can usefully examine the distinction drawn in the following pages between behavior summaries and inferred constructs.

A behavior summary is a concise description of some aspect of one or more observations. Consider, for example, an interpretation drawn about a four-year- old girl's ability to follow simple directions. The researcher makes the following three-part request, then observes the child's behavior.

Marsha, would you please do this? Pick up the flower that's on the table, put the flower in that glass, then bring me the book that has the picture of the cat on it.

-255-

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