Step 1: Set the scope and choose an approach
There are many aspects to consider when designing observations, including defining a focus, the role of the observer and how structured the observation needs to be.
Define a focus
Start by defining a clear boundary around what is being observed, to keep things consistent and contained. Examples include:
- unstructured play in the before-school playground
- study habits in the library during recess and lunch
- teacher interactions during staff meetings.
Decide on the role of the observer
The role the observer plays in the data collection process can vary from being a total observer (outside the situation) to a total participant (embedded in the situation) or somewhere in-between.
- An example of a total observer is a teacher observing playground interactions between students without intervening. During this observation, the teacher might count how many times certain students are included in play after a program was put in place to address inclusion.
- An example of a total participant is a teacher recording their own teaching and then watching the lesson later and assessing the implications of what was recorded and the impact on student learning.
Decide how structured the observation needs to be
As with other forms of data collection, there are several different approaches that can be taken in collecting observational data. It is important to make an informed decision when choosing an approach for conducting observations, as each has its strengths and weaknesses. The decision to use one over another will depend on the evaluation questions and the resources available.