Higher Education Assignment #4: From the Inside Out: An Ethnography

An ethnography is a study of human social phenomena and social communities through the use of fieldwork (first-hand observation). To conclude this course, you will define and select a small sample of people (some subset of students, teachers, parents, etc.) who have a stake in a debate in higher education that we have discussed this semester (e.g. what we mean by “cultural literacy,” remediation, affirmative action, NCLB or another national educational policy, or for-profit schools). Arrange times to observe and interact with the subjects in your study closely for three to four weeks to record their beliefs, understandings, and habits. As you learn more, through observing this group and through your own outside research, you will compose a final write-up that demonstrates the impact of a particular national issue on a local scale.

Format: 8-10 pages (final write-up), MLA style

Advice: this project will be completed in stages: initial proposal, bibliography, fieldwork, memos, and final write-up. The first step is choosing your sample group; it is never too early to start thinking about the issue you want to study!  Feel free to approach me about this at any time.


Type: Develop an analytical argument using original research

Rationale: Building on their previous work, in which they have had an increasingly larger stake, in these final sequences of the assignment students will gather various forms of evidence by devising their own set of research criteria, synthesizing data, and making an argument about the significance of their local observations.

Pre-draft assignments: See below. Also see “Materials for the Ethnographic Project” under the Higher Education topic on the qwriting site.

Proposal (due month/date) 5 points

How do members of a particular cultural group perceive or understand a certain social or cultural experience?  Describe the community members you will research (who are they and where will you find them?). Provide a guiding qualitative research question. Include a personal four-week research schedule: During what days and times will you conduct your research? How long will it take you to get back and forth from your field site(s) to home or school? Will you reach or approach 10 hours of fieldwork by December 10th, the week before the project is due?

Annotated Bibliography (due month/date) 5 points

How will you respond to and build on research that has already been done about the kinds of subjects you are studying?  This section will be graded for the quality of the sources cited, the summary and synthesis of each source (displayed in the annotation), and the adherence to MLA format. At least two sources and annotations are required for full credit.

Fieldwork (10 hours, to be distributed over three to four weeks) 10 points

Your ethnographic fieldwork will require that you have a reliable recording device and a small notebook you can carry with you. You should be keeping notes constantly when you are in and/or around the field site. You will turn in the following:

Two Conceptual Memos (5 points each): Follow the guidelines for these memos provided in this packet. Each memo should contain three sections: “Problems and Setbacks,” “Overview,” and “Patterns, Insights and Breakthroughs.”  These memos are written in paragraph format and will likely be the basis for the themes and insights you pursue in your final write-up.  Memo #1 due month.date; Memo #2 due month/date.

Final write-up (due, with all documents above, on month/date) 15 points

The final 8-10 page write-up for this project should do all of the following:

  • Include a brief literature review (summary) of scholarly materials, including any relevant texts from our course, relevant to your project. Summarize these texts with an eye toward explaining how they have motivated your research interests, influenced your work in the field, or helped you to locate themes in your fieldnotes. Label this section “Literature Review” and place it at the start of your write-up.
    1 page, maximum
  • Describe your findings in the field through a “thematic narrative” based around a few important, carefully organized excerpt commentary units. (See pages 170-178, 182-186, and 194-196 in Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes)
    4-6 pages
  • Include an introduction and conclusion at the beginning and end of the narrative.
    (See pages 197-208 of Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes)
    1 page each
  • Discuss your experience as an ethnographer, using these questions to guide your reflective process: “What views about this group/culture did I bring with me to the field? How has my role as an ethnographer led me to filter out certain empirical information and privilege other information?  What do I notice about the ways my subjects have reacted to me? How has this project affected the way I think about research?” (See pages 208-210 of Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes)
    1 page

HigherEducation_Assignment4 (doc)

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