This project will employ the methods researchers refer to as field work; that is, the world around you is your field of study and the information you can take in first-hand, rather than by reading others’ ideas about that information, is your source material.
Specifically, field researchers rely on observations*, interviews, and surveys to develop an understanding about a topic, culture, or phenomenon, then formulate arguments based on what they’ve learned, which are expressed through a variety of written, verbal, and visual means. Because we do not have the time or resources during the course of this project to conduct statistically significant surveys, your field research will consist of observations* and interviews. Surveys will not be used in this project.
*Important note: “Observation” doesn’t mean something you happened to notice one day. It means that you went to a field site, spent a significant amount of time there, taking notes and learning about that field site, and most likely revisited that site at least once. In order to be considered valid research for this project, your observations must be conducted in this manner.
Your topic and focus will be up to you, but your project will go something like this:
1. Look around. (I suspect the best projects will deal with stuff on campus, since you’ll have access to your field site ongoingly.) Identify an issue or situation that raises questions for you along the lines of, “Why is xxxxx done this way? Is there a better way?” Or “What are we doing to solve this obvious problem/change this problematic practice?” Do not, under any circumstance, choose a project wherein you think you already know the answers to your questions. It is an absolute requirement that you formulate an argument AFTER you learn about the topic through your research, not before.
2. Schedule a specific time and place where you can observe your issue or situation taking place/existing. If you plan to conduct multiple observations, your initial one may be as short as an hour, but one hour total will not be sufficient for your field observations overall.
3. Conduct your first observation. Take loads of notes, pictures, video, whatever you have the means to collect and feel will be useful. Overdo it. Lots of photos may come in handy. Photos and videos collected using your cellphone or other sub-professional means will do fine. The point here is not technical perfection but great content.
4. Figure out who you can talk to about the issue or situation. You’re conducting research at a university, so you have lots of potential experts on hand. Likewise, if you’re researching an issue specific to this campus, you should find the administrator responsible for that area and attempt to schedule an interview with his or her office. And remember, people who’ve experienced something relevant to your assignment first-hand—witnesses—can be a valuable kind of expert, too. Conduct your interviews with professionalism, using the methods we discuss in class and that you read about in BallPoint. Audio or videotape interviews if subjects will permit you to do so.
5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 as useful.