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Ethnography as Subject, Ethnography as Object: Experimenting with Research in a College Writing Classroom

New Directions in Educational Ethnography

ISBN: 978-1-78441-624-9, eISBN: 978-1-78441-623-2

ISSN: 1529-210X

Publication date: 17 December 2016


This chapter examines the practical and conceptual limitations and possibilities of using ethnographic methods in the college writing classroom for the purpose of instructors’ professional development. The study is based on ethnographic research with a second-year course in Stanford University’s Program in Writing and Rhetoric. The study’s dual foci included the teacher–researcher’s pedagogical practices and students’ learning, and entailed participant-observation and the recording of ethnographic fieldnotes. It builds on the anthropology of literacy, a tradition of action research among educational ethnographers, and scholarship on composition pedagogy. Participant-observation could be helpful to other college instructors interested in improving their teaching. However, combining participant-observation with direct student feedback through interviews or surveys will be most effective in shaping educators’ professional development. Using participant-observation for professional development in the college writing classroom did not only situate me, the ethnographer, as both subject and object of research. Unexpectedly, my research also placed ethnographic methods as objects of research. By examining student learning and teaching practices ethnographically, researchers create opportunities to illuminate assumptions related to research as well as broader lessons about the study of teaching and learning.



Davie-Kessler, J. (2016), "Ethnography as Subject, Ethnography as Object: Experimenting with Research in a College Writing Classroom", New Directions in Educational Ethnography (Studies in Educational Ethnography, Vol. 13), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 193-212.



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