Research Methods in Psychology 9 (Observational methods)

Motoyuki NAKAYA Professor

Department: School of Education / Graduate School of Education and Human Development

Class Time: 2011 Spring Thursday
Recommended for: School of Education 2nd year students and upwards

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Course Overview

We will empirically learn behavioral observation, one of the main research methods in Behavioral Science and Psychology, observing a few classes directly in school, collecting the data of conversations and behaviors and encoding, sorting and examining it. In this course we aims to learn the observational method, particularly as a psychological research method. In the method, we do not approach human behavior only with what we routinely look at and listen to, but objectively and scientifically.

Key Features

Observing current education phenomena

  • In the real scene of education, or in the classroom, we will observe how participants communicate with each other, interact with society, and how teachers process educational guidance. This helps us understand suitable research methods for the real scene of education, and encourages interest in the study of educational psychology. We will learn not only from textbooks and professional books, but also knowledge of living educational psychology study methods.
  • As we observe various subjects and schools such as elementary school, junior high school, high school and so on, we have the opportunity to consider different students at different developing and studying levels. Through these natural observations in current classrooms, I hope you will get the opportunity to think about the interest and difficulty of educational phenomena as a psychological study.

Learning tips for small classes

  • I will give seminars for less than 25 students. Considering students' interests, four or five students will constitute each group. I respect communication between students, and value students' opinions and ideas for setting each theme and methods of analysis.
  • Because this is a small seminar, I give specific consideration to the discussion between students. I also take advice, comments and so on from teaching assistants and teachers into consideration. In addition, I will give you careful education and instruction.

Support from teaching assistants

  • There are three teaching assistants in each class. They support students' general study such as class progression, preparation and implementation of class observation, sorting and analyzing the data, the way of summarizing their results and considerations. They will endeavor to give detailed guidance and support using email, etc.

Inducing your interest in the study of educational psychology

  • I hope you will look back your past educational experience, and reconstruct it by observation in the classroom. Then, hopefully, you will be able to notice the problems of school education in the future. As you consider the meaning, reasonability, and originality of each group's study theme, you will have the opportunity to consider the importance and meaning of studying education psychologically.

Focus on contribution to the educational scene

  • Each group will need to detailed feedback on what purpose we have in doing observational study, what kinds of results we get, and how we can connect them with educational practice, to the school and teachers or professors who allow us to observe their classes. We will also consider how psychological study contributes to the educational scene.

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Course Overview

We usually guess someone's feelings by looking at her or his face, and interpreting his or her behavior. In a sense, all of us carry out simple observation in our daily lives. However, the observational method as a psychological research method is more than making a judgment by just seeing something directly. It is based on methodology as a scientific method. In this course, students will learn the observational method, which is a foundation of research methods, how to collect the data of observation and analyze through practical experience.

Course Aims

I would like you to understand fundamental ways of thinking such as what it means to measure human behavior and feelings by observation. As you collect and analyze the data of behavioral observation and write your report, you will learn a part of the research practically, using the observational method.

Course Form

  • In class you will mainly study with your group members.
  • In each class, two graduate students, (second semester) will support you as teaching assistants.
  • In basic terms, we will decide who belongs to which group, and then discuss their presentations as a class.
  • In practical terms, each group sets the theme, observes classes, finds and collects data, sorts and categorizes it, and summarizes their findings in a report. You will carry out this process in sequence.
  • Evaluation will be decided comprehensively based on attendance, active participation in class, resume, and contents of presentation.

Course Details

  1. Basis of the observational method
  2. Discussion and setting the theme in each group
  3. Observation of classes (with notebooks only), (with video and IC recorder)
  4. Collection of data, sorting, and consideration
  5. Writing your reports
  6. Final presentation by each group

Other Advice

Lectures are generally held once every two weeks. However, we may need to change the schedule according to the structure and progression of classes. In addition, extra time will be needed outside class because we will practice observation in an actual school. From a psychological point of view, I welcome students who are interested in consideration and improvement of the educational scene to join this course.

Course Schedule

Class Lecture contents
Guidance of this course
Course Outline
Advice on taking this course
The foundation of the observational method
Features of the observational method as a psychological study method
Form groups, and group meeting
Discuss the theme of observation
Introduction to the observational method
Group meeting for setting the observational theme
Practical observational method I
Practical observation in small mathematics class at elementary school (1) (note, video, and record)
Practical observational method II
Practical observation in small mathematics class at elementary school (2) (note, video, and record)
Practical observational method III
Practical observation in science class at junior high school, and in Japanese class at high school (1) (note, video, and record)
Practical observational method IV
Practical observation in mathematics classes at junior high school and high school (1) (note, video, and record)
Analysis of observational data I
Write up and sort observational data of class
Check the data of utterance and behavior
Analysis of observational data
Write up and sort observational data of class
Check the data of utterance and behavior
Analysis of observational data III
Integrate and consider the observational data of class by each group
Report writing and presentation I
Presentation and consideration of the research theme based on the observational data — (1) Basic analysis
Report writing and Presentation II
Presentation and consideration of the research theme based on the observational data — (2) Practical analysis
Report writing and Presentation III
Presentation and consideration of the research theme based on the observational data — (3) Applied analysis
Final presentation
Presentation of research theme by each group and discussion
Consideration of the originality and meaning of the research theme, and problems
Feedback to the partnership schools
Report the results of the research to the schools and teachers who cooperated with the observation in classes


I evaluate participation in class such as small reports, discussion, presentation at 50%, and final report 50%.

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Page last updated May 10, 2012

The class contents were most recently updated on the date indicated. Please be aware that there may be some changes between the most recent year and the current page.

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