Week 5: Participant Observer
Whilst reading the module handbook, I discover that it’s study week. I can’t deny that I’m relieved. I’ll be at work the night before Wednesday’s lecture, so it looks like a nice lie in is on the cards. I continue to scan the handbook and the next line jumps out the page. It says “In pairs..” Great another group task. Having missed a fair portion of the lectures and seminars due to my employment commitments, I find that I do not know any of my fellow students to pair with. Looks like I’ll be doing this alone. Feelings of annoyance and regret start to grow in me. I do my best to repress these emotions because I will end up procrastinating and make excuses not to do it.
The task is to explore the University’s different learning spaces as participant observer. Taking pictures and making notes as part of my preliminary work for a research project and a poster presentation. Still bemoaning to myself about the circumstances of this task, I get myself together, check my schedule and make plans to undertake it.
Identifying Different Areas to Observe.
There are obvious places where learning takes place, such as lecture halls, classrooms and the library. These are the formal learning spaces I will be looking at . There are also places that are not so obvious, such as the cafe/dining areas, the lobbies and corridors. I will be observing these area as well and identifying what type of learning is taking place. Time of day is also factor. So, I will do my observations in the morning as this is the busiest time.
This might not be the most obvious place that learning occurs. But, I have included the entrance as I believe that a lesson is being learned every time a person goes in the building. I started by observing people as they entered. The first thing I noticed was that people usually entered the building in one of three following ways:
- Alone – When walking in alone people looked focused and scurried into the building promptly.
- In small groups – In pairs or in threes, they entered the building in a more leisurely manner. When eavesdropping, I found that their conversation would vary, but mostly consisted of the work that they were doing or the lecture/seminar that they about to attend
- In large Groups – Not so prompt when entering the building. Their conversation consisted of banter and subjects of a more sociable nature. On one occasion a large group congregated outside the Tower Building and waited for a few others to join them.
The lobby area itself is friendly but not welcoming area. However, that is not its purpose. It offers a lot of information and there is a staffed reception to assist visitors.
The lesson being learned here is priorities and preparation. Of course there is nothing wrong in the way a person enters a building but if your mind is focused on other things before attending a lecture, then you may be less receptive to the information that is being relayed. Distractions beforehand might impede the learning process. Also, I couldn’t help but think that the larger groups planned to meet up before going into Uni and that this was their priority.
The next area I observed was the Metcafé. Students were engrossed in their conversations, reflecting on the lectures that they had attended, making plans, exchanging information as well as general socialising. There was a group of Media Studies students who were making a video on student life at London Met. It’s a vibrant place.
There were a few students using the computers to check their emails, whilst others sat quietly and read through their notes. This is a very informal learning area, where people get a chance to chew the fat on the days happenings.
I like the library. It’s appearance reminded me of a call centre I used to work in (not that I enjoyed that job). This is a hub of learning. Dozens of work station with students placed at each one. Some were furiously typing away on the keyboards whilst others casually perused their emails. Seated at the round conference tables were students doing group work. One group was a bit too enthusiastic which caught the attention of the librarian, who shushed them down to a murmur. There are books available for students, which were being read by some. It is a productive environment, where the learning process is being transformed into assignments and projects.
It’s what I’ve been missing and it’s the core of learning that takes place at the University. Standing outside a class (my nerves got the better of me and I could not bring myself to knock and ask if I could sit in and observe) I looked in through the window and could see that the lecture was about childhood development. This lead me to believe that it was either a PGCE class or a BEd. Most of the students seemed attentive The lecture was being delivered by the tutor who noticed me through the window. Her glance was followed by several students turning their heads and getting a good look at me. I decided to leave before I drew anymore attention. I didn’t dare to take a picture of the class so I took a picture of a corridor instead.
Grow a pair.
Observing, gathering and analysing information, giving it some kind of structure then putting it together in a presentation. This exercise was practice in data collection that will benefit me when I start my research project. I have already identified a weakness of mine which is that I must be more courageous and interact and approach people more when gather I information.