Computational Literacies Lab

D. Field study

Assigned Week 7 (March 12). Due Week 12 (April 23).

Your literature review centers research and design questions from the perspective of the researcher or designer, but what is the experience of the participants? How do they make sense of their environments, tools, and activities, and how might they respond to your new designs? Domains ranging from anthropology to communication to human-computer interaction have develped methods for learning about how others understand their own practices and cultures, and how they might understand and participate in transformation of these cultures and practices through design.


Your assignment is to conduct user research in preparation for your own design process. This may be done in one of several modes, enumerated below. Regardless of which you choose, the essence of the assignment is to collect data about how someone else (or a community of others) understands themselves and what they are doing, and then to interpret this data. Interpretation allows you to synthesize your data in terms of your own interests and questions; it also allows you to reflect on your positionality: how you, as a research instrument, may have been biased, inclined to notice or interpret what you saw in certain ways.

  • Ethnographic observation: Visit a learning environment (in person or, probably, virtually) and take fieldnotes, documenting what you see and hear, being sure to distinguish observations from interpretations. Write fieldnotes during your observation or immediately afterwards. Then process these observations, adding interpretive notes inline or in a summary statement.
  • An interview with a teacher or student. Transcribe the interview and summarize your interpretations.
  • Artifact-based interview: Conduct an interview with a user of a related technology. Docuemnt the interview (ideally through video) and summarize your interpretations.

This milestone must be conducted individually. Multiple students may visit the same learning environment, but everyone must take their own fieldnotes and make an independent submission.

Assessment criteria

  • Observation: Your docmuentation captures specific details about the learner and/or the learning environment. Observation is an active process; the lens of attention is oriented to details of interest. If an interview was conducted, the questions you asked felt intentional and oriented toward topics of interest.
  • Interpretation: If you took fieldnotes, interpretation is clearly demarcated from observation. Regardless of whether your interpretation is done inline or in a summary at the end, you reflect on your own positionality--how your presence, identity, and interests may have affected what you observed--and on the significance of the findings in terms of your research interests and your project.


  • You may not have the tools you might need to do this assignment yet! You are certainly welcome to draw on user research methodologies from your other fields; we will spend a lot of time in Week 4 discussing how to conduct and interpret user research.
  • If you don't have any leads on suitable learning environments, contact Dr. Proctor. He is a participant in several communicites of Cs teaching, and can connect you.