Observation Essay Education


Sept. 6: Site location and plan due
Sept. 13: Site Visit #1 notes due
Sept. 20: Visit #2 notes due
Sept. 24: Draft of essay due
Oct. 1: Revised draft due

Detailed instructions:

I. Choose a college or university in the D.C. area to visit. You’ll find below a list of possible institutions. Then select a space within that institution where you can observe “education in progress”—i.e., a library, a computer lab, a study area, a coffee shop or commons area where students gather to do schoolwork, etc. your goal is to observe students’ behavior and get a sense of how they behave in your particular educational setting. If you have a friend at a neighboring university, you can use this assignment as a reason to visit him/her, or you can use this assignment as a chance to explore a fun area of the city before or after your observation. You also might visit a college or university in your hometown or in another city if you go there regularly. Remember that you must visit the place on two separate occasions for at least one hour each, and during that hour you must give your full attention to observing the place and people’s behavior in that place. You should not be texting, talking, or doing anything other than watching and taking notes

Possible institutions to visit:

American University
Catholic University
Gallaudet University
George Mason University
Howard University
The George Washington University
Trinity Washington University
University of the District of Columbia
University of Maryland College Park

Some hints:

You will want to visit your place during hours when many students are present so that you can observe a large enough sample of people. Friday nights and Saturday mornings are probably not optimal times to observe education at work!
You may first want to walk through the space, taking detailed notes on its physical qualities. Remember to use your senses!
You may want to introduce yourself and let a librarian or someone in charge know what your are doing. You can take along a copy of the course assignment to show people if anyone asks questions. At the very least, be prepared to explain the assignment if someone asks what you’re doing.

II. You need to visit the space you choose to analyze on at least two separate occasions for at least an hour. Take notes on its layout, any objects, what people do there, how they move through the space, and any other details that seem interesting, revealing, significant, or strange. Pay particularly close attention to the way the place is set up to serve an educational purpose and to the way people within the space are pursuing their education. Are they working on school-related projects? Writing papers? Studying for exams? In what subjects? Are they web-surfing or social networking? Multitasking? Do they discuss classes, assignments, or other education-related matters? What do they say?

III. Develop your observation by analyzing the probable meaning(s) and function(s) associated with specific details of the place and the behavior of the consumers within it. Always explain the connections between evidence and interpretation. Do not use any of the following words (unless, of course, they’re in a direct quote): best, worst, great, terrible, awful, good, bad, should. These are all broad, value-charged terms, and the point of this essay is to help you develop your skills of 1) observation and 2) analysis and deduction.

Possible Outline:
(courtesy of Dr. Peebles)

Paragraph 1 (Introduction)
Begin your essay with a brief paragraph that prepares your reader for the essay to follow, introducing the place, its explicit or obvious purpose(s), and its intended audience(s). What are the usual expectations for a place of this kind? Conclude this paragraph with a thesis statement that focuses your evaluation and asserts the main point of your essay: based on what features make the place work and what features are distracting or damaging, what is your overall judgment of the place? The thesis statement alerts the reader to the terms of your analysis but does not discuss them in detail.

Paragraph 2 (Context)
This paragraph is your chance to describe your experience in the place. Use your description to demonstrate your understanding of the place, thereby establishing your credibility and qualifications for offering an evaluation. Deepen your introduction of the place (in paragraph 1) by considering what secondary, non-obvious purposes the place serves.

Paragraphs 3-7 (Body)
You may choose to develop your evaluation in as few as three or as many as five more paragraphs. Include at least one counterargument opposing a point of your evaluation and your response (i.e., “while the donation box appears to be empty and useless, its presence could also remind people of the importance of generosity. However, I saw that many people paid at the entrance desk and turned away from the donation box, suggesting that they might not be feeling very generous.”).

In each paragraph, focus on a specific feature of the place and discuss what its meaning and function is in that space. Remember that each paragraph needs to focus on one point (introduced by a topic sentence) and to develop the essay’s thesis. So, if one feature is so significant that it has multiple meanings or uses that you want to discuss, that will take several paragraphs.

Last Paragraph (Conclusion)
Conclude your essay with a brief paragraph that presents your full thesis and evaluative criteria to the reader and that gives your essay a sense of closure.

Works Cited
List your outside sources, including any brochures or websites you used to help explain or confirm details of the place, in correct MLA format at the end of your essay.

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