Observational Methods of Research Constructing Versus Borrowing Structured Observational Instruments (VI)

Afza.Malik GDA

Non Research Observers and Mechanical Aids

Observational Methods of Research  Constructing Versus Borrowing Structured Observational Instruments (VI) Frank-Stromberg and Olsen (1997) and Strickland and Waltz (1988), Observation by Research and Non-Research Observer,Mechanical Aids In Observations
Observational Methods of Research  Constructing Versus Borrowing Structured Observational Instruments (VI) Frank-Stromberg and Olsen (1997) and Strickland and Waltz (1988), Observation by Research and Non-Research Observer,Mechanical Aids In Observations

    The development, testing, and refinement of a new observational instrument may require weeks or months of effort, particularly if the system is intended for use by other researchers or clinicians. In some cases, researchers have no alternative but to design new observational instruments if existing ones are inappropriate. 

    As with self-report instruments, however, we encourage researchers to explore the literature fully for potentially usable observational instruments. The use of an existing system not only saves considerable work but also facilitates comparisons among investigations. A few source books describe available observational instruments for certain research applications. 

    For example, the reference books by Frank-Stromberg and Olsen (1997) and Strickland and Waltz (1988), which describe instruments for measuring variables of relevance to nursing, include some observational instruments. The best source for such instruments, however, is recent research literature on the study topic. 

    For example, if you wanted to conduct an observational study of infant pain, a good place to begin would be recent research on this or similar topics to obtain information on how infant pain was operationalized.Many of these instrument’s focus on phenomena for which self-reports are not an option, such as behaviors and characteristics of infants, young children, and the very old. 

    Sampling for Structured Observations Researchers must decide how and when structured observational instruments will be used. Observational sampling is sometimes needed to obtain representative examples of behaviors without having to observe for prolonged periods. Note that observational sampling concerns the selection of behaviors to be observed, not the selection of study participants. 

    One method is time sampling, which involves the selection of time periods during which observations will occur. The time frames may be selected (eg, 30 seconds at 2-minute intervals), selected at random, or selected by a quota system. As an example, suppose we were studying mothers' interactions with their handicapped children. 

    Experimental group mothers have received instruction for addressing their conflict over their children's dependence independence needs, whereas control group mothers have not. To examine program effects, mother-child interactions are observed in a playground setting. During a 1-hour observation period, we sample moments to observe, rather than observing the entire session. 

    Let us say that observations are made at 3-minute intervals. If we used a systematic sampling approach, we would observe for 3 minutes, then cease observing for a prespecified period, say 3 minutes. With this scheme, a total of ten 3-minute observations would be made. 

    A second approach is to sample randomly 3-minute periods from the total of 20 such periods in an hour; a third is to use all 20 periods. The decision with regard to the length and number of periods for creating a suitable sample must be made in accordance with research aims. In establishing time units, a key consideration is determining a psychologically meaningful time frame. A good deal of pretesting and experimentation with different sampling plans may be necessary.

    Event sampling is a second system for obtaining observations. This approach uses integral behaviors or events for observation. Event sampling requires that the investigator either have some knowledge about the occurrence of events, or be in a position to await (or arrange) their occurrence. 

    Examples of integral events suitable for event sampling include shift changes of nurses in a hospital, cast removals of pediatric patients, and cardiac arrests in the emergency department. This approach is preferable to time sampling when the events of interest are infrequent and are at risk of being missed if time sampling is used. 

    Event sampling also has the advantage that situations are observed in their entirety rather than being fragmented into segments. Still, when behaviors and events are frequent, time sampling has the virtue of enhancing the representativeness of observed behaviors.

Structured Observations by Non-Research Observers 

    The research discussed thus far involves observations made and recorded by researchers or observer assistants. Sometimes, however, researchers ask others not connected with the research team to provide structured observational data, based on their observations of the characteristics, activities, and behaviors of others. 

    This method has much in common (in terms of format and scoring) with the self-report scales described in the primary difference is that the person completing the scale is asked to describe the attributes and behaviors of another person, based on their observations of that person. For example, a mother might be asked to describe the behavior problems of her preschool child or staff nurses might be asked to evaluate the functional capacity of nursing home residents. 

    Obtaining observational data from nonresearchers has practical advantages: It is economical compared with using trained observers. For example, observers might have to watch children for hours or days to describe the nature and intensity of behavior problems, whereas parents or teachers could do this readily. Some behaviors might never lend themselves to outsider observation because of reactivity, occurrence in private situations, or infrequency (eg, sleepwalking). 

    On the other hand, such methods may have the same problems as self-report scales (eg, responseset bias) in addition to observer bias. Observer bias may be extreme in some cases, such as often happens when parents are asked to provide information about their children. Nonresearch observers are typically not trained, and interobserver agreement usually cannot be determined. Thus, this approach has some problems but will inevitably continue to be used because, in many cases, there are no alternatives .

Mechanical Aids In Observations

    Our discussion has focused on observations made by observers directly through their visual and auditory senses. In this section, we look at mechanical aids that can be used to extend the human senses and secure permanent records of observational data. The health care field has a rich array of observational equipment that makes available conditions or attributes that are ordinarily imperceptible. 

    Nasal specula, stethoscopes, bronchoscopes, radiographic and imaging equipment, ultrasound technology, and a myriad of other medical instruments make it possible to gather observational information about people's health status and functioning for both clinical and research purposes. 

    In addition to equipment for enhancing physiologic observations, mechanical devices are available for recording behaviors and events, making analysis or categorization at a later time possible. When the behavior of interest is primarily auditory, tape recordings can be obtained and used as a permanent observational record. 

    Transcripts from such recordings can then be prepared to facilitate the coding or classification process. Such equipment may not be feasible in participant observation studies, unless recordings can be done unobtrusively or unless events being recorded are public, such as lectures or speeches. 

    Other technological instruments to aid auditory observation have been developed, such as laser devices that are capable of recording sounds by being directed on a window to a room, and voice tremor detectors that are sensitive to stress. Auditory recordings can also be subjected to computerized speech software analysis to obtain objective quantitative measures of certain features of the recordings (eg, volume, pitch). 

    When visual records are desired, videotapes can be used. In addition to being permanent, videotapes can capture complex behaviors that might elude notice by on-the-spot observers. Visual records are also more capable than the naked eye of capturing fine units of behavior, such as micromomentary facial expressions. Videotapes offer the possibility of checking the accuracy of coders or the recording skills of participant observers and so are useful as a training aid. 

    Finally, it is often easier to conceal a camera than a human observer. Video records also have a number of drawbacks, some of which are fairly technical, such as lighting requirements, lens limitations, and so forth. Other problems result from the fact that the camera angle adopted could present a lopsided view of an event or situation. Also, some participants may be more self-conscious in front of a video camera than they would otherwise be. 

    Still, for many applications, permanent visual records offer unparalleled opportunities to expand the range and scope of observational studies.Ethnographers sometimes create videotapes and photographs, particularly to document physical settings and other visually relevant aspects of a culture (eg, modes of dress). 

    Harper (1994), who has written about visual methods as research tools, has discussed the importance of learning to see through the lenses of the culture under study, and to take photographs reflecting that viewpoint. Also of interest is the growing technology for assisting with the encoding and recording of observations made directly by on-the-spot observers. 

    For example, there is equipment that permits observers to enter observational data directly into a computer as the observation occurs, and in some cases, the equipment can record physiologic data concurrently. Such a system was used in an interesting nursing study by White, Williams, Alexander, Powell-Cope, and Conlon (1990), who tested whether a taped bedtime story read to hospitalized children by their parents would help to ease separation anxiety.

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