July 2013: Ethnography in Education

Guest Editor Morgan G. Ames

Guest Editor
Morgan G. Ames

Welcome to this month’s theme on ethnography in education research! From the promise of radio learning nearly a century ago, to the recent hype around One Laptop Per Child, to the current excitement around massive open online courses (MOOCs), education has been a site of constant reform efforts – or, as education researcher Larry Cuban puts it, “tinkering.” While using “big data” to evaluate these reforms has its allure (and can be useful in ethnographic research, as Jenna and Ayman have shown us in previous posts), ethnography is unique in being able to dig below the surface and uncover the complicated processes and contingent effects of education and education reform.


This month’s authors highlight how ethnography can uncover unexpected results or answer difficult questions about some of the thorniest problems in education reform, especially the persistence of various kinds of inequality. Our first article, by Christo Sims (@christosims), tackled this question head-on in an ethnography of a technology-focused public school in New York that inexplicably had many of its less advantaged students transfer out. With his research, Christo was able to say why this was happening and what it means for other efforts for digital inclusion.

Coming up next, we will hear from Ricarose Roque (@ricarose), who is working to break down some of the stubborn gender, racial, and socioeconomic divides in computer science and bring the programming environment Scratch to a more diverse community. She will talk about some of the unexpected benefits parents experienced in the qualitative focus groups she has been conducting as part of her research.

Later in the month, Sheila Frye (@sheila_frye) will tell us about her research on interactive eBooks, which promote active reading habits – a crucial part of literacy – to children who may not learn this skill otherwise. Sheila uses ethnography to take a close look at both the benefits and the potential drawbacks of interactive eBooks. Her enthusiasm for ethnographic methods is infectious; she is one of the few graduate students we know who LOVES her dissertation work!

Aaminah Norris (@aaminahm) examines the links between ‘critical literacies’ and ‘design thinking’ in the classroom, and how teachers and students use both to negotiate their transnational, racialized and gender identities. Here, she will discuss a particular professional training session that teachers participated in, focused on diversity. Aaminah also takes a reflexive look at diversity in education based on her own experiences as a qualitative researcher of color.

Then, Alexander Cho (@alexcho47) will explore the lived experience of economically disadvantaged and minority high school students who are attending a low-income high school, sandwiched between freeways and strip malls, in the midst of a wealthy suburb of Texas. His group’s ethnographic exploration brings home the importance of experiences of place – both school and neighborhood – to what it means to be “suburban poor,” a phenomenon that is quickly becoming a defining feature of American cities.

As our final guest author, Chelsey Hauge (@chelseyhauge) provides a perspective on ethnography in education outside of the United States with her fascinating account of doing ethnographic research on a youth radio organization in Nicaragua – while also running the program. She shows us that her deep entanglements with the program were an asset, not a liability, and invites us to reflect on the entanglements that any ethnographic research necessarily creates.

We’ll finish off a month with an interview of education, ethnography, and digital inclusion with Mizuko ‘Mimi’ Ito (@mizuko). Mimi has some impressive experience with the topics covered this month: she is the Research Director at the Digital Media and Learning Hub, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Chair in Digital Media and Learning, and a Professor in Anthropology and Informatics at UC Irvine (after getting two PhDs from Stanford). And she is as kind and generous as she is brilliant. We look forward to sharing her insights with you to round out this month’s special edition on ethnography in education.

So as you can see, we have a stellar lineup to explore just how important an ethnographic approach is in education research, especially for really understanding and overcoming issues of inequality. Stay tuned!

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

9 Responses to “July 2013: Ethnography in Education”

  1. Jon
    July 12, 2013 at 11:31 am #

    You might enjoy these two ethnographic design research reports from MyEdu, focused on higher education from the perspective of a student:

    1. Academic research journey summary

    2. Academic research journey full report



  1. Collateral Benefits: Focus Groups as Social Support Groups | Ethnography Matters - July 15, 2013

    […] Note: Ricarose Roque (@ricarose) continues this month’s theme of ethnography in education with a lovely piece about some unexpected results of qualitative focus groups she ran with groups […]

  2. Interactive eBooks and Reading Comprehension – I’ll Meet You There | Ethnography Matters - July 18, 2013

    […] Editor’s Note: Our next author, Sheila Frye (@sheila_frye), wears many hats: she is an educator with fifteen years’ experience, a reading specialist, a literacy innovation researcher, and a doctoral candidate studying the design of learning environments. Her research focuses on the crossroads between interactive eBooks and reading comprehension.  She has teaching certifications in reading, special education, and educational supervision, and blogs at http://teachingliteracy.tumblr.com. We are honored to feature her insights – and, as you will see, her wonderful exuberance – in this month’s theme on ethnography in education. […]

  3. Connecting the Dots: Researcher Positionality in Participant Observation | Ethnography Matters - July 28, 2013

    […] Editor’s Note: Aaminah Norris (@aaminahm) is just about to finish her PhD in the Graduate School of Education at UC Berkeley. She studies “critical making” and “design thinking” movements in an urban school, particularly the ways that its students use design thinking to develop methods to negotiate their racial and gender identities, which in turn relates to their self-efficacy. We’re excited to hear her perspectives on ethnographer positionality as a researcher and a woman of color as a contribution to this month’s theme on ethnography in education. […]

  4. Ethnography and the Geography of Learning | Ethnography Matters - July 28, 2013

    […] media in their daily lives. We are excited that he is contributing to this month’s theme on ethnography in education with and exploration of the lived experience of economically disadvantaged and minority high […]

  5. Why Digital Inequality Scholarship Needs Ethnography | Ethnography Matters - July 28, 2013

    […] Note: We are excited to kick off this month’s theme on what ethnography can bring to education research with a post by Professor Christo Sims (@christosims). Christo has insights from a public school […]

  6. Ethnographic Entanglements: How having multiple roles enriched my research in Nicaragua | Ethnography Matters - July 29, 2013

    […] Note: the final guest author for this month’s Ethnography in Education theme, Chelsey Hauge (@chelseyhauge), is finishing her PhD this coming year at the Department of […]

  7. On the Importance of Ethnography in Education: an interview with Mizuko ‘Mimi’ Ito | Ethnography Matters - July 31, 2013

    […] Note: We finish off this month’s theme on ethnography in education with an interview with Mizuko ‘Mimi’ Ito (@mizuko). Mimi has some impressive experience with […]

  8. Putting people first » EthnographyMatters on ethnography and education - August 1, 2013

    […] month’s edition of EthnographyMatters is dedicated to education. Says editor Morgan G. Ames, “ethnography is unique in being able to dig below the surface […]

Leave a Reply