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The Strengths and Limitations of Observation

The observation offers a researcher the opportunity to gather ‘live’ data from naturally occurring social situations. In this way, the researcher can look directly at what is happening in situations rather than relying on second-hand reports. The use of immediate awareness, or direct cognition, as a principal way of research thus has the potential to yield more valid or authentic data than would otherwise be the case with mediated or inferential methods (Cohen, Manion, & Horrison, 2007). Robson (2002) also stated that what people do may differ from what they say they do, and observation provides a reality check; observation also enables a researcher to look afresh at everyday behavior that otherwise might be taken for granted or become unnoticed (Cooper & Schindler 2001). Additionally, observational data may be useful for recording non-verbal behavior, behavior in natural or actual settings, and analysis (Bailey 1994).

On the other hand, the lack of control in observing in natural settings may render observation less useful. It is also coupled with difficulties in measurement, and problems of small samples. Moreover, there are some challenges in gaining access and negotiating entry, and difficulties in maintaining anonymity (Bailey 1994).

Gold (1958) made a well-known classification of researcher three roles in observation including complete observer, observer-as-participant, and participant-as-observer. When researcher plays a role as a complete observer, he or she is very passive. Despite his or her presence in the scene, they do not have great extent involvement and interaction with insiders. The researcher’s merely role is to listen and observe. This makes them invisible while, at the same time, ubiquitous in order to overhear (Gold, 1958; Gorman and Clayton, 2005; Spradley,1980). The strength of this role is allowing the researcher to stay completely detached from the group. However, its weakness is preventing the researcher from hearing entire conversation or obtaining full insight of information exchange. Also, he or she cannot make any inquiry about what insiders think, say, do or answers.

Gold (1958) and Pearsall (1970) stated that once a researcher adopt role as an observer as participant, they focus more on observation than on participation and thus they slightly get involved with insiders. By becoming involved in observing, the researcher may conduct short interviews. Pearsall (1970) identified the two advantages of this role. First, the insiders probably have willingness to talk to attentive strangers than they would talk to familiar people. Second, the researcher is not likely to go native and neither the natives try to include researcher permanently in their lives.  Nevertheless, this role that enables the researcher to have brief encounters with insiders decreases chances of obtaining knowledge of entire situation. Besides, Gold (1985) viewed this role as a cause of frustration to the researcher who is not able to take time to master the insiders’ universal conversation.

In the role of participant as observer, the researcher become more involved with the insiders’ central activities, but he or she is still not committed to insiders’ value and goal (Adler & Adler, 1987, 1994). During observation, the researcher may develop relationship (becoming a friend) with the insiders. Pearsall (1970) viewed this relationship as the great advantages because, as friends, the insiders can tell the research about the complicate detail of the personal and social world.  On the other hand, Gold (1985) found this relationship problematic. First, the insiders may know too much about researcher and may change their role from information givers to become like observers instead. Second, the researcher may over identify with the insider, loose objectivity, and go native and thus this might have negative effects on her or his role as the observer or researcher.

The Adoption of the Three Roles of an Observer in the Hun Sen Library

The researcher who plays a role as complete observer will observe how students sit on table reading. The research will position himself a bit distance from the students, but he will make sure that he is able to listen and see clearly what students are doing and talking. There are three research focuses. The first research focus is on what students read. This implies that researcher will observe what kinds of reading materials like, books, magazines, newspapers and journals are commonly used by students. He also observes whether those reading materials are in Khmer, in English or in other languages. Another focus is on how student read. Do students prefer to read loudly or quietly and individually or in group? The last focus lies in whether or not students take note while reading, and if so, how do they take note (by using their note books or Cameras in their phones) ?

As the research adopts a role as an observer as participant, he will locate himself close to students and become one of them who are renting and using library computers. However, he will remain conscious of his role that is focusing mainly on observation than becoming active participated. The researcher has three research focuses and he will observe and shortly interview students. Firstly, he is interested in what student use computers in library for. Do students use the internet for searching specific information, building up general knowledge or enjoying pleasure? Or do they use computers without internet just for completing their assignments like typing, reading and printing? Secondly, how long do students spend time using computers in the library? Lastly, he wants to know if the environment, convenience and price encourage students to rent library computers instead of computes elsewhere.

If the researcher assumes a role as a participant as observer, he will volunteer to be member of librarian who are in charge of putting away all the reading materials. He will try to build good rapport with other volunteers, so that he can obtain sufficient and valid information. This role requires him to move around in library and especially at book shelves and reading tables. The researcher will focuses on four research questions. Why do people volunteer to work as librarians? Is working environment in the library conducive for creating good relationship among volunteer working there? Are there any significant differences between interaction of female and male volunteer? And who are more enthusiastic, active and productive in their jobs among volunteers?


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