Preparations for Fieldwork: Perspectives in Human Ecology

Dwight Giles, Instructor Spring 1992

Section 1: Tuesday and Thursday, 10: 10 12:05, Room NC3 5 MVR
Section 2: Tuesday and Thursday, 2:30 4:25, Room NG35 MVR

OFFICE HOURS: Mondays, 1:30 4:00, and by appointment, Room 170d MVR

Michael Dill
Susan Losee
Steve Sharon
Sharon Siegel
Paul Weisenfeld

Teaching Assistants’ Office Hours are posted on Room 154, MVR, they will also be distributed in class.


The goal of FIS 200 is to provide pre-field students with instruction and practice field learning skills that will enable them to enhance their learning from field study, internships, and other experiential learning courses. These skills include: analysis of assumptions, perceptions, and biases; field data gathering methods such as participant observation and interviewing; analysis of non-verbal communication; self-directed learning skills such as critical reflection and setting learning objectives, and effective communication and interaction in small groups.


The focus of FIS 200 is on the multiple cultural settings that students encounter in the small group, organization, and community contexts of their field study experiences. FIS 200 attempts to prepare students to analyze and understand the ecology of these settings and to make transitions across different cultural settings. This focus includes small-scale cultural settings such as a department in an organization or a neighborhood within a community as well as larger cultural settings such as ethnic and racial groups and national societies.


The learning activities of FIS 200 include structured participation in organization and community settings and analysis of these skill building exercises. Through a cycle of action and reflection, students experience participant observation, interviewing problem solving, small group dynamics, self directed learning, and cross cultural communication. Working in small task groups, students apply and synthesize their skills to produce ethnographies of selected cultural settings in the Ithaca area.

During the first part of the course, we will focus on beginning the process of self directed learning and on acquiring the basic concepts of and tools for experiential learning. Also you will be introduced to, and will practice, observation and interviewing. Because in field projects the observer is often the data gathering instrument, we will examine assumptions, perceptions, and biases at individual and cultural levels.

During the second phase, as the major part of the course, you will be assigned to a task group of approximately six students. Each task group will be assigned a topic around which it will design and carry out a study of one aspect of the Field Project which is developed in cooperation with key community people in the local area. Working with the community project sponsors, we will develop a research data gathering plan from which we will generate interview and observation data. Each group will then analyze its data and present its findings to the community sponsor. In addition to the Field Project report, each task group will monitor and analyze its own internal dynamics in order to develop an understanding of group process and interpersonal interaction

This semester The Field Research Project will focus on understanding the needs of working parents, especially in regard to child care and transportation. We will work with local day care centers and groups, Cornell’s Office of Transportation Services, Cornell’s Working Families Project, and other community groups to carry out a study that will provide needed information for planning child care and transit systems in Tompkins County. On April 29, we will make an oral report to the project sponsors.

During the last week of the course we will examine the experience of engaging in fieldwork by critically reflecting on the events of the previous twelve weeks. We will use this reflection to develop some theoretical perspectives on social structure in organizational and community settings. The course will conclude with an assessment of each student’s learning of field skills that will serve as a transition experience for developing learning objectives for subsequent field study.


1. Required Texts

Two books are required for the course and can be purchased from the Cornell Campus Store or Triangle Book Store:

Lofiand, John and Lyn H. Lofland, Analyzing Social Settings: A Guide for Observation and Analysis. (Second Edition) 1984.

Stanton, Timothy and Kamil Ali,The Experienced Hand: A Student Manual for Making the Most of an Internship

2. Optional Additional Reading

Articles and book excerpts are on reserve at Mann Library; two, additional sets of readings are available in The Field and International Study Resource and Advising Center in 159 MNR for use in that room only

Biagi, Bob “Observing How Your Group Does What It Does,” in Working Together: Manual for Helping Work More Effectively, Chapter V1, pp. 68 85.

Coleman, J. “Differences Between Experiential and Classroom Learning,” Ch. 5, pp. 49761.

Knowles, M. “Some Guidelines for the Use of Learning Contracts in Learning,” in Using Learning Contracts, Appendix B, pp. 27 47.

Whyte, William Foote, Learning From the Field: A Guide From Experience.


The grading schema is based on a 100 point scale and includes class participation, performance, on assignments, rating by task group peers, and a group grade on the Field Project.


Assignment #1: Observing in Ithaca = 10 points
Assignment #2: Field Site Observation Report = 10
Assignment #3: Field Interview Report = 10
Learning Plan #1 = 10*
Learning Plan #2 = 10
Learning Plan #3 = 10
Class Participation = 15
Mid Semester Evaluation = 10*

Critical Incident Journal = 5 points
Field Project = (Group Points)
Oral Report = 5
Written Report = 15
Final Self Evaluation Report =10

Total = 100 points

* = These assignments will not be graded but if not handed in there will be a five point penalty.