Contextual Inquiry: Observation

Part of these packages: Observe and design

Supported by these technologies: Dropbox,

Based on their design brief, students identify who and what to observe to inform their design result, for example practices or environments of particular people or animals. Their choice depends on who they are designing for, what they are designing and the initial challenges they want to address. Student teams perform their planned observation by using digital cameras, notebooks and microphones to document what they see. They share their collected media files and analyze them. Based on their collected information and analysis, the students refine their design brief, especially the design challenges and design results. They then record a reflection and update their blog. Classroom time needed: 1-3 lesson(s)

TERMINOLOGY – An inquiry is an act of asking for information. Observation is indicated to be the way. In our design activities, the word contextual refers to the circumstances that the students would like to design for or place their design into. So, here, the students use observation to collect information about the situation and factors of their design and that may inform their design.

1. Getting started

  • Look at the blogs of each student team, especially their design briefs.
  • Support the teams that have not updated their blogs and design briefs.
  • Listen to the reflection recordings of each team.
  • Identify suitable locations and settings for each team, to support them if needed.

2. Introduction

  • Introduce the activity/the workshop to the students
  • Tell them that all of their senses need to be there when observing the people, practices or environments they identified.
  • Make sure that each team has documentation equipment (cameras, notebooks, microphone etc.)
  • Make sure that each team has selected people, places and/or practices to observe.

3. Activity

schoolworkhomework Teams go out to do their observation, either together or individually.

schoolwork Teams sort through the media files and notes they collected, they group and annotate them.

schoolwork Teams analyse their notes and record design challenges and design ideas.

schoolwork Teams discuss the following questions: 1. How did the workshop go? What interesting information was collected? Does the design brief still make sense or does it need changes? How does it need to change?

schoolwork Students write their Design Brief 2 and record their Reflection 2.

homework Teams find more information on the topic (from books, internet, etc.) and collect it to a shared space.

homework Design Brief blog post: Students add their Design Brief 2 to the blog and label or tag it with “design brief”.

homework Design Process blog post: Students use their reflection recording to write what they did, what challenges they had and what challenges they can foresee. They label or tag the post with “design process”.

homework Design Results blog post: Students add their collected pictures and other media files to the blog and describe what these findings mean in relation to their design. They may include drawings of design ideas. They label or tag the post with “design results”.

TIP: Teachers who tried this activity reported that it presented a great opportunity for  reflecting with students about the pros and cons of using ICT tools in school. Try that with your students.

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This post is also available in: Turkish

9 Responses to Contextual Inquiry: Observation

  1. Adil Tugyan says:

    In our present education system in Turkey ,all the students focus on tests and exams so all they have is multiply choice questions ,they do not make any researches ,what they get is ready information created to increase test scores.I believe that these kind of activities will change the way we educate our students ,and our students’ point of view about learning.I cannot wait cycle 3 to start .Searching,recording compiling information ,brainstormimg sharing and bringing certain results about will provide students with lots of benefits.

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  2. Anna Keune says:


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  3. Katalin Skultety says:

    In this activity my pupils collected information via the Internet, they made a google-doc and at the end an interactive flipbook. But they would have gone to the buildings and observed it, taken photos, drawn some pictures. They would have visited these museums and collected information from their real visit. But they enjoyed the google-docs, the flipbooks.

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    • Adil Tugyan says:

      When ı first taught google docs to my students ,they were a bit suprised and thought it would not work,But now they even study together for their exams on google docs.

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  4. Tânia Santos e Sónia Neves says:

    A saída de campo dos grupos de alunos correu, na generalidade, bem. Os alunos fotografaram, filmaram e recolheram informação sobre os locais conforme o planeado.
    Os dois grupos que não realizaram esta tarefa segundo o que estava planificado, tiveram até ao fim do processo muita dificuldade em acompanhar os colegas nas restantes atividades.
    Os alunos aprenderam a criar blogues e a colocar posts sobre as suas actividades. Apesar desta tarefa ter demorado mais que o inicialmente previsto, foi muito positiva pois houve auto-aprendizagem e cooperação entre os alunos.
    A gravação da reflexão no TeamUp não foi muito bem sucedida, a maior parte dos grupos não tinham discutido previamente os textos e por isso só alguns puderam fazer a gravação durante a aula.

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  5. Zoltán Farkas says:

    What worked well:
    We discovered a new way for using ICT (IWB, netbooks) and pupils enjoyed that we use them not for classical subject-related tasks but for everyday „important” things.

    We went beyond traditional information aquirement-based learning and pupils get to know the differences between the two worlds. But some pupils refused the new methodes and suggested to turn back to traditional learning methods. Another group of learners as digital natives came to the conclusion that they become closed out from the normal (non-digital) world and as captives of the digital world they think about the Gutenberg-world of teachers and parents with a nostalgical feeling. (This nostalgic feeling presumably won’t last long.)
    Paradoxon: some of thesed ICT-related experiences were captured and shared with the help of web 2.0 tools.

    Additional benefits:
    To make a mobile phone based opinion poll seemed to be an imposing solution, but the summary of data was more complicated than with traditional meens so we draw the conclusions in a moderated conversation.

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    • Adil Tugyan says:

      hello Zoltan,
      The way you used mobile phone is a great idea.Soon thanks to 3.0 semantic web we will do every task with mobile phones this is a very exciting development for education as well .All the best 🙂

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    • Aydın says:

      Hi Zoltan,

      While I was reading, your classification of students as digital age and others made the point more sensitive, the future seems for this generation.

      “the Gutenberg-world of teachers and parents with a nostalgical feeling” .. so interesting identity. 🙂 It reflects similarity with “Newtonian world” in the same side. But in any sense, these generations will need good and skilled teachers of this digital technology .

      Your experience is very influential to reflect its classification, and as in my experiences with the same sides, per se. 🙂


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  6. Anna Keune says:

    check 2

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