Skip to main content
Search form
  • 00:00

    [MUSIC PLAYING][Using Institutional Ethnography as a Qualitiative ResearchMethod to Explore Higher Education Institutions]

  • 00:11

    LAURA PARSON: My name is Laura Parson,and I'm an assistant professor at Auburn University.[Laura Parson, Assistant Professor, Auburn University]I received my PhD in teaching and learning,higher education from the University of North Dakota.So broadly focused, when we thinkabout my researched areas, I lookat the experiences of individualsin higher education explored through a critical lens.More recently, I've focused on the experiences

  • 00:33

    LAURA PARSON [continued]: of women in STEM education.So from a broad perspective, I'm looking at effective teachingand learning, or effective learning.But because I explore that through a critical lens, whatI'm looking at is more than just the classroomexperiences, so thinking about pedagogical decisions,thinking about policy, practices,

  • 00:54

    LAURA PARSON [continued]: procedures in higher education and how those impact teachingand learning.More recently, I've really focusedon exploring how translocal practices are coordinatedfrom an institutional level.And that's why today I'm going to talkto you about institutional ethnographybecause that's a method that I'veused to explore how the individual experiences are

  • 01:14

    LAURA PARSON [continued]: structured through institutional practices.[What is institutional ethnography?]Institutional ethnography is a qualitative research method.It begins from the experiences of the individualand views that as a lens through whichto explore the institution.So looking at, from an individual perspective, how

  • 01:35

    LAURA PARSON [continued]: the institution's policies, practices, and proceduresare coordinating their work.Institutional ethnography is a powerful toolbecause it begins from the individual perspectiveand views the institution.So in that way, we can see how individual workor everyday work, which, in an institutional ethnography,goes beyond what happens in employment

  • 01:58

    LAURA PARSON [continued]: and focuses on all of the experiences of an individual.But it views that up to look at the institutionto see how those structures are coordinating their work.Because of that, it's a powerful wayto explore how individuals might be marginalized or challengedby an institution.So we can see from their experienceshow the institution's policies, practices, and procedures might

  • 02:21

    LAURA PARSON [continued]: be creating those challenges.[How has institutional ethnography been used?]Institutional ethnography as a methodwas developed by Dorothy Smith.And it's been used in many ways to explorethe experiences of nurses who work in wound work.It's been used to explore even policymaking

  • 02:42

    LAURA PARSON [continued]: and a little to explore education,thinking specifically about how mothersand mothering and schooling-- that work is related.However, with one or two exceptions,it hasn't been used to explore higher education.But institutional ethnography is very powerful.And I would argue it's a researchmethod that we need to be using to explore higher education.

  • 03:04

    LAURA PARSON [continued]: And the reason for that is higher educationas an institution was formed as a white male middle classstructure.And we see that the outcomes of students is still not equal.We see differences in outcome, in success, in access,and performance in higher education.But if we look at why that's happening-- too often,

  • 03:25

    LAURA PARSON [continued]: our research has focused on the individual,whether that's the individual studentor the individual faculty member.An institutional ethnography allowsus to start from the experiences of the individualand explore up, basically, see howthe institution's policies, practices, and procedures arecreating those challenges for students

  • 03:46

    LAURA PARSON [continued]: who might be underrepresented, for individuals who are havingsort of the underrepresentations or disadvantages in highereducation and explore how the institutionitself is creating those challenges.[What research questions are appropriatefor an institutional ethnography?]When we start to think about institutional ethnography,

  • 04:08

    LAURA PARSON [continued]: the first question is, what research questions are good?Why might we use an institutional ethnography?So one example of that would be researchthat I did on the experiences of undergraduate womenin STEM education.So we're looking at a group, lookingat a social institution, and identifying

  • 04:28

    LAURA PARSON [continued]: how that group's work is structured by the institution.I used an institutional ethnographyto explore how the experiences of womenin STEM education, undergraduate women--how the institution might be creating situationssuch as the "chilly climate," where they're uncomfortableand don't persist in education.So to look at their experiences as a lens

  • 04:49

    LAURA PARSON [continued]: to view how the institution mightbe marginalizing them and causingthem to leave the major.So when we think about using institutional ethnographyas a method, we have to think about the theoretical frameworkfirst.Institutional ethnography is framedthrough standpoint theory.So according to Sandra Harding, the central premise

  • 05:12

    LAURA PARSON [continued]: of feminist standpoint theory is that knowledge developsfrom lived experiences.Feminist standpoint theory emergedin the late 1970s as a response to Marxist feminism.As Nancy Hartsock states, "by reworking materialism,feminist standpoint theory provides a lensthrough which to explore how power is gendered."So this is the foundation of an institutional ethnography

  • 05:35

    LAURA PARSON [continued]: because, again, we're beginning from the experienceof the individual as a lens to explore the institution.The theoretical framework of standpoint theoryis critical to understand and seethat by exploring the experiencesof an oppressed group, we're moreable to see the institution from their perspectiveand how it might be marginalizing or disadvantaging

  • 05:56

    LAURA PARSON [continued]: them.[Methods-- Setting]So the first step in an institutional ethnography,after you've identified a social institution to explore,is to identify the setting in which you'dlike to explore the experiences of the participants as a viewto the institution.So when we think about setting, wewant to remember that we're looking at the setting not

  • 06:19

    LAURA PARSON [continued]: as one that is representative of the entire institution but onewhere you can identify the participants thatwill participate in your study.If we're looking at an institution, say, highereducation, and we want to look at STEM education,we don't need to explore or talk to participantsfrom every single STEM program in the nation.

  • 06:39

    LAURA PARSON [continued]: However, what we might want to dois identify one or two institutionsthat are going to be--in terms of institutions of higher educationthat have STEM programs and then identify participantsat that setting.So while we're working with translocal practices,we can think about our settings, as longas the institutional structures are similar

  • 07:02

    LAURA PARSON [continued]: and understand that because we'retalking to multiple participants within that setting,we'll be able to understand the institution.[Methods-- Selection of Participants]Once you've selected the setting,it's important to have ethical approval,such as through your institutional review board.In that process of receiving ethical approval,you have to identify how you're going

  • 07:23

    LAURA PARSON [continued]: to select your participants.So participants-- when we think about ethical approval,you'll need to identify what the criteria are.Of course, if we're exploring a social institution,we'll need to understand and identifywho is a member of that institution.And that's the first step.

  • 07:44

    LAURA PARSON [continued]: From there, once we've identified the setting,received IRB approval, then we'llwant to reach out to key stakeholdersand ask for their permission to connect us to participants whomight be willing to talk to us.As with all qualitative research,we need to consider ethics.And that means that we need to thinkabout our participants, their comfort,and how they're going to talk to us about their experiences.

  • 08:06

    LAURA PARSON [continued]: [Methods-- Data Collection & Analysis]Once you've identified the participantsthat you will study, the first thing that Ilike to do in an institutional ethnography--although I want to make it clear that there's multiple waysto go about data analysis, I recommendthat you start with interviewing your participants.The number of participants will vary--

  • 08:27

    LAURA PARSON [continued]: depends on the size of your research.But I would say that you would want to start with at leastfive to eight participants.These participants are those whose experiences are directlyinfluenced by the institution.Basically, the participants are those whose experiencesyou're studying to understand how the institution iscoordinating their work.So you begin in that first interview

  • 08:48

    LAURA PARSON [continued]: to understand their everyday work.Again, when we talk about everyday work,we don't mean work as it relates to employmentbut all of the day-to-day activities of their lives.And that first interview that you will dowill just explore their day-to-day experiences.In essence, you'll ask them to describe for you whatthey do on a day-to-day basis.From there, data collection and data analysis

  • 09:09

    LAURA PARSON [continued]: is an iterative process.So that first interview is going to do two things.You're going to review that interviewto identify the different areas of life that are beingcoordinated by the institution.And that will lead to additional data collection.So you'll for example, if you're looking and--if you're exploring the experiences of a student,

  • 09:31

    LAURA PARSON [continued]: they might talk to you about how theyknow what assignments they have and when they're due.And you might say, well, how do you know?And that could lead you to explore a syllabusor to talk to a professor.And so that means the next level of data collectionis you identify that syllabus, and you alsomight want to talk to that professor.So in that way, as we're exploring their experiences,

  • 09:53

    LAURA PARSON [continued]: we're looking further and furtherat the layers of policy, practices, documents, data,additional stakeholders that are informingtheir day-to-day activities.In that way, data collection is iterativeand data analysis is iterative because at each layer of datacollection, you're going to analyze again and say, OK,

  • 10:14

    LAURA PARSON [continued]: how is this work coordinated?So using, again, the same example of the syllabusand the student's work and assignments, wemight review that syllabus and look at it and see at the endwhere there's a long list of policies and procedures.So the policies and procedures aren't started there.They aren't only formed, for the most part, in that syllabus,but those inform understanding of policies and procedures

  • 10:37

    LAURA PARSON [continued]: at that higher education institution.So again, we're at that syllabus and we'regoing to look even further to find wherethose policies, procedures, and practices,where the root of them are, say, at the institutional level.And so in that way, data collectionis complete when we've identified these root policydocuments.So you'll know when you have found that root document

  • 10:59

    LAURA PARSON [continued]: because it's not referring to any other policies,practices, procedures, written lawsthat will tell you where to go.Once you've reached that point, then youcan begin the second stage of data analysis.And that's going to involve two things.One is thematic analysis.And I recommend that you refer to Carspecken's workon critical ethnography.

  • 11:22

    LAURA PARSON [continued]: And then when we think about discourse analysis, whichis analyzing the text, I'm going to recommendthat you look at Gee and Faircloughto learn more about analysis in that process.But once you've done that analysis,you've already identified the policies and practices.What we're doing in this critical last stageis identifying the themes.So not only what written policies and procedures

  • 11:46

    LAURA PARSON [continued]: are coordinating work, but the discourses, the themes,the ideas that are behind the policies and proceduresthat we see and motivating those discourses.So for example, if I refer back again to STEM educationand we're thinking about a policy that grades on a curve,we might be-- we might look at a syllabus for the reason

  • 12:08

    LAURA PARSON [continued]: why or where it's written that grading is done on a curve.But if we're looking at what motivates that,we might look deeper into STEM educationand see that there is an idea in STEM educationthat competition is going to--that competition is required for studentsto be truly successful in STEM education.

  • 12:29

    LAURA PARSON [continued]: So we've identified on one side where it's written that gradingwill be done on a curve.And then we've identified the discourseon the other side of competition that's motivating that policy.[Ethics]So the final thing before I concludeis to let us think about ethics again.

  • 12:49

    LAURA PARSON [continued]: So in all qualitative research, it'sso important that we think about the protectionof our participants.But at this level, not only do wewant to think about protecting our participants,such as by assigning a pseudonym,but we also need to remember that we'reexploring their experiences to look at an institution.We also have to be very thoughtful about if we identify

  • 13:10

    LAURA PARSON [continued]: the institution, as well.So it's possible that if we identify an institutionand we have some of the salient, rich quotes that we'regoing to get in our data collection in our interviews,for example, that someone who is alsoa member of that institution, or familiar with it,simply by identifying the institutioncould read about that and then identify participants.

  • 13:31

    LAURA PARSON [continued]: So we also have to be careful that wedon't identify the institution.And so if we're thinking about institutional policiesand practices, we might have to removecertain pieces of information--blind that.And we let them know in our methods sectionso that we can prevent the institution from beingidentified.[Conclusion]

  • 13:51

    LAURA PARSON [continued]: In conclusion, I've given you just a brief overviewof institutional ethnography.Obviously, there's a lot more to learn.And I recommend that you think about lookingat the work of Dorothy Smith, who developedinstitutional ethnography.It is a powerful tool through whichwe can explore the institution of higher educationand use it as a method to understand through whichstudents, faculty, administrators, and staff

  • 14:13

    LAURA PARSON [continued]: how their work is structured and maybehow the institution creates challengesor marginalizes them.Through an institutional ethnography,we're seeking multiple perspectives.And that can help us understand and make recommendationsfor changes to institutional practicesto improve the experiences of our students, our faculty,our staff, and our administrators.

  • 14:34


Video Info

Publisher: SAGE Publications Ltd

Publication Year: 2018

Video Type:Tutorial

Methods: Ethnography, Applied research

Keywords: discourse in organizations; educational equity; educational institutions; educational systems and institutions; equality and inequality; excluded/marginalized voices; feminism; gatekeepers; practices, strategies, and tools; privacy issues; use of informants ... Show More

Segment Info

Segment Num.: 1

Persons Discussed:

Events Discussed:



Laura Parson explores the process of using an institutional ethnography methodology from research question formation to publication.

Looks like you do not have access to this content.

Using Institutional Ethnography as a Qualitative Research Method to Explore Higher Education Institutions

Laura Parson explores the process of using an institutional ethnography methodology from research question formation to publication.

Copy and paste the following HTML into your website