Course observation journal #5

TEL 705
June 30, 2018

Part 1: Worksite

For my final course observation journal, I observed the “Arizona Farmers Market” in downtown Phoenix on a Saturday morning in the summer. This market is open every Saturday, year-round, and it is an open-air market where vendors, farmers and other businesses bring various agricultural and craft goods. I think this relates to my problem of practice as a loosely coupled system, as many schools are, and so I’ve intentionally sought this space out to suspend what I think I know and just observe what’s happening in the space.

Part 2: Observation notes — Saturday, June 30, 2018

I observed the market on a Saturday morning, and in traditional Phoenix fashion, it was already pretty hot when we arrived around 8:30am. As we approached the market, which takes place in a mostly covered parking lot adjacent to a cafe, there was a free yoga class taking place. There were probably a few hundred people milling about, and probably about 60 people in the cafe.  There were vendors of all types, offering a variety of products: produce, breads, coffee, meats, cheeses, assorted pastries, jellies and honey, and craft goods like crochet dolls and scarves. Each vendor had their own designated space, and most were set up with their goods on tables, with prices displayed. Most all vendors offered samples, and some had literature and/or advertisements on display. There were also food trucks selling prepared foods. As far as customers, there seemed to be people from all walks of life, as well as several dogs accompanying people throughout the space. There weren’t many formal educational activities happening in the space, but I did notice that many vendors would offer cooking tips or preparation advice for their goods. Many vendors seemed to know and have relationships with repeat customers.

As a system, the market definitely has an established structure and set of operations. The market is open every Saturday of the year, and some of the vendors I observed seem to be regular participants/sellers. While the space wasn’t overtly or explicitly educational, there were lots of examples that would relate to school systems in the US. The aforementioned informal education happening where vendors would share preparation or cooking details is one example, but there was also a sense of exploration and learning on the part of potential customers who would ask questions about products they’d never tried before. You could almost imagine this space as a kind of school set up, where students might mill around the different learning opportunities, and kind of “shop” for the experiences they’d like to have.

Part 3: Readings

I came into the observation expecting to be reminded of loosely coupled systems (Weick, 1976), and for the most part I was. But I have had Lewis’s work on improvement science on the brain lately, and so I thought about the ideas of variation in a system, as well as short bursts of implementation and reflection as a way to improve. I think this space did have a wide degree of variation in terms of the products offered, but that was expected. I think one way that the Lewis piece jumped out to me was all the different ways customers could pay. Unlike the Uptown Farmers Market, which requires patrons to purchase special market coins to pay for all products, this market’s vendors took cash, credit card, or both. But a few vendors were cash only, while some didn’t have changed and needed credit card. I think the opportunity to reduce the variation in the system connects to Lewis for me here.

Lewis, C. (2015). What is improvement science? Do we need it in education? Educational Researcher, Vol . 44(1), 54-61.

Part 4: Integrations

As I finish these course observations, I still have so many questions about connecting what I’ve learned over the past few weeks to where I’m headed with my PoP. Here are a few of them:

  • Given all of the different elements we’ve explored through the literature, how do I build a coherent systems theory for my dissertation? Should I be combining elements of different theories, or should I pick one and leverage it?
  • Given all of the different spaces I’ve observed throughout the course, should I be taking lessons from each of those places and trying to insert them into how I frame my PoP? I’m sure that part of this observation has been to enhance my qualitative observation skills for research, but I guess part of what I’m wondering is how I actively, explicitly go improve on that.

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