Interactional Ethnography and Problem-Based Learning


Contributor: Judith Green

The governing principles of operation and conduct and the theoretical perspectives guiding the iterative, recursive and abductive (IRA) logic and actions that constitute Interactional Ethnography (IE) as a logic-of-inquiry are presented in this chapter. This logic-of-inquiry guides outsiders (ethnographers) as they seek to develop understandings of what insiders need to know, understand, produce and predict as they learn with, and from, others in educational and social environments. Specifically, an IE logic-of-inquiry supports researchers in exploring what is being constructed in and through micro moments of discourse-in-use, historical roots of observed phenomena, and macro level actors and sources that support and/or constrain opportunities for learning afforded to, constructed by, and taken up (or not), by participants in purposefully designed educational programs. To accomplish these goals, IE researchers seek to develop grounded understandings of learning as a socially constructed process, and how learning processes vary with actors (participants) and events being constructed. This approach also explores goals of participants (and institutional actors) as they propose and develop meanings, interactions, and activity across configurations of actors, times and events.

While IE’s origins were in studies of elementary classrooms, we are now building a suite of ethnographic studies in professional education that focus on dialogic, inquiry-based designs and are examining disciplinary learning at various levels of scale (classroom/course/programme/ curriculum). In all of these studies, researchers have participated as internal and external ethnographers along with often, inter-professional, teams as cultural, disciplinary guides and co-researchers (see part B of suggested readings).

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Video Resources

Learning Scientists Who Have Researched This Topic

  • Susan Bridges
  • Judith Green
  • Cindy Hmelo-Silver
  • Melinda Kalainoff
  • Gregory Kelly