Cognitive Ethnography

Reading Schedule | Project Due Dates | Assignments | Textbooks | Policies

Course and Instructor Information

Course Numbers: ACN 6V81 and EMAC 6375
Meeting Time: Monday, 7:00pm-9:45pm
Meeting Location: ATC 2.602
Instructor: Professor Matthew J. Brown
Course Website:
Office Hours: Monday-Tuesday 5:00-6:00pm, JO 4.120, or by appointment
Schedule an appointment:

Course Description

Cognitive Ethnography is a method for the study of cognition in everyday activities. Students in this course will learn to observe, document, and analyze cognitive processes in real-world settings. The course will challenge the assumption that cognition can be studied independent of cultural and ecological setting, social interaction, communication, and the body. We will build an understanding of the interaction between culture, cognition, and communication based on cognitive ethnographic methods, and on theories and concepts from distributed cognition, cultural psychology, and situated learning perspectives that provide the foundations of cognitive ethnography. The use of these methods and theories to study media, engineering practice, scientific research, human-computer interaction, and system design will be emphasized.

Student Learning Objectives

  1. Students will learn and practice the qualitative methodology of cognitive ethnography. (Assessed via Cognitive Ethnography Project)
  2. Students will gain the basic knowledge of embodied, situated, and distributed cognition approaches. (Assessed via participation in class discussion of readings and Cognitive Ethnography Project)
  3. Students will produce original research on a field site relevant to their curricular interests using cognitive-ethnographic methods. (Assessed via Cognitive Ethnography Project)
  4. Students will learn to engage in the professional academic practice of peer review. (Assessed via Peer Review Assignments)
  5. Students will learn the basics of ethical conduct of human subjects research. (Assessed via Ethics Training component of Cognitive Ethnography Project)

Textbooks and Readings

There is only one book you are required to order for this course:

The book has been ordered at Off Campus Books, and likely cannot be found at the on-campus Follett University Bookstore. This book is available electronically through MIT Cognet, which you access through the UT Dallas Library. All other readings will be provided electronically as PDFs. It is my recommendation that you purchase a physical copy of the book, and you print all of the articles, as the research seems to show that paper texts are more effective cognitive artifacts for scaffolding learning and recall than most digital texts. Alternatively, you may use a distraction-free eReader to access the texts.

Detailed Schedule of Readings

  1. 8/24 – Introduction: Cognition? Ethnography? Cognitive Ethnography?
  2. 8/31 – Situating Cognition
  3. 9/7 – Labor day holiday
  4. 9/14 – Distributed Cognition I
  5. 9/21 – Distributed Cognition II
    • Read CitW, Chapters 5-7
  6. 9/28 – Distributed Cognition III
    • Read CitW, Chapters 8-9
  7. 10/5 – Transcription and Professional Vison
  8. 10/12 – Cognitive Ethnography of Science I
  9. 10/19 – Cognitive Ethnography of Science II
  10. 10/26 – Cognitive Ethnography of Design
  11. 11/2 – Cultural Models
  12. 11/9 – Cognitive Ethnography of Education
  13. 11/16 – Cognitive Artifacts
  14. 11/23 – Fall break
  15. 11/30 – Interaction & Embodiment
  16. 12/7 – Embodied Animal Cognition and Human Origins


  1. Cognitive Ethnography Project — The main assignment for this course will be a multi-step cognitive ethnography. During the early part of the course, you will be required to choose a field site to conduct your cognitive ethnography. You will spend at least a few hours at for field site each week during the term. At several points you will be asked to turn in activities that focus on different cognitive-ethnographic methods, such as field notes, photo documentation, video documentation, interviewing, transcription, and analyzing cultural models and activities. These parts will culminate in a final report. (See handout)

  2. Attendance and class participation.

  3. Reading quizzes as needed — To ensure that all members of the class are keeping up with the reading assignments.

Course Policies

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