Friday, 3 October 2014



Case study is an ideal methodology when a holistic, in-depth investigation is needed. Case studies have been used in varied investigations, particularly in sociological studies, but increasingly, in instruction. Yin, Stake, and others who have wide experience in this methodology have developed robust procedures. When these procedures are followed, the researcher will be following methods as well developed and tested as any in the scientific field. Whether the study is experimental or quasi-experimental, the data collection and analysis methods are known to hide some details. Case studies, on the other hand, are designed to bring out the details from the viewpoint of the participants by using multiple sources of data.
Yin has identified some specific types of case studies: Exploratory, Explanatory, and Descriptive. Stake included three others: Intrinsic - when the researcher has an interest in the case; Instrumental - when the case is used to understand more than what is obvious to the observer; Collective - when a group of cases is studied. Exploratory cases are sometimes considered as a prelude to social research. Explanatory case studies may be used for doing causal investigations. Descriptive cases require a descriptive theory to be developed before starting the project. Pyecha used this methodology in a special education study, using a pattern-matching procedure. In all of the above types of case studies, there can be single-case or multiple-case applications

A.    Definition of Case Study
Case study refers to the collection and presentation of detailed information about a particular participant or small group, frequently including the accounts of subjects themselves. A form of qualitative descriptive research, the case study looks intensely at an individual or small participant pool, drawing conclusions only about that participant or group and only in that specific context. Researchers do not focus on the discovery of a universal, generalizable truth, nor do they typically look for cause-effect relationships; instead, emphasis is placed on exploration and description.

B.     Types of Case Study
1.      Illustrative Case Studies
These are primarily descriptive studies. They typically utilize one or two instances of an event to show what a situation is like. Illustrative case studies serve primarily to make the unfamiliar familiar and to give readers a common language about the topic in question.
2.      Exploratory (or pilot) Case Studies
These are condensed case studies performed before implementing a large scale investigation. Their basic function is to help identify questions and select types of measurement prior to the main investigation. The primary pitfall of this type of study is that initial findings may seem convincing enough to be released prematurely as conclusions.
3.      Cumulative Case Studies
These serve to aggregate information from several sites collected at different times. The idea behind these studies is the collection of past studies will allow for greater generalization without additional cost or time being expended on new, possibly repetitive studies.
4.      Critical Instance Case Studies
These examine one or more sites for either the purpose of examining a situation of unique interest with little to no interest in generalizability, or to call into question or challenge a highly generalized or universal assertion. This method is useful for answering cause and effect questions.
C.    Method of Case Study
To obtain as complete a picture of the participant as possible, case study researchers can employ a variety of methods. Some common methods include interviews, protocol analyses, field studies, and participant-observations. Emig chose to use several methods of data collection. Her sources included conversations with the students, protocol analysis, discrete observations of actual composition, writing samples from each student, and school records.
Berkenkotter, Huckin, and Ackerman collected data by observing classrooms, conducting faculty and student interviews, collecting self reports from the subject, and by looking at the subject's written work.
A study that was criticized for using a single method model was done by Flower and Hayes. In this study that explores the ways in which writers use different forms of knowing to create space, the authors used only protocol analysis to gather data. The study came under heavy fire because of their decision to use only one method, and it was, at least according to some researchers, an unreliable method at that.

D.    Participant Selection
Case studies can use one participant, or a small group of participants. However, it is important that the participant pool remain relatively small. The participants can represent a diverse cross section of society, but this isn't necessary.
For example, the Berkenkotter, Huckin, and Ackerman study looked at just one participant, Nate. By contrast, in Janet Emig's study of the composition process of twelfth graders, eight participants were selected representing a diverse cross section of the community, with volunteers from an all-white upper-middle-class suburban school, an all-black inner-city school, a racially mixed lower-middle-class school, an economically and racially mixed school, and a university school.
Often, a brief "case history" is done on the participants of the study in order to provide researchers with a clearer understanding of their participants, as well as some insight as to how their own personal histories might affect the outcome of the study. For instance, in Emig's study, the investigator had access to the school records of five of the participants, and to standardized test scores for the remaining three. Also made available to the researcher was the information that three of the eight students were selected as NCTE Achievement Award winners. These personal histories can be useful in later stages of the study when data are being analyzed and conclusions drawn.

E.     Data Collection
There are six types of data collected in case studies:
  1. Documents.
  2. Archival records.
  3. Interviews.
  4. Direct observation.
  5. Participant observation.
  6. Artifacts.
In the field of composition research, these six sources might be:
  1. A writer's drafts.
  2. School records of student writers.
  3. Transcripts of interviews with a writer.
  4. Transcripts of conversations between writers (and protocols).
  5. Videotapes and notes from direct field observations.
  6. Hard copies of a writer's work on computer.

F.     Data Analysis
As the information is collected, researchers strive to make sense of their data. Generally, researchers interpret their data in one of two ways: holistically or through coding. Holistic analysis does not attempt to break the evidence into parts, but rather to draw conclusions based on the text as a whole. Flower and Hayes, for example, make inferences from entire sections of their students' protocols, rather than searching through the transcripts to look for isolatable characteristics.
However, composition researchers commonly interpret their data by coding, that is by systematically searching data to identify and/or categorize specific observable actions or characteristics. These observable actions then become the key variables in the study. Sharan Merriam  suggests seven analytic frameworks for the organization and presentation of data:
  1. The role of participants.
  2. The network analysis of formal and informal exchanges among groups.
  3. Historical.
  4. Thematical.
  5. Resources.
  6. Ritual and symbolism.
  7. Critical incidents that challenge or reinforce fundamental beliefs, practices, and values.

G.    Composing The Case of Case Study
In the many forms it can take, "a case study is generically a story; it presents the concrete narrative detail of actual, or at least realistic events, it has a plot, exposition, characters, and sometimes even dialogue". Generally, case study reports are extensively descriptive, with "the most problematic issue often referred to as being the determination of the right combination of description and analysis" .
Sharan Merriam offers several suggestions for alternative presentations of data:
  1. Prepare specialized condensations for appropriate groups.
  2. Replace narrative sections with a series of answers to open-ended questions.
  3. Present "skimmer's" summaries at beginning of each section.
  4. Incorporate headlines that encapsulate information from text.
  5. Prepare analytic summaries with supporting data appendixes.
  6. Present data in colorful and/or unique graphic representations.

H.    Issues of Validity and Reliability

Once key variables have been identified, they can be analyzed. Reliability becomes a key concern at this stage, and many case study researchers go to great lengths to ensure that their interpretations of the data will be both reliable and valid. Because issues of validity and reliability are an important part of any study in the social sciences, it is important to identify some ways of dealing with results.
Multi-modal case study researchers often balance the results of their coding with data from interviews or writer's reflections upon their own work. Consequently, the researchers' conclusions become highly contextualized. For example, in a case study which looked at the time spent in different stages of the writing process, Berkenkotter concluded that her participant, Donald Murray, spent more time planning his essays than in other writing stages. The report of this case study is followed by Murray's reply, wherein he agrees with some of Berkenkotter's conclusions and disagrees with others. As is the case with other research methodologies, issues of external validity, construct validity, and reliability need to be carefully considered.

The case study methodology has been subjected to scrutiny and criticism at various times since the 1930's. As a research tool, it has not been a choice that is listed in the major research texts in the social sciences. However, as this researcher has shown in this article and in the preceding article in this journal, case study is a reliable methodology when executed with due care. The literature, while not extensive, contains specific guidelines for researchers to follow in carrying out case studies. Yin and Stake have designed protocols for conducting the case study, which enhance the reliability and validity of the investigation.
The current study followed the design used by Levy in his case study of the impacts of information technology at the University of Arizona. The survey instruments used by Levy were modified for use at Fairfield University. The modifications included replacing "Fairfield University" for references to the "University of Arizona", deleting environmental references not appropriate for Fairfield University, and adding items to the instruments for the purpose of gathering data on the client/server computing, the Internet, and the World Wide Web.



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