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Case Studies

Qualitative Research Methods

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Case Studies
History
Roots in anthropology, sociology and psychology During 60s & 70s researchers looked for alternatives to standard qualitative methods - Evolved during the 80s as accepted method

Case Studies
History
Prominently used by physicians, historians, social workers, teachers, etc., as a learning tool:
Through careful examination and discussion of various cases, [researchers] learn to identify actual problems, to recognize key players and their agendas, and to become aware of those aspects of the situation that contribute to the problem. . ."
(Merseth, 1991 in http://writing.colostate.edu/guides/research/casestudy/com2a3.cfm )

Case Studies
Defined Case Study: an in-depth description and analysis of a bounded system :the collection and presentation of detailed information about a particular participant or small group, frequently including the accounts of subjects themselves

Case Studies
Defined Bounded system: a single entity, a unit around which there are boundaries
Edge of the case Heart of the study

The phenomenon examined must be bounded in order to be a case.

Case Studies
Defined
Bounded system example: Qualitative study: How older people learn to use a computer
Case study: How one older person learns to use a computer - one particular program - one classroom of learners

Case Studies
3 Characteristics 1.Particularistic: focuses on a particular situation, event, program or phenomenon 2.Descriptive: the end product is a rich, thick description of the phenomenon being studied

Case Studies
3 Characteristics
3. Heuristic: the cases studied illuminate the readers understanding of the phenomenon under study
- brings about the discovery of new meanings - extend the readers experience - confirm what is already known

Case Studies
Why Use Case Studies?
Knowledge is: - More concrete - More contextual - More developed by reader interpretation - Based more on reference populations determined by the reader

Case Studies
Why Use Case Studies? Depends on what the researcher wants to know 1. Specific how and why questions 2. When you have less control of the events

Case Studies
Why Use Case Studies? Depends on what the researcher wants to know 3. When variables are so embedded in the situation that theyre impossible to identify ahead of time 4. Uniqueness of the situation

Case Studies
Types of Case Studies
Historical: The study of the development of a particular phenomenon over time 1. Holistic analysis and description from a historical perspective 2. Preferred when theres virtually no access or control (i.e. an evening school for working adults in the early 1900s)

Case Studies
Types of Case Studies
Observational: The primary data collection method is participant observation supplemented with formal and informal interviews
(i.e., the staff break room of an org)

Case Studies
Types of Case Studies Illustrative Case Studies: Primarily descriptive studies 1. Utilizes one or two instances of an event to show what a situation is like 2. Tries to make the unfamiliar familiar and to give readers a common language about the topic in question

Case Studies
Types of Case Studies
Exploratory (or pilot) Case Studies: Condensed case studies performed before implementing a large scale investigation 1. Basic function is to help identify questions and select types of measurement prior to the main investigation 2. Primary pitfall is that initial findings may seem convincing enough to be released prematurely as conclusions

Case Studies
Types of Case Studies Cumulative Case Studies: Serves to aggregate information from several sites collected at different times 1. The collection of past studies will allow for greater generalization without additional cost or time being expended on new, possibly repetitive studies

Case Studies
Types of Case Studies Critical Instance Case Studies: Examines 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 1. Useful for answering cause and effect questions

Case Studies
Steps 1. Determine topic 2. Determine type of case study method used and mode of data collection
- Documents - Archival records - Interviews - Direct observation - Participant observation - Artifacts

Case Studies
Steps 3. Select participants 4. Collect data 5. Data Analysis - Typically done holistically or through coding 6. Write up report

Case Studies
Steps Different ways of presentation: Replace narrative sections with a series of answers to open-ended questions Present "skimmer's" summaries at beginning of each section Incorporate headlines that encapsulate information from text

Case Studies
Steps Different ways of presentation: Prepare analytic summaries with supporting data appendixes Present data in colorful and/or unique graphic representations Prepare specialized condensations for appropriate groups

Case Studies
Strengths & Weaknesses The merits of any research design are inherently linked to the rationale for choosing that particular method!

Case Studies
Strengths & Weaknesses Strengths: 1. Anchored in real-life situations 2. Holistic account of the phenomenon 3. Advances a fields knowledge base 4. Flexible 5. Contextualization of the phenomenon 6. See slide #10

Case Studies
Strengths & Weaknesses
Weaknesses: 1. Difficult to generalize 2. Some say its too subjective 3. May be costly - hard to rationalize cost in a budget request 4. Some ethical considerations - financial - researcher integrity 5. Time consuming