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Qualitative Case Study Research Method

Case study does not claim any particular methods for data collection or data analysis. Any and all methods of gathering data from testing to interviewing can be used in a case study, although certain techniques are used more than others. (Merriam, 1988) This study guide is concerned with qualitative case study research as opposed to quantitative because of two reasons. First, I agree with Merriam (1988) that research focused on discovery, insight and understanding from the perspectives of those being studied offers the greatest promise of making significant contributions to the knowledge base and practice of education. Qualitative case study research approaches a problem of practice from a holistic perspective in order to gain an in-depth understanding of the situation and its meaning for those involved. The interest is in process rather than outcomes, in context rather than a specific variable, in discovery rather than in conformation. Such insights into aspects of educational practice can have a direct influence on policy, practice and future research. Second, most case studies in education are qualitative and hypothesis-generating rather than quantitative and hypothesis-testing.

Qualitative vs. Quantative research:
A qualitative research is defined as an inquiry process of understanding a social or human problem, based on building a complex, holistic pictures, formed with words, reporting detailed views of informants, and conducted in a natural setting. A quantitative research is an inquiry into a social or human problem, based on testing a theory composed of variables, measured with numbers, and analyzed with statistical procedures, in order to determine whether the predictive generalizations of the theory true. (Creswell, 1994)
Creswell (1994) suggests 5 criteria in selecting between qualitative and quantitative research, namely, 1) researcher's Worldview, 2) the training and experience of the researcher, 3) researcher's psychological attributes, 4) nature of the problem, 5) audience for the study
The following table shows the reasons between qualitative and quantitative research.


Definition of Qualitative Case Study Research:
Though the term 'case study' is familiar to most people, there is little agreement on just what constitutes case study research. Some of the confusion stems from the fact that in some of its uses, the meaning of the term 'case study' has overlapped substantially with that of others - notably with fieldwork, ethnography, participant observation, grounded theory, qualitative research and life history. (Gomm, Hammersley & Foster, 2000)

Many writers have advanced definitions for qualitative case study. Merriam (1988)'s definition is: "Qualitative case study can be defined as an intensive, holistic description and analysis of a single entity, phenomenon or social unit. Case studies are particularistic, descriptive and heuristic, and rely heavily on inductive reasoning in handling multiple data sources."

Particularistic means that a case study focuses on a particular situation, event, program, individual, institution or phenomenon. The case itself is important for what it reveals about the phenomenon and for what it might represent. This specificity of focus makes it an especially good design for practical problems. (Merriam, 1988)

Descriptive means that the end product of a case study is a rich, 'thick' description of the phenomenon under study. 'Thick' description is a term from anthropology and means the complete literal description of the incident or entity being investigated. (Merriam, 1988). It also means " interpreting the meaning of íK demographic and descriptive data in terms of cultural norms and mores, community values, deep-seated attitudes and notions, and the likes" (Guba & Lincoln, 1981)

Heuristic means that case studies illuminates the reader's understanding of the phenomenon under study. (Merriam, 1988) Previously unknown relationships and variables can be expected to emerge from case studies leading to a rethink of the phenomenon being studied. (Stakes, 1981) Inductive means that, for the most part, case studies rely on inductive reasoning.

Characteristics / assumptions of qualitative case study: Link

Types of Case Study Research:
Case studies can be classified according to disciplinary orientation or the overall intent of the study. Case studies in education often draw upon other disciplines such as anthropology, history, sociology and psychology both for theoretical orientation and for techniques of data collection and analysis.

Case studies can be classified into 4 types according to their disciplinary orientations as follows: (Merriam, 1988)

1. An 'Ethnographic case study' is more than an intensive, holistic description and analysis of a social unit or phenomenon. It is a sociocultural analysis and interpretation of the unit of study.

2. A 'Historical case study' presents a holistic description and analysis of a specific case from a historical perspective. Historical case studies have tended to be descriptions of institutions, programs and practices as they have involved in time.

3. A 'Psychological case study' focuses on an individual as a way to investigate some aspects of human behavior.

4. A 'Sociological case study' attends to the constructs of society and socialization in studying educational phenomenon.

Irrespective of disciplinary orientations, case studies can be classified according to the overall intent of the study as follows:

1. A 'descriptive case study' in education is one that presents a detailed account of the phenomenon under study. Lijphart (1971) described such case studies as " entirely descriptive and move in a theoretical vacuum." They are useful in presenting basic information about areas of education where little research has been done. Such case studies often involve innovative programs and practices and often form a database for future comparison and theory building. (Merriam, 1998)

2. 'Interpretative case studies' contain rich, thick descriptions, which are used to develop conceptual categories or to illustrate, support or challenge theoretical assumptions held prior to the data gathering. The level of abstraction and conceptualization in such case studies may range from suggesting relationships among variables to constructing theories. The model of analysis is inductive. (Merriam, 1988)

3. 'Evaluative case studies' involve description, explanation and judgment. The case study is a particularly good means of educational evaluation because of its ability to explain the causal links in real-life interventions that are too complex for the survey or experimental strategies. (Yin, 1984)

4. 'Pilot case studies' is a final preparation of data collection. It helps investigators to refine their data collection plans with respect to both the content of the data and the procedures to be followed. (Yin, 1994)

Single case Vs multiple cases:
A study using more than one case is commonly called collective case study, multicase / multisite study or comparative case study. This type of study involved collecting and analyzing data from several cases and may be distinguished from the single case study that may have subunits or subcases embedded within (such as students within a school). By looking at a range of similar and contrasting cases, we can strengthen the precision, the validity and the stability of the findings. (Miles & Huberman, 1994)

Applications of the method:
The question of when to use qualitative case study versus some other designs essentially depends on:

1) what the researcher wants to know,

2) how the problem is defined and,

3) the questions it raises.

Kenny & Grotelueschen (1980) suggest the following 3 preconditions to decide on the appropriateness of using a qualitative case study:

1. Consider a case study when the focus is on humanistic outcomes or cultural differences, as opposed to behavioral outcomes or individual differences.

2. The uniqueness of the situation.

3. Consider a case study data collected is not subject to truth or falsity but 'can be subject to scrutiny on the grounds of credibility.