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January 30, 2007

"Inferential felonies," are case studies guilty?

Gerring acknowledges that the case study is seen by many as ambiguous, free-form research lacking the methodological rigor for broader generalizations. Therefore, case study researchers who dare to draw inferences and examine their findings in broader contexts are claiming relevance for their work "unlawfully" because they did not follow the "traditonal" laws of research (i.e. representative sample, distinct variables, statistical significance). I admit that I began our class with a bias toward this more positivist perspective. I always have felt that research brings value if it is useful in some way. By 'useful' I mean some form of wider application, can we take what we've learned and make inferences to a broader population or other instances? I'm drawn to the indepth exploration and discovery of case study research, but I'm struggling with the usefulnss of knowing so much about something so particular. Rather than take a clear stance one way or the other, Gerring appears to embrace case studies as existing in both worlds, as both particularizing and generalizing. He says, "Iit seems justifiable for case studies to function on two levels simultaneously, the case itself and some broader class of (perhaps difficult- to- specify) cases" (p.79). Critical to this is identifying the population from which the case is taken, and understanding how the case fits into the larger context. What this speaks to is a well thought out research design -- the one 'law' of research that should never be broken.

January 29, 2007

The Joys of the Eisenhardt Reading

Eisenhardt's piece, in my opinion, is most notable for the practical angle she lends to case study research. For me any research should further knowledge beyond just the boundaries of the specific site of study. Validity beyond the specific case, and generalizability lend credibility to the study. As a perennial sceptic I tend to look askance at any study that no matter how complicated does not yield anything beyond the case-specific parameters of time, site, and context. ("I am happy for you, dear researcher, but frankly speaking, I don't care).

In my own research field, I am trying to look at multiple cases to build and/or enhance current theories surrounding the issue of usability and trust as a leading factor influencing users' perception of a Web site's user friendliness. And yes, while the case study method is by its very nature inevitably a study of the particular, I am hoping to generate some theoretical threads wrt user-focused design in different types of transactional sites.

Afterthought 1: Gerring's chapter 4 especially the section on the general vs the particular seems very handy to me...

Searching for cases...

I appreciate Bethany's and Kim's posts, and would really just repeat them and their great questions/insights, so I thought I'd add a little bit about locating cases to examine. While my own interests tend toward material rhetoric, specifically rhetoric surrounding pregnancy and consumerism, I like to think about more tech-comm-y stuff every so often.

So, while reading the Star Tribune online last week, I saw a brief story about my husband's alum, Univ. of North Carolina - Chapel Hill. They apparently inadvertently sent out an email accepting 2,700 students, but these students are actually on the wait list. What they meant to do was get midterm grades from the students they had already accepted (UNC has rebuked admission offers from students whose grades drop their final high school terms - is this common? I had never heard of this til I lived there).

I can't find the Strib story, but here's a link from another source:
link from another source

While reading it, I had that feeling that Laura described about the NASA goof. How could that happen?!? Was this a technology problem, some kind of (massive) user error, or a breakdown in communication? I think it would make an interesting case study (if I indeed am understanding what these "case studies" are)

See everyone in class!

Questions, many of them rhetorical

This week's readings are causing me to begin grappling with how to really set up a case study. From the readings I've learned of the many factors that should be decided upon before beginning and different combinations of methods that can make findings more generalizable. Data triangulation makes sense to me in theory. But, how can you plan for enough different types of data collection without making a mountain of data that will take an unrealistic amount of time to sort through? How can this be done in an acceptable way for someone who wants to do a case study for a dissertation so that the person isn't writing his/her case for the next decade?

What still isn't clear to me is the analysis stage where the leap is made from "facts" to "findings". How do my notes from an interview or my observation notes from a classroom be grouped in such a way to discover new theories? How can my interview notes get put into a useful database without being cut up into little chunks that may or may not have meaning? What does a useful database really look like?

General question: How do you handle direct quotes if you only make notes in an interview and don't tape/transcribe? This was a problem I ran into last semester when I conducted a telephone interview that couldn't be recorded. I ended up using artistic license to modify my notes into quotes. I think the quotes were fairly close but this is an issue I have to figure out how to prevent in the future. Anyone have any experience with this?

Okay, I'm not expecting anyone to have "the answers" for all of these questions, but if anyone has any thoughts I would be interested in hearing them. :-)

January 28, 2007

week 2 readings

I like how this week's readings armed us with an arsenal of research weapons. Yin and Eisenhardt's practical approach to case study design clearly illustrated what’s normally a very 'messy' process. As a young (and somewhat inexperienced) researcher, blueprints like these are incredibly helpful in getting through the unfamiliarities of case study research.

The content of our readings extends the introduction to research methodology from Mary Lay Schuster’s 8011 class. In 8011 I was working on a case study that used Glaser and Strauss’s grounded theory methodology, which at the time seemed like the best way to gather and analyze my data. However, when reading both Yin and Gerring (of whom I still have mixed feelings about – he just doesn’t seem relatable) I see that there are a tremendous number of theoretical approaches that I never even considered using (largely because I didn’t know they existed). So now I’m faced with the possibility of changing my approach which is both daunting and exciting at the same time. It’s amazing that each theoretical framework will result in it’s own unique final product. Additionally, I never really considered doing a multiple / cross case study, it didn’t seem necessary – but now I feel like this option needs to be explored since it’s such an important feature for Yin.

The Reyman dissertation was a good example of the ‘narrative’ we’ll be writing in this class (I think). It tells a story and engages the reader to further examine the case (a definite ‘must’ when writing a dissertation or an article to be published). This case is especially interesting to me since it deals with new media and crowd created norms not seen before the blossoming of the internet. I think Reyman’s work will be really helpful as we develop our narratives over the course of the semester and perhaps we can talk more about this in class.

That’s all for now…


January 22, 2007


I must admit that I'm also finding all of the information we have read a lot to digest. What I found the most interesting is that case study can be either qualitative or quantitative. I think I have always thought of it as qualitative most likely from my father (the engineer) calling it a "soft" research method. From what I understand case studies get to incorporate many forms of research as they are appropriate to the research question. This flexibility makes doing case based research sound appealing to me.

The case study method also appears to be a good match for me because I have always been a person interested in the "how" and the "why" of something. As all of you most likely know, I am interested in researching web-based education. Last semester I was investigating phenomenology as a research method and examining geographically distant learners in an online classroom. I am interested in the implications of the online technical communication classroom, but I am still brainstorming research questions of what precisely I would like to find out. :-)

See you all in class.

Echoing Maggie's Post

Hello, fellow case-studiers. Before I go into my personal perspective on case study research and what I hope to get out of this class, I'd like to share Maggie's confusion regarding the reading and common interpretations of what it is to do "case study" research. Indeed, the Stake text seems to offer a form of research that is nebulous at best: not quite ethnography, and hesitant as to how far one generalizes given the research performed. Dr. Gurak's doctoral research, on the other hand, is something with which I am quite familiar (and not simply because I've read her book for a previous class--it's quite good!). It's simply more journalistic; one uses a narrative to explain the formulation of a certain event and, where necessary, the reactions thereto. These reactions also entail a certain (necessary, I believe) level of interpretation on the part of the author--something to which Dr. Gurak alludes at the end of the chapter and which is carried out in much of her book.

My own background in terms of "research" (and I put it in quotes because Roopa and I have discussed what entails proper "research" before, and she seems to believe that the touchy-feely intuition of the humanities is little more than pretentious guesswork) stems from English. I'm not sure what you call textual analysis; certainly, it's something that's employed in all kinds of rhetorical studies and surveys. As I make my way through the doctoral program in Rhetoric, I see the need to "button up," as it were--to leave behind the impulse to bloviate and simply focus on something far more relevant to the "intrinsic" (how many quotes am I using in this damn post?) nature of this class. I'm sure this course will come in handy, but forgive me as I take some time to feel my way around.

Merry's intro and initial thoughts on case study research

This is my last semester of coursework in the PhD program in Rhetoric. Much of my studying has been focused on alternative pedagogies, including online teaching and learning and adult education. I have had a general course on research methods and a course on research in education, where case studies are fairly common but still not fully accepted. I am convinced that it is difficult to perform a good case study, and so look forward to delving into the intricacies of this strategy and learning how to apply it in ways that are rigorous and valuable.

For my dissertation, I am interested in looking at the conversion of Rhetoric 1101 to an online offering and exploring how and why (appropriate case study questions) some students are successful in an online learning environment and how instructors can—through design or intervention—encourage good online study habits.

This seems to fit the description of a case in that it is a complex phenomenon with a purpose (Stake, 2) and there are many views about what is happening (Stake, 12). This phenomenon can be viewed as a system (Stake, 2), but where the boundaries should be drawn is not clear cut and would shape the case study differently. Different scenarios could be pursued from the data collected from 3 different offerings of Rhet 1101 Online. The three sections could be looked at together as a collective case study. The process of conversion could focus on the programmatic aspect, involving the pending changes in the writing requirements and administrative need for more section offerings. Another approach could look at the adjustment of instructors to online teaching with Rhet 1101 as an example (that would be an instrumental case study, Stake, 3). An interesting case could also be built from focusing on one or a few students’ experience in an online course.

In regard to the reporting of a case study, I noticed in reading Stake’s example (chapter 10) and Gurak’s chapter 3 that the write up tends to be much more narrative than would be expected in other research methods. I understand that how much narrative to include is an open question about case study research.

Sounds like we have much to discuss.

January 21, 2007

A fresh perspective

Hello All,

There's something about case studies that I've always (at least for the last several years) found captivating. I like the idea of telling stories through research, and case studies are well suited to narratives that explain experiences which would otherwise be untold and/or lost with time. Like some of you I'm also a bit fuzzy on exactly what a case study should be, but maybe that's one of the reasons so many researchers enjoy using this methodology. It's subjective in a sense that it works for the researcher - it's flexible and dynamic, able to adapt with changing situations, and I like that.

In 8011 I began to work on a case study about Product Red, a global brand working to alleviate AIDS suffering in Africa. The way Red uses new media to promote 'social justice' is a new concept in branding, and I look forward to the opportunity to further explore the Red case this semester. I feel that I have a good start on this project, but there's still a lot of work to be done before I can arrive at any conclusions (though I guess that's not always the goal of case studies).

See you all in class!

Yin and Lotus MarketPlace

Hello all,

In many ways this class promises to give me the greatest ROI. While I am not pooh-poohing what I learnt in my other classes, what I am trying to emphasize here is the very direct relevance of this class to my interest in usability studies.

Yin's definition of the case study method provided me with some clarity on what the method actually involves. But of even greater help to me was the clarity the introductory chapter offered on how to choose a study method (When to Use Each Strategy), and the feature-based definition of a case study. I read Yin's text and immediately followed that with Dr Gurak's chapter on Lotus MarketPlace; that order of reading perhaps assisted me in my understanding. The Lotus MarketPlace study seems a fitting exemplification of Yin's technical definition of the case study method.

My concerns with using this method are similar to Maggie's--how does one go about gathering the information. And a very pedestrian addition to that question is if there is a smart way to log and/or record the data gathered (by research questions, by rank/status of individuals who provided the information, questions posed...?)


January 20, 2007


Have any of you seen the movie Napolean Dynomite? There's a line from the love song dispassionately sung by Napolean's brother on his wedding day that plays through my mind whenever I experience the pitfalls of technology. He sings to his bride, "I love technology, but I love you more than technology..." Okay, I'm being silly, but I'm frustrated that my first attempt at posting something here was abruptly foiled. I was typing away, nearly finished, when everything I'd written was erased, and I was once again looking at a blank entry screen. Much as I have learned to embrace technology (I'm teaching an online class this semester and am truly thrilled with all that can be accomplished via communication technologies), I don't entirely trust it. I'd call it a love/hate relationship...I wonder if that's acceptable coming from someone working toward a Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Scientific and Technical Communication?

While my dissertation work won't begin for another year, I plan to research intercultural communication via communication technologies (i.e. globally dispersed teams) and am looking forward to delving more fully into the case study method as a possible approach. I must admit that I've always been partial to the large sample, quantitative approach to research and have been skeptical of the narrowly focused, highly contextual case study. When it comes to research, my overriding concern is with the usefulness of what is learned. Does it contribute to our understanding on a broader scale? After reading the material for this week, however, I have a better appreciation for the possible applications of case study research. Yin's discussion of various types of research questions and the case study's potential in answering them suggests greater possibilities and ulitmate "usefulness" than I had previously imagined.

One issue raised by the reading that I would like to explore more fully is the difference between case studies, histories, and ethnographies.

I look forward to meeting everyone on Monday!

January 19, 2007

Hello and thoughts on the reading

Hi to everyone - I'm excited for the class to start because a case study seems like such a wonderfully useful method to know about. Doing the reading, though, I'm getting confused about the differing definitions of case study. It seems like everyone calls what he/she does a case study, but no one means the exact same thing. This seems to worsen across disciplines.

I recall Laura visiting our RHET 8011 last semester and discussing case studies, and I thought she indicated it was a story - it had a beginning and an ending. Her case study about Lotus Marketplace certainly has that. But that seems different than the Stake book, which seemed to indicate a case could be observing a teacher for a week or two. That seems more like a mini-ethnography? So I'll be interested to see how we're using case studies this semester.

One final thought relates to my own anxiety about doing a case study with a beginning and ending. As any of you who I've had a class with in the past knows, I'm interested in prenatal genetic screening and testing. I want to write the case study of how the American College of Ob. and Gyn. came to recommend that all women be tested for Down Syndrome. Unfortunately, it seems like this will not necessarily be public information. Or the information that is public might not tell the whole story. How did Laura come to know so much about who was at what meeting and who knows who, etc? How will I get the information?

See you all on Monday!