Tag Archives: case study

Studying Case Study

Donna M. Zucker’s article “How to Do Case Study Research” explains the methodology behind case studies and provides an example of a case study from the medical field. Zucker quotes Bromley to define case study as “a ‘systematic inquiry into an event or a set of related events which aims to describe and explain the phenomenon of interest.’” She breaks down the methodology into three distinct stages: describing experience, describing meaning, and focus of the analysis. In addition, she stresses the importance of rigor in case study, explaining that researchers must ensure their research is authentic, trustworthy, and dependable.

When describing the final write up of the case, Zucker explains that the researcher should use whatever style is appropriate for the context of the research. This might mean giving a straightforward description or taking a “narrative, biography, or autobiographical approach.” I’m really drawn to using the latter method when writing my own research. I originally wanted to use autoethnography as my method because it allows the researcher to be more creative. Conducting a case study instead of an autoethnography would therefore allow me to use a more established, well-regarded method while still employing my creative writing skills. Of course, phenomenology—the method I’m currently leaning towards the most—also has this benefit, as the goal of that methodology is to immerse readers in the participants’ experiences.

Not only do I see some elements of autoethnography and phenomenology in case study, but I also think this methodology is similar to a lot of the other methods we’ve studied. For example, in the first stage of case study—describing experience—the researcher creates broad interview questions, takes field notes, searches for other relevant sources of data, and reviews the literature. As Hugo mentions in his blog, this stage of research sounds like an amalgamation of all of the methods we’ve studied before. The broad, open ended interview questions remind me of both phenomenology and discourse analysis, while the coding and recursive review of literature remind me of grounded theory. 

To better understand what I’m starting to think is a “catchall” method, I tried applying some of its elements to my own research (key word: “tried.” I’m not sure if I understood everything in this article correctly, as the examples given are from the medical field rather than the humanities). Zucker states that in the “describing meaning” portion of case study, the researcher connects the data to relevant theories and finds different levels of theoretical meaning. The “first level” of meaning Zucker describes is a foundational “meaning of signs and symbols.” I think this level of meaning in my own research (which aims to explore the experiences of educators working in hybrid classrooms during the pandemic) would relate to the different definitions of hybrid, remote, asynchronous, and synchronous instruction. 

The second level, or the “meaning of people, things and events in a person’s life,” would likely describe what the experience of working and learning during hybrid instruction has been for teachers, students, parents, etc. Finally, the “macro-level…meaning of life as a whole” would explore what this experience will mean for the education system moving forward—will hybrid instruction, in which educators must simultaneously conduct live lessons for both virtual and in person students, become a staple in future classrooms? How will these new responsibilities affect the nation’s teacher shortages and schools’ poor retention rates? Will this experience have wide-reaching effects on students’ performance, achievement, and/or mental health?

I realize these are big questions that I most likely won’t be able to answer in my own research. Still, I’m really tempted to use case study in my thesis because I want to know about what Zucker describes as the “how and why” of hybrid: How did hybrid learning affect teachers, students, and the education system as a whole? Why did schools decide on this method of simultaneous live instruction when there are so many other ways to have a “blended” classroom (i.e., some days, students learn in person, while on other days, they receive asynchronous assignments)?  

However, exploring these aspects of hybrid may broaden the scope of my research too much. I’m very aware that as a graduate student, I have limited time and resources to complete my research. Although pursuing case study is tempting, I need to be realistic about my limitations. Right now, phenomenology still looks like my best bet if I want to conduct a thorough exploration into hybrid instruction.