Newby states that a case study is a thorough analysis of a typical or unusual event or occurrence which was either successful or encountered a problem. Case studies analyse particular instances rather than search for the general truth. They usually have two goals: to find the patterns created by the processes at work and to uncover variations from the expected.
Case studies are methodologically eclectic. The numerous types of case studies involve ethnography, experiment, action research, surveys, illuminative, observational and documentary research that allow flexibility in using different ways of data collection such as quantitative and qualitative data collection, as well as flexible means of analysing the data which can be both short and long term.
Case studies possess different advantages (Adelman); the source of data is based from real situations, they allow generalizations about an instance, recognise the complexity and ‘embeddedness’ of social truths, hold the archive values for other researchers and users whose purposes are dissimilar to each other. Their results instigate action for staff or individual development, formative evaluation and educational policies. The research findings and data from case studies are more accessible than other types of research because they are easier to understand. They can also serve multiple purposes and audiences for they allow readers to judge the situation themselves before making decisions.
There are also disadvantages of case studies (Nisbet and Watt). If there is not an application, for instance, the results may not be generalizable. Moreover, the results can be selective, biased, personal and subjective. If the researcher or observer is biased, the results may be problematic to use. Additionally, the complexity of the case may make the analysis harder. Even though everything may appear relevant, one might find that they are irrelevant when writing up the actual case. Finally, with case studies it can be difficult to know where ‘context’ begins and ends (Blaxter, Hughes & Tight)
Lewin (1946) named this method of research, which originated from ‘action’ and ‘research’ (Pollard). It requires teachers, researchers and other practitioners to plan, act, observe and reflect in a cyclical process.
Action research aims to directly improve practice through self-development (Pollard) and its characteristic methods are cyclical designs, based-on self monitoring using a range of data in a practitioner’s workplace. Action research is evaluative; it describes and analyses personal practice.
Action research can be used in different areas such as: in teaching methods, learning strategies, evaluative procedures, attitudes and values, continuing professional development, management and control as well as administration (Cohen, Manion and Morrison).
Action research is a device which includes identifying the problem, planning an intervention, implementing the intervention and evaluating the outcome.
The research in appendix 3 is a typical example of action research. It was planned by an elementary school teacher and the new head teacher of the school. The aims of the research are to find out if there was significant increase in learning using the inquiry-based strategies and also to see if the students were motivated more by learning science concepts using inquiry- based instruction versus traditional teaching practices.
One of the biggest strengths of action research is that it is quite straightforward in tackling issues. The methodology and data gathering are not complicated therefore an action researcher does not need to learn analytical skills. There is no need to rely on researchers, experts or outside authorities. (Kember)
However, there are also difficulties in undertaking action research. The first one is making sure that the experiment and control are genuinely comparable. Educational settings are quite difficult to control or design experiments for, because of their variables which interact with one another in unexpected ways. There are also ethical issues during the investigation; one side may feel disadvantaged.
Designing different teaching programmes, arranging for the separation of groups and holding extraneous variables constant becomes more difficult the longer the trial.
The meaning of ‘ethnography’ is to describe peoples and cultures. Originally, it was used as a research method by anthropologists and aimed to provide an account of the cultures and lives of small, isolated tribes (Denscombe). For instance, a book called ‘The Navaho’ by Clyde Kluckhohn and Dorothea Leighton is written after an ethnographic research about the biggest American- Indian tribe in 1946. The purpose of this research was to understand the traditions & culture in Navahos, to find out how they were coping with the American-Western way of living, if it is possible to protect their heritage despite the pressure of industrialization.
According to Whyte ‘ethnographic’ research requires the researcher to spend a long time in the field amongst the people whose lives and culture are being investigated. The ethnographer needs to share the same life as all aspects of ‘everyday life’ are considered to be valuable data. Special attention should be paid to those whose lives are being studied. It generally prefers a holistic approach towards relationships, connections and interdependency. It is a construction which requires particular writing skills and is influenced by the ethnographer’s own experiences (Denscombe).
The advantages of ethnography are: it is a direct form of observation and empirical which involves direct contact with relevant people and is also possible to link with theory. The data is relatively rich in detail and seeks holistic explanations which put things in context. Furthermore, it allows the comparing and contrasting of other culture. The ‘actors’ point view and perceptions are open and explicit. Finally, it is ecologically valid so that the researcher should have little impact on the setting (Denscombe).
According to Denscombe there are also disadvantages of ethnography such as: tension between wanting to stay as close to the truth as possible and the influence of the ethnographer’s personal experience and social awareness. Although it produces a large number of stories, they may be isolated from each other if the researcher isn’t guided by the theoretical framework. If the researcher makes storytelling their only purpose, there is a potential of losing analytical insight or theoretical position. Reliability can be another problem as it is often difficult to generalize culture and events. Ethics can be an obstacle because of the intrusion into private lives. Finally, two other disadvantages are: accessing the settings without disruption and insider knowledge which may result with a blind spot that obscures the obvious. (Denscombe)
Newby describes ‘Phenomenology’ as how we give significance to our experiences of the world rather than how the world really is. Phenomenologist examines the individual and collective experiences of the ‘life-world’. They use description, observation, reporting and reflection.
Cohen, Manion and Morrison say that;
‘Phenomenology’ is a theoretical point of view that advocates the study of direct experience taken at face value; and one which sees behaviour as determined by the phenomena of experience rather than by external, objective and physically described reality.
According to Curtis there are three distinguishing philosophical viewpoints in Phenomenology: firstly there is an important belief and subjective consciousness; then there is an active understanding of this consciousness and lastly, there is a claim that there are certain essential structures to the consciousness of which we gain direct knowledge by a certain kind of reflection.
Advantages of phenomenology are; it is suited to small- scale and low budgeted research where the main resource is the researcher his/herself. It allows the researcher to deal with the complexity of the social world through phenomena in depth. The approach is humanistic as there are efforts to base its enquiry on the lived experiences of people in the everyday world. (Denscombe)
The disadvantages of phenomenology (Denscombe) are: it lacks a scientific basis; it can easily turn into the weakness of researcher by people who do not share the same opinion; may only provide description without analysis. Moreover, generalizing the research can be difficult as it involves only small numbers or instances. In addition, the issues a phenomenological researcher deals with may not be relevant to apply for big issues such as the spheres of social policy, international relations and economic progress. Therefore, it is possible to assume things in advance by the researcher which may cause feasibility of suspending common sense.