Making a case

IMAG0006_1I am on a bit of a PhD roll at the moment. I’ve been working on methodology, trying to structure a chapter and write a little bit every day. A lot of the writing involves re-writing, so sometimes it feels like it doesn’t amount to very much, but I’m trying to stick to a little each day – even if it’ s only 500 or 700 words. Things got a lot more exciting on Friday, with a superb, workshop facilitated by Pat Thomson. If you’re reading this blog, then you probably already know about her, but if you don’t, and you are involved in any kind of advanced study, then check her out – her advice is invaluable. Then there was the Dewey conference at my place of work, with keynotes by Richard Pring and Walter Humes; both insightful and inspirational. Today I’m interviewing participants – I’m terrified I don’t ask the right questions, or get useful data, or waste their time. Next week I’m going to Warwick University’s Centre for Social Ontology for a workshop with none other than Margaret Archer, then another UWS conference – this time on Foucault. So for the first time in a long time, I feel if not fully immersed in my study, then I’m definitely having a thoroughly good splash around. Most  ideas circulating around here are going to be directly relevant for me; some are not ( I have no intention of using Foucauldian concepts, for example), but the opportunity for sustained thinking and engagement with scholarly  concepts and content has been a joy, and I need to make the most of it.

Here’s a short extract on what I’ve been writing about my methodology.

Methodology: case study design

The methodological intention for this study is case study methodology. This methodology lends itself to small-scale research, and it provides the scope for a deep understanding of complex phenomena within their context (Baxter and Jack; 2008). According to Stake, case study methodology applies a focus on that which is specific, unique and bounded (Stake, 2005).Yin offers a typology of case studies using various categories: single or multiple, descriptive or exploratory (Yin, 2014:11). As this study is considering the case of teacher collaborative working practices in different settings, this would be defined in Yin’s terms as a multiple exploratory case study. Collaborative events taking place within individual structures such as a school, with their inherent and individual cultural conditions lend themselves to this methodology, as it allows a detailed examination of a contemporary phenomenon (Yin 2014) as it takes place across a range of research sites.

Flyvbjerg  argued a coherent defence of case study methodology, outlining five common misunderstandings of this methodology, identifying these as: the lack of generalisability of the case-study; the perceived predisposition towards verification of researcher bias in this methodology and the perceived inherent difficulty of summarizing and developing general propositions and theories in case study (Flyvbjerg 2006).

Similar to Baxter and Jack (2008); Yin (2014) and Stake (2005,) Flyvbjerg (2006) celebrates the value of the case study in terms of richness, depth of detail and proximity to real-life situations description which it can help achieve. He draws on Wittgenstein and Goffman to illustrate how when properly conducted, the case study can provide the necessary examples of context-dependent social phenomena in all their messy complexity, as the researcher seeks to go beyond ‘what is available to public scrutiny’ (Flyvbjerg, 2005:24) and explore what is  less immediately visible within them; their underlying aspects. Thus, this case study seeks to examine in close detail examples of collaborative practices of teachers; going beyond what is visible and exploring their underlying mechanisms, the hidden aspects of the processes involved in context-dependent situations.

 

Boundaries

The boundaries of the case in question need some definition. As previously discussed, the phenomenon under scrutiny in this case is a practice. My intention was to undertake research in two schools involved in this practice. As discussed, LR are a form of professional learning communities (PLCs) for teachers, sometimes referred to as teacher learning communities (TLCs); Because of difficulties experienced which have been explained, this plan needed to change to include a wider interpretation of collaborative working practices. Thus the boundaries of this case had changed from that of a discreet identifiable practice, which was named and programmed to occur at specific times within the school routine, to the broader, more generic collaborative working practices undertaken in teacher learning communities. New boundaries were established. Little (2003) studied interactions inside teacher communities and established a set of parameters within which the wider interpretation of collaborative practices were located. These included: out of classroom interactions; teacher development in everyday work, and the intellectual, social and material resources that teachers supplied each other with through interaction. These concepts are helpful in identifying boundaries for this case study.

Out of classroom interactions can be formal (at planned and organised events or meetings, in school or out of school, for example), or informal (chance exchanges in the staffroom or corridor).  The resources that teachers supply each other with can be intellectual (a comment, question or reflection verbally developed through conversation) or material, involving a product such as a book, artefact or report. Teacher development in everyday work would involve articulating observations and reflections on aspects of practice. Thus, the case has boundaries which include planned meetings and discussions; documents, including archives from previous collaborative work, policy documents, reports and teachers’ reflections on practice.

 

Baxter, P. and S. Jack (2008). “Qualitative case study methodology: Study design and implementation for novice researchers.” The qualitative report 13(4): 544-559.

Flyvbjerg, B. (2006). “Five misunderstandings about case-study research.” Qualitative Inquiry 12(2): 219-245.

Little, J., (2003). Inside teacher community: Representations of classroom practice. The Teachers College Record, 105(6), pp.913-945.

Stake, R.E. (1995). The art of case study research. Sage.

Yin, R.K. (2013). Case study research: Design and methods. Sage publications.

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About catrionao

I'm a lecturer at UWS and a PhD student at Stirling University, studying a school based practice of teacher professional learning.
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