About my research

My research was set in the context of the European Commission’s eTwinning initiative and it looked specifically at the use of eTwinning Learning Events (non-formal learning). It examined how the community influences the development of teachers’ competence in online collaboration and discourse, and it considered the contribution of social aspects and online moderation.

I am very grateful to my supervisor, Dr. Julie-Ann Sime from Lancaster University, and to my eTwinning soulmate, Tiina Sarisalmi, for their invaluable support. And to my examiners, Prof. Marilyn Leask from the University of Bedfordshire and Dr. Don Passey from the University of Lancaster, for their valuable advice.
Keywords: online learning communities; community of inquiry; online collaboration; content analysis; social presence; social ties; teacher training

Saturday, 9 July 2011

The case in question

It has been a while since I last posted due to travelling and a period of ill health. I feel I need to get back into the habit of writing but its not easy; its rather like having had no exercise for a while, with the muscles complaining when I start jogging again. Its also alarming how much one forgets so quickly. Maybe its my advancing years, but I feel I need to speed up if I am ever going to finish my PhD. 

I have been reading about case studies and I've come to the conclusion that they useful for my work. Yin (2009) suggests that case studies are appropriate when you are principally answering how and why questions, rather than than who, what and where; the former being more exploratory in nature. He also suggests that case studies are suitable for examining contemporary events when relevant behaviours cannot be manipulated and the researcher has little or no control. He adds that case studies are usually associated with in-depth investigations of a real-life situation where the boundaries between phenomenon and context are not obvious. Such situations call for multiple methods in order to collect sufficient data and to be able to verify one's analysis through triangulation. This view of case studies concurs with that of Denscombe (2007) who suggests that case studies encourage mixed methods that allow relationships and processes to be analysed, rather than just outcomes. Denscombe adds that case studies are suitable for natural settings which are likely to exist before the research takes place and continue afterwards. Whereas the Learning Events (LEs) that I studied where of fixed durations, they were part of an ongoing programme and my research was looking at only two examples, albeit related. 

Both Denscombe and Yin recognise the typical criticism often levelled at case studies, namely that they provide little opportunity for generalisation. Yin notes that critiques claim that they lack rigour, take too long and produce very long unreadable documents. Though he adds that this is usually due to the inexperience of the researcher rather than the approach itself: 'in doing a case study, your goal will be to expand and generalize theories (analytic generalization) and not to enumerate frequencies (statistical generalizations)' (Yin, 2009, p.15).

VanWynsberghe and Khan suggest that case studies are neither research methods, methodologies or design. Rather they define them as 'transparadigmatic and transdisciplinary heuristic that involves the careful de-lineation of the phenomena for which evidence is being collected (event, concept, program, process, etc.)' (2007, p.2). By transparadigmatic they mean that they may be relevant regardless of one's research paradigm. They use heuristic to mean that case studies encourage a focused, in-depth approach to researching a phenomenon. They go on to suggest seven key features of case studies (p.4):

1) Small N: they address a small sample, with the researcher being careful to clearly define the boundaries of the case
2) Contextual detail: with sufficient information as to give the impression of actually being there
3) Natural settings: where there is little control over the context, 'Case study is uniquely suitable for research   in   complex   settings  ... because it advances the concept that complex settings cannot be reduced to single cause and effect relationships'
4) Boundedness: case studies address a clearly defined situation, bounded in space and time
5) Working   hypotheses   and   lessons learned: the researchers uses her/his past experience and skills to generate a working hypothesis that helps to surface the phenomenon as the study progresses
6) Multiple data sources: referring to the work of Yin, they also suggest that case studies encourage the use of mixed methods and triangulation
7) Extendability: 'Case studies can enrich and potentially transform a reader’s understanding of a phenomenon  by  extending  the  reader’s  experience' 

All of this would appear to apply well to my research of the LEs. Moreover, Koshy (2010) suggests that case studies are an appropriate way of writing up and disseminating the results of action research.

I rest my case, at least for now :)


Denscombe, M. (2007) The Good Research Guide: For Small-scale Social Research Projects, Open University Press.
Koshy, V. (2010) Action research for improving educational practice, 2nd ed., London, Sage publications Ltd.
VanWynsberghe, R. & Khan, S. (2007) 'Redefining case study'. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 6 (2)
Yin, R. K. (2009) Case study research: Design and methods, 4th ed, Sage Publications, Inc.