One of the learning outcomes for the HL qualitative research unit is:
Explain how a case study could be used to investigate a problem in an organization or group (for example, a football team, a school, a family).
The following is an example activity that could be used to meet this learning outcome.
Exam Tip: In my memory of Paper 3 past exams this has never been a question. And if you think about it, it would be extremely difficult (dare I say impossible) to write an exam question based on this learning outcome. The reason for this is because the Paper 3 answers need to be applied to the stimulus, but it’s difficult to see how this question could be applied to a stimulus paper. The organization or group would have to be mentioned in the exam summary of research (i.e. stimulus), but then the application would be limited. I just can’t see how this question could be asked, and it seems like a pretty random learning outcome to me. So I spend little time on this learning outcome, but the following activity does aim to get students developing their skills of application and can be used to develop understandings of other important concepts like sampling, reflexivity, etc.
Case Studies to Investigate Problems
What makes the case study approach such a useful research strategy? This is an important question to be able to answer in order to be able to explain how they can be used to investigate problems.
Firstly, why is a case study a research strategy and not a research method? The case study approach is probably better defined as a strategy because it often incorporates numerous different data gathering techniques. For example, think back to the case study of HM. Milner (one of the researchers) gathered data on HM using interviews, questionnaires, observations and experiments. The combination of these various methods is what makes the case study a strategy and not a method.
Therefore, when explaining how a case study can be used to investigate a problem in an organisation or group, you should begin by focusing on how a case study strategy would approach these key areas:
- Sampling (e.g. purposive; opportunity; snowball)
- Data collection (interviews; observations; triangulation)
- Data analysis (thematic analysis; triangulation)
- The Skill of Application: What you need to be really good at for this topic is being able to apply your knowledge of the above areas of qualitative research to whatever example has been suggested in the question in the exam. Below are a few notes for your reference and you will find more information on these topics on the other relevant pages of the textbooks.
You need to be able to define and describe purposive, snowball and opportunity sampling. You also need to be able to explain why they are useful sampling methods depending on the research context. For more information on sampling, see the relevant page on this blog, or check out the textbook/s.
A case study can incorporate interviews, observations, and other methods. As you are most familiar with observations and interviews, and these are qualitative methods, these are the two types of data gathering methods you should use.
For example, if the question asked you to explain how a case study could be used, if it was suitable to the context of the research, you could explain how a semi-structured interview method could be used, in conjunction with an observation (for triangulation). This would require a description of how they would be carried out, as well as ensuring you are linking it to the question and the stimulus material.
Types of case study: you may also find an opportunity to apply your knowledge of different types of case studies to this question (descriptive and explanatory; intrinsic, instrumental).
This question should be easy, provided you have an in-depth knowledge of qualitative methods, the benefits of the case study approach and you are able to apply this knowledge to the stimulus material.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Do not describe experiments or surveys, because you could be awarded a zero if you only focus on these. Paper 3 is about demonstrating your knowledge of qualitative methods, so even though experiments can be a part of case studies, do not mention them in Paper 3.
Imagine you are a sports psychologist and you have been hired by Manchester United Football Club to investigate a problem they are currently having: they are finding that their youth players are often dropping out of the club before they reach an age when they could play for the top side.
Premier sports club have development programmes where they recruit young players, sometimes as young as 14 to play for their youth squads with the hope that they will develop and become big league stars. David Beckham, for example, played in the Under 21 team for Manchester United and even debuted in the premier leagues at 17.
In this fictional example, the managers at Man U have come to you and your Sports Psychology team to try to figure out why so few of their youth players are making it to the Premier Team. In your initial discussions with the management, you asked what was happening to these young players that stopped them making it to the Premiers. They said the % of players that went from the U21 side to the Premier Team fifteen years ago was about 50%, but that number has dropped to about 20% in the past few years. Some of the players have stopped playing football altogether, others have transferred to different clubs, some have ruined their careers with injuries while others are running into other problems to do with money and drugs. There are currently 25 players in the Under 21 Manchester United Academy. There are also 13 players in the Manchester United Premier team who came from the Academy, and the management have given you the contacts of 60 players who have dropped out of the Academy for various reasons.
Working individually, with a partner or in a group of three, you are to:
“Explain how a case study could be used to investigate this problem of a high drop-out rate from the Manchester United Football Academy.”
Consider the following questions:
- Why is a case study useful in this context?
- What sample method will you use? Why? (think of who it is you would use to gather data to answer this problem)
- What data collection methods would you use? How would you use them? Why would you use them?
- How would you triangulate your research?
- How would you analyse your data?
You need to present the answers to the above questions in a medium of your choice. Possible options are: a poster, a presentation, written work (e.g. a practice exam style response or simply answering each question individually), a blog page, a video, or another medium of your choice.