The SoTL Advocate

Supporting efforts to make public the reflection and study of teaching and learning at Illinois State University and beyond…

SoTL Methods Series #1: Case Study Research


Written by Jennifer Friberg, CSD/SoTL Scholar-Mentor at Illinois State University

Case study research is any inquiry which involves careful description and analysis of a specific individual, group or event. Bishop Clark and Dietz-Ulher (2012, p. 50) explain:

“While many SoTL projects involve hundreds of students, the work involved in a case study has a sample size, or n, of one – whether it be one classroom or one student. However, the work involved in something as simple as an investigation of a single student processing a single assignment can be substantial and complex.”

Why might a researcher decide to select a case study methodology for a research study? Case studies can provide rich, descriptive data of a single case, yielding understating of a phenomenon more deeply (Patton, 2002). Case studies are appropriate to adopt as a research method in conditions where a researcher seeks to fully and deeply understand the complexities of a single phenomenon. Researchers should be cautioned, however, that due to a case study’s intense focus on a single source of data, results from case study research might not be easily generalizable to a larger population.

Soy (1997) suggested several suggestions for conducting case-study research. These have been adapted below to focus specifically on the design of case study-based SoTL research, but readers can access the original source here for the complete reference. Important considerations in the design of case study research are as follows:

  1. Determine your case to study and define your research question. To engage in SoTL research using a case study methodology, the researcher must first determine the entity to be studied. Perhaps this is a single assignment or one classroom of students. It could be a single student or a single teacher. Any single agent involved in the teaching and learning process can be studied as a discreet “case” in some fashion. The focus of the case study is then studied in depth in light of research questions posed by the researcher. These questions can be specific or general in nature, depending on the purpose and audience for your study.
  2. Determine data gathering and analysis techniques. Depending on the research questions to be answered over the course of a particular SoTL study, case study data can be collected in a variety of ways (i.e., interviews, observations, reflections). Data should be collected after advanced planning of how data will be analyzed to ensure that data is collected to appropriately and adequately address various research questions. Analysis of data can be qualitative or quantitative, depending on researcher preferences.

Researchers pondering the use of a case study methodology for a SoTL project can refer to these exemplar articles to better understand how case study research is conducted and reported:

Moore, M. A., & Bruckner, I. M. (2010). A case of collaboration: Faculty experiences within a multidisciplinary, multimedia, multi-campus learning community in an urban community college district. MountainRise, 6(2).

Weller, S., Domarkaite, G. K., Lam, J. L. C., & Metta, L. U. (2013). Student-faculty co-inquiry into student reading: Recognizing SoTL as pedagogic practice. International Journal for the Scholarship of teaching and Learning, 7(2), article 9.

Finally, the following non-research reference might be helpful to any scholars seeking more information about case study-based research:

Yin, R. K. (2008). Case study research: Design and methods. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Blog References:

Bishop-Clark, C. & Dietz-Uhler, B. (2012). Engaging in the scholarship of teaching and learning: A guide to the process, and how to develop a project from start to finish. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

Friberg, J. & Cox, M. (2014, October). Selecting methodologies for your SoTL research projects workshop: Supplemental workshop resource. Unpublished paper.

Patton, M. Q. (2002). Qualitative research & evaluation methods (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Soy, S. (1997). The case study as a research method. Retrieved from

2 thoughts on “SoTL Methods Series #1: Case Study Research

  1. Pingback: Assessing the Reach of the SoTL Advocate Blog | The SoTL Advocate

  2. Pingback: Seeking Blog Contributors for Fall 2017 SoTL Methods Series | The SoTL Advocate

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