Sunday, 2 October 2016

Reading a case study and not sure what to do?

When a learner asks "why?" Often the last thing they want or need is for the answer to be given to them. What we as teachers should enable, is not to provide answers to questions, but to facilitate learning through personal discovery. So when someone asks "why?", a good answer might be "I don't know, but I think I might know how to start the process of finding an answer".

The ideas behind the design of this course/blog revolve around the work of information system development and delivery. As an element of a Masters level subject we're hoping that you try to be a critical learner, that is critical in the sense of being prepared to engage in analysis that considers the merits and the flaws of the accounts we read. Critical also in the sense of arriving at your own judgement on the merits of claims from the literature be they drawn from practitioners, academics, from popular culture, or your own experience.

A central learning process is to undertake critical readings of the literature and media. To better articulate the challenges posed by software/system development, to appreciated the values of multiple modes of delivery, technologies, tools, and structures used to produce both software and systems of use. Being critical means being open to considering alternate paradigms of software production that appear to conflict with consensus views on management and control.

Ultimately you must form your own perspectives, on what you recognise to be the significant aspects of development, the values and qualities of its workers, and to arrive at your own measured responses to the challenges of its organisation.

Let's say you are reading a case study but you aren't sure how to deal with it. On the one hand perhaps the case study presents basic statements of facts, or perhaps the case presents so much rich context that it is difficult to see the underlying challenges. It's confusing. Fortunately you'll usually find that cases usually offer some leading questions that you can choose to answer. Alternatively you can dig out, extrapolate and investigate wider issues on your own initiative.

One of the goals of case based learning is to have readers react, question, go out and research, and eventually recommend some change or solution. But crucially, the reader should be looking at the challenges 'in general', the wider issues affecting similar initiatives in today's environment. Furthermore recommendations will be based on research, readings, applicable theory, and evidence; usually evidence you will have gathered yourself (aka research).

Consider case analysis as a process in which the learner poses or structures the problem, explores and shapes solutions to the problem. A reflective turn on the "case as a process" raises the circumstance where the "problems" that the case raises can be construed as personal knowledge gaps. Problem solving drives the underlying personal process of learning.

In order to put some shape on this as a process consider the following "moves":
  • Diagnose: Identify the problems(s)
  • Discover: Independently research the problem area(s)
  • Develop: Propose a response or responses, recommendations to resolve, improve etc.
Remember that recommendations and resolutions based on abstract rules will not necessarily fit actual situations therefore 'expert', rather than simply proficient, determinations will account for both the general issues and those that are context dependent.

The method: in brief.

1. Quickly 'first read' the case/paper/whatever. You will skip some sentences and words. The goal is to read the whole thing in a single sitting, without taking notes, just to get the first impression.

2. After the 'first read' write a sentence or paragraph from memory. This is your initial impression after first reading. Don't go back to re-read parts or seek clarity yet.
3. 'Second read' is also quick but you now underline/circle or write a list of concepts, jargon, terms, identities that are new or confuse, or are unknown to you. These are your personal knowledge gaps. Some of these you will resolve during homework time.
4. 'Third read' you can focus on sections or impressions; come up with a minimum of at least 3 initial diagnosis (continue during homework time). Encourage a variety of analyses, otherwise everyone focuses on perhaps one big superficial criticism like 'the business strategy is broken for these reasons and needs to change'.
5. Homework, self-directed and self-paced learning; address the personal knowledge gaps, work on diagnosis, work on prescribing more than one potential remedy to the problems.

The following are similar structured processes for reading and case analysis. You will probably have your own approach or adapt and modify the steps to suit the your own style and conditions.

Schwartz et al. (2001) outline a typical sequence of learning-centred activities for case analysis.
  • First encounter a problem ‘cold’, without doing any preparatory study in the area of the problem.
  • Interact with each other to explore their existing knowledge as it relates to the problem.
  • Form and test hypotheses about the underlying mechanisms that might account for the problem (up to their current levels of knowledge).
  • Identify further knowledge gaps or learning needs for making progress with the problem.
  • Undertake self-study between group meetings group to satisfy identified learning needs.
  • Return to the group to integrate the newly gained knowledge and apply it to the problem.
  • Repeat steps 3 to 6 as necessary.
  • Reflect on the process and on the content that has been learnt.
The Seven Jump or Maastricht process offers a similar template for structuring small-group case learning (Grave et al., 1996).
  • Clarify unknown terms or concepts in the problem description.
  • Define the problem(s). List the phenomena or events to be explained.
  • Analyse the problem(s). Step 1. Brainstorm. Try to produce as many different explanations for the phenomena as you [can] think of. Use prior knowledge and common sense.
  • Analyse the problem(s). Step 2. Discuss. Criticize the explanations proposed and try to produce a coherent description of the processes that, according to what you think, underlie the phenomena or events.
  • Formulate learning issues for self-directed learning.
  • Fill the gaps in your knowledge through self-study.
  • Share your findings with your group and try to integrate the knowledge acquired into a comprehensive explanation for the phenomena or events. Check whether you know enough now.
The MacMaster ‘triple jump’ describes three main stages for student-driven problem investigation: initial analysis, independent research, and synthesis. Each stage consists of a series of activities (not necessarily taking place in sequence).
  • Initial analysis: identify problems, explore extant knowledge, hypothesise, identify knowledge gaps
  • Independent research: research knowledge gaps
  • Synthesis: present findings – relating them to the problem(s), integrate learning from others, generate a synthesis, self-assessment of learning process, repeat ‘triple jump’ if needed.
You can also try one or more of the following methods to capture and order your analyses, diagnoses, recommendations etc.

Discover the issues...
  • Create an Empathy Map (from a key actor's perspective: the person, what they see, say, do, feel, hear, think)
  • Brainstorm
  • Anti-problem (state the antithesis to the problem and resolve it)
  • Context Map (depict rich context)
  • History Map (depict the past)
  • Low-Tech Social Network (sketch relationships between actors)
  • Storycard the Problem(s)
  • Draw the Problem(s) (graphical system depiction or representation)
Having identified problems...
  • Stakeholder Analysis
  • The 4 Cs or the 4 Ds or the 5 Whys (components, characteristics, challenges, characters; or discover, design, damage, deliver; or ask why 5 times)
  • The SQUID (sequential question and insight diagram)
  • Root cause analysis (cause-reason fishbone diagram)
  • GRAVE, W. S., BOSHUIZEN, H. P. A. & SCHMIDT, H. G. (1996) Problem based learning: Cognitive and metacognitive processes during problem analysis. Instructional Science, 24, 321-341.
  • SCHWARTZ, P., MENNIN, S. & WEBB, G. (Eds.) (2001) Problem-Based Learning: Case studies, experience and practice, London, Routledge.