Case Study design

This qualitative case study is an approach to research that facilitates exploration of a phenomenon within its context using a variety of data sources. This ensures that the issue is not explored through one lens, but rather a variety of lenses, which allows for multiple facets of the phenomenon to be revealed and understood (Baxter & Jack, 2008, p. 544).
Yin (2003) outlines the conditions that warrant the use of a qualitative case study method:

  1. When the researcher is aiming to answer the questions that begin with ‘how’ or ‘why’.
  2. When the researcher has no control over the entities or people involved in the research.
  3. The context where the research or data is gathered is considered important and relevant to the ‘phenomenon’ being studied.
  4. Where there is no clear distinction between the context and the phenomenon being studied.
(Yin, 2003)

While the research questions in this study do not use the words ‘how’ and ‘why’ explicitly, they are however implicit within the context of this study to gain a deeper understanding of the use of Second Life in learning and teaching. The researcher in this study indeed has no control over the entities participating and from whom the data will be collected. The context (Second life) in this study is the critical element in the process and to a degree the researcher agrees that there is no clear distinction between the phenomenon and the context as the main focus of this study is to study the relationship between the two (context and phenomenon) and the impact on learning and teaching.
Baxter and Jack (2008) explain that when the researcher is considering the research questions for the study, it is important to also consider ‘what the case is’ (p. 545). The case is defined as “a phenomenon of some sort occurring in a bounded context”. The case is, “in effect, your unit of analysis” (Miles & Huberman, 1994, p. 25).

Data Gathering

Research literature outlines multiple ways of gathering data for a qualitative case study method, such as observations, interviews, documents, focus groups, audio/visual materials, structured questionnaire and latterly internet-mediated (Carroll & Rothe, 2010; Creswell, 2003; Hesse-Biber & Leavy, 2008; Hoepfl, 1997; Johnson & Christensen, 2008). Given the distributed nature of the envisaged participants in this research, internet-based tools and methods were heavily used. At the time data for this research was gathered (late 2008 - early 2009), Second Life was only being used by few institutes around the world hence gathering data via any other method for this research was not practical. The time barrier also proved to be a hindrance since the participants aimed for in this research were from around the world hence online questionnaires were designed using Surveymonkey (refer Appendix 1 and 2) and were used in this research to gather related data. The participants were however given an interview option in-world (in Second Life, refer Appendix 3) if it suited them and they were willing; this option however was not taken by any participant.