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Introduction to Case Study


Winston Tellis+

The Qualitative Report, Volume 3, Number 2, July, 1997




This paper is the first of a series of three articles relating to a case study conducted at Fairfield University to assess aspects of the rapid introduction of Information Technology at the institution. This article deals with the nature of the problem faced by Fairfield University, the characteristics of the case methodology, and lays the foundation for the selection of this research technique for the current study. The paper begins with an Introduction section to familiarize the reader with the case organization. The following section on Case Methodology explores the history, and some of the applications of the technique. The section ends with specific research protocols for researchers.


Fairfield University is a private liberal arts institution of about 3,000 full time undergraduate students and about 1,000 graduate school students. The undergraduate students are distributed through the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Business, and the School of Nursing. The graduate students are in the Graduate School of Education, the School of Business, and the School of Nursing. There are also part time students in the School of Continuing Education and the BEI School of Engineering. As with many other private institutions of higher education, Fairfield University faces many challenges.

These challenges come from the declining population of college age students and the growing cost of running the institution. The literature will support the preceding statement (Crossland, 1980), but provide little comfort to the institution. One of the areas of greatest concern to college managers is the continuing cost of information technology. With the constant need to increase staff salaries, it is like salaries, inadvisable to reduce the outlay on information technology. Interviews that were conducted by this researcher with the deans and managers indicated that some of the peer institutions of Fairfield University are in fact doing as much if not more in this area. Hence any interruption in the effort to maintain technological currency would result in a competitive disadvantage for the institution. Therein lies the administrative financial challenge. The expense on information technology must be maintained at a time of declining revenues (Nicklin, 1992).

The field of information technology at a university is very broad and could encompass many technologies hitherto not considered within its purview. However, there has been a relentless and indeed accelerating pace of convergence of the technologies in telecommunications, library services, and video services. The current study is concerned only with the aspects of information technology as it relates to academic computing and will focus on instructional and research computing.

The goals of this study include an examination of the (a) managerial and (b) economic aspects of the rapid acquisition of information technology. The objectives deriving from those goals are:

An assessment of the categories of computer use in higher education.

An evaluation of the managerial issues of computing, including the centralization/decentralization of computing, client/server computing and the aspects of the Internet and the World Wide Web (WWW)

Establish a basis for understanding the current and future economic aspects of information technology acquisition.

The research questions arising from the above objectives were as follows:

Objective 1 above is addressed by the question: "What patterns of acquisition emerge from the current computing environment and the perceived needs for computing?"

Objective 2 is addressed by the question: "What characteristics of the categories of computing use contribute to the patterns of acquisition?" The five categories developed by King and Kraemer (1985) and adapted for use by Levy (1988) in his study at the University of Arizona, are used in this study, to examine the computing use at Fairfield University.

Objective 3 is addressed by the question: "What managerial issues arise from the rapid acquisition of information technology and how important have those technologies become to the organization?"

Objective 4 is addressed by the question: "How will the institution balance the need for technological changes with the need to continue the accomplishment of routine tasks?."

Samuel Levy (1988) conducted a study of instructional and research computing at the University of Arizona. This study replicates and extends the Levy (1988) study, and was conducted at Fairfield University. The current study extends the Levy (1988) study in its examination of aspects of the Internet, the World Wide Web, and Client/Server computing. Levy (1988) established the use of the case study as appropriate for the research project, and this researcher also used the literature to confirm the use of case methodology in the study at Fairfield University.

The history and development of case methodology is reviewed, in support of the current case study at Fairfield University. There have been periods of intense use followed by periods of disuse of this technique, as documented by Hamel, Dufour, and Fortin (1993) as well as others. The relevance of that history to this study is important in that it establishes the known advantages and disadvantages of the methodology. The particular technique of a single-case study is reviewed, since that is the specific implementation of a case study at Fairfield University and was also used by Levy (1988).

Case Study Methodology

The history of case study research is marked by periods of intense use and periods of disuse. The earliest use of this form of research can be traced to Europe, predominantly to France. The methodology in the United States was most closely associated with The University of Chicago Department of Sociology. From the early 1900's until 1935, The Chicago School was preeminent in the field and the source of a great deal of the literature.

There was a wealth of material in Chicago, since it was a period of immigration to the United States and various



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