Case-Centered Research in Education: Bridging the Cultural Divide

The following is a modified excerpt from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp. 329-331). This excerpt discusses a case study illustrating how the author utilized many Total Quality Framework (TQF) design considerations, e.g., disclosure of the sampling method, a discussion of researcher bias, and processing plus verification procedures, that ultimately led to useful outcomes.

Bridging the cultural divideMultiple methods and case-centered qualitative research is the subject of other articles in Research Design Review – see “Multi-method & Case-centered Research: When the Whole is Greater Than the Sum of its Parts.” Multiple methods, of course, refers to combining two or more qualitative methods to investigate a research question. Case-centered research is

A term coined by Mishler (1996, 1999) to denote a research approach that preserves the “unity and coherence” of research subjects throughout data collection and analysis. It consists of two fundamental and unique components: (a) a focus on the investigation of “complex” social units or entities (also known as “case[s]”) in their entirety (i.e., not just one aspect captured at one moment in time), and (b) an emphasis on maintaining the cohesiveness of this entity throughout the research process. Two prominent case-centered approaches are case study research and narrative research. (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, p. 350).

The following case study is from Auerbach (2002) who used multiple methods within a case-centered narrative study design to explore schooling and communication with educators among working-class Latino parents in urban Los Angeles. This case is discussed around the four components of the TQF – Credibility, Analyzability, Transparency, and Usefulness.


The purpose of this research was to explore the problems that Latino parents in urban Los Angeles face related to the schooling of their children and communication with educators. More specifically, this research utilized one particular college-access program for high school students to investigate the use of storytelling among a marginalized group of working-class Latino parents to examine whether “listening to the stories of parents of color may help urban educators and policy makers bridge the divide between students’ home cultures and the culture of school” (p. 1370).


A case-centered approach is a popular form of qualitative research among educational researchers. Stake (1995), Qi (2009), Bennett et al. (2012), Clandinin and Connelly (1998; Connelly & Clandinin, 1990), and Randall (2012) are just a few of the researchers who have applied either case study or narrative research to issues in education. The study presented here is another example of case-centered research in an educational setting. This was a fitting approach, given the researcher’s access to and involvement with the “Futures Project”—a longitudinal study conducted in conjunction with
an experimental college-access program for high school students—which fostered a case-centered study design relying on multiple methods within a narrative framework.


The target population for this study was parents of high school students participating in the Futures Project. This project was conducted in partnership with UCLA to trace the trajectories of 30 students who participated in an experimental college-access program. The researcher used Read Full Text

The Stanford Prison Experiment: A Case for Sharing Data

The October 2019 issue of American Psychologist included two articles on the famed Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE) condThe Stanford Prison Experimentucted by Philip Zimbardo in 1971. The first, “Rethinking the Nature of Cruelty: The Role of Identity Leadership in the Stanford Prison Experiment” (Haslam, Reicher, & Van Bavel, 2019), discusses the outcomes of the SPE within the context of social identity and, specifically, identity leadership theories espousing, among other things, the idea that “when group identity becomes salient, individuals seek to ascertain and to conform to those understandings which define what it means to be a member of the relevant group” (p. 812) and “leadership is not just about how leaders act but also about their capacity to shape the actions of followers” (p. 813). It is within this context that the authors conclude from their examination of the SPE archival material that the “totality of evidence indicates that, far from slipping naturally into their assigned roles, some of Zimbardo’s guards actively resisted [and] were consequently subjected to intense interventions from the experimenters” (p. 820), resulting in behavior “more consistent with an identity leadership account than…the standard role account” (p. 819).

In the second article, “Debunking the Stanford Prison Experiment” (Le Texier, 2019), the author discusses his content analysis study of the documents and audio/video recordings retrieved from the SPE archives located at Stanford University and the Archives of the History of American Psychology at the University of Akron, including a triangulation phase by way of in-depth interviews with SPE participants and a comparative analysis utilizing various publications and texts referring to the SPE. The purpose of this research was to learn whether the SPE archives, participants, and comparative analysis would reveal “any important information about the SPE that had not been included in and, more importantly, was in conflict with that reported in Zimbardo’s published accounts of the study” (p. 825). Le Texier derives a number of key findings from his study that shed doubt on the integrity of the SPE, including the fact that the prison guards were aware of the results Read Full Text

Building Rapport & Engagement in the Focus Group Method

The following is a modified excerpt from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp. 150-152).

The ability to quickly build rapport with focus group participants and then maintain it throughout the discussion session is a necessary skill of all Rapport building in focus groupsmoderators. Regardless of mode (in-person, telephone, or online), focus group moderators must learn how to effectively engage participants to generate accurate and complete information. Rapport building for the moderator begins even before the start of a group discussion, when he/she welcomes the participants as they arrive at the facility (for an in-person discussion), on the teleconference line (for a telephone focus group), or in the virtual focus group room (for an online discussion), and it continues beyond the introductory remarks during which the moderator acknowledges aspects of the discussion environment that may not be readily apparent (e.g., the presence of observers, the microphone or other device being used to audio record the discussion), states a few ground rules for the session, and allows participants to ask any questions or make comments before the start of the discussion. In the in-person mode, the moderator’s rapport building goes beyond what he/she says to participants to make them feel at ease to also include the physical environment. For example, business executives might feel comfortable and willing to talk sitting around a standard conference table; however, in order to build rapport and stimulate engagement among a group of teenagers, the moderator needs to select a site where teens will feel that they can relax and freely discuss the issues. This might be a standard focus group facility with a living or recreation room setup (i.e., a room with couches, bean bags, and rugs on the floor for sitting) or an unconventional location such as someone’s home or the city park.

Another aspect of the physical environment in in-person discussions that impacts rapport and consequently the quality of the data gathered is the seating arrangement. For instance, Krueger and Casey (2009) recommend that the moderator position a shy participant Read Full Text