Important Ed Tech Book Reviews

 From Now On
The Educational Technology Journal

 Vol 11|No 9|June|2002

Can studies of small samples be useful?

by Douglas W. Green Ed. D. and Thomas O’Brien Ph. D.
Binghamton University – Binghamton, NY

If you are not familiar with the role of case studies in qualitative educational research, you may feel that a study of only five classrooms is of little use.

While a look at only five classrooms does not allow for grand generalizations based on inferential statistical methods, we believe that it can be useful.

All educational cases bring with them a high degree of context specificity. We take particular cases in order to know them well. Grand generalizations can be modified or refuted by counter-examples found in case studies. Our study, for example, would refute the general statement that reliable Internet access in classrooms promotes more constructivist teacher practices.

To the extent that the findings in studies such as these are duplicated elsewhere, they contribute to our understanding of the phenomena in question. These three recently published books serve to support our findings.

  • Cuban, L. (2001). Oversold & Underused: Computers in the Classroom. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Press. (see FNO review)
  • Means, B, Penuel, W. R, and Padilla, C. (2002). The Connected School: Technology and Learning in High School. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. (see FNO review)
  • Schofield, J. W. and Davidson, A. L. (2002). Bringing the Internet to School: Lessons from an Urban District. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. (see FNO review)

Studies of small samples may also reveal information that points the way for larger more quantitative studies. Our findings regarding the use of the Internet for communications and information by girls would be an example of something we discovered that begs for additional research.

In case study work, the researcher is the primary measuring instrument. This means the researcher carries out data collection and becomes personally involved in the phenomenon being studied. The idea is to grasp the meaning of the phenomenon as experienced by individuals and groups in the setting.

The primary researcher for this article brought a background as a former computer service provider to the study. In this position it is clear that he served as a proponent of computers as instructional tools. As principal, he has also been eager to have Internet access in each of the classrooms in his school as he felt that it would promote constructivist practice.

We believe that this serves to make our findings stronger than if the primary researcher had come from the side of the argument that doubted the value of computer technology as an instructional tool.

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Credits: The photographs were shot by Jamie McKenzie.

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