Case Study Research Methods (Observation)

Jeong-Hwan Choi

Department of Human Resource Education, Graduate School of Education, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 351 Education Building, 1310 South Sixth Street, Champaign, IL 61820. 



                 I'm taking the Case Study Methodology Course (EPSY490) at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The course instructor Prof. Dr. Robert Stake, who has a big name at Education Case Study, encourages participants taking a look at the Sweet Corn Festival at Urbana on Aug. 23, 2008 and writing a observation report to discuss it at the first class session. Since I had no idea about Education Case Study Methods, I just set up three simple questions and applied a simple framework.

My questions were:

1.        How many minorities participated in the Festival?

2.        Are there any behavioral differences among minority families?

3.        Who does take care of children in minority families?

Furthermore, the applied framework was composed four categories:

1.        Family setting

2.        Shopping items at the festival

3.        Pattern of moving

4.        Child caring patterns

By using these questions and framework, I started my observation of minority families.


Observation Method

I observed five minority families who participated in the Sweet Corn festival near to the cross way of Broadway and Main street on Aug. 23 during 11:50 AM ~ 2:40 PM.

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The observation place was selected for high accessibility for participating families to main ticket booth and events. The observation time was since the period was initiating time of holding opening ceremony and main events.

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Observation1. Ethnical Compositions at Sweet Corn Festival.

To identify the ethnical compositions at Sweet Corn Festival, I counted the number of buyers during 2:20~2:40 PM near to the main ticket booth. 84 White and 19 African Americans bought tickets at main ticket booth during the observation period. Meanwhile, 4 Asians including Indians bought tickets and 2 unidentifiable persons did.

According to Illinois Center for Immigrant Studies (Bouvier & Jenkins, 1996, source: ), Illinois State population changes were projected as below graph.

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The result of population observation at Sweet Corn festival 2008 was quite similar to the census of Illinois on 1990 except the Hispanic. The result could be caused from my limitation to identify Hispanic from white people, but the numbers of Hispanics was very small.

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The short observation of Sweetcorn festival 2008 ethnic composition is quite similar to the results of census on 1990 except the Hispanic.

The result could be caused from my limitation to identify hispanics from white people but still the population of hispanics who joined participated the Sweetcorn Festival is still few comparing withe the census of Illinois state.

Meanwhile, I tried applying simple frameworks as to identify question 2, 3.
1. Family setting
2. What they consumes at the festival?
3. Pattern of moving
4. Child caring pattern

Observation 2. Settings of Minority Family

Five cases were observed under the suggested frameworks.

Case1: Asian family (Thai)
- Family setting: Grad father(60s), Grand mother(60s), Father(30s), Boy (6~7 yrs), Girl (4~5 yrs)
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Case2: Combined Family (African American Father & Hispanic Mother)
- Family setting: Father (40~50s), Mother (30s), Boy (2~3 yrs)
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Case3: Indian Family
- Family setting: Father (30s), Mother (20~30s), Boy (2~3 yrs)

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Case4: African American Family
- Family setting: Father (20~30s), Mother (20~30s), Boy (6~7 yrs), Girl (3~4 yrs)

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Case5: Korean Family
- Family setting: Father (30s), Mother (30s), Girl (8~9 yrs), Boy (5~6 yrs), Boy (1~2 yrs)
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Observation3. Limited route & shopping.

Although many white families actively joined many events or enjoyed various shopping opportunities, minority families showed limited moving patterns and shopping activities.

Case 1, 4, 5 had been very similar moving patterns. They came from entrance and move to the sweet corn booth and bought some sweet corns, then enjoyed them near to the booth. After looking around events booth at the main street, they came back to the entrance or parking lot.

Case 2 family participated in the Taekwondo exhibition and moved to Sweet Corn booth and booth some sweet corns. The father communicated with News Gazette Sales person for some time, however the mother and kid kept a distance and looked on them.  The moving directions were usually led by the woman.

Case 3 showed the most active moving among minority families. The father led whole directions and movements. They, firstly, visited the Greek Food booth located in the left hand side of the Main street and but did not buy anything. They moved the Sweet Corn booth direction and visited another Greek Food booth, but did not buy anything either. However, when they headed to the Busey Bank direction, they dropped by the Mirabelle Fine Arts Gallery and bought a bunch of items. After enjoying shopping at the fine art shop, they moved to the ticket booth and stood on the line in front of Thai Food Booth. At there, they met another Indian family and communicated for a long time.

In sum, minority families bought only sweet corns and some snacks or beverage, except the case 3.

Observation4. Different Interaction Patterns in Minority Families (Child Caring Patterns)

Minority families showed different interaction patterns for caring their children.

In Case1 (Thai family), Men (Grandfather, Father) had a strong interaction to the boy. However, the girl was taken care of by grandmother only. For instance, grandfather communicated with father and boy with keeping eye contact, but grandmother and the girl did not much involve in conversation when they enjoyed a cup of Cold stone ice cream at a parking lot bench. Another event also showed the gender specific relationship. When they ate sweet corns, sitting on a bench near to the sales desk of sweet corns, father sat besides the boy and grandmother sat just behind of the girl. The grandfather, however, sat apart from other families with communicating with father.

Case 2 (African American Father, Hispanic mother) showed a strong relationship with mother and the body, on the contrary to the case 1. The mother always cared her boy and carried him any places, however, the father did not much involved the interaction between them. When the family went through the News Gazette booth, the father had five minutes chat with advertiser. But the mother and the boy stepped back a few feet and waited the father.

Indian family (Case 3) was quite different from case 2. The father carried his boy all the time, but the mother was looked a little bit separated. However, when the boy cried, the mother abruptly took him and calm down him.

African American family (Case 4) showed quite equal interactions with their children. The father and mother exchanged their position to take care of her children. There seemed no specifically strong or weak relationship with according to gender.

Case 5 (Korean family), on the contrary to the case 4, they showed gender specific roles and interactions.

The mother took care of all three kids, but the father only communicated with the mother with stepping back a feet.



The portion of Minority families at Sweet Corn festival was smaller than the state census results.

They spent and enjoyed less than the white families and showed a different style of interaction patterns, which may from cultural differences of gender roles.



1.        Why minorities did not come to the festival?

2.        Why minority families did not enjoy the festival as much as the white ones?

3.        Which cultural differences made the different behaviors in child caring?



Bouvier & Jenkins, Shaping Illinois: The Effects of Immigration, 1970-2020, Center Report, , March 1996.


Posted by Jeonghwan Choi

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