Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

A Single Case Study Approach to Teaching: Effects on Learning and Understanding

Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

A Single Case Study Approach to Teaching: Effects on Learning and Understanding

Article excerpt


The need for improvement in the delivery of IT projects has been well documented (Dhillon & Backhouse, 1996; Hochstrasser, 1993; Lin & Pervan, 2001; McGunnagle, 1995; Schwalbe, 2002; The Standish Group, 1995, 2001). Many projects are cancelled before completion, many run over budget and over time, and many that are completed have less functionality than expected and are unreliable. There is no doubt that IT project managers have a difficult task when undertaking the management of an IT project. Clearly, there is a need for further research and development of IT project management (ITPM) practices. It is also important that universities educate potential IT project managers so that they can better deal with the complexities of their roles. It is, after all, well-recognised that it is the project manager who is accountable and responsible for what occurs in a project and who must strive to bring the project to a successful conclusion (Cadle & Yeates, 2001; Nicholas, 2001).

To help educate potential IT project managers, the Faculty of Information Technology of one university believed it was important to deliver their own IT specific project management subject, even though more general units addressing the management of projects were being offered through other faculties. The ITPM unit, offered as an elective, was carefully structured to provide students with what were believed to be the most appropriate skills and relevant knowledge to take them into the workforce, providing an understanding of factors likely to contribute to project success and factors likely to contribute to project failure.

The unit aimed not simply to teach a set of principles and procedures, but to provide students with an appreciation of the complex and multi-disciplinary nature of ITPM, which includes all the administrative, technical, communication and socio-political demands placed on the modern IT project manager. The objectives of the ITPM unit clearly demanded an understanding of ideas and meanings rather than merely learning the techniques used to achieve success in ITPM. An approach to teaching that recognised and encouraged a 'deep approach' rather than the alternative 'surface approach' to learning was therefore considered more desirable. It was believed that the approach of providing a large case study and integrating it into the curriculum could provide students with a 'virtual environment' in which they could become ensconced, allowing them to see, and perhaps experience, the frustrations and elations of working on an IT Project. The case study thus presented a real-world example of an IT project to illustrate the application of the principles and procedures being taught, rather than presenting them in a void.

Initial evaluation of the desired learning outcomes (Jewels & Bruce, 2003) suggested that the approach did not sufficiently encourage a deep approach to learning. These results appeared to confirm Entwistle's (1988) findings that few students were "able to carry through all the component processes demanded by a fully deep approach which would have resulted in a deep level of understanding", (p28). It was felt, though, that it was worthwhile persisting with the single case study approach to see whether changes could be made to the pedagogy that would encourage more students to take a deep approach. This paper discusses how the approach was modified to better meet the desired learning outcomes and the findings from two subsequent iterations of the unit.


An Integrated Case Study Approach

The case study originally used was the 5000 word Dag-Brucken ASRS case study, as it is known, which follows the IT development of an automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS) facility in Asia for a well-known beverage manufacturer. The case describes how the vendor organisation's IT development processes and the environment in which the processes took place may have contributed to the eventual failure of the project and ultimately of the vendor organisation itself. …

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