format of a case often influences how you choose to use it with
students. Examples of cases with commonly encountered formats are
provided with a brief description and likely implementation strategies.
detailed case study
in business courses, these cases often center on a particular decision,
the people who made it, the people affected by it, and the impact
of that decision on all parties. These cases may run 100 pages
or more. Usually the student reads the entire case individually
and prepares an analysis of the decisions with recommendations for
change. The case is then discussed.
example from sociology is Separate but Safer and
in a Global Neighborhood a case designed for an online seminar
on sustainable food systems. Case
Study of a Usability Lab is one of many at Georgia Tech.
narrative cases, parts of which are given successively
are up to 5 pages with about 1-2 paragraphs per page and
are designed to
be used over the course of two or more class meetings. The
case is disclosed to the students one page at a time, with discussion,
hypothesis generation and development of learning goals and study
questions for each part of the case. Objectives are given to the
student toward the end of the case. This style of case originated
in medical settings. An example from nursing is Baby
JW . The ASM case Souvenirs
deals with hantavirus in five parts. There are extensive teaching
notes and resources including assessment.
to be used in a single class meeting, usually tightly focused. Useful
for helping students apply concepts, for introducing practical applications
in lab settings, or as a pre-lab exercise designed to make lab work
more meaningful. See Coldwater
Lake a prelude to a modeling exercise on lake food webs and Deadly Diet Pills to
lead into respiration.
or three sentences with a single teaching point. Similar to problems
commonly used on exams, however, students discuss them in small
groups. These can be used for pre-assessment such as MTBE Alert
the The Rumor activity
Now Mad Cow to test prior knowledge of proteins and prions.
Directed Case Study
format, short cases are followed immediately with highly directed
questions. See the several cases in the Human
Anatomy and Physiology Case Project at Niagara University, for
example, Muscle Dysgenesis
Fixed Choice Options (Multiple Choice Cases)
These may be a variation on bullet cases above,
is a minicase with 4-5 plausible solutions. In groups students must
choose and defend one solution. Useful for policy, ethics, design
decisions. Good for short, in-class uses. Multiple choice questions
might convert easily to these.
Goals and Course Objectives
- Which goals could
be met by having students use the casestudy approach? Often a
case will allow students to address more than one goal at a time.
This kind of analysis can be a starting place for case writing.
- A second way to use the goals of the
course is when you evaluate a case for use in your class. Ask
yourself these questions:
- What is the case
- What are
some of the potential learning issues?
- Are these
central enough to the case for me to use this case?
- Can I modify
- How difficult
or obscure are the issues in the case?
- Will there
be issues my students will care about?
- Is the
case open-ended enough for students to go beyond fact finding?
- What do
I see as possible areas for investigation?
- What product
might I ask students to produce?
- Is the
case too short or too long for the time I have available?
- What sorts
of learning resources might be needed for this case? Are they
- If I use
this case, what lectures/labs/discussions might I want to
change, add or eliminate?
you can see from the above list of questions, sometimes using cases
can lead to changing a course syllabus, to delete, rearrange, change
or add other components like lectures or labs.
Another consideration is the temporal structure
of the course, and the space available for teaching. When does the
course meet? How often? How long? For what purposes? When would
you fit in cases? Some suggested "prototypical weeks".
hours of lecture, 2-3 hours in lab
blocks per week "workshop" style with some time for
lecture and case work, sandwiching lab
case on Fri., work on in lab, finish next Fri.
classes come in all sizes - 15, 50, 150, or 500 students with enrollments
tending to be highest in beginning courses. There are even biology
classes where the members never meet in person. Implementing case-cased
learning in different sized classes requires planning.
In very large classes, cases could be short
introductory experiences that lead into additional learning experiences
in lab or recitation time.Some part of the lecture time is used
to provide the case background, perhaps in a short video segment.
Directed cases with a defined problem space are used within large
lecture settings by selecting class members to respond individually.
Often individuals are chosen to report on the progress of short
periods of work accomplished within proximity groups of students.
There are many solutions to having students in larger classes do
meaningful work in smaller groups. Additional support for case based
teaching can be provided by faculty working in teams, graduate students
(if available) and advanced undergraduate teaching assistants. It
is possible to break up large classes into smaller groups, but you
do need a high tolerance for noise while a couple of hundred students,
working in near-neighbor groups, discusses a case. Peer interactions
are enriched by the prior knowledge, experience and interests the
larger number of students bring to the process.
In smaller classes, there's a real advantage
for students learning how to work together on cases. Groups can
be smaller and more easily interacted with. Investigative case-based
learning works well in this setting. Here the case serves as a springboard
for further investigations in the lab or field. Further research
options might include modeling and simulation, data mining, or data
visualization. A number of undergraduate institutions have set up
workshop biology or studio science style introductory courses that
result in lower sized classes specifically to take advantage of
cooperative and collaborative learning in biology. Student products
required of the case learning experience are also not as limited.
Longer term individual case projects are more likely to be an option
In virtual classes, cases are introduced
electronically with student groups working together on-line. This
approach also works well to extend opportunities for community college
students who may be older and working. There are faculty whose case
materials and advice are made available on line.
students to use case study approaches
college students are ill-prepared for collaborative group work,
although this may change in the future as collaborative methods
become more widely used in secondary education. Nonetheless, at
present, college faculty need to recognize that they will have to
teach students how to work together. They will also have to teach
them how to use case study approaches.
Harvard Medical School, incoming classes of medical students are introduced
to case-based learning in three ways. First, in orientation, they
do a case about plumbing (which few know about and it isn't medical,
so the pressure is off). Second, also during orientation, they sit
as a group of 160 in a lecture hall and watch a small group tutorial
take place live in front of them (run by second year students). Third,
in their first real course, time is allotted for discussing group
dynamics and case processes.
You will likely want to make a low-pressure
situation for your students the first time they do a case. Make
it small, fun and easy, so they can learn how to brainstorm the
issues and questions of the case. Don't be afraid to give explicit
directions, such as:
begin by having one person read the case out loud. Who would
like to do this?"
"Are there any words you don't know?"
Or "what do you think this case is about?"
"It will help you later if one ofyou
acts as scribe and writes down the ideas (on the chalkboard).
You might want to keep track of facts, questions, issues, and
proposed answers to the problem."
"We have 10 minutes left and you need
to plan for next meeting. What do you see as key issues you'd
like to work on?"
Students also need guidelines for how to act during
discussions. Having printed guidelines can help, such as
General advice books on college teaching like
McKeachie's Teaching Tips or Barbara Gross Davis "Tools for Teaching"
will be useful for developing such guidelines, as will colleagues
in disciplines that regularly use discussion (psychology, english,
history, education, philosophy).
"Don't interrupt one another"
... "Don't attack people personally, focus on ideas"...
"Each person must contribute to the group. There are many
ways to do this."