What are Case Studies?

Case studies are stories or scenarios, often in narrative form, created and used as a tool for analysis and discussion. They have a long tradition of use in higher education particularly in business and law. Cases are often based on actual events which adds a sense of urgency or reality. Case studies have elements of simulations but the students are observers rather than participants. A good case has sufficient detail to necessitate research and to stimulate analysis from a variety of viewpoints or perspectives. They place the learner in the position of problem solver. Students become actively engaged in the materials discovering underlying issues, dilemmas and conflict issues.

Case content will usually reflect the purposes of the course. A history class might examine the European geopolitical situation that impacted the Quebec Act of 1760. A french class may look at issues around teaching english to spanish speaking kids in southern California. A media studies class could consider the factors in debating the cancellation of a television program. A biology class may investigate the ethics of stem cell research.

What is its purpose?

Used as a teaching tool, case studies are tools for engaging students in research and reflective discussion. Higher order thinking is encouraged. Solutions to cases may be ambiguous and facilitate creative problem solving coupled with an application of previously acquired skills. They are effective devices for directing students to practically apply their skills and understandings. A proponent of case use, Prof. John Boehrer, states that cases move "much of the responsibility for learning from the teacher on to the student, whose role, as a result, shifts away from passive absorption toward active construction" Students learn to identify delineate between critical and extraneous factors and develop realistic solutions to complex problems.They have the opportunity to learn from on another. For teachers, it offers an opportunity to provide instruction while conducting formative evaluation.

How do I do it?

Case studies are suitable for most curricula where students would benefit from the application of learned facts to a real world situation. It is particularly useful where situations are complex and solutions are uncertain. Cases can serve as the basis for a class discussion or as a project for individuals or small groups. A single case may be presented to several groups with an expectation of each groups solutions presented at some date. Alternatively a scenario may be presented as a launching pad for a discussion.

See the resource page (link below) for guides and materials.

How can I adapt it?

While aspects of case studies are found in all grade levels, the cognitive goals of the activity are best mated to students who are abstract thinkers. Using a Piagetian position then, the activity is best suited for middle years and older students. Case studies bridge the gap between the very teacher centred lecture method and pure problem based learning. Room is left with cases for teachers to provide direct guidance and the scenarios themselves provide hints and parameters within which the students must operate.

Assessment and Evaluation Considerations

The resolution to a case is only the last component in a process. Assessment should be based on the teacher's pre stated objectives. Aspects for observation and evaluation can include:

  • quality of research
  • grammatical/structural issues in written material
  • organization of arguments
  • the feasiblity of solutions presented
  • intra group dynamics
  • evidence of consideration of all case factors
  • Case studies may be resolved in more than one manner.

Teacher Resources

This link to Case Study Resources will take you to a page offering a collection of materials and websites to aid in the development of your own cases

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