A post from Maureen Reed, Director of the Learning and Teaching Office:
I have recently been reading about case methods in teaching. Those that use them cite their many benefits. These benefits include teaching students to apply theory to practice, helping students see more than one point of view, allowing them to test potential solutions to real world problems, helping them to support an argument with facts, and increasing interest in a topic through problem solving. In general, a case is a problem faced by a group, individual, or institution. Good cases are realistic, open ended, and allow for more than one solution.
One thing I did not realize is that there are many types of cases that can be used. In some instances a faculty member can give a very long case to their class that takes the entire term to resolve. These cases are often purchased, but our Library does have access to some of these cases for free. These longer cases tend to be most often used in business programs. There are also shorter cases that are successive in nature. As students come up with a solution, more information is given. These cases are often used in the health field to prepare students for altering diagnoses due to changes in symptomology.
Any faculty member can create small cases in their own field, just following the simple structure that as students postulate a solution, they receive more information. These cases would work in studying things like the stock market, epidemiology, the environment, or any topic where changes can happen quickly. Some cases are simply small paragraphs where a problem is described and students work in groups to form a solution. In these cases the faculty member often gives some guided questions to direct the group discussion.
Recently I learned of three types of cases that require students to defend positions that might not be their own. First there are debate cases where students debate the pros and cons of a given outcome. Second, forced choice cases, where multiple choice solutions are given and each group of students must support one of the outcomes, stating the benefits and overcoming difficulties with the solution. And third, role-play cases, where students take on a character and must articulate and defend the character’s opinion. I actually conducted one of these role playing cases in class for a full semester where students had to take on the character and opinions of historical figures in psychology. I think this was one of my most rewarding teaching experiences.
There are many more types of cases and the some listed here and others can be found in Daniel Schneider’s wiki. Dr. Schneider says his wiki is not complete, but it does offer a good introduction. I do think that cases offer us an opportunity to make our courses feel experiential and my experience has been that students become very engaged in them. Cases require students to start applying critical thinking skills and I believe that is a goal that we have for most of our courses. You can learn even more about case methods by visiting our case methods resource page.