Case studies can be used to help students understand simple and complex issues. They typically are presented to the students as a situation or scenario which is guided by questions such as “What would you do in this situation?” or “How would you solve this problem?” Successful case studies focus on problem situations relevant to course content and which are relevant “both to the interests and experience level of learners” (Illinois Online Network, 2007).
Case studies can be simple problems where students “work out” a solution to more complex scenarios which require role playing and elaborate planning. Case studies typically involve teams although cases can be undertaken individually. Because case studies often are proposed to not have “one right answer” (Kowalski, Weaver, Henson, 1998, p. 4), some students may be challenged to think alternatively than their peers. However, when properly planned, case studies can effectively engage students in problem solving and deriving creative solutions.
The Penn State University’s Teaching and Learning with Technology unit suggests the following elements when planning case studies for use in the classroom.
Case studies actively involve students as they work on issues found in “real-life” situations and, with careful planning, can be used in all academic disciplines.
Most case assignments require students to answer an open-ended question or develop a solution to an open-ended problem with multiple potential solutions.
To help you get started using case studies in the classroom, a number of tasks should be considered. Following this list are tasks to help you prepare students as they participate in the case study.
Case studies provide students with scenarios in which they can begin to think about their understanding and solutions to problems found in real-world situations. When carefully planned, case studies will challenge students’ critical thinking and problem solving skills in a safe and open learning environment. Case studies can help students analyze and find solutions to complex problems with foresight and confidence.
Illinois Online Network (2007). ION research: Case studies. http://www.ion.uillinois.edu/resources/casestudies/
Kowalski, T. J., Weaver, R. A., & Henson, K. T. (1998). Case studies of beginning teachers. New York, NY: Longman.
Penn State University (2006). Office of Teaching and Learning with Technology. Using cases in teaching. http://tlt.its.psu.edu/suggestions/cases/casewhat.html
Study Guides and Strategies (2007). Case studies. http://www.studygs.net/casestudy.htm
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Northern Illinois University Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. (2012). Case studies. In Instructional guide for university faculty and teaching assistants. Retrieved from https://www.niu.edu/citl/resources/guides/instructional-guide