Saturday, December 3, 2011

Use of Case Studies as a Student-Centered Approach to Learning

The use of case studies is a powerful pedagogical approach to incorporate student-centered learning activities into lessons.  As a science teacher I routinely utilized case studies as they provided a relevant context to what I was teaching.  Claire Davis and Elizabeth Wilcock conducted an excellent literature review and created a phenomenal resource called Teaching Materials Using Case Studies.  
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Below are some excerpts and thoughts that I would like to share:
  • They define case studies as student-centered activities based on topics that demonstrate theoretical concepts in an applied setting.
  • Using case studies as an interactive learning strategy shifts the emphasis from teacher-centered to more student-centered activities. 
  • Case studies promote the following skills that are at the heart of authentic learning: problem-solving, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration.
  • They expose students to real-life issues.
  • Incorporate characteristics of both problem and project-based learning.
One of my math teachers at New Milford High School has begun to integrate the use of case studies in her classes.  Mrs. Chellani's key goal is to connect key mathematical concepts to real-life and other disciplines so students are able to better comprehend the content, understand the significance of the material being taught, and recognize how each discipline is interrelated.  In order to achieve this objective, Mrs. Chellani goes beyond solely discussing these connections in class.  She utilizes a more complex approach by assigning a case study at the end of each unit so students are able to see these connections in practice.  These case studies are centered around real-world and interdisciplinary examples and provide another means to reinforce the learning in class.  Furthermore, these case studies involve the use of technology (i.e. MS Office applications, Internet research, trend/statistical Analysis, etc.) and higher-order thinking skills (i.e. drawing conclusions) that prepare students with essential skills sets. Here are 2 examples provided by Mrs. Chellani.

I applaud Mrs. Chellani's commitment to making mathematics more meaningful to her students through the use of case studies and feel that teachers in all disciplines can benefit from this approach.  Here are some other resources on the use of case studies in education:


  1. Great idea. I use case studies a lot when I teach leadership classes for teachers who seek administrative certification. After giving them a few I have them make up their own. They usually ask their principal for ideas so we get a lot of real-world problems to solve. There tend to be two basic types. The first I call the "Whack A Mole" type where a leader is confronted with multiple things that all need action. This helps people learn how to prioritize. The second contains a single problem that requires a long-term solution. These require more reflection. When solving the cases I have the students work in teams to build collaboration skills. For more of my "wisdom" go to DrDougGreen.Com where this page is posted as a Net Nugget for learning. Keep up the good work. Douglas W. Green, EdD

  2. As you've noted, Eric, case studies are extremely powerful ways to engage students in a discipline. And their not just for science or math - humanities make sense to kids when they can dig deep into an example of some historical trend or literary issue. My students recently completed a case study of a sort to understand The Reformation. They chose a primary source document with the goal of working backward from the source through local political and religious issues all the way to the larger Reformation. They must connect the dots, so to speak, and demonstrate understanding through a written product (blog post, or paper). In this case study, students practice important skills of research and synthesis as well as technological, while also becoming engaged in the discipline of history - working with sources, constructing narrative from facts, interpretation, etc. Student-Centered Learning that really works. You can see some examples on our blog:

    Keep up the good work, Eric. Cheers.


  3. This is really fascinating. Can you give me an example of a way you were able to integrate case studies into your classes?

  4. I have added 2 examples from Mrs. Chellani. Just click on the link in the post that says "here are 2 examples".

  5. Here's another great resource for case studies from the Council for Economic Education. Not just for economics instruction, this is a great interdisciplinary study that introduces the economic way of thinking.

  6. It is Good Article About Use of Case Studies as a Student-Centered Approach to Learning. Post by

    A case study is an intensive analysis of an individual unit (e.g., a person, group, or event) stressing developmental factors in relation to context. The case study is common in social sciences and life sciences. Case studies may be descriptive or explanatory. The latter type is used to explore causation in order to find underlying principles. They may be prospective, in which criteria are established and cases fitting the criteria are included as they become available, or retrospective, in which criteria are established for selecting cases from historical records for inclusion in the study.

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