A Case for Case Studies

The surest way to effective education process is active learning. Case studies are one of the pathways to active learning which allows students application and transfer of their newly acquired knowledge and skills, in that sort of complex, real world-like, immersive format. There is a lot to figure out in a good case study! The list of pros is long: case studies allow for differentiation (readers are likely to find some aspect that they can relate to based on their prior knowledge and experience, and there is no single correct answer), they are relatable, they are more suited for advanced studies as they are inherently more complex than basic problems; they facilitate a discussion around a concrete subject, etc.

Benefits of case studies are difficult to overestimate, as is hard to find a course (in a graduate online program here at UNE) where they wouldn’t be appropriate. So, what’s the hold-up?

Case studies are sometimes difficult to dig up. A lucky instructor may stumble upon a set of case studies online that are ready to be used or she may have a particular talent (as well as a vast experience to draw from) for telling stories and writing good complex case studies. Oftentimes though, the idea is attractive, but too time-consuming and labor-intensive. Or the case studies don’t exactly illustrate the point being made, or tend to involve concepts students are not ready for yet.

What to do?

It turns out that asking students to create their own case studies has lots of benefits of its own. With proper parameters assigned to a project, such as the case study needs to realistic, that it has to be one that students might run into in their normal surroundings/line of work, that this case study needs to illustrate a particular concept or theory or process, and so on, the learning is active and the results are promising. A study has been done with the results suggesting that student-authored case studies affect student performance on later assessments requiring analysis of a case study provided by the instructor; students did better than others who didn’t create their own case studies.

Development and Analysis of Psychosocial Case Studies

Sometimes, identifying gaps in our own instructional resources may lead to amazing opportunities for students to be creative and benefit the most from the experience.

Taking it to the next level

Here is an additional mode for case studies, the so-called “unfolding case studies”. This has been applied in nursing programs especially. These have also been successfully applied in Social Work curriculum.

The use of unfolding case studies: Innovation in online undergraduate nursing education

Paper on unfolding case studies

So, next time you are thinking about using case studies in your course but are feeling overwhelmed at the enormity of your time commitment, look at the challenge in a different light. How can this apparent shortfall be a blessing in disguise and lead to discoveries and empowering experiences?

Additionally, consider ideas from our other posts about the Course Narrative, Writing Great Assignment Instructions and others.

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