Week Three: Case Based Learning

I read John Foran’s “The Case Method and the Interactive Classroom” and Stanford University’s “Problem-Based Learning”. This topic was super interesting to learn about because I have not often been in classes where this sort of teaching style was implemented, although I have heard of classes that implemented it heavily. The closest assignments I have had to this sort of style were of the long-term group project type, which ranged from being very well to very poorly constructed. For instance, one project I was assigned to was a low instructor involvement, self-led business presentation involving students from other majors; as a biology major, I was not very enthused about the project, nor did I have a good background in it, so it felt very amorphous to try to put together. Thus, I can definitely see why implementing this sort of classroom style would take a lot of effort on the part of the professor, as it seems like it would be very easy for students to get less out of it if it wasn’t constructed correctly. Though this type of classroom style is supposed to be more engaging to students, I could also see problems potentially arising with students who were unenthused/unwilling to do the work, as in any group-based situation. There would have to be carefully crafted peer feedback (and et cetera) in order to ensure that hardworking students wouldn’t be disadvantaged by others on their team. Student feedback was mentioned in one of the articles as well, and I think that as long as students were forthcoming and honest in the feedback, it would go a long way toward making the PBL classroom a success.

I did enjoy reading about the Melian Dialogue exercise that Foran discussed. I think that case based learning would be potentially more difficult to implement in a heavy science course – it would take more creativity to set up a case in say, a genetics course, especially if students did not yet have a strong foundation in some of the material. However, it does seem like a much more interesting and thought-provoking type of classroom experience than regular memorize-then-test lectures, and I will definitely consider including this sort of exercise in the future.

2 thoughts on “Week Three: Case Based Learning

  • October 13, 2020 at 3:10 pm
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    Hello, Allison! I enjoyed reading your post, as I also read John Foran’s article about Case-Based Learning (CBL). He wasn’t kidding when he said that it requires a lot of additional time and planning to make this style of learning work–given that he has paid graduate students and other professors to spend entire semesters workshopping new cases for his class. You bring up an excellent point regarding this style of learning and its use in more heavy, hard science-based classes such as biology. I think it could be used most effectively for more controversial dilemmas in science that are not memorization of facts. An example of this is something like test tube babies and the controversy of gene modification before birth. I know some countries have experimented with this concept, so implementing a discussion panel on this topic could be productive.

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    • October 14, 2020 at 3:55 pm
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      Hi Allison & Andrew,
      Thank you for your post Allison. Andrew, one thing you said really resonated with me “I think it could be used most effectively for more controversial dilemmas in science that are not memorization of facts.” You’re spot on with that. PBL can be very useful for approaching these wicked, complex problems where there is no one right answer and different policy approaches could have a huge impact on the environment or stakeholder groups/interests. My personal take is that I think PBL can be used effectively in any discipline, it just takes a little brainstorming to figure out what that looks like at different scales.

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