For this week’s blog post on case-based pedagogy, I decided to review a case related to my study area to see what this type of pedagogy would look like in Forestry. I found a case on oak clearcutting provided by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science. A link to this case can be found here. This was an interesting case and is very typical of some common cases a forestry student may encounter in their real-life future careers.
The case is about a landowner who wants to clearcut 20 acres of white oak trees. The students assume one of six roles: landowners, deer control specialists, local tree farmers, loggers/forest products specialists, state foresters, and state soil conservation specialists. The six roles represent a few typical stakeholders in an issue such as this. The landowners present their side of the story, then a debate follows in which the other stakeholders attempt to convince them of the best forest management practice for the tract. Each role has a differing agenda, and through the debate, common aspects of the issue are discussed. At the end, a decision is made on whether or not the timber will be clearcut, and an explanation is developed defending that position.
Being in forestry, this case is intriguing to me because I could see forestry students assuming these roles, or any number of other roles that are similar to these, in their future careers. These are the types of problems we will be facing every day, and we will need to know how to handle them. I believe that an exercise such as this one would be an excellent way of teaching the students how to develop and defend their positions on an issue like this. However, I think this method of teaching should not be used exclusively.
The big problem that I can see with exclusively using case-based pedagogy, especially in a field such as forestry, is that some important issues or pieces of information may not be discussed or learned adequately. Using this case as an example, what if the students already had a negative opinion of clearcutting when they entered the class? True, some would have to play devil’s advocate and defend the position of the “pro-clearcutters”, but they may not do so effectively or passionately since they already have a pre-formed negative opinion. Because this side was poorly defended, the class may decide that clearcutting is bad, period, and move on. However, clearcuts are actually the best option in many scenarios. Performed correctly, clearcuts are a valid, sustainable, scientific silvicultural system that have many benefits, both to landowners and industry professionals as well as environmentalists and others.
Because of this, especially in a field like forestry, I think it is important to have some “traditional” classes, such as silviculture, forest ecology, forest management, forest harvesting, etc. where all aspects of the issues are presented objectively before students choose sides and defend their positions. Current research and all relevant information should be presented, and the students should become familiar with all sides of the issues, regardless of their initial opinions. Then, after they have learned the facts, I think an exercise such as this one would be very useful. I also believe that presenting the information beforehand as described above would facilitate a better and more informational debate than the students having no prior knowledge of the issue.
I believe that together, these two pedagogical methods would make for a very good way of students learning about forestry. Both methods have their disadvantages, and employing both in a forestry class may be the best way of teaching the students both the foundational knowledge they need to have, as well as how to deal with these types of situations in their future careers. This idea is one that excites me, and one I will explore further in my future teaching career.
Davis, Thomas A. (2006, February 19). Oak Clearcutting: To Cut or Not to Cut. National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science. https://sciencecases.lib.buffalo.edu/collection/detail.html?case_id=463&id=463