Case-Based Pedagogy

I love the idea of case-based pedagogy as a style of learning. Too often have I sat in a college class and wondered the relevancy of the material to the real world. Case studies allow students to connect what’s going on in their lives to their education, and ultimately get the most out of the class.

I have been lucky in my pursuit of a masters degree in communication that I have been able to have an education where there is a good focus on case-based learning both in my own graduate classes and in my sections of public speaking that I teach.

Many of the theories that we learn in communication can be discussed on a case study basis. For example, theories such as framing theory and agenda-setting theory talk about the impact of the media on what we think and our daily lives. The media ends up influencing us on what the most important issues of the day are. Uses and gratifications is another great theory that can be applied to case based learning, and the idea that we as a society consume the media and news for a variety of reasons, whether that be for entertainment, to be knowledgable with our family and friends, etc. I am currently in a class called mass media and public opinion where we take our weekly readings of theories and have a discussion on them every week to apply them to our lives and current events. Communication can be heavily densed in terms of the reading, so case based learning is definitely a much needed feature to our program.

I would also argue that CBL can be applied to our public speaking class. If anything, we encourage our students through our speeches to apply our content to their personal lives. The 4 main speeches in the class are a narrative speech, concept speech, personal project report, and issue analysis. Often times for these speeches students pick topics related to their personal lives or studies, such as a concept they learned in their major, a summer internship they did, or a controversial topic that affects their community. In many ways we give a lot of control to our students to essentially make case studies with our content and tailor this class to their style.

Does anyone else have any examples of case-base learning in their programs? I would love to hear what you have to say.

3 Replies to “Case-Based Pedagogy”

  1. I’m a fan of case-based learning as well! I’ve always been frustrated when I was given assignments in class that were obviously “toy” problems that seem recycled from ages ago. While the ideas we were learning had so many connections to the real world, many of my instructors were unwilling to make those connections. For a software engineering in my undergraduate studies, I actually sent an email to the professor and pleaded that they talk and discuss a well-documented and massive news story at the time: the difficulties of the initial rollout of the website, the team management issues they had as developers, and how they resolved those issues. It matched so well to the class, and revealed the importance of the content we were learning, but the professor never even mentioned any of the material in a context outside the classroom! We were basically learning software engineering by reading a dictionary of software terms.

    1. I’m with you on case-based learning, Patrick, especially when the issues being covered are actual problems now and not simply analysis of precedents.

      Billy, I was really fascinated by your description of using CBL to introduce theory to communication students. Some of the criticisms for this approach have included there are challenges to managing time–where there’s room for the theory AND the doing of the CBL/PBL. I am glad to hear you had a positive experience with it and that you are thinking of ways to apply it to the art of public speaking.

      You asked how others have done it, and there are many ways in the design field. We typically center our projects around places (or things, or built- or natural- environment spaces) that are part of some complex problem.

      So for instance, in landscape architecture, you might have a semester-long PBL that is interested in teaching students about community design: walkability, health, food production, stormwater management, neighborhood/community relationships, place-making, and equity.

      So you come up with a project prompt like that and then you frame it really well to help students get into the project. The project itself might be something like: “Main Street” (or other!) Revitalization project around an underutilized space in a community or city.

      Part of the framing involves considering the physical, social, and biological features, and that’s a whole thing in itself: theories, policies, sources of reliable data. Then, you present the prompt to students, set them up with everything they need to explore, research, etc… Have them do the work of learning about the place: divide the class into different groups that take on learning different parts of the whole; each group preparing something to share back with the whole class. This is what will have everyone grounded and in similar starting points.

      Then, after sharing the analysis, students each take what they have learned and begin designing what they think should be the solution to the problem. All along the way, the professor and TAs are providing input, answering questions, guiding students towards new resources that help them develop their concepts and ideas while keeping them grounded.

      Students are required to be able to defend their ideas, so there may be a mid-point critique and one again at the end of the process where they stand up with their drawings and talk about their ideas. (These are designed to help everyone move forward, because it can be tough!) Everyone learns a lot on their own and in seeing what other students come up with. Then, the student work is often shared with the community that was the focus of the design as a tangible starting point for the community to talk about what they might want to do.

      There’s usually a lot of very different deliverables that articulate ideas, ranging from illustrative sketches and perspectives, to construction documents, site grading plans, detailed plans, master plans, planting schedules, and more. Just creating these are skill sets in themselves, so the whole process is holistic, comprehensive, and applicable to industry and communities.

      And that’s sort of a typical 30,000 foot view of what a landscape architecture studio PBL is about. That was a lot to type out off the cuff, so if anything needs to be clarified, don’t hesitate to ask!

  2. Thank you for sharing how case-based pedagogy is used in your field of communication. Case-based pedagogy is used in counselor education all the time. Often a client case scenario is given to counselors-in-training and they are asked to conceptualize what is going on with the client and consider possible interventions. Sometimes this cased-based pedagogy is done on an individual basis or in a small group. It is a helpful for students to practice the application of their counseling theory and counseling skills.

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