A real world case study example Posting #1

I am guest lecturing for a fellow teacher’s undergraduate  course next week. What a perfect opportunity to apply all the knowledge I have gained about case based teaching! (Thank you GEDI’s, Shelli, and Sarah Karpanty!). This is my first of a series of postings chronicling my experience with actual case based teaching, through which I will outline what worked, what didn’t work, and what challenges I encountered in applying my case study.

But first thing’s first, let me tell you a little about the course I am guest lecturing for. Wildlife Habitat Ecology and Management (FIW 4434) is a senior level course with approximately 16 students. Students are from a mix of Fish and Wildlife, Forestry, Geography, and Natural Resources Conservation backgrounds. So far, with this being a small group and composed of students that already have knowledge of the environmental sciences, it seems like it will be easy to come up with a case study for this course. I am going to teaching the students about Coastal Habitat Management, and I have the perfect case study for that. My case is super controversial, has been an issue for decades, and perfectly exemplifies some of the extreme challenges that habitat managers come up against in coastal areas.

Here’s a quick run-down of my case study:

The problem is common to just about any national seashore in the United States that allows beach driving, but I am focusing on Cape Hatteras National Seashore because the disagreement between two opposing sides of the issue I am about to explain has escalated to a point of ridiculousness. The anger that this problem has incited between off-road vehicle users and conservationists is so intense that you would think we were talking about a matter of life or death. Well actually, it sort of is, from the standpoint of some wildlife species at least. So what is this problem anyway?

I will get to it, but first a little necessary background. Yellowstone, the first National Park was designated in 1872 as a “public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” This set a precedent for recreation over conservation. It wasn’t until the Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973 that wildlife and their habitat were given specific protection within national parks. The act presented a huge challenge for the National Park Service because of the large number of parks in the United States that together cover an extremely wide range of wildlife habitat. With this comes a variety of different climatic zones, human population densities, and other factors that need to be individually accounted for in any management policies.

United States, national parks

If you’re interested in more details on changes to the National Park Service mission over the years, check out the National Park Service timeline.

Because the focus has largely been on public recreation for National Parks, balancing conservation needs with tourism is a real challenge, especially when it comes to endangered species. This challenge is the main focus of my case study. I am going to be presenting students with a case  study of off-road vehicle management at Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The park has been embroiled in disputes over off-road vehicle management policies that are now required by every national park. The management plans for vehicles need to cater to both a) recreation purposes and b) wildlife habitat conservation. I am going to brief the students on the details of this case and then I will split the class into two groups, one taking the stance of off-road vehicle users, and the other group taking the stance of birdwatchers. The groups will pretend they are at a public hearing for the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Off-road Vehicle Management Plan, and will answer a series of questions related to the case. My aim with this question is to get them thinking about what each opposing group values, and what sort of solutions might address the needs of both groups. After this discussion, I wanted to ask all the students to put on their manager hats and discuss the process of formulating a management plan. My aim with this task was to place the students in a real world context of habitat management and get them thinking about the whole process of approaching a management issue.

Now that you have a little primer on my case study, here is a rundown of the pros and cons I encountered while preparing it for the class.


Students from specific disciplines. I can cater the case study to Natural Resource Science students so I can assume that the students already have general knowledge of wildlife and wildlife habitat.

Small class size. It should not be too difficult to split the class into groups and monitor them.


Small class size. What if some students do not come to class? Just a few students missing might really affect how groups can be divided.

Short time frame. This will be a major challenge. I am presenting a very specific case study aimed at students from a specific discipline. Yet I only have 50 minutes to do this. Yikes!

Next up. Post #2 will describe how this case study played out and what I would change if I were to do it again. Stay tuned!