My Case-Based Learning Experience

To be honest, I am not a big fan of classes that require you to write a term paper at the end of the semester. I am one of those who just prefer the old school assignments and in-class exams. Neither do I like classes where you are handed a project on which you have to work the whole semester, and produce a report for that project at the end of the semester.  Paradoxically, those classes are the ones which taught me the most valuable skills, which I am certain, could help me secure a job in the future.

The most valuable and impactful higher ed-related learning experience I had, occurred in Spring 2016, the last semester of my masters training at Michigan State University. I was strongly advised by my supervisor to take a class called Program Evaluation in Agriculture and Natural Resources”. The goal of the class was to teach us the necessary tools and techniques needed to monitor and evaluate agricultural programs/projects. Monitoring and Evaluating agricultural projects allow us to make sure the activities initially planned for the project/program are being implemented so as to achieve the goals that were set for the program.

At the beginning of the semester, we were all asked to evaluate an actual project that is either being implemented or had already been implemented. The aim was to have us write an evaluation report that could be distributed to the project management team. Throughout the semester, we gradually applied different concepts taught in class using other cases as examples. As an assignment, we each time, had to write a section of the final evaluation report based on the concepts we had learned. After discussion with our instructor, I decided to evaluate a program for which he had been the Principal Investigator (PI) in the past. The program was implemented in Cambodia and its main goal to supply environmentally-friendly farm inputs to farmers in order to help them improve their income and strengthen their livelihoods. I was able to write a whole evaluation report for that program, which was distributed back in Cambodia to the project management team.

This remains to date the most impactful class that I believe I have taken. I haven’t got the opportunity yet, but because of that class, I can design an evaluation proposal for a program/project, and this is a very good skill to have in my field of study. This experience simply showed that the best and probably the only way to teach certain courses is to use Case-Based Learning.

9 Replies to “My Case-Based Learning Experience”

  1. I think I’ve only seen one class where something from the class was used in the real world (and I wasn’t even in the class). I think that’s something that might be missing from certain classes. There’s a certain impact to a class that has something affecting the real world. It’s one thing to say that what you learn in a class will be used in the real world, it’s a completely different thing to actually have something you submitted in that class to also be submitted to an actual project management team. Having these real consequences could certainly make people more interested and invested in what they are doing. If I get bad grades on a homework I’m not that concerned. If I have to submit a report for a class that then gets submitted to actual people in my field, potential employers, that makes me take more care and put more time into what I’m doing. I think that’s a great strategy for a class.

  2. Hey thanks for sharing your story. Go green! It looks like the special project built your confidence of writing a real progress report and established other skills for you. I am glad that you “shake-off” that dislike of case-based learning experience and actually get a lot from it. It is also my belief that the progress report will be very valuable in your future industrial work if you plan to pursue that way. Also, the interactions between instructors and students as well as between students will also be really valuable experience for you.

  3. It sounds like that assignment was very helpful for learning applicable career skills! Do you think that you would use a similar assignment in the future for your students?

    It’s pretty awesome that your evaluation was actually shared with the project team in Cambodia. Case-based and project-based learning is frequently used in classes in my field (wildlife conservation), but it’s less frequent that the students’ products leave the classroom and are used in the real world.

  4. Hi zookat13, thanks for your comment. Yes, I will definitely use a similar assignment in the future to give them the opportunity to acquire skills they can use in real life!

  5. That sounds like a great project, that had a lot of real life application! I also hate semester-long research papers, but for some classes (like this one you mentioned) it can be useful! I once took a grant writing class that had an actual grant proposal due at the end. It was hard, but also really useful!

  6. Thanks for sharing! Very cool that your evaluation was able to be used in the field. Even better that it was used for something good. I remember the feeling when my first project actually got built, and the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that came with it. Cased based learning, when relevant to the class, is such a valuable tool in giving the students that same feeling.

    I am also trying to wrap my head around what is CBL and PBL. They both feel so similar. I see that you call this case based, but could it (also) be problem based? CBL tends to feel more structured in inquiry and results and is often a group based assignment. Evaluation reports seem to be more open ended and evaluations my differ depending on the person doing it and how they define concepts learned in class. Each case may not have the same clear-cut outcomes. Just thinking out loud here.

    1. cmfernan, you are right. I am also still trying to wrap my head what PBL or CBL is. But I just thought to call this PBL because our instructor used many cases of projects in his lectures to demonstrate or explain the concepts he taught.

  7. That class sounds impressive and it actually intrigues me to see that a course helped students acquired real-world experience. Doubtless, this class have equipped its students with the necessary skills to do evaluation reports; however, was there any presentation, group work, or feedback session in each student evaluation? I believe it is important to have some inputs from peers as it might point out some improvement to the evaluation. Additionally, group work might result in better evaluation as a collective effort might cover a wider area.

    Thanks for sharing this and i am interested to learn more about it.

  8. That sounds like a cool class project! It’s easy to get detached from classes when you don’t feel like the material is applicable to you (even though the chances are it will be later in your career, you just don’t know it yet), but when you’re given an actual program to evaluate then it feels like you have some domain and impact from your work.

    It’s funny how we seem to learn most from experiences/classes that we start off not liking. I think it’s easy to become accustomed to learning things a certain way because we get the desired results, but case based learning activities like the one you described help us to broaden our outlook on problem solving.

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