Case-Based and Problem-Based Learning Pedagogy in the Social Sciences

As a Ph.D. student in Human Development and Family Science, I thought it would be interesting to apply this concept to my discipline.

Case-Based Teaching
This article discusses the application of case-based learning in a sociology class at the University of California – Santa Barbara. The author uses this pedagogical approach because they “want to encourage the debate and development of critical skills” (p. 44). As a teacher, I identify with this stance in the classroom because I realize that I have my own biases and blind spots; therefore, the lens through which I teach encourages thoughtful critiques and reflections as students make sense of the material. The author also emphasized the power of a discussion-based lecture in helping students to draw their own conclusions. In this regard, classmates are viewed as colleagues rather than peers. I think this also aligns well with my approach to teaching because I do a lot of small group activities in-class. When I teach in-person, I walk around the room making observations on how the students are engaging with the material, and with one another. I prefer this approach in-person, rather than using break out rooms on Zoom, because students can see you making your rounds around the room and they can hear the overlapping conversations taking place in other groups. This can pose distractions, of course, but I think the advantage here is the opportunity for a student (and teacher) to hear a different perspective. As students share their perspectives, they are actively engaging in a collective analysis on the material. This is particularly helpful in my class, Human Sexuality, because context matters in shaping one’s beliefs and actions.

Problem-Based Learning
From what I gather, PBL is a common approach in American, K-16 education. This article, however, is more focused on post-secondary education. There is an emphasis on groupwork and its utility. First, groupwork can foster a sense of a ‘learning community’ as students stretch outside of their comfort zones to interrogate new information. Second, groupwork encourages effective and clear communication as each member navigates their group dynamic. Finally, groupwork holds each member accountable to their learning process. After the instructor provides a ‘minilecture’, the students are then left to their own devices to solve problems. It is important to note that this is an open-ended approach that is “ill-structured” on purpose (p. 2). One issue, however, is the reality that students come from diverse backgrounds and have different degrees of existing knowledge. This can either be a barrier to non-traditional learning, or it could be perceived as a strength for students who are better with “real world” problems. Furthermore, these problem-solving sessions can be lengthy because the goal is to deepen one’s knowledge on a particular issue. I conclude by highlighting the active, rather than passive, nature of PBL. As an educator, I appreciate how this approach involves students directly in the learning process.





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