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Eric Ribbens
Department of Biological Sciences
Western Illinois University
A Diet to Die For: An Exploration of Oxidative Phosphorylation

This clicker case is designed to lead students to a conceptual understanding of oxidative phosphorylation (and, by analogy, photosynthesis). Students begin with a pre-class handout that presents background information on DNP, a weight-loss drug that was used in the 1930s, often with fatal consequences, leading to the establishment of the Food and Drug Administration. In the classroom, students work through a PowerPoint presentation about a college athlete who uses dinitrophenol obtained on the internet to lose weight, and winds up in the emergency room. Investigation by his twin sister reveals the scientific reasons for the dangers he encountered. The same topic with a slightly different emphasis is presented in another case in our collection titled "Wrestling with Weight Loss: The Dangers of a Weight-Loss Drug."

Cat vs. Bird: Another Look at Complexity in Conservation 

This clicker case is an adaptation of a case by Loren Byrne that told the true story of a Texas man who killed a cat that was killing piping plovers (see "Complexity in Conservation: The Legal and Ethical Case of a Bird-Eating Cat and its Human Killer," published by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science). This adaptation takes the form of a PowerPoint presentation that can be used with personal response systems ("clickers") and is suitable for a large lecture course. Added emphasis has been placed on the magnitude of feral and pet cat predation on songbirds in North America. This adaptation is intended to convince students that feral cats and free-ranging cats, although a subject of considerable controversy, cause major damage to songbirds and other wildlife. The case can be delivered in about 30 minutes of class time and was designed for a non-majors biology course or a first-year biology majors course.

Chemical Eric: Dealing with the Disintegration of Central Control

This case study is designed to teach introductory biology majors about the role of the pituitary in controlling hormones. It could easily be applied or modified to fit a variety of other courses, including a non-majors introductory biology course or any of a variety of human health-related courses, particularly human anatomy and physiology. It presents an actual case of a boy who begins to show the first signs of a pituitary tumor at the age of 11. The case chronicles his symptoms and medical conditions (and crises) through age 45. By examining the effects of pituitary disruption and tracing them back to their hormonal causes, students gain an understanding of the role of the pituitary in controlling a variety of hormones as well as the cascade of effects triggered by high-level pituitary hormones.

Chemical Eric - The Clicker Version: A Case About the Complexity of Hormonal Control

This “clicker case” is a modified version of a case originally published in the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science case collection in 2006, “Chemical Eric: Dealing with the Disintegration of Central Control,” by the same author. The case is designed to teach introductory biology majors about the role of the pituitary in controlling hormones. It presents an actual case in which the pituitary is seriously disrupted. By examining the various effects of pituitary disruption and tracing them back to their hormonal causes, students gain an understanding of the role of the pituitary in controlling a variety of hormones and in the cascade of effects triggered by high-level pituitary hormones. The case is formatted as a PowerPoint presentation (~7.7MB) punctuated by questions that students answer in class using personal response systems (“clickers”). The case could be used with slight modifications in a human physiology class or a more advanced animal systems course.

Chemical Eric Can't See 

This autobiographical case study presents the story of Eric as he learns that he has a genetic eye disease, which progresses to the point that he becomes legally blind. The story is true and, in this respect, similar to another case by the same author in our collection, namely "Chemical Eric: Dealing with the Disintegration of Central Control." However a major difference is that the present case is written in a modular fashion so that teachers can "pick and choose" which sections of the case they would like to teach based on what they want to emphasize. One part of the case presents the results of Eric's visual fields test and asks students to interpret them. Another part of the case explores the genetics underlying the condition Eric has. Other parts of the case explore issues related to persons with disabilities, including physical, emotional, and social aspects of living with a disability. The case is suitable for an introductory majors or non-majors biology course, an introductory psychology course, or a human biology course. It could be modified for use in more advanced courses, such as neurobiology, and should also be suitable for a high school biology class. In addition, it could be used in a professional or clinical setting for training professionals to think about their patients. The case has two versions: a PDF version and a PowerPoint (PPT) version. They are the same except for the format. To access the print version, click on the “DOWNLOAD CASE” button located above to the right of the tabs. To access the PowerPoint version, click on the Supplemental Materials tab above.

Darwin's Finches and Natural Selection 

In this "clicker case," students learn about natural selection through the research of Peter and Rosemary Grant and colleagues on the finches of the Galapagos Islands. Students are presented with data in the form of graphs and asked to determine what is happening to a population of finches as the changing environment produces changes in the shape of the finches' beaks. This case is suitable for any size course in introductory biology, ecology, or evolution, and does not require any pre-requisite knowledge of evolution or natural selection. The case consists of a PowerPoint presentation (~4.5MB) punctuated by questions that students answer in class using "clickers." It can be adapted for use without these technologies.

Eating PCBs from Lake Ontario - Is There an Effect or Not?: A News Release Case

This case is based on an actual news release reporting on research about the effects of eating Lake Ontario fish contaminated with PCBs. Developed to teach students about statistical analysis and experimental design, the case has been used in a senior-level biostatistics course as well as part of a one-week survey of statistics for a biological methods course.  It could also be used in an ecology or environmental science course or as a component of a course examining how the media reports science.

Eating PCBs from Lake Ontario - The Clicker Version: A Case on Science and the Media

This is a “clicker” adaptation of another case in our collection, “Eating PCBs from Lake Ontario: Is There an Effect or Not?” (2001), written by the same author. It encourages students to examine how scientific results get presented and interpreted for the public as well as how experiments are planned, carried out, and analyzed. Students read three different news reports about the same scientific study, then sort through the different accounts to determine for themselves what happened in these studies and what the findings were. The case illustrates the complexities of scientific reporting and challenges students to figure out the original research design and data. It was designed for an introductory biology course for majors that uses personal response systems, or “clickers.” The story is presented in class using a PowerPoint (~1MB) presentation punctuated by multiple-choice questions that students answer using their clickers.

Experimental Design and Statistical Analysis: Bt Corn, Lignin, and ANOVAs

This case is based on a research paper about the lignin content of genetically modified corn published in the American Journal of Botany. Students are asked to analyze and discuss the paper, focusing on questions related to experimental design and interpretation and a critique of the statistical data presented. Developed for use in an upper-level undergraduate course in plant ecology and a graduate biostatistics course, the case could also be used in courses in plant anatomy, plant physiology, soil ecology, agriculture, or genetics.

Is Guaiacum Sanctum Effective Against Arthritis?: An Ethnobotany Case

Dr. Beth Tonoany, a tropical population ecologist, is studying an unusual tree, Guaiacum sanctum, in the tropical forests of Central America. Interestingly, several local Ticos have told her that they use the tree for medicinal purposes. Students read the case and then answer questions designed to explore the process of screening and testing the medicinal value of plants identified as having potential health benefits. This case can be used in an introductory biology course, an introductory botany course, or any course which encounters ethnobotany as a component, such as a tropical biology course or a plant ecology course.

Knot Your Typical Weed 

Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) is an invasive plant that can be very hard to eliminate. This PowerPoint-driven case study briefly describes this plant and asks students to identify possible solutions for its control when a homeowner discovers it growing next to his house. The case was designed for an introductory college course, either a general biology course or a plant biology course, and while it can be used as a regular case, it was actually written to assess the students' ability to solve a problem and write an analysis. If you teach with cases, shouldn't you test with cases as well?

Mutualism: A Textbook Case

This case explores two-species interactions, especially mutualism, and presents students with a problem, namely, the inconsistent treatment of the concept of mutualism and symbiosis in many textbooks. It begins with a question that students will probably not feel qualified to answer: Is the equation of mutualism and symbiosis in a textbook correct? It then guides students through the concepts of two-species interspecific interactions, and returns to the central question. After exploring the case problem thoroughly, it ends with some thoughts about evolutionary dynamics. The case was designed for an introductory ecology course or a science education course. It can also be used with slight modifications in an introductory biology course.

The Coelacanth: An Odd Fish 

This "clicker case" is a redesign of a case, also in our collection, by Robert H. Grant titled "A Strange Fish Indeed: The 'Discovery' of a Living Fossil." The case follows the story of Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer and her discovery of the coelacanth, a fish of considerable evolutionary interest. It uses the story as a springboard to explore evolutionary concepts and the scientific method. It has been reformatted to use student personal response systems (“clickers”) and a PowerPoint presentation (~4.2MB), and further emphasizes the role of Ms. Courtenay-Latimer. The case is designed for large introductory biology courses.

The Ecology of Opuntia Fragilis (Nuttall) Haworth 

This interrupted case is based on the author's own personal research on the fragile prickly pear cactus in Stearns County, Minnesota. The data described is a product of the work of several undergraduate students at St. Johns University, which partially funded this research. By simulating the process of doing science through its progressive disclosure format, the case encourages students to think about plant population ecology from an actual research perspective. The case can be used in an introductory biology or botany course, and with slight modifications in an upper-level plant ecology course.

Thomas and Sally: The Interplay of Scientific and Historical Evidence

Did Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States, have children with his slave Sally Hemings? This PowerPoint clicker case explores this controversial question as students consider the evidence for Jefferson as the father of Eston Hemings, as well as the limitations of that evidence. In the process, students learn about Y-chromosomal and mitochondrial DNA and how they are passed down through generations. They also learn about the role of genetic tests in examining family lineages. In addition, the case serves to illustrate how science cannot always provide a direct and definitive answer and how conclusions often must be based on a mixture of scientific and historical (or other) evidence. The case was designed for an introductory biology course for non-majors but could easily be adapted for a majors' course or for the introductory portion of a genetics course. Students should have some prior knowledge of chromosomes and hereditability.

Three Cases from the Membrane Files: The Exploding Fish, the Pleasurable Poison, and the Dangerous Diet

This PowerPoint-driven case study presents three different stories, each of which explores an aspect of membranes. The first (The Exploding Fish) covers diffusion, specifically addressing the question of why animal cells explode in freshwater but fish do not, and differences between saltwater and freshwater fish. The second case (The Pleasurable Poison) is designed to show that alcohol can slip across membranes and also highlights some of the problems of ingesting this toxin. The third case (The Dangerous Diet) explores a weight-loss drug, DNP, and how it operates in mitochondrial membranes. The first of these case studies also includes a number of "clicker" questions. These cases were originally designed for a semester-long, introductory biology course for non-majors, and instructors can choose to use one or all of the cases to suit their course.

Too Many Deer!: A Case Study in Managing Urban Deer Herds

A town meeting is the setting for this case study in which students explore the topics of overpopulation, bioethics, and management of urban wildlife. The case makes use of role playing, small group discussion, interrupted case techniques, and critical analytical reflective papers to enable students to examine a common urban forest management problem. Hidden within the examination of making decisions about deer herds is a set of questions that brings out the scientific method and its application. Although developed for a non-majors biology course, by restructuring some of the activities and asking different questions the case could be successfully used in an introductory biology course for majors, an ecology course, a conservation biology seminar, or a course on bioethics.

Treating Ed: A Medical Ethics Case Study

Ed is dying. How should his wishes for medical treatment be carried out? As the case unfolds, students explore the rights and responsibilities of doctors, patients, and patient representatives regarding difficult medical decisions. Specifically, students consider the ramifications of Advance Directives and Durable Powers of Attorney. The case was written for an introductory biology course, but could easily be used in or modified for a human anatomy and physiology, introductory nursing, or medical ethics course.