Teacher Profiles is a column written by Eric Ribbens, Professor of Biology at Western Illinois University, email@example.com, which highlights a different case teacher each month.
Featured Case Teacher
Dr. Tracy Deem is an assistant professor in the Biology Department at Bridgewater College in Virginia. She uses cases in all of her courses, including the introductory course for biology majors and the introductory course for health and human sciences that she teaches. She added that she is looking forward to using cases this spring in her immunology classes.
When I asked her how she got into teaching with cases, she replied: "I'm one of those scientists, like probably most of us, who started out teaching how I was taught, which was mostly by lecture. However, due to requests from students, every year I tried to increase the amount of group work ("activities") done by students in class. When I first started reading literature on active learning, I was totally blown away. I was trained as a biomedical research scientist and had no idea that this other world existed out there. I felt like I had been doing my students a disservice by not teaching them using active learning, so I immediately switched to all team-based learning. I started using case studies because I was looking for ways to make anatomy and physiology more interactive, and I stumbled upon the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science."
"I use cases in combination with team-based learning. I divide students into permament groups of five based on several factors, including whether or not they are in a sport that semester, what their math placement test score was, gender, etc. I usually end up with eight to nine groups per class. Usually about 60 to 70% of my activities are case studies."
She added, "If you want to use cases in your classroom, you have to teach students how to approach the case (trust me, I still struggle with this!), especially if the students are new to college. If you give them an open-ended question and expect them to discuss it for 15 to 20 minutes, it will never happen in the beginning. They will finish their discussion in two minutes and then talk about the football game the rest of the time. To solve this problem, make a bulleted list of the things you want your students to discuss. This was one of the best pieces of advice I got from someone who uses case studies in her classroom."
I asked Tracy what her favorite case was, and why. She told me that her favorite cases are cases that teach students about the nature of science. "I really like the ones that have them work with real data, like Tragic Choices: Autism, Measles, and the MMR Vaccine by Matthew Rowe, Decoding the Flu by Norris Armstrong, Mom Always Liked You Best by Kipp Herreid, and Love Potion #10 by Susan Holt. I also like the ones that pull together lots of information like The 2000-Meter Row by Nathan Strong."
I thought Tracy's advice for students in classes using cases were especially good: "If you are a student learning with case studies, you have to be prepared to learn. You have to do more reading so you can come to class prepared to apply the information to the scenario in the case. Reading does not mean you glance at it while you text friends or watch TV. You have to approach the material like you are going to have a test on it the next class period or even better you have to teach it to someone! If you spend all class period trying to understand what the case study is asking, you will not do well. While in class, this is your chance to really ask questions of your group members and your instructor. If your instructor has given you 30 minutes to answer a question or work on a problem, then it should take you the entire time to do so adequately."
Founding Professor of Life Sciences and Associate VP of Research and Administration
Squamish, British Columbia, Canada
Since 2006, Annie Prud'homme-Genereux has been a Founding Professor of Life Sciences at Quest University, and in 2011 was appointed Associate Vice-President of Research and Administration. Quest University is located one hour north of Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada. Nearly all of her courses use cases, including some team-taught courses.
While she has always been interested in various forms of active learning, in May 2008 she attended the Summer Case Study Teaching in Science Workshop in Buffalo. "I loved the approach - it resonated with my teaching philosophy. This occurred just as I was in the middle of developing more than 12 new courses, so I could immediately apply what I had learned. And it turns out I enjoy writing cases, so I wrote a lot." Annie has now published 12 cases in our case collection.
Notably, she has expected her students to write cases. "When I was planning my molecular biology course, I reasoned that a lot of the skills I was exercising in writing case studies (researching skills, critical analysis of sources, synthesizing information, communication skills, etc.) were precisely the ones that I hope students would get out of their undergraduate education. So I devised an assignment where students developed their own case study throughout the course (i.e., over the one-month interval for their block scheduling, students went from knowing nothing about their chosen research topic to writing a case study about it). There were 14 students in my class, and I thought maybe some of them would be good enough for submission to the NCCSTS case databases. We ended up submitting three!"
She also has had Honor's students write cases. "That's what I talked about at the Fall Conference on Case Study Teaching in Science this past year and at the NABT conference last month in Dallas, and I have written about it in an upcoming article in the Journal of College Science Teaching."
Clearly, the students have been deeply affected by the process of developing a case. As her student Dustin Eno (author of An Infectious Cure) wrote: "There is no better motivator than taking pride in something. Starting from early in the editing process, my case was used as a teaching tool in biology classes at my school. Students would come up to me in the cafeteria with questions, comments, or just general excitement. These interactions helped to further solidify the material in my mind as I routinely got to talk about details that were not in the case, and it also motivated me to work to make it the best that I could."
Annie's favorite case in the NCCSTS collection is Giving Birth to Someone Else's Children by Jessica Hutchison of Alfred State University. "I love it because it exemplifies everything that a case study should be: it's engaging, there is a mystery that tickles the imagination to solve, it's based on (Ripley's-Believe-it-or-Not-type) facts, it's short, and it lets students hypothesize. It's also just the right level of difficulty for my students..... I just love it, because it's fun and it's also paradigm-shifting for many students who thought they knew biology."
I asked her what advice she has for faculty who want to teach with cases and for students in a class using cases.
For faculty: "The best advice is to not be afraid and just do it. You can prepare to death, have anxiety attacks, discuss it with colleagues, but it's not until you try it for yourself in the classroom that you will learn how this technique can work for you. Don't be afraid - students are surprisingly forgiving about us experimenting with teaching techniques, so long as you explain to them why you are doing it."
For students: "Learning with cases forces you to pick up life-long learning techniques, it practices skills that you will use in the workplace (e.g., learning to negotiate ideas with colleagues you might not agree with). It's not simply about learning information that you regurgitate on an exam and forget the next day. It can be uncomfortable - the learning is less structured, you will have to figure out things on your own, you will have to navigate socially delicate situations - but it's only from this sort of tension that you will truly grow."
Mary Anne Rea-Ramirez
Professor, Health Sciences and Nursing Dean, Richmond Campus
Glen Allen, Virginia
Mary Anne Rea-Ramirez is a Professor of Health Sciences and Nursing and the Richmond Campus Dean at Stratford University in Glen Allen, Virginia. She has been there for two years. While most of her professional duties are centered on her position as dean, she also has taught classes in anatomy and physiology, healthcare administration, and women's healthcare and midwifery.
"At Stratford, we have developed an extensive program around case studies. Students engage in learning activities prior to coming to class so that they have developed basic content understanding. When they come to class, they are challenged with cases. Through the cases, they further develop their understanding of content and apply it to the case scenario. Students work in teams to socially construct understanding. My role is to facilitate, asking open-ended questions, probing, encouraging students to go deeper."
I asked her what reactions her students have had to learning with case studies. She clearly believes that her students benefit from cases, and that they generally enjoy them. "Students have to learn to facilitate each other's learning within the team. This means training them, often through modeling, to ask open-ended questions and to probe and challenge one another's ideas. Giving them a card with prompts often helps. Laying down some ground rules also might help though I don't believe in assigning roles but rather allowing this to emerge. Students also learn to use peer pressure to get team members to do their pre-class activities so they come prepared."
When I asked her if she had a favorite case, she said Treating Ed, a case about the issues dealing with a serious health situation from the perspective of family decision-makers. "This case can be used for a variety of classes and issues from strictly medical to ethical. I have used it as the basis of a risk analysis on hospital protocol, and to teach HIPPA and end-of-life issues. It is open ended enough to allow for adaptation and rich enough to really engage students."
In our conversation, she further emphasized the importance of clear goals for a case. "I like the National Center for Case Study in Science collection because the documentation is well done and each case has clearly defined goals. They make it easy to pick and choose between cases."
What advice does she have for new case teachers? "They need to learn how cases enhance outcomes first. I was fortunate to be immersed in case-based teaching when I was a professor at Hampshire College. Hampshire is heavily oriented around teaching with cases. I saw the benefit and have always been a bit of a risk taker when it comes to education. I think that helps. Going to a workshop is definitely helpful because you learn how to develop as well as teach with cases. But the most important thing is to jump in and do it - and be flexible enough to adjust and try something new if it doesn't work out exactly as you planned. Sometimes things go great from the beginning, but most often instructors and students need to learn to use cases and become comfortable with ambiguity. For those who are not natural risk-takers, it can be helpful to be mentored by a person who is comfortable using cases. I also often find that co-teaching helps."
In closing, I asker her about her vision for the future of case teaching at her university. "At Stratford, we have instituted a team-based approach to teaching through the arts and sciences, culinary, and health sciences departments. All faculty are trained to use an approach that emphasizes cases or problems. I want to see more integration of cases between different classes. We also need more cases, for example in our culinary program. More cases in general would help ... in epidemiology, medical ethics, kinesiology, and training adminstrators."
My reply: "Well? When are you going to write a case?" Mary Anne laughed. "I need more time!"
High School Teacher
Upper Darby High School
Theresa Diamond has been teaching anatomy and physiology at Upper Darby High School in Drexel, Pennsylvania, for 11 years. In particular, she teaches the Honors Anatomy & Physiology course designed for students (mostly juniors and seniors) who have already taken high school biology. I asked Theresa how she became involved with using case studies to teach. "Cases have been a part of the Honors Anatomy & Physiology (HAP) curriculum since the course's inception four years ago. I Googled 'case studies' along with a topic name and kept winding up at the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science website." She added, "I really rely on their teacher notes. When I was first using the cases, the teaching notes were lifesavers. I read them with a fine-toothed comb, and studied all of the answers."
"I approach the cases in a variety of ways. Sometimes I have students read sections of the case independently, then ask them to work together to answer the questions. Sometimes we answer the questions as an entire class." She added that the case study Chemical Eric is a big part of her assessment of the endocrine system. I asked her how she uses that case for assessment and she told me that she has adapted it slightly into a test. Students have to work with a partner to answer questions about Eric's medical problems. She laughed: "I want them to identify possibilities; they want to find the one right answer, so they hate the test."
Theresa is a pretty heavy case user, teaching about eight to 10 cases a semester. "If I can find a case that fits, I use it, because they work. The kids are engaged." I asked her what she finds difficult about locating suitable cases for a high school class. She mentioned the challenge of finding the reference materials cited in some of the cases. "Most of my access to reference materials is online, so if it is only available as a hard copy, I can't get it."
Clearly she has become a believer in cases. "The primary reason I use case studies is to provide a high interest way for my students to engage in the curriculum and to provide them with critical thinking opportunities. My students would probably tell you that they love working in small groups to complete case studies."
What is her favorite case? "My favorite case has changed this year based on student feedback. The students loved doing Newsflash! Transport Proteins on Strike! One student said he wished there was a 'play' for every chapter, as the script helped him understand cell membrane structure and function better than many recently learned topics. The students really got into their parts for that case! I also greatly appreciate the case The Evolution of Human Skin Color for its gradual revealing of ideas in the same manner that scientists' thinking changes over time."
Finally, I asked her if she had any advice for people who want to teach with cases. "My advice for other teachers is to begin small. I would have been overwhelmed if I had tried to overdo case studies in the beginning. They take quite some time to grade and to prepare the first time you teach with them. For students, I would advise them to read the case study and questions carefully and answer the questions as fully as possible."
Professor of Chemistry
Illinois Valley Community College
Matthew Johll is a professor of chemistry at Illinois Valley Community College (IVCC). He has been at IVCC for nine years, where he teaches General Chemistry I and II as well as an introductory (liberal arts) chemistry course. He uses cases in all of his courses. "I have been using case studies for 11 years. I got started using them when my students became fixated on a new TV show called CSI and kept coming to class with questions about the science of the show. I saw a natural curiosity in the students and realized that using real-life examples was a powerful tool for learning. I love to use cases because they represent the ultimate use of the material we are covering in lecture--the application of knowledge to solve a problem or understand a natural phenomenon. Traditional lecture provides students with many tools. However, cases show students how to use those tools."
Matthew attended one of Kipp Herreid's workshops about six years ago, and while he had stumbled on the case study method independently before that, he found the workshop very useful. "It was interesting to learn about all the various ways cases can be taught." I asked him what makes a good case and he immediately replied: "A really compelling story. I always insist that the scenario be real, not just a theoretical scenario."
I asked him what his students would say about his teaching. "That I love telling stories! I start each chapter using an interrupted case study. During the course of covering the chapter, the students cover the information necessary to understand the case. I then take the time at the end of the chapter to go back to the case study and explore the finale of the case." His students quickly learn the importance of the case. "By the fourth chapter, I don't even have to tell them to read the case. If I walk into the classroom and ask someone to summarize the case, the room is filled with students reading ahead to find out more." In his opinion, cases grip students and make chemistry more accessible and interesting.
What advice does he have about using cases in classes? "First I would reassure new case teachers that cases can be introduced into a class without using a significant amount of time and that they will quickly see how well students respond to cases. Students want to know why the material they are learning is relevant to their education; case studies serve to illustrate those applications and also excite students about the material. I would also encourage faculty to attend a workshop from the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science. For students, I encourage them to further explore the topics and read more information about the case studies and similar applications. One of my goals is to help students start to realize all of the applications of science in their daily lives. The internet has a wealth of information waiting for curious minds to explore, and it is amazing how many times I have had students come up to me and ask if I have heard about a case they just discovered online."
Matthew's favorite case is one he recently wrote. "I call it Isotope Itinerary, and it is currently one of my favorites. The case centers on the use of stable isotope analysis to identify the remains of a murder victim found in Dublin who originated from Kenya. Without the use of isotopes, this case most likely would not have been solved. This opens then into a discussion of other uses of stable isotope analysis. I like this case because it takes a very basic (and dry) topic and ignites the students' curiosity."
Matthew's cases have all been produced for textbooks he has written for the introductory (liberal arts) chemistry course that he teaches. The first book, Investigating Chemistry: Introductory Chemistry from a Forensic Science Perspective, is in its 3rd edition. "Every chapter opens with a case study crime that sets the stage for the content of the chapter. The chapters themselves contain the standard topics covered in any introductory course. Each chapter concludes with a case study finale, which reviews how the crime was solved using information from the chapter. I also sprinkle a few forensic science-themed examples throughout the chapter where applicable. Because chemistry is a fundamental and central science, I have been able to find real crimes for every chapter. Unfortunately, as crime never ends, I have a continual supply of cases to write about. I find the cases in newspapers, court documents, professional journals, and contacts I have developed with forensic scientists and detectives."
His second textbook, Exploring Chemistry: Connections to Everyday Life, just came out in 1st edition this spring. This book takes a more global look at applications of chemistry rather than just focusing on forensic science. Cases in this book range from the chemistry of brownies and muffins to chemotherapy drugs to biodegradable polymers to genetically modified foods. Both books are available from W.H. Freeman and, while targeted for an introductory course, Matthew mentioned that other chemistry teachers have used his books simply for the cases.
Department of Communication Science and Disorders
St. John's University – Notre Dame Division
Staten Island, New York
Linda Carozza is an assistant professor of speech pathology at Saint John’s University in New York. She uses cases in her upper-level Speech Pathology I and II courses and her seminar in speech pathology. She also has used cases in an internship course and a course about language-based learning disabilities.
“I had a colleague at my previous position who taught phonetics, a very dry subject where you have to learn to transcribe speech sounds. But Susan [Behrens] was a wonderful teacher. She introduced me to Kipp [Herreid], and we both took one of Kipp’s workshops, and then wrote a case together.” Susan and Linda’s case, Emily and Dr. Haskins, is available in the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science’s collection of cases.
Interestingly, Linda expects her internship students to write a case as part of their “senior project.” Students were excited to share what they’ve learned. Linda says her students like cases, and find them a good way to break up the lecture format. Her students also work extensively with patients, and she has found cases a good way to summarize, evaluate, and let students creatively explore treatment options in a way that they can’t with actual patients.
Linda attended Kipp's "Case Studies in Science" summer workshop in 2006, and loved it. Actually, I think she really liked Kipp’s approach: “He’s such a vital teacher. After that workshop I went back to my classroom, set up a flip chart and markers, and people were paying attention to me like they did to Kipp.” She thinks that if possible everyone should take one of Kipp’s workshops; she also noted that there is a lot of material about teaching cases on the Center’s website at http://sciencecases.lib.buffalo.edu/cs/teaching/publications/, including information about Kipp and Nancy Schiller’s recently published book of case studies (co-edited with Ky Herreid) to help develop students’ critical thinking skills.
What has she found to be difficult about teaching with cases? “It’s hard to grade the cases that the students write. I am always thinking about enhancing my tools of evaluation via rubrics for case study.” The process of developing a case is a great learning tool, so simply evaluating their output doesn’t capture the richness of this learning approach. We talked about the value of educational techniques for formation instead of assessment, and she clearly feels that her students learned to think about their subjects differently by writing a case. “And it was fun to be the reader instead of the writer for a change.”
Last year, Linda published a textbook with Plural Press entitled Science of Successful Supervision and Mentorship (available through Amazon). I haven’t read it yet, but it has one glowing review on Amazon. Linda told me that the book includes sections about teaching with cases.
Linda also serves as a reviewer for the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science. So far, she has reviewed one case for the collection. “It was fun to read [a case] instead of write [one]. I think you learn about the writer’s personality from the case.” Not surprisingly, Linda’s favorite cases are in her area of aphasia and speech learning. She recommended Speak Up! Mini Cases in Language. Because Linda is teaching upper-level undergraduate students, she prefers small intense cases that require students to relate their concept of speech pathology with the story.
Linda would like to try writing another case in the future, and ended by saying, “I appreciate all that the case study group has done for my teaching and learning.”
High School Teacher
C.H. Yoe High School
Toni Lafferty teaches at the C.H. Yoe High School in Cameron, Texas. She teaches biology, anatomy, and an independent studies course to students in grades 9 through 12. She’s been with this institution for 30 years, and her long experience has given her a quiet confidence.
Toni told me that she has used cases from the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science for three years, but for years before that she collected and incorporated material describing various problems that essentially were small cases. Now she uses problem-based learning in all of her classes. She uses cases in her biology class, but the curriculum for that course is more constrained, so it’s her anatomy classes especially where she uses cases frequently. Her anatomy course is divided into six sections. She begins the exploration of each system with a case, and sometimes the case is her primary teaching technique for the entire system. Sometimes the cases use problem-based learning; sometimes they employ the interrupted case technique or other methods that require more guidance from her. She really likes using cases because they allow teaching flexibility, depending on time availability and the particular dynamics of the class.
In addition, Toni is a co-editor (with Karen Lucci, Ethel Stanley, Margaret Waterman, and Claire Hemingway) of Problem Solving with Plant Biology: Cases for the Classroom, a new e-book of cases about plants designed for use in middle schools and high schools. Toni told me it was developed from workshops that were part of the PlantIt "Careers, Cases, and Collaboration" project. (I’ve not read the book yet, but as a botanist it’s definitely on my to-do list! It can be downloaded for free from http://www.myplantit.org/).
She likes the cases on our website, and mentioned many are great for teaching anatomical topics. When I asked her how cases change her classroom, she paused and reflected. “Cases generate more conversation, more questions from the kids. Then I don’t answer questions but redirect them with another set of questions so they have to explore.” She laughed, admitting that students often are frustrated at first when she does this. Some come to appreciate the power they have over their learning. “I had one student in her salutorian speech at the end of the year mention that ‘Ms. Lafferty made us explore and find the answers ourselves.’” She smiled, remembering a student who did not enjoy biology. After studying a case, the student told her, “You made me want to read a science book!” And cases can get her students very invested. “When we do the case study, Chemical Eric, my students are very concerned. I had one say, ‘I hope he’s still alive!’”
I asked Toni what, in her opinion, makes a good case: “Two things. I like data for them to graph and work with, reading the charts or having to make graphs. So I look for quantitative data students have to work with. The other thing is that the case is unique. It's great if it has current or new information, something relevant.” So Toni recommends the case study 2000-Meter Row by Nathan Strong from our collection. “It has data and a good story, and now with the Olympics, students will be interested.”
At the end of our conversation, I asked her what advice she had for teachers who want to use cases. She immediately replied, “Take time. Cases take time. Allow more time so kids can work through the case, and then go back to reflection time. They need to process it.”