A Case for Case-Based Learning

By on April 20, 2015

In my “day job,” I teach health science students. In my humble opinion (IMHO), if health sciences instructors aren’t using case studies, then what the heck are we doing?

Ultimately our students’ careers will be a series of continuous case studies. So, while they can look up vocabulary words in books and manuals and on the Internet, giving our students tools to handle real life scenarios is what is going to make them great professionals.

I’m (obviously) already convinced that this is a great technique for maximizing learning and student engagement. The challenge, perhaps, is how to use cases effectively in classes that are particularly large, or particularly disinterested. Plus, I’m learning that course elements, no matter how good, simply get stale after awhile.

Kind of like socks.

I used to teach a course called Instructional Techniques in Fitness, in which students learned how to be personal trainers and group fitness instructors. It could actually be perceived as a series of really big case studies, as students participated in a personal training simulation in which they took two or three individuals through coaching sessions from pre- to post-assessment, and everything in between. They documented everything, and complete reflections on each exercise session they’d created.

A good case study contains realism, opportunity for synthesis, uncertainty, and risk (Nilson, 2010). What better way to illustrate these qualities than to place a real live person in the hands of students? This class was awesome (it really was), but there was one thing is sort of gnawing at me that I hadn’t had time to address. So, in while taking a course in the Graduate College at UIC on teaching, I got the chance to think deeper about case studies.

The Problem: Though students were *supposed* to do their reflections after each individual training session, they weren’t collected until the end of the semester. So, obviously, many (if not most) students were waiting until the last minute and cranking out 12 outdated statements rather than participating in a continual process of self-reflection.

Additionally, each reflection consists of exactly the same prompts:

1. What did the client accomplish this session, and was the theme consistent with the client’s goals?
2. Did we achieve the expected outcomes? What would I change or improve?
3. How will you approach your next session with the client?

While this is a perfectly nice set of prompts, doing the same thing over and over often results in complacency on the students’ part in their writing. Ideally, students use the prompts to facilitate a balance between reflection and forward progress in their sessions. Particularly thoughtful students did this on their own, but most didn’t, and the rubric did not facilitate it.

  • Possible solution: Collect reflections periodically rather than at the end of the semester and turn back with feedback to encourage deeper connection to content and the student experience.
  • Challenge: Timely turnaround of grading, clear rubric criteria
  • Opportunity: Creating discreet rubrics for each reflection can create a forward motion in students’ ability to write clearly and uncover connections. Providing prompts that build on one another and elicit increasing demand for quality writing across the twelve reflections creates an opportunity to move through Bloom’s Taxonomy rather than generating stock answers. In essence, I am setting up the simulation as a continuous case study.

What does it look like?

Class: Instructional Techniques in Fitness
Activity: Personal training simulation: Written reflections
Outcome: Establish a practice of writing that demonstrates reflexivity, connection to content, and forward thinking within each of 12 written reflections.

PROMPTS 1 AND 2 (TAXONOMY: REMEMBER):

INCLUDE YOUR SESSION PLANNER WITH THIS REFLECTION. DESCRIBE THE INTAKE SESSION WITH YOUR CLIENTS, BASED ON YOUR INTERVIEW WITH EACH CLIENT, PERFORM A RISK STRATIFICATION, GOALS ASSESSMENT AND NEEDS ASSESSMENT WHAT ASSESSMENTS WERE APPROPRIATE AND WHY? WHAT WERE THE RESULTS OF THESE ASSESSMENTS? NAME THE GOAL OF EACH CLIENT, AND HOW YOU UTILIZED THE CLIENTS’ GOALS, FITNESS ASSESSMENT, AND FOUNDATIONAL PRINCIPLES OF EXERCISE PROGRAMMING TO DEVELOP YOUR NEXT SESSION?

PROMPTS 3 AND 4 (TAXONOMY: UNDERSTAND):

INCLUDE YOUR SESSION PLANNER WITH THIS REFLECTION. DESCRIBE YOUR RATIONALE BEHIND TODAY’S SESSION. WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THE EXERCISES YOU DID, AND HOW DO YOUR CHOICES RELATE BACK TO THE CLIENT’S GOALS? IF YOU COULD CHANGE ANYTHING FROM TODAY’S SESSION, WHAT WOULD IT BE, AND WHY?

PROMPTS 5 AND 6 (TAXONOMY: APPLY):

INCLUDE YOUR SESSION PLANNER WITH THIS REFLECTION. NAME THREE CONNECTIONS BETWEEN AN EXPERIENCE YOU HAD OR ARE HAVING IN YOUR SESSIONS AND CONTENT COVERED IN CLASS. IS THIS CONNECTION IMPORTANT TO YOUR NEXT SESSION, OR NOT? WHY?

PROMPTS 7 AND 8 (TAXONOMY: ANALYZE):

INCLUDE YOUR SESSION PLANNER WITH THIS REFLECTION. DESCRIBE TWO VICTORIES YOU HAD IN TODAY’S SESSION. WHAT ABOUT YOUR SESSIONS IS WORKING? NOW, DESCRIBE TWO CHALLENGES. HOW DO YOU PLAN TO ADDRESS THESE CHALLENGES IN FUTURE SESSIONS? WHAT COMMUNICATION SKILLS OR TACTICS WILL HELP ALLEVIATE THESE CHALLENGES?

PROMPTS 9 AND 10 (TAXONOMY: EVALUATE):

INCLUDE YOUR SESSION PLANNER WITH THIS REFLECTION. OBSERVE ANY CHANGES YOU’VE NOTICED IN YOUR CLIENT (PHYSICAL AND/OR PSYCHOLOGICAL) OVER THE SERIES OF SESSIONS, AND ALSO IN YOURSELF AS A TRAINER. THESE CHANGES COULD BE RELATED TO YOUR SESSIONS, OR NOT. WHAT IS IMPORTANT TO YOU AS A TRAINER… WHAT DO YOU VALUE MOST IN CREATING POSITIVE EXPERIENCES FOR YOUR CLIENTS?

PROMPTS 11 AND 12 (TAXONOMY: CREATE):

INCLUDE YOUR SESSION PLANNER WITH THIS REFLECTION. WRITE A PROGRESS REPORT BASED ON PRE-AND POST-ASSESSMENT RESULTS FOR EACH CLIENT. MAKE SUGGESTIONS AS TO HOW YOUR CLIENTS MIGHT CONTINUE TO WORK TOWARD ACHIEVING THEIR GOALS. SHARE THIS WITH THE CLIENT IN A FACE-TO-FACE INTERVIEW AFTER THE LAST SESSION HAS COMPLETED.

Cited: Nilson, L.B. (2010). Teaching at its Best, 3rd Edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 183.

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Lauren Warnecke is a freelance writer and editor based in Chicago, IL, specializing in dance and cultural criticism. Lauren is the dance critic for the Chicago Tribune, editor of See Chicago Dance, and founder/editor of Art Intercepts, with bylines in Chicago Magazine, Milwaukee Magazine and Dance Media publications, among others. Holding degrees in dance and kinesiology, Lauren is also an adjunct instructor in the dance and exercise science programs at Loyola University Chicago.

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