Utilizing Case Studies


The case study is an active collaborative learning strategy where student groups read a written scenario of a real-life situation that depicts a discipline-specific related problem. Student groups are asked to solve the problem or present alternative solutions for the problem by applying course concepts. Case studies are an effective tool for facilitating the application of theory or other course concepts to practical, everyday situations that students will face in their chosen discipline. Case studies help hone students’ critical thinking skills through the processes of analysis, synthesis, and decision-making (Barkley, Cross, & Major, 2005).

Practical Applications

  1. ​Form student groups and distribute either identical or different cases to each group.
  2. Ask students for questions about the case study process and your expectations.
  3. Students work in groups to study the case and solve as directed (either in writing, orally, or both).
  4. Students discuss the cases and their responses with the entire class and instructor.

Example Case Studies

  • Water Can Kill? Exploring Effects of Osmosis by Susan D. Hester: http://sciencecases.lib.buffalo.edu/cs/files/hyponatremia.pdf
    Three case studies are presented as exam​ples from the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science website
  • Rough Games and the Brain: The Structure and Function of Proteins , Peggy Brickman: http://sciencecases.lib.buffalo.edu/cs/collection/detail.asp?case_id=670&id=670
    This particular case study employs the use of “clickers” during completion. Students learn about the chemical nature of protein molecules and how such molecules play a role in Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). CTE often results from concussions and other head trauma suffered from playing football, boxing, and wrestling
  • A Spill at Parsenn Bowl – Elaine S. Chapman: http://sciencecases.lib.buffalo.edu/cs/collection/detail.asp?case_id=222&id=222
    A third example of a case study found on the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science website. This particular case study is based on a real-life story of a woman suffering a knee injury while skiing. Students are introduced to the injury, the structure of the knee joint, additional complicating factors, the treatment of the injury, rehabilitation, and patient recovery.

Recommended Resources

  • Case Studies, Center for Teaching, Vanderbilt University: http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/case-studies/
    Visit this website to learn more about case studies, how to create your own case studies, and additional resources.
  • NSF National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science : http://sciencecases.lib.buffalo.edu/cs/
    This is a nationally recognized and vetted website supported by the National Science Foundation containing over 502 case studies from the sciences. Each case is typically presented with an overview, teaching notes, and answer key.
  • Making the Grade: The Role of Assessment in Authentic Learning , Marilyn M. Lombardi, Educause Learning Initiative: https://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI3019.pdf (see pages 10-11)
    This publication provides a concise but comprehensive summary of different authentic learning strategies and their corresponding assessment techniques.

Related Texts

  • Active Learning: 101Strategies to Teach Any Subject by Mel Silberman
  • Active Learning: cooperation in the College Classroom by David W. Johnson, Roger T. Johnson, and Karl A. Smith
  • Collaborative Learning Techniques by Elizabeth F. Barkley, K. Patricia Cross, and Claire Howell Major.

​Related Evaluation and Assessment Resources


  • Barkley, E. F., Cross, K. P., & Major, C. H. (2005). Collaborative learning techniques. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Posted by: Dina Battaglia

Original Posting Date: 10/27/14