Case Studies

Last Updated: February 20th, 2014

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Overview

CASE STUDIES are collections of detailed information about a particular person or group. Case studies generally include descriptive research, exploration of a situation, and draw conclusions in context of the situation. There are several different types of case studies including illustrative, exploratory, critical instance, program implementation, program effects, prospective, cumulative, narrative, medical, and embedded. The most commonly used type of case studies in education are:

  • Illustrative: Illustrative case studies are descriptive case studies that usually utilize one or two instances of an event to describe a situation. They serve to introduce the reader to a concept and give readers common language about the topic.
  • Cumulative: Cumulative case studies include information from several instances of a situation in order to make generalized conclusions.
  • Narrative: Narrative case studies present findings in a narrative format including a plot and characters.
  • Critical Instance: Critical instance case studies examine one or more situations in order to criticize a generalized or universal assumption. This method is often used in cause and effect situations.

Application to All Courses

The application of case studies will be similar in regular, large, online, or hybrid enrollment courses. Some of the benefits of case studies include:

  • Illustrates concepts and encourages critical thinking skills.
  • Offers a method of learning about complex situations through description and analysis.
  • Fosters debate and discussion skills.
  • Provides interaction with the content by providing a scenario in which students must solve a problem, address an ethical dilemma, or discuss a controversial topic.
  • Promotes higher order thinking skills.

Teaching Methods

For regular, large, online, or hybrid enrollment course, instructors can:

  • Utilize case studies to introduce a controversial topic, ethical dilemma, or to present a problem.
  • Utilize case studies as an ice breaker for a course topic, as a discussion board prompt, or as a test or quiz question.
  • Ask students to create case studies to illustrate a problem. Provide students with a rubric to communicate expectations for case studies. Have student’s peer-review the case studies of other students or groups.
  • Present a case study to students and brainstorm for possible solutions. Utilize tools such as polls, microblogging, and Live Question Tool to vote on the best solution or approach to the problem. Compare student results to a real-life situation.

Example:

The following case study was created in order for students to apply previously learned knowledge of the theory of multiple intelligences:

Case Study:

Dr. Waverly is teaching her second year of an online Calculus I course which is a prerequisite course for several fields of study including some widely differing fields such as Civil Engineering and Business. From her previous years experience, she is aware that she is teaching an online audience with varying learning styles, backgrounds, motivations, and levels of experience. To try to encourage student motivation, she decided that this year she would give her students a survey to determine their major fields and interests. She then modified her online course activities to relate the content to student’s interests in their major fields. She also included extra activities for students who had a high motivation level and wanted additional information.

Dr. Waverly noticed that the students immediately responded to the personalization of their curriculum and their motivation to participate in class activities was markedly higher then in the past. However, as the course progressed she noticed that some students began to become frustrated and their performance began to wane – especially with students who were not in mathematics fields.

After reassessing the situation Dr. Waverly realized that she left out an important consideration of her students and made some more changes to her course materials including such modifications as: adding audio to her text-based lectures, including more group activities, adding more images and graphics to her lectures, and creating a Web-quest. Soon, her students were back on target and showed improvement through the remainder of the course.

Discussion Questions:

  • What did Dr. Waverly do to improve the success of her students?
  • Why did her changes lead to improved student success?

Possible Responses:

  • Motivational Strategies: Dr. Waverly used motivational strategies to gain her students attention, make her Calculus course seem relevant, give the students confidence that they could learn, and help them feel a sense of satisfaction about completing the course.
  • Diverse Learning Levels: Dr. Waverly included materials for her more advanced learners to progress at a higher level if they so chose.
  • Learning Styles: Dr. Waverly realized that her course materials were focusing more on mathematical-logical learning styles and made an effort to include activities for her students that were more appropriate to students who favored other learning styles.

Getting Started

  • A case study generally has three parts: problem, implementation, and results.
  • The problem must inform the learner of an issue that will have a significant impact on the reader.
  • A case study should only address one problem.
  • The implementation discusses how the problem was addressed.
  • The results discuss the outcome of how the problem was addressed. However, in some cases a case study may not include this section so that the students can discuss the possible outcomes of the results.
  • A case study can be an example of how the problem was addressed correctly or incorrectly.
  • A case study should be very specific and can include graphics, statistics, and other information as necessary.
  • Usually a case study will address an ethical dilemma.

Additional Resources

Articles – Journal and Academic

Articles – Blogs, Websites, Wikis

For information on tools to help with synchronous case study activities visit the CITT Tools & Techniques Toolbox:

For information on tools to help with asynchronous case study activities visit the CITT Tools & Techniques Toolbox:

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