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A case study stimulates critical thinking by immersing students in 'real life' circumstances they might encounter as professionals. Cases represent new contexts for students, in which you challenge them to both apply critical thinking skills and learn as they go. For this reason, the content of a case is as crucial as how you lead the students through that case.
There are many cases and case banks already available, like the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science. Before writing your own case, try a quick Internet search or tap your professional networks. You may be surprised how at how many good cases there are for you to find!
Keep in mind that you do not necessarily have to keep a case you do find
Teachers often find existing cases that are close to what they need, then add their own details or events to make the case fit their topic. This can be an enjoyable, creative exercise.
When they are unable to find an existing case with the right set of details, many teachers write their own cases.
Regardless of whether you find a case perfect for you, find one to adapt, or generate your own from scratch, the following guidelines for good cases have been developed by case teachers from their own experience.
Lynn (1999) described a "star quality" case as one that:
Remember that the instructional power of a case is that it tells the story of events that unfold around a concept, issue or dilemma that you want students to learn. For this reason, give yourself time to write a draft of the case before using it in class, and share it with a colleague or two for their input. They may be able to contribute ideas and details that can both sharpen the instructional impact of the case and also give it more vivid realism.
Further, Lynn (1999) outlined the main elements of a case study as including:
Herreid (1997/98) identified the following elements of a good case:
For more details on each of these elements, see Herreid's website.
Cases are much more instructional when they involve students in nitty-gritty decision making within the context that the case presents. Many cases are written to have 'stop points' at crucial places in the story, where students are prompted to consider what they know at this point and what the best course of action might be.
Keep in mind that the case must have details that are both relevant and irrelevant to the issue, and characters who are sympathetic a 'real' enough for students to identify with them and therefore get something of a sense for what the problems they encounter might feel like.
Lynn, L.E. (1999). Teaching and Learning with Cases: A Guidebook. New York: Chatham House.
Herreid, C.F. (1997/98) What makes a good case? Journal of College Science Teaching 27(3):163-165.