Using Case Studies in the Classroom


Case studies have long been used in education, notably within medicine, business and law, and at Harvard University within its business school and the Kennedy School for Government and Public Policy. They are gaining in popularity for many reasons including their association with problem-based learning, the fact that they promote deeper and broader understanding of complex issues through interdisciplinary and integrated approaches to learning, and they may address issues of significance within Tribal contexts (Stumpff & Smith, n.d.).

A case study may be thought of as a story with an important educational message. They may be based on fictional elements or include real persons and events, however authentic content typically is preferable. Teaching case studies can be relatively short and self-contained for use in a very limited amount of time, or rather long with significant detail and complexity that make them more appropriate for use over several class sessions. They may utilize diverse additional materials as well, such as supplementary readings, online materials and multimedia content. Teaching case studies may take a variety of different forms and may be supplemented with teaching notes that facilitate their use.

The four C’s comprise the fundamental elements of a good teaching case study: context, conflict, complexity and challenge. Amongst other things, they are useful for addressing topics not otherwise represented in curricular materials or where such materials are inaccurate or contribute to misunderstanding, they foster the development of critical thinking skills, and they may provide culturally relevant curriculum (Stumpff & Smith, n.d.).

Case studies may include lecture components, but are also well suited to multiple participatory pedagogical approaches for engaging students such as role play, debate, discussion, and others. They are often ideal for small group activities and contribute to a shift in faculty and student roles. Faculty may shift from lecturing to assume the role of participant learner/facilitator, while students may shift from only listening to lectures to assume other roles and responsibilities that may involve class work as well as extensive additional work associated with the case (Stumpff & Smith, n.d.).

Many well developed teaching case studies already exist for application within different disciplines and are available from the Internet. Two primary sources of case studies involve those developed for use within Tribal contexts and science (e.g., Enduring Legacies Native, 2009; National Center for Case, 2008).


Case studies may involve a wide range of assessment methods that may be incorporated into the case itself, e.g., in the teaching notes involving guidelines and suggestions for how to use the case study. Information regarding assessment using case studies is available on from various sources (e.g., “Assessing Case-based Instruction,” n.d.; “Case Study Teaching:,” 2009; and National Center for Case, 2008).


Assessing case-based instruction. (n.d.). Case Studies in Science. Retrieved September 12, 2009, from National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, State University of New York at Buffalo and Michigan State University website: [Resources and references for assessing case-based teaching and learning.]

Case study teaching: A bibliography. (2009). Enduring Legacies Native Cases. Retrieved September 12, 2009, from The Evergreen State College website: [References on introductory readings on teaching with cases, pedagogical approaches, assessment and case study teaching in various academic disciplines.]

National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science. (2008, June 18). Retrieved September 12, 2009, from [Information regarding the case study method, case teaching in the sciences, a collection of science case studies, and assessment.]

Stumpff, L. M., & Smith, B. L. (n.d.). The enduring legacy Native cases initiative. In Enduring Legacies Native Cases. Retrieved September 12, 2009, from The Evergreen State College website: [Overview of case studies and the Enduring Legacies Case Studies.]


Mintzes, J. J., & Leonard, W. H. (Eds.). (2006). Handbook of college science teaching. Retrieved from [Includes information on the case study teaching method and assessment.]

Teaching materials using case studies. (n.d.). UK Center for Materials Education. Retrieved September 12, 2009, from Higher Education Academy website: [Information on the use of case studies and assessment types for case studies.

Submitted by Brian Compton, Sept. 2009

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