Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

Assessment of Case Study Teaching: Where Do We Go from Here? Part I

Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

Assessment of Case Study Teaching: Where Do We Go from Here? Part I

Article excerpt

Byline: Mary A. Lundeberg and Aman Yadav

Why do assessment?

In recent years, a number of National Science Foundation and National Research Council reports have advocated the need to improve undergraduate science instruction and enhance science literacy for all students (e.g., NRC 1996; 2002). Many undergraduates, especially women and traditionally underrepresented groups, avoid higher-level science and mathematics. Several students who switch from science and mathematics majors in college report "poor teaching by faculty" as a significant reason for switching (Seymour and Hewitt 1997, p. 32). Examples of poor teaching in the science fields at the undergraduate level include an emphasis on memorizing facts, lack of application of concepts, dullness, and failure to encourage connections among concepts (Kardash and Wallace 2001).

One effort to improve the learning of science is through case study teaching. Teachers use realistic or true narratives to provide opportunities for students to integrate multiple sources of information in an authentic context, and may engage students with ethical and societal problems related to their discipline (Lundeberg, Levin, and Harrington 1999; Herreid 1994). Although such methods are being used in some university-level courses in the fields of science, mathematics, business, and education, relatively little empirical research has examined whether and how these case-based teaching approaches have the desired effects of promoting deep understanding, enabling transfer of ideas to new contexts, and making learning more motivating or valuable for certain student populations, especially traditionally underrepresented groups (Lundeberg, Levin, and Harrington 1999; Lundeberg et al. 2002). What happens in classes that use case study teaching? Do students learn more in case-based science courses? Are they able to make more connections among concepts? Can they apply these concepts to real-life situations? How might case study teaching in science promote scientific literacy in students?

We propose that empirical research, particularly well-designed classroom experiments, has the potential to lead to a strong line of research regarding case-based teaching in science. In this article, we illustrate how such experiments might be done, describing what needs to be measured and how this approach is superior to much of the current research on case study teaching. We urge faculty to think systematically about principles of scientific inquiry in education (Shavelson, Towne, and the Committee on Scientific Principles for Education Research 2002), to use a research design that will provide valid and reliable evidence for claims they want to make and/or processes they want to better understand, to carefully consider measurement issues, and to avoid common problems in evaluation.

Why do investigations in classrooms?

Shavelson, Towne, and the Committee on Scientific Principles for Education Research (2002, p.2) propose that the basic core of scientific inquiry is the same in all fields, including education, and that the scientific enterprise is guided by the following set of norms, or principles, that shape inquiry:

Pose significant questions that can be investigated empirically.

Link research to relevant theory.

Use methods that permit direct investigation of the question.

Provide a coherent and explicit chain of reasoning.

Replicate and generalize across studies.

Disclose research to encourage professional scrutiny and critique.

Linking classroom investigations of case study teaching to prior research and relevant theories is essential for posing significant questions that lead to quality research. Research questions fall into three categories:

Description-What is happening?

Cause-Is there a systematic effect?

Process or mechanism-Why or how is it happening? …

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