Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

The Case of the Druid Dracula

Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

The Case of the Druid Dracula

Article excerpt

Byline: Peggy Brickman

I use case studies in my one-semester, three-credit hour introductory biology course with typical class sizes of 300+ students. Taken primarily by freshmen and sophomores to fulfill a general education requirement, the course consists of three 50-minute weekly meetings in a lecture classroom with no recitation section, although 65% of students are enrolled in an optional one-credit hour lab section.

Using case studies in large-enrollment courses can be challenging. I have found that it can be done successfully with a little creative technical support. Before describing the technology I use, I'd like to discuss the kind of case study that I have found works best in this setting.

I recommend that the case study be short and self-contained, controllable, and gradable. For my purposes, I use cases that focus on the acquisition by students of important course-related concepts and facts and provide an opportunity for them to practice interpreting data and drawing inferences from observations. As directed cases, the focus of the case studies I use is more on the dissemination of facts and principles and less on the analysis of all the possible options and solutions to a problem. I have found that the best format for achieving my goals is the Interrupted Case Format, where students receive the information in parts, or sections. Each section builds on the information and data presented in the previous section and is punctuated by questions that drive students' learning. I use multiple-choice questions that have specific, correct answers. Students answer the multiple-choice questions in class using hand-held response systems, or "clickers," as they are more commonly known (more on those in a moment).

Students work on the cases during the 50-minute lecture period in permanent small groups, which I institute the very first day of class. These groups, which consist of six students to a group, are randomly assigned using the Group Generation tool in WebCT, the online course management system adopted by the University of Georgia.

Each group has an assigned seating location in the "stadium-style" lecture hall (see Figure 1), and each group keeps handouts, grades, exams, and an attendance sheet in folders that they pick up in class each day. In their groups, students work daily on in-class activities that account for 15% of class time. Individual test and quiz scores determine 80% of each student's grade. An additional 20% of their grade is determined by group tests as well as mid- and end-of-semester peer evaluations.

Clickers in the classroom

Clicker technology has allowed me to successfully manage and encourage the type of classroom discussion and feedback critical for case study success in my classroom of 300+ students. I have turned to clickers because quality instruction depends on regularly assessing student comprehension and generating student discussion. The re-description by the student during discussion or questioning is a powerful way to promote learning that is unfortunately inhibited in very large classes.

Clickers are wireless transmitters used by students to instantly, accurately, and anonymously answer questions posed by the instructor. In my classroom, students use them to collaboratively solve cases during class. Each group is assigned a clicker that a member of the group picks up at the beginning of class and turns back in when class is over. Using the device, student groups tackle the multiple-choice "clicker questions" associated with a case. I then call on groups to provide an explanation to the rest of the class of their problem-solving strategies, rather than just giving them the correct answer. This allows me to encourage the re-description that promotes learning as well as uncover sources of confusion and misconception.

The Case of the Druid Dracula

"The Case of the Druid Dracula," reprinted in Figure 2 (parts I and II), is based on a lurid crime featured on the BBC program Crimewatch UK in December 2001 (Forensic Science Services Case Files) that was solved thanks to forensic DNA analysis. …

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