Teaching Science with Case Studies: A National Survey of Faculty Perceptions of the Benefits and Challenges of Using Cases

By Yadav, Aman; Lundeberg, Mary et al. | Journal of College Science Teaching, September-October 2007 | Go to article overview

Teaching Science with Case Studies: A National Survey of Faculty Perceptions of the Benefits and Challenges of Using Cases


Yadav, Aman, Lundeberg, Mary, DeSchryver, Michael, Dirkin, Kathryn, Schiller, Nancy A., Maier, Kimberly, Herreid, Clyde Freeman, Journal of College Science Teaching


To understand more about faculty perceptions of the instructional benefits of and barriers to using case studies, we surveyed 101 science faculty at universities and colleges in the United States and Canada. The results provided evidence that, overall, faculty think cases have a positive impact on student learning, critical thinking, and participation.

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 courses. Students who have switched from science and mathematics majors in college report "poor teaching by faculty" as a significant reason for switching (Seymour and Hewitt 1997). Examples of poor teaching in science 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). Aikenhead (2006) argues that one of the failures of traditional science curricula is that "students tend not to learn science content meaningfully (i.e., they do not integrate it into their everyday thinking)." The lack of relevance to the everyday world in traditional science curriculum has led to declining student enrollment and disenchantment with science (Aikenhead 2006).

One effort to improve the teaching and learning of science involves instruction through the use of case-based methods and problem-based learning. Case-based instructional methods use realistic or true narratives to provide opportunities for students to integrate multiple sources of information in an authentic context, often engaging students with ethical and societal problems related to their discipline (Dori, Tal, and Tsaushu 2003; Herreid 1994; Lundeberg, Levin, and Harrington 1999). Problem-based learning is a kind of case-based instruction that focuses on dilemmas in multidisciplinary contexts, and uses cooperative-learning groups to engage students in self-directed study. Although such methods are used in some university-level courses in the fields of science, mathematics, and education, and individual faculty have written about their use (e.g., Herreid 1994), relatively little research has examined whether or how these case-based teaching approaches are being utilized, what science faculty think the benefits are of case-based instruction on student outcomes, or what challenges faculty face when implementing cases in their own teaching (Lundeberg, Levin, and Harrington 1999).

Our purpose in conducting a national survey was to investigate the contexts of using case studies in science courses as well as faculty perceptions of the benefits and challenges of using them. Specifically, our research questions in this study were (1) what are science faculty's perceptions of the benefits of case-based instruction on student learning, critical thinking, and motivation? and (2) what do science faculty think are the main obstacles to implementing case-based instruction in their own teaching?

Methodology

Participants

Participants were drawn from faculty who attended one of the training workshops and conferences conducted by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science in 2005. Of the 101 faculty who completed the online survey, 83% were Caucasian, 7% African American, 3% Asian American, and 7% Pacific Islander. Sixty-four percent of respondents were women. Participants came from 23 states, with Arizona and Michigan having the highest levels of comparative participation. The majority of the faculty taught at the university level (only 4% were high school teachers), and less than half of the faculty had tenure (17.6 % were lecturers, 36.5% were assistant professors, 23% were associate professors, and 19% were professors). …

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