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Investigative Cases and Case-Based Learning in Biology

Margaret A. Waterman (Southeast Missouri State University), and
Ethel D. Stanley (Beloit College)
Screen Shots | System Requirements

This text module focuses on the use of narrative cases as a way to initiate student-centered investigation. Cases are descriptions of richly complex, realistic situations and the people, organisms, and systems involved in those situations. Three cases in multiple parts are presented in Kingdoms Entangled: Molecules, Maize, and Malaria. The cases all share a central event that organizes the action, namely a blight of corn caused by a fungus. Its main characters are two graduate biology students studying corn genetics and ecology. The reader follows their circumstances and the science beneath the surface events in three story lines:

Maria’s Travels: A corn geneticist whose own family history becomes critical. Derrick’s Malaise: An ecologist whose bouts with malaria generates study of his own movements. Zea’s Wild Roots: How the ancestry of corn provides potential answers to the disease controversy.

In addition to the cases, User Notes provides specific information on using cases, considering alternative case-based learning approaches, and writing your own cases. A preliminary set of Resources and References that support teaching and learning with the cases is provided as well as scenarios of how such resources might be used to investigate issues raised by the case. In Student Notes, advice is offered to the student on case-based learning by providing examples, explanations, and suggested learning approaches.

As springboards for student-designed investigations, cases do not necessarily point the learner toward solving a specific problem, but rather open a context with many potential problems that students can define. By using the case study approach in this way, learners can develop flexible knowledge of science content and practical skill in investigation.

This case doesn’t provide all the details; rather, it sketches a situation in a way designed to provide a rich space for generating student questions. The case draws from a broad range of applications in biology. Students must move beyond an initial searching for “facts” related to the questions they are exploring. They must develop accountable approaches to investigate these biological phenomena and then carry them out. Investigative case-based learning encourages problem-posing, investigation, and persuasion.

Software simulations and tools can be used to investigate questions that arise from using the case study involving Maria and Derrick. Several scenarios are provided that focus on activities students could engage in while working with the case. Included in these scenarios are the use of Web resources and the simulations Evolve, Lateblight, and Inherit.

 

Screen Shots

A pedigree for one of the characters in the case study, created using Inherit.

 

System Requirements

This document is available in Portable Document Format (PDF) or Microsoft Word. To access the PDF file you must install the Acrobat™ Reader (versions for Macintosh and Windows are included on the CD).


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