Preparing Case Learners

Address student concerns by providing access to specific information on what to expect with case-based learning such as: Notes for Students on Investigative Case-Based Learning

Preparing students to use case study approaches
Most college students are ill-prepared for collaborative group work, although this may change in the future as collaborative methods become more widely used in secondary education. Nonetheless, at present, college faculty need to recognize that they will have to teach students how to work together. They will also have to teach them how to use case study approaches.

At Harvard Medical School, incoming classes of medical students are introduced to case-based learning in three ways. First, in orientation, they do a case about plumbing (which few know about and it isn't medical, so the pressure is off). Second, also during orientation, they sit as a group of 160 in a lecture hall and watch a small group tutorial take place live in front of them (run by second year students). Third, in their first real course, time is allotted for discussing group dynamics and case processes.

You will likely want to make a low-pressure situation for your students the first time they do a case. Make it small, fun and easy, so they can learn how to brainstorm the issues and questions of the case. Don't be afraid to give explicit directions, such as:

"We begin by having one person read the case out loud. Who would like to do this?"

"Are there any words you don't know?" Or "what do you think this case is about?"

"It will help you later if one ofyou acts as scribe and writes down the ideas (on the chalkboard). You might want to keep track of facts, questions, issues, and proposed answers to the problem."

"We have 10 minutes left and you need to plan for next meeting. What do you see as key issues you'd like to work on?"

Students also need guidelines for how to act during discussions. Having printed guidelines can help, such as

"Don't interrupt one another" ...

"Don't attack people personally, focus on ideas"...

"Each person must contribute to the group. There are many ways to do this."

General advice books on college teaching like McKeachie's Teaching Tips or Barbara Gross Davis "Tools for Teaching" will be useful for developing such guidelines, as will colleagues in disciplines that regularly use discussion (psychology, English, history, education, philosophy).

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