What is unique about the BioQUEST cases
and the ICBL(investigative case-based learning) approach for science
As in all case-based learning, the problem space is
defined by the case. However, students are not asked only to learn new
material, but to pose a question, develop accountable approaches to
investigate the question and present methodology and conclusions to
the class that support a reasonable answer to their question. What sets
this approach and cases featured here apart from previous case work
is an emphasis on research-like environments for learning biology.
Our approach to case study grew out of experience with
medical case-based PBL. Some elements of that approach are extremely
useful and are retained in the investigative case study approach..
1. Cases are based on realistic and meaningful
problems, they are multidisciplinary
In the case study approach students learn biology in
the context of realistic situations. They have practice using biological
information to investigate and come to resolution on complex problems.
Since learning occurs around a particular realistic problem, there is
greater likelihood that the learned material will be better retained
and more easily applied to similar situations (Brown et al., 1989, Schmidt,
1983). In their lives they may never face the exact problems they study,
however, they will have experienced using scientific knowledge and scientific
thinking to work out reasonable solutions.
2. The case defines a problem space
In case-based PBL, the problem is used in a different
fashion than problems are traditionally used for science learning. In
PBL the case defines a problem space that learners will investigate.
In case-based PBL, the case problem comes first in the instructional
sequence. This is a reversal of the usual use of problems in science
teaching. By putting the case early in the instructional sequence, the
learners use the case to brainstorm a set of questions they will try
to answer. They thus become more directed in their reading and more
motivated in subsequent lectures, labs, and discussions. In fact, they
are learning in just the way most of us learn-- because they have a
problem or question of their own to work on.
Faculty members choose cases or write their own, and
so draw the boundaries on the problem space. The case defines a problem
space in much the same way that the lines on a soccer field defines
a playing space. As in soccer, the case sets some limits on the area
of subject matter to be explored. And as in soccer, once the game has
begun, the players move over the playing field moving in general directions,
and with goals, but not in a prescribed linear manner. Unlike soccer,
it's ok to go out of bounds for a while with a case, as long as the
general direction and goals are attained.
3. Students make decisions about their learning,
4. Some phases of case study are best done collaboratively
Commonly in the medical case-based PBL approach, students
work in groups of 8-10 with a "tutor," meeting to discuss a case based
on a real patient or situation (Fig. 2). Students read part of the case
out loud, then discuss the elements presented thus far in the case.
They generate hypotheses, list their outstanding questions, and develop
a learning agenda -- issues they agree to pursue before their next meeting.
This phase of case study is one in which students are actively engaged
and working together to brainstorm issues, share what they know, and
develop their plans for learning.
Some possible learning issues from the Ben Brown case:
Access to health care, causes of coughs, parts of the body involved
in breathing and coughing, the blood supply of the lungs, homelessness,
5. The faculty member becomes more of a guide
to methodology than an information source.
As you consider case-based learning in the classroom,
think about what a case discussion might look like with a small group.
The "instructor" has several roles (though to the student eye it may
seem he does little): facilitates discussion, helps students explore
their thinking and reasoning without leading them, and helps with group
dynamics. During case discussions, students are actively engaged in
interpreting the case, proposing problems and possible solutions, brainstorming,
and using resources. At Harvard Medical School the faculty and students
agree that the chalkboard belongs to the student during case discussions.
Students take on roles we commonly think of as teacher roles: deciding
what to focus on, developing questions, leading the discussion, using
the board to keep notes, make drawings, or list learning issues. Resources
to support student learning are frequently in the room - books, images,
computer access to the Internet, computer simulations, models, etc.