Teaching Guide

Case studies offer a student-centered approach to learning that asks students to identify, explore, and provide solutions to real-world problems by focusing on case-specific examples (Wiek, Xiong, Brundiers, van der Leeuw, 2014, p 434). This approach simulates real life practice in sustainability education in that it illuminates the ongoing complexity of the problems being addressed. Publishing these case studies openly, means they can be re-used in a variety of contexts by others across campus and beyond. Since the cases never “end”; at any time students from all over UBC campus can engage with their content, highlighting their potential as powerful educational tools that can foster inter-disciplinary research of authentic problems. Students contributing to the case studies are making an authentic contribution to a deepening understanding of the complex challenges facing us in terms of environmental ethics and sustainability.

The case studies are housed on the UBC Wiki, and that content is then fed into the Open Case Studies website. The UBC Wiki as a platform for open, collaborative course work enables students to create, respond to and/or edit case studies, using the built in features (such as talk pages, document history and contributor track backs) to make editing transparent. The wiki also also helps students develop important transferable skills such as selection and curation of multimedia (while attending to copyright and re-use specifications), citation and referencing, summarizing research, etc. These activities help build critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and digital literacy.

This guide is intended to help you get started with your case study project by offering:

  • Information on how to use the UBC Wiki
  • Research that supports case studies as effective tools for active learning
  • Instructional strategies for teaching effectively with case studies
  • Sample case study assignments used by UBC instructors

The UBC Wiki is a set of webpages accessible to anyone with a CWL account and has many unique features in addition to collaborative writing including the ability to revive previous drafts, and notifications setting that can support instructors in monitoring individual student contributions, or support students to better manage their collaborative efforts on their own. Using a wiki successfully in a course, however, requires proper facilitation and support from instructors and TAs.

The following links are helpful in getting started:

General Information:

Self-Guided Wiki Tutorials:

The idea that learning is "active" is influenced by social constructivism, which emphasizes collaboration in the active co-construction of meaning among learners. Simply put, learning happens when people collaborate and interact with authentic learning tasks and situations. These ideas are becoming increasingly prevalent in the scholarly literature on teaching and learning (see for instance, Wilson 1996) and have important implications for pedagogy, especially in the university where traditional lectures remain the dominant instructional strategy. When students are asked to respond to authentic problems and questions, they assume responsibility for the trajectory of their learning, rather than it being decided upon by the instructor. This practice, also referred to as “student-centered learning” allows the students to become “active” participants in the construction of their understandings.

One of the easiest ways to develop higher order cognitive capacities (critical thinking, problem solving, creativity etc.) is through pedagogies that support inquiry based learning, thereby allowing students the opportunity to “develop [as] inquirers and to use curiosity, the urge to explore and understand...to become researchers and lifelong learners” (Justice, Rice, Roy, Hudspith & Jenkins,2009, p. 843). Because case studies are often collaborative, they provide unique inquiry based learning opportunities that will foster active engagement in student learning, while also teaching transferable skills (teamwork, collaboration, technology literacy). That the cases never “end” and that they can be considered by students and faculty from all over the UBC community, highlights their potential as powerful educational tools that can foster inter-disciplinary research of authentic problems.

Using case studies successfully in a course requires purposefully scaffolded support from the instructor and TA's. Instructors must properly introduce assignments, as well as facilitate and monitor the progress of students while they work on assignments. This will help ensure that students understand the purpose and value of the work they are doing and will also allow instructors and TA's to provide appropriate support and guidance.

The following instructional strategies will help you teach effectively using case studies:

1. Getting Started:

  • Outline Your "Big Picture" Goals and Expectations: Communicate to students what you are hoping they will learn (Or have them tell you why they think you would ask them to work with case studies!). It is also important to discuss the quality of work you expect and offer specific examples of what that looks like. If you have any, look at exemplars of past student work, or simply evaluate existing case studies to generate a list of defining characteristics. Doing this will provide students with valuable tangible and visual examples of what you expect.
  • Define "Case Study": Don't assume that students understand what case-studies are, especially at the undergraduate level. Take the time to talk about what a case study is and why they are powerful teaching/learning tools. This can be facilitated during a tutorial with small group discussion. See Case Study Resources.
  • Pick Case Studies Purposefully: If you are planning on having students evaluate case studies, make sure to read them in advance and have a clear understanding of why you chose it. This will help facilitate discussion and field student questions.
  • Set the Context for the Evaluating or Creating the Case Study: Whether you are having students write the case studies themselves, or you are having them examine an existing case, it is important to set the parameters for how you want students to approach the problem. For instance, you may have them evaluate the case from the perspective of an industry professional, a community group or member, or even from their own perspective of university students. Whatever you choose, make sure you communicate this clearly.
  • Set the Parameters for Evaluating or Creating the Case Study: Clearly outline all the information you want students to find out, and how you want it reported. You may want students to focus on some areas and disregard others, or you may want them to consider all the facts equally. Whatever you choose, make sure you communicate this clearly.

2. Use, Revise, and/or Create

  • Use the case studies as they are: One way to use the case studies in courses is to have students read and discuss them as they are. They can be read on the open case studies website, downloaded from the wiki and embedded into another website, or downloaded in PDF or Microsoft Word format (see this guide for how to embed or download the case studies)
  • Revise case studies: If you are a faculty, staff or student at UBC you can use your CWL login to access the UBC Wiki page for each case study to edit it (scroll to the bottom of the case study page to see the link to the wiki source page). If you want to do this, we just ask:
    • If you are only making minor edits such as fixing a broken link or a typo, please go ahead. You could add a note about this to the "discussion" page to explain (see the tab at the top of each wiki page).
    • You could add a section at the bottom of the case study with a perspective on it from your discipline. Some of the case studies already have sections at the bottom that are titled "What would a ___ do?" You can add a new one of those to give a different disciplinary perspective.
    • If you want to make more substantial changes, it would be best if you copied and pasted the wiki content into a new page so as to preserve the original. The original version may be used in other courses by the instructor/students who created it, so making significant changes could be a problem! And those changes might be reverted by the original instructor and students (wiki pages keep all past versions, and those changes can easily be reverted). If you would like to substantially revise a case study, please contact Christina Hendricks, who can help you get started and then get the new version into the collection: c.hendricks@ubc.ca
  • Create new case studies: We are always looking for new case studies for the collection! If you think you would like to write one, or involve your students in writing one, please contact Christina Hendricks: c.hendricks@ubc.ca

3. Guiding Case Study Discussions:

  • Ask open-ended questions: Open-ended questions cannot be answered using "yes" or "no". Be careful when wording discussion questions, allowing them to be as open as possible.
  • Listen Actively: Actively listen to students by paraphrasing what they have said to you and saying it back (e.g. "What I heard is....Is this what you meant?"). This will help you pay close attention to what they say and clarify any possible miscommunication.
  • Role Play: Ask students to take on the perspective of different interested parties in considering the case study.
  • Compare and Contrast: Ask students to compare and contrast cases in similar areas from the open case study collection. Discuss whether there are similar problems or possible solutions for the cases.


4. Staying on Track:

  • Develop a Protocol for Collaboration: Have students outline how they will collaborate at the start of the assignment to ensure that the work is shared evenly and that each student has a purposeful role.
  • Set Benchmark Assignments: Make sure students stay on track by requiring smaller assignments or assessments along the way. This can be as simple as coming to tutorial with a portion of the case-study written for peer critique and analysis.
  • Give Students Adequate Time: Allow students enough time to read and consider case-studies thoughtfully. The more time you can provide, the less overwhelmed students will feel. This will encourage them to go deeper with their case study and their learning.
  • Political Science: Students in a third-year political science class responded to a case study written by the instructor. They worked in groups to create action plans for climate change problems. This link provides information on the assignment as well as a handout given to the students: Class Activity: Action Plans for Climate Change - Teacher Guide
source: http://wiki.ubc.ca/Documentation:Open_Case_Studies/Resources/Teacher_Guide