Windsurfing masts have to fulfil a certain criterion and students are asked to research into the types of material that could be used to meet that criterion. They are also asked to discuss production methods for the mast based on a chosen construction material. This case study asks the students to consider two possible designs and to suggest materials and production processes:
This case study requires students to work together in groups of 5-6 to investigate materials selection and construction for windsurfing masts. This is the first case study out of four in which first year students participate. To help the students understand this new type of learning, part of the introductory lecture is used to brief them on what is expected of them when taking part in case studies. Following this, background information on mast technology provides some details in the areas that students need to consider. Groups then assemble and are given ten minutes to brainstorm what properties the masts may require and suggest suitable materials. Students then discuss and share their ideas. Finally, students are given a basic materials selection chart and are asked to consider materials selection on two variables, density and stiffness. This teaches students how to use these charts and also highlights the type of materials they should be considering.
Questionnaire (open-ended questions): These allow students to fully explain their views and justify their answers. However, it can take time to analyse and interpret the results. We tend to use this approach, particularly with the introduction of new case studies, as we feel the questions evoke more personal and informative answers from students.
It is all very well to promote case studies as a good form of teaching, but how do you evaluate whether they are meeting the objectives set for them in terms of increasing student enjoyment/motivation, content coverage and depth of learning? Evaluating students' learning can be problematic but essential to ensure good teaching. Some suggestions for evaluation are as follows:
Interviews and discussion: Tutorials and staff/student liaison committees offer a good opportunity to discuss the learning experience with students. If assessing a specific case study, it is often better to use a member of staff who is not directly involved in the case study so that students do not worry that negative feedback may affect their assessment.
It is now documented that students can learn more effectively when actively involved in the learning process (Bonwell and Eison, 1991; Sivan et al, 2001). The case study approach is one way in which such active learning strategies can be implemented in our institutions. There are a number of definitions for the term case study. For example, Fry et al (1999) describe case studies as complex examples which give an insight into the context of a problem as well as illustrating the main point. We define our case studies as student centred activities based on topics that demonstrate theoretical concepts in an applied setting. This definition of a case study covers the variety of different teaching structures we use, ranging from short individual case studies to longer group-based activities. Examples of different styles of case studies are given at the end of this guide.
It is at this point that it is important to make a distinction between this type of learning and problem-based learning. The structure and format of our case studies can be likened to project-based learning as described by Savin-Baden (2003). Savin-Baden highlights the differences between problem-based learning and project-based learning and these can be summarised as follows:
Table 1: Differences and similarities between project-based learning (similar in structure to case study learning) and problem based learning.
In this guide, we consider the topic of case studies in its entirety. We begin by outlining our reasons for incorporating case studies into the teaching syllabus and then look at different aspects of case studies, including subject choice and content development, running and structuring of case studies, and assessment methods. Good practice, and examples of ideas that have been tried and found wanting, are discussed. Gaining feedback on our case studies from both students and staff has been an important aspect of our research and this is also reviewed.
The discipline of Materials Science and Engineering is ideal for using case study teaching because of the wealth of practical, real life examples that can be used to contextualise the theoretical concepts. Educational research has shown case studies to be useful pedagogical tools. Grant (1997) outlines the benefits of using case studies as an interactive learning strategy, shifting the emphasis from teacher-centred to more student-centred activities. Raju and Sanker (1999) demonstrate the importance of using case studies in engineering education to expose students to real-world issues with which they may be faced. Case studies have also been linked with increased student motivation and interest in a subject (Mustoe and Croft, 1999). In our experience of using case studies, we have found that they can be used to:
Most courses already have some case study teaching in them and we have introduced a greater extent of case-based approach in all of our courses for the above reasons. We have found the use of case studies to be very beneficial, not only to the students but also to our lecturers who have found the learning/teaching experience enjoyable and challenging. Students' comments include:
At $75,000, that effect disappears. For people who earn that much or more, individual temperament and life circumstances have much more sway over their lightness of heart than money. The study doesn't say why $75,000 is the benchmark, but "it does seem to me a plausible number at which people would think money is not an issue," says Deaton. At that level, people probably have enough expendable cash to do things that make them feel good, like going out with friends. (The federal poverty level for a family of four, by the way, is $22,050.)
'Well, it's real stuff isn't it? Otherwise you can feel like you're just doing something for the sake of it. When you do a case study you go out and find information that is being used in real life.'