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Case Studies

Case studies are stories or excerpts of stories that pertain to a particular subject or key concept being taught in the course. They can range from long or short and have varied amounts of detail. Typically, they incorporate issues, conflicts and problems that arise in the real world, but contain little analysis. They are used as a tool to teach students to apply concepts and ideas learned in the classroom to scenarios present in the your field.

Case studies are the pathway that links in-class subject matter to patterns of thinking that are used in the field or workplace. They can be used as a guide to facilitate engagement and critical thinking skills. Case studies are beneficial in that they help improve an individual’s decision-making skills as well as develop problem-solving skills. When used in the discussion setting, students can absorb and challenge other student’s views. The use of case studies as a teaching strategy helps the student blend key concepts, ideas and subject matter into their problem-solving processes to tackle issues that are prevalent, engaging and useful. Case studies can also be memorable and an effective tool in drilling in key concepts.  

Though case studies can be highly effective, student uncertainty and confusion is a potential barriers to success. Some tips include:

  • Make sure students have the necessary background knowledge. Case study is best used to take a topic to a higher level, not for introducing a concept.
  • Start small. Get students used to analyzing cases in a group discussion.
  • As you make your case study activities more complex, provide scaffolding such as clear expectations, analytical tools, checklists or rubrics.

Here are three examples of case studies:

  • A Food Safety and Nutrition class examines the real-life problem from a news report of contaminated food reaching the consumer. Students could examine the causes and prevention methods.
  • In a class on assessment and treatment, a psychology professor presents a case of a patient who displays characteristics of dysfunctional behavior. The students discuss assessment and treatment options applying key concepts and material previously provided.
  • A more complex case might involve a company for which the stock price has suddenly plummeted. Teams of students could analyze the company from different perspectives and develop marketing, sales, manufacturing plans to boost the company's market value.

Overall, case studies can be beneficial to both professors and students, as they offer a space for a higher degree of thought process and facilitate critical thinking and problem-solving skills.


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Carnegie Mellon University. (n.d.). Case Studies - Eberly Center - Carnegie Mellon University. Retrieved March 14, 2019, from

Faulkner, P. E., & Williams-Wheeler, M. (2018). Case Studies: A teaching strategy for promoting critical thinking in the 21st century agricultural student. NACTA Journal. Retrieved from:

Mostert, M. P. (2007). Challenges of case-based teaching. The Behavior Analyst Today, 8. Retrieved from:

Using case studies to teach » Center for Teaching & Learning | Boston University. (n.d.). Retrieved March 14, 2019, from