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Lessons Learned from FIPSE Projects III - June 1996 - Pace University
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Case Studies for Teacher Trainers


As new teachers move from their classroom study of educational principles and strategies to practica and first jobs, they must cross the gap between theory and practice. But the ambiguous circumstances in the classroom, where the majority of questions do not have a single right answer, differ markedly from the hypothetical and clear-cut situations they encountered in their texts.

By developing case studies modeled after those used in hundreds of business schools, Pace University instructors hoped to bring the practical problems of real school classrooms to education courses, thus providing a link between theory and practice. The cases, based on classroom problems faced by individual teachers, were chosen in order to lead students to apply the theories and principles they had learned to actual classroom situations, and to become reflective about their own teaching. The case studies encourage analysis and problem solving rather than identifying the "right" answers. They give students the opportunity to ask important questions, to consider various responses, to argue for or against different solutions, and to understand that successful teachers have to be able to think through situations and evaluate several possible solutions.

In higher education today, the definitions of case range from brief scenarios to lengthy histories of individual students. Furthermore, cases may be written as instances of exemplary practice, to highlight a specific theory or to elucidate pedagogica l thinking. For the purposes of this project, however, a case was defined as the the reporting of complex classroom events based on the experience of practicing teachers, and ending in a dilemma. Cases were intended to serve as cues for reflection and application of theory.

Innovative Features

At the time the project began, the kinds of cases and discussion techniques that have been so widely used in business education were rarely employed in teacher education. This project changed teacher education programs substantially by adapting case study pedagogy pioneered at the Harvard Business School, and introducing case analysis to better prepare students for their future experiences and first placements as teachers.

The work at Pace was a joint effort of members of the Business and Education faculties. Illustrative cases were gathered from teachers and written in the initial stages by the project directors, and later by graduate students in education. They were reviewed for accuracy by the teachers who had volunteered their classroom problems for such treatment.

The project directors classroom-tested the completed cases, revised them to provide greater detail, clarity and definition, and tested them again. Of the 40 cases thus developed, 28 were initially published for classroom use, along with an instructor's manual.


Much of the evaluation evidence comes from observations of students in the case classes. The faculty observed that students prepare actively for case classes, which results in their energetic and thoughtful engagement in discussion and problem solving. Formerly inert students get involved, and the discussion continues during class breaks and into the halls after class. A reporter who observed a case class described that involvement by saying, "When the...students read this account (the case), it took no prompting...for the class to jump into a lively discussion of the case....(S)tudents offered an array of advice and suggested ways of resolving specific aspects of the complex situation." (Education Week, March 28, 1990, p. 18)

The project directors have completed three formal research projects. The first, "Student Outcomes from Teaching with Cases," was presented at the AERA Annual Convention in 1991 and reported the results of a qualitative research study with students who had taken a case-based educational psychology course. The project directors used content analysis of student papers as the primary research technique and found that, over time, students became more analytical in their approach to problems, were more like ly to evaluate a variety of solutions rather than being satisfied with one right answer, were more open to their fellow students' ideas, applied theory to support their ideas, and displayed more satisfaction with the quality and quantity of their learning in their case-based course. Further, over the long term, students who had been exposed to case method teaching reported that this training had made them better classroom observers, so that their field experiences made more sense.

The second paper, "Using Case Method to Link Theory and Practice in Two Educational Psychology Courses," was written with Judith Kaufman of Oklahoma State University. The research upon which the paper is based, gave students in two classes, one case-based, one lecture- based, the same case to analyze in writing at the beginning and the end of a course. Using content analysis, the authors looked for evidence of students' ability to link theory with practice. They found significant evidence that studen ts in the case-based class could apply theory to teaching situations much more readily than their peers in a lecture-based educational psychology course. The case-trained students had a better understanding of the meaning and application of educational psychology theory at the end of their course. It is important to note that all students in the case- based class were able to use applicable theory, while only half of those in the lecture-based class were able to.

Finally, the project directors' paper, "Teaching Without a Net," in a book edited by Joel Colbert and Peter Desberg entitled The Case for Education: Contemporary Approaches for Using Case Methodology (Allyn & Bacon, in press), reports on observational research of students in case-based courses and how their training enabled them to internalize a problem-solving heuristic which they could apply to teaching situations whether presented in case form in college classes or in their own classrooms. They had learned how to analyze teaching situations by taking other perspectives, identifying a range of problems and offering and evaluating a variety of possible solutions. Furthermore, these students recognized that such an approach enabled their learning about teaching to continue outside of the teacher education classroom. They reported becoming reflective practitioners, thinking about teaching by considering their own teaching practice.

Project Continuation and Recognition

The project directors realized that the single most important factor holding back widespread use of case methodology was the inability or reluctance of a large majority of faculty to use the pedagogy effectively, since the use of cases calls for teaching behaviors quite different from the traditional method.

At the end of the FIPSE funding, the directors established the Center for Case Studies in Education to continue the case development work and to provide training for college faculty who wanted to learn to teach using cases. The Center is funded by income received from case book royalties and from workshops and conference fees.

By 1995, more than 60 cases had been developed and were available for course adoption through McGraw-Hill's custom publishing venture Primis. In addition, a workshop model was developed to help faculty understand the dynamics of case method pedagogy. An extended program was instituted at Pace to train the entire teacher education faculty in case method pedagogy, and by 1995, more than 60 percent of the teacher education classes were at least partly case-based. In addition, more sophisticated evaluation projects began to measure the impact of case method training upon teaching behaviors.

The project directors were funded again by FIPSE from 1991 to 1994 to develop a series of case studies to better prepare faculty for the realities of teaching in the diverse college classroom. Twenty faculty development case studies and teaching notes were completed and disseminated widely in workshops and seminars designed to encourage faculty to think more critically about effective teaching. Just as in the first project, these cases and workshops were greeted with great enthusiasm, but often the enthusiasm did not carry over into actual change in everyday teaching behaviors. It was clear that something more than a short workshop was needed to stimulate faculty to change long-practiced behaviors.

Combining this insight with the success of the original program which trained faculty in case pedagogy, the directors won a FIPSE dissemination grant in 1995 designed to adapt the Pace model for the training of case teachers at five other institutions throughout the United States. They will engage each campus in evaluation activities to determine the effectiveness of this approach. Each university is committed to further disseminating its own work to other schools in their geographical area.

The Center for Case Studies sponsors, in cooperation with the American Association for Higher Education (AAHE), a national conference each summer on using cases to promote reflective practice among higher education faculty. Regional workshops on the effective use of cases will be offered in five sites around the U.S. in the near future. In addition, the project directors continue to offer workshops on case teaching and case development at national conferences and for individual colleges and universities. Their work has been reported in The New York Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Education Week.

The project directors have worked with national organizations and with individual schools to introduce case methods into schools of agriculture, forestry and natural resources, nursing, science, social work, veterinary medicine, engineering, pharmacy, and military science.

Available Information

Case Studies for Teacher Problem Solving and the accompanying instructor guide are published by McGraw-Hill, as well as the 60 teacher education cases referred to earlier. Information about the resources and activities of the Center for Case Studies in Education, a bibliography on case writing and teaching, and a catalog of case studies are available from the Center. Staff will annotate the catalog if instructors indicate particular areas of interest.

For more information contact:

Rita Silverman
School of Education
Pace University
861 Bedford Rd.
Pleasantville, NY 10570-2799


William M. Welty
Lubin School of Business
Pace University
One Pace Plaza
New York NY 10038-1598

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Last Modified: 03/16/2007