Case Methods Resources


'Case Methods' are lessons and student activities associated with 'case studies,' which are documentary descriptions of objects and events - often written as a story. Although they originated in medical education (notably at McMaster University), case methods are used in various disciplines. A good description of them generally is at: The Case Method . In science education, excellent sources are: The Case Method of Teaching Science and Action BioScience . Case methods can take various forms, including text-based and multimedia materials.

STSE-NoST Case Methods

Given its emphasis on STSE issues, which involve issues about the nature of science and technology (NoST), the STEPWISE project has placed considerable focus on development and uses of STSE case methods. These can be used to teach students about STSE issues, get them to further explore different stakeholders' positions about the issues and encourage students to form personal opinions about the issues - perhaps including encouraging them to recommend actions to address the issues.

Defining STSE Issues
There are different definitions of STSE issues. Indeed, in many parts of the world, educators refer to them as 'socio-scientific issues' - and place different emphases on them. Perhaps a very simple definition would be: 'Debates about the relative merits of any relationship among fields of science and technology and societies and environments (e.g., in terms of the basis STSE model here). Such a definition would allow one to focus on such arguably 'benign' issues as, 'Which is more dependent on the other, science on technology or vice versa?' While this is an important question, the following definition of STSE issues seems to more closely reflect the 'spirit' of much STSE research and educational practice:

STSE Issues: 'Controversies surrounding the seriousness of potential problems for the wellbeing of individuals, societies and/or environments (WISE) stemming from decisions made about science and technology (S&T) by powerful people or groups.'
This definition enables us to focus on such controversies as the relative merits of using, for example, the following products and services: potentially toxic metals - such as lead - in electronics; genetically-engineering food crops; surveillance video cameras in public places; multivitamins; etc. Often, these controversies deal with the relative merits of various products and services generated by fields of science and technology. Categories of such products and services are given at: STSE Issues.

Reasons for Controversies
There are many reasons why people might disagree about the seriousness of potential problems for the WISE associated with decisions about S&T.

Sometimes, for example, science research to try to determine adverse effects of a product/service on WISE has not been carried out for a long time and, so, people do not have enough information or have different information as bases for their decisions. As more science research is conducted, eventually enough evidence accumulates to convince people to make their decision about the issue. With cigarettes and first, second and third-hand smoke, for example, there was initially great controversy about health problems - like lung cancer - relating to cigarette smoke. The evidence against cigarette smoke is now very deep and, so, few doubt its harmful effects.

Controversies can arise, though, also because people may not trust scientists and engineers. Mistrust of scientists and engineers seems appropriate sometimes, such as in cases in which they have been heavily financed by private companies. Examples of this are discussed in the Sheldon Krimsky's book, Science in the Private Interest. On the other hand, sometimes people don't want societies to interfere with what they believe to be private companies' rights to influence fields of science and technology. Such people often believe strongly in individualism or Libertarianism. Such strong concern for individual liberties can cause problems for WISE, apparently, when powerful people (and companies) enlist prominent scientists and engineers help them to suggest to people that evidence about harmful effects of products and services should be doubted. This is described, for example, in Merchants of Doubt. To a great extent, people will support or reject science findings and suggested social actions (e.g., government regulations) about an issue differently depending on their general political opinions. One place to have students explore this is through the Political Compass website (and 'test').

Generally, different categories of people have different perspectives on STSE issues, depending on their values, jobs and responsibilities, etc. We call these different groups of people 'stakeholders.' Generally, you can think of 'stakeholders' as any person or thing that may influence or be influenced by science & technology and their products and services (P&S). I like to think of stakeholders being part of a network or web (like a spider web), in which changes in any one element can affect all other elements. Each element of the network is unique, though, and may have different levels of power or influence over others. So, I think some key stakeholders with regards to many products and services are:
  • governments – which may choose to set laws ('regulate') that determine various aspects of products and services, such as laws requiring food companies to reveal the proportion of certain components (e.g. Sugar) in their products. Increasingly, with more conservative governments in power, they have reduced such regulations on company activities
  • 'consumers' - people who would buy products and services. They vary in their wealth and, therefore, access to P&S; also, they can have their health affected by P&S; We also need to think of which 'demographic' of society may be affected, such as children, poor people, seniors, people of colour, etc.
  • Other living things, environments – which, of course, can be adversely affected by P&S; and their packaging, for example
  • Companies, investors, financiers; who stand to gain wealth from purchases of P&S
  • Activist groups, like Greenpeace, which often work to protect individuals, societies and environments; e.g. Centre for Science in the Public Interest.
  • 'supra-national' organizations, like the World Bank, World Trade Organization and International Monetary Fund – which support capitalists, such as through international trade agreements and loans to poor countries
  • Scientists & engineers, of course, are stakeholders – in the sense that their ideas and products may or may not be accepted by members of the public and other stakeholders; and their work can be affected by government regulation

Today, it seems that many governments are working closely with capitalists and private companies; e.g. Our prime minister has been doing quite a lot these days to promote international trade agreements. They often promote production and consumption of goods and services that may not always take into consideration possible harmful effects on individuals, societies and environments. Opposing them often are activist groups, like Greenpeace and others. Basically, I think you can think of people supporting a 'Leftist' or 'Rightest' view. One way to have students think about this is to complete the Political Compass…and the Slavery Footprint (to get an idea how much each of us contributes to consumerism that ignores workers' working conditions) and, of course, the ecological footprint (this one or one for kids) (which takes into consideration harmful effects of our consumption on environments).
Structuring Case Methods
There are various ways educators can structure/organize case methods. To begin with, they can use various forms of media. They can be strictly text-based resources, with various combinations of text and graphics (e.g., graphs, tables, pictures) or they can be set up as 'multimedia' resources, using video recordings, simulations, etc. They can, of course, exist as 'stand-alone' documents, such as pages of paper, or as resources on the internet - which allow for many and varied links to various other resources.

In structuring STSE case methods, though, some general principles may be helpful:

Content of Cases
Provide information and descriptions that provide conflicting positions of different 'stakeholders'; that is, people and groups, aspects of the environment, etc. who are involved in decisions about science and technology. These often include manufacturers, marketers, store owners and sales people, scientists, engineers, government officials, members of non-governmental organizations, people using the products and services, living things in environments, etc. In making these descriptions, it often is helpful to include information about each of the four components of STSE; that is, science, technology/engineering, society (and its members, including companies, consumers, etc.) and environments (living and non-living). One example of a case study that could be developed into a case method is the attached Blood diamonds case study. It provides some positive and negative aspects of diamond mining and marketing, pointing out various stakeholders - such as miners, mining companies, diamond marketing companies and purchasers of diamonds.

Activities for Case Methods
Once the case study (documentary) has been developed, educators can develop activities that would help students to interact with them in ways that would help them to further understand the issues and perhaps make decisions about them - including, perhaps, suggesting what they believe to be appropriate actions to address the issues.

As with many aspects of this education, there are - again - various kinds of activities teachers can use. After reading/reviewing the case study, students could be asked to do some further secondary research on the issue and answer some questions. We suggest that, at the minimum, teachers develop a series of instructions and questions that range across Bloom's Taxonomy of the cognitive, affective and psychomotor domains of learning. This should involve, for example, students engaged in higher-order thinking skills (HOTS) - such as analyses and syntheses (invention) - as well as lower-order thinking skills (LOTS).

Sometimes (often?), teachers will guide students through one case method; but, then, ask small groups of students to conduct secondary research relating to related STSE issues - and get students to write reports about their findings and conclusions about their respective issues. Mirjan Krstovic did this with his students, using these basic descriptions of STSE issues in biology to start.

Again, such activities should, perhaps, culminate in students learning more about different positions regarding STSE issues AND, perhaps, deciding which position(s) they support (and for what reasons); and, perhaps, also suggesting what they consider appropriate actions to take. An excellent way for students to demonstrate their knowledge about positions of different stakeholders regarding an STSE issue is to engage them in a simulated 'Town Hall Debate.' A brief outline of an elaborate version of such a debate is given here.

Case Methods from the STEPWISE Team

To give teachers an idea about how to develop STSE case methods, some sample ones are provided below:

Blood Diamonds
Cell Phones
Fuel Cells
GMO Foods
GMO Crops
Green Plastics
Invasive Species
Plate Tectonics
Vioxx (Drug)

Case methods produced by some student-teachers are provided here.