Using Investigative Cases

This material was originally created for Starting Point:Introductory Geology
and is replicated here as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service.

Initial Publication Date: September 21, 2004

Ethel Stanley, BioQUEST, Beloit College, and Margaret Waterman, Southeast Missouri State University

"The investigative case-based learning approach is a method of learning and teaching that gives students opportunities to direct their own learning as they explore the science underlying realistically complex situations." - LifeLines OnLine Project, 2000. ( This site may be offline. )

Cases serve as springboards to student-designed investigations.

Students structure their own learning using the "story" of the case as a problem space. Although the case defines the general area of geoscience under investigation, students generate questions based both on their interests and prior knowledge that relates to the topic of study. Investigative cases are useful for lifelong learning because they are open-ended and draw from a broad range of situations in which scientific reasoning can be applied. Investigative cases necessarily shift the focus of student learning beyond the facts to include using scientific knowledge to frame questions and to answer them.

Cases engage students and faculty in collaborative problem posing, problem solving, and persuasion.

Instructors as well as students are collaborators in this process. As students pose problems, try to solve them, and present conclusions that represent their own findings to others, both the instructor and other students may serve as resources. This collaboration aids learners in defining potential strengths and weaknesses in the design of the problem statement and the investigation. The resolution (or clarification) of the problem and its presentation to other students as well as to the instructor extends opportunities for student practice in utilizing and evaluating scientific approaches to problem solving.

Support for the development of Investigative Case Based Learning was provided by NSF grant DUE 9952525 with additional support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and Education Outreach and Training Partnership for Advanced Computational Infrastructure.

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