Flexibility of Investigative Cases

Initial Publication Date: December 31, 2003

Adding investigative cases to your teaching portfolio provides flexibility in addressing your teaching concerns. Cases need not be formal and can range from a mini-assignment to semester long explorations.

For example, a case could be introduced at the start of lecture with a short discussion (5-10 minutes) for generating a Know/Need to Know chart on the board. (See ICBL Strategy 4: Pose Specific Questions) Students share their prior knowledge and experience, while at the same time identify what they need to learn more about. This pre-assessment strategy might then be tied into a lab or field assignment.

Cases can be used for a variety of instructional objectives:

  • Pre-assessment
  • Assess content
  • Set context for a regular lab session
  • Introduce the need for a specific lab technology
  • Provide common background for independent research reports
  • Address multicultural perspectives
  • Consider historical incidents
  • Introduce modeling and simulation
  • Assess data interpretation
  • Introduce experimental design
  • Prepare students for a field trip

Investigative case example:

In an introductory science course, a new instructor faces the dilemma of structuring the class to provide critical knowledge and skills in the content area to prepare the majors, yet wishes to provide relevant learning experiences that are valuable in personal and professional lives for the non-majors as well.

Let's look at the environmental science case Holy Starbucks! (Stacey Kiser, Lane Community College, 2001) to see how the use of an investigative case can address this concern.

The DEQ reports that the Willamette River contains measurable levels of caffeine. Water samples were taken from Harrisburg downstream from the Eugene water treatment plant and upstream from the city of Corvallis water intake facility. Data indicates the caffeine levels are increasing from year to year.

Local fishing groups are concerned about the potential impact upon food species for migrating salmon fry. "If the caffeine kills their food sources" stated an anonymous official, "then the salmon are going to be awful hungry when they get to the sea".

Some possible learning issues from the caffeine water quality case: source of caffeine found in rivers, salmon fry diet in this part of the Willamette River, effects of caffeine on the food species and on the fry, and identification of management strategies address caffeine in the river.