ERIC Identifier: ED401272
Publication Date: 1994-11-00
Author: Merseth, Katherine K.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse
on Teaching and Teacher Education Washington DC.
Cases, Case Methods, and the Professional Development of
Educators. ERIC Digest.
Cases and case methods of teaching represent a relatively new and promising
approach in the education of teachers. Though long used in other professional
fields (i.e., business and law), the current interest of teacher educators in
this pedagogy is due in part to a growing interest in the development of teacher
knowledge and cognition and an acknowledgment of the complexities of teaching
(Merseth, 1991). This Digest will present definitions of cases and case methods,
explore the purposes of using case studies, and suggest avenues for further
research into the effectiveness of using case in teacher education.
What are "cases" and "case methods?" Since
teacher educators use different terms and definitions, it is important to be
clear about the meaning of these terms and definitions in order to develop a
better understanding of their use and potential.
One common definition suggests that a case is a descriptive research
document, often presented in narrative form, that is based on a real-life
situation or event. It attempts to convey a balanced, multidimensional
representation of the context, participants, and reality of the situation. Cases
are created explicitly for discussion and seek to include sufficient detail and
information to elicit active analysis and interpretation by users with differing
perspectives. This definition reaffirms three essential elements of cases: (a)
they are real, (b) they rely on careful research and study, and (c) they foster
the development of multiple perspectives by users. The emphasis on reality-based
cases is important for teacher education because it enables students of teaching
to explore, analyze, and examine representations of actual classrooms.
Collections of cases are now appearing in teacher education casebooks, which
also include discussion questions and instructor notes. Some are generically
organized, covering many aspects of instruction, while others target specific
audiences, such as intern or mentor teachers or high school students, or
specific themes, such as multicultural education or assessment.
Closely related to the definition of cases are the many ways that cases are
used. Case methods are employed, for instance, to frame conversations between
mentors and novices, as stimulants to reflection, as techniques to enrich field
experiences, as tools for professional evaluation, or to orient individuals to
particular ways of thinking. Case methods may include large and small group
discussions, role playing, written analysis, or team-based discussions.
To structure case discussions, the discussion leader plays a very important
role--guiding, probing, directing, giving feedback, or sometimes simply
observing the exchanges and contributions among the class members. The purpose
of these discussions is to develop individual skills of observation, analysis,
action taking, and assessment. Indeed, case discussions often help students
understand that the analyses of most problems in education depend on the
particular perspective of the problem solver.
In teacher education, case purpose falls into three categories: (a) cases as
exemplars; (b) cases as opportunities to practice analysis, the assimilation of
differing perspectives, and contemplation of action; and (c) cases as stimulants
to personal reflection (Merseth, 1996). Cases as exemplars emphasize the
theoretical and give priority to general, propositional knowledge. Their purpose
is to develop knowledge of a particular theory or to build new theories. Using
cases as exemplars also can be used to honor best practice or to make effective
teaching more public and more available for analysis and review (Sykes &
Cases also can be used to practice decision making and problem solving. Here,
case materials can help teachers "think like a teacher" (Shulman, 1992;
Wassermann, 1994) by presenting situations from which theory emerges. The cases
portray problematic situations that require problem identification and analysis,
decision making, and action definition. This use of cases works well with the
conception of teaching as a complex, messy, context-specific activity.
Finally, a third purpose of cases is to stimulate personal reflection. Here,
the emphasis is on introspection and the development of personal professional
knowledge. Teacher educators who use cases written as self-reports of personal
experiences, suggest that they are a powerful means to develop habits and
techniques of reflection (Kleinfeld, 1992; Richert, 1991), as well as a stimulus
to analytical thinking.
THE FUTURE OF CASES AND CASE METHODS
The clarion calls for
the use of cases and case methods far exceed the volume and quality of empirical
research specific to cases and case methods in teacher education. Will cases and
case methods become standard pedagogy in teacher education in the twenty-first
century? The answer is unclear because the research base about cases and case
methods is small, though growing (Colbert, Trimble, & Desberg, 1996).
To develop greater knowledge about cases and case methods, the teacher
education community must assess more fully the use of cases and develop a deeper
understanding of the effects of variations in use. This charge is an ambitious
one because understanding various uses of cases requires a clear articulation of
purpose. As a first step, researchers must be clear about intended outcomes. Are
they looking for effects on teacher cognition or on personal beliefs and
feelings? Another area of important research must focus on the influence of
case-based instruction on teacher and student performance in classrooms.
The medium and the content of cases also offer rich areas for investigation.
What is known about the difference between video, written, and a combination of
video and written cases in hypermedia format (Merseth & Lacey, 1993)? And
what do teachers learn from cases about mathematics or special education?
A different line of research should explore variations in method. Basically,
this work would investigate how, where, when, and by whom cases are used. In the
teacher education curriculum, is it more productive to consider five cases set
in the same context about five different topics or five cases about the same
topic in five different settings? And what do we know about the impact of cases
delivered through CD-ROM or hypermedia format? Important questions also exist
about the role and practice of the instructor.
The existence of an active research and development agenda about cases in
teacher education is exciting. If teacher educators pursue their work with the
objective of first understanding more completely the elements of case-based
pedagogy--namely the materials and the methods--and then engage in more
complicated research that explores the interaction of these elements with
students, significant contributions may be realized.
Cases and case methods of instruction offer a
new pedagogical method for teacher education programs. The growing interest in
cases, the early results of empirical research about the materials and the
methods, and the potential for further research and development outline great
opportunities for those who wish to use it to pursue a deeper understanding of
the process of learning to teach.
References identified with an EJ (ERIC journal)
number have been abstracted and are cited in the ERIC database. Journal articles
should be available at most research libraries.
Colbert, J. A., Trimble, K., & Desbert, P. (Eds.). (1996). The case for
education. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Kleinfeld, J. (1992). Learning to think like a teacher: The study of cases.
In J. H. Shulman (Ed.), Case methods in teacher education (pp. 33-49). New York:
Teachers College Press.
Merseth, K. K. (1991). The early history of case-based instruction: Insights
for teacher education today. Journal of Teacher Education, 42(4), 243-249. EJ
Merseth, K. K. (1996). Cases and case methods in teacher education. In J.
Sikula (Ed.), Handbook of research on teacher education (pp. 722-744). New York:
MacMillan Publishing Company.
Merseth, K. K., & Lacey, C. A. (1993). Weaving stronger fabric: The
pedagogical promise of hypermedia and case methods in teacher education.
Teaching & Teacher Education, 9(3), 283-299. EJ 469 803
Richert, A. E. (1991). Using teacher cases for reflection and enhanced
understanding. In A. Lieberman & L. Miller (Eds.), Staff development for
education in the '90s (pp. 113-132). New York: Teachers College Press.
Shulman, J. H. (1992). Case methods in teacher education (pp. 1-30). New
York: Teachers College Press.
Sykes, G., & Bird, T. (1992). Teacher education and the case idea. In G.
Grant (Ed.), Review of research in education (Vol. 18) (pp. 457-521).
Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.
Wassermann, S. (1994). Using cases to study teaching. Phi Delta Kappan,
75(8), 602-611. EJ 481 329