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Case Studies (ALC)

Active Learning

This KB document is part of a larger collection of documents on active learning activities that take place in Active Learning Classrooms (ALC). More Active Learning documents

Using Case Studies activities to facilitate problem-solving skills in Active Learning Classrooms.

Time and Effort
Instructor Prep Time Medium
Student Activity Time Medium
Instructor Response Time Medium
Complexity of Activity Medium


Case Studies have student teams review a written study of a real-world scenario containing a field-related problem or situation. Case studies usually include a brief history of the situation and present a dilemma the main character is facing. Team members apply course concepts to identify and evaluate alternative approaches to solving the problem.


Use it when you want...

  • Students to bridge the gap between theory and practice and between the classroom and the workplace,
  • To have students engage in critical reflection by considering multiple alternatives for problem-solving, or
  • To help students develop skills in analysis, synthesis, communication, and decision-making.

What students will need

  • Laptop, tablet, or mobile phone
  • Classroom with campus wireless connection


The following workflow is meant as guidance for how you can facilitate a Case Studies learning activity within an Active Learning Classroom.


  • Identify a case study or develop a new one. The case can be real or hypothetical.
  • Develop a case study handout with a series of questions to guide students’ analysis using a shared Google Doc (Sharing a Google Doc Template for Students).


  • Distribute case studies and questions in the Google Doc (identical or different) to each table. 
  • Allow time for students to ask questions about the problem presented in the case.
  • Have students work in groups to study the case from the protagonist’s point of view. Ask the teams to assign one person as the scribe.
  • Direct students to sort out factual data, apply analytical tools, articulate issues, and reflect on their relevant experiences. Have them recommend actions that resolve the problem in the case.
  • In the Google Doc, have students prepare a statement describing their assessment of the case, the decision options as they see them, and recommendations for a decision.
  • Make sure the scribe shares the Google Doc with the instructor and adds the names of table members at the top of the document.
  • If your problems provide students with defined solutions (ex. a, b, c) use Top Hat (Using Top Hat to Present Questions to Students in the Classroom) and have groups report their solutions. Discuss the results if groups identified different solutions.
  • If solutions are more complex, call on one or two tables per case study to present their findings. Ask the rest of the class if they had items that were not represented by the reporting groups.
  • If the case is a real-world example, students will want to know what happened. Share this with them after they have reported on it.


  • Review the students’ statements on the case study.
  • Provide feedback/grades to group participants.
  • Discuss the results of the activity at the next class meeting.

Accessibility and Room Considerations

  • None

Technical Documentation


Example 1

An International Business Professor prepares a case study in which conflict between two countries has escalated to the point that war was imminent. In a period of heightened world tensions, the pressure was strong to find a diplomatic resolution. Students at each table are asked to provide support to an ambassador charged with resolving the conflict. Students get three class sessions to analyze the historical, political, and economic roots of the conflict and to propose a solution. The professor informs the groups that they need to develop a learning plan (identifying knowledge gaps and determining how to fill them) and a work plan (identifying how they would formulate their diplomatic resolutions). To facilitate the process, he distributes a Google Docs template of both plans that groups cause or modify to suit their own needs. After all of the teams have met and have completed this proposal, he asks them to evaluate the proposals of two other groups and to select the most appealing one. An ambassador from each of the teams that had created the top three proposals presents their group's proposal to the class and the whole class votes on the most persuasive one. Upon completion of the activity, the professor finds that it enhanced the students' understanding of the complexity of factors underlying international relations (Modified from Barkley 241-242).

Example 2

In the course Issues in Contemporary Art, the professor wants to help students prepare for the issues they will face as they try to make professional careers as artists. To do so, he creates a Case Study by drawing on the experience of one of the school's recent graduates. The Chamber of Commerce offered this graduate a commission to create a monument to honor the contributions of the eighteenth-century missionary Father Serra to the city's heritage. The commission promised the young artist significant local and statewide exposure and a substantial payment. The artist accepted and spent considerable time thinking about and then creating a model to present to the committee for approval. At the presentation, several community members voiced opinions that Father Serra and the California missions had enslaved and brutalized the Indians. Others believed that the missionaries' work had been essential in the effort to assimilate Indians into mainstream society. Both sides felt that the monument should reflect their views. Because the subject of the sculpture generated increased debate and controversy, the commission was in danger of being canceled. The professor asked each table to discuss the case. Groups were asked, "Identify the steps this young artist might take to move the project forward while staying true to his own artistic vision." Students were given 20 minutes to discuss and make recommendations. The class came together to discuss the challenges and possible solutions. The professor felt that the case opened the eyes of students to the real-life problems they might be asked to resolve (Modified from Barkley 240).


Barkley, Elizabeth F. et al. Collaborative Learning Techniques A Handbook For College Faculty. Wiley, 2014. pp. 238-243.

See Also:

Keywords:case study, problem-solving   Doc ID:118480
Owner:Timmo D.Group:Center for Teaching, Learning & Mentoring
Created:2022-05-10 15:00 CDTUpdated:2023-02-01 09:39 CDT
Sites:Center for Teaching, Learning & Mentoring
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