Collective case building: an innovative approach to active learning

Active learning is a popular pedagogical approach. It is compared with traditional lectures that are focused only on ‘content transfer’, and instead involves students actively participating in the classroom and reflecting on what they are being taught (Mayer, 2009). As a result students should accelerate their learning. Based on findings from an empirical study I conducted (see references below), this article highlights key features of ‘Collective case building’, a new active learning teaching method that is an extension of traditional ‘Case based learning’.

What is case based learning?

Case based learning (CBL) is a form of active learning as it encourages greater participation from students in understanding issues ‘in the case’ (Lowenstein and Bradshaw, 2001). A case is simply a narrative of a scenario or problem presented as a case study. These case studies could take place as a scenario purposely developed on a company, a series of issues facing an already existing company, or a newspaper article on an issue (Hay and Katsikitis, 2008). It is used extensively in engineering, health, business, law and other subjects, where in the absence of being in the real world, students are presented with information such as health issues or business problems which they must diagnose or solve. The lecturer facilitates a discussion on these real life issues.

Despite the popularity of CBL, it hasn’t seen many innovations in recent times. The case is still developed by the teacher (Hong and Yu, 2017) which may be a barrier to students fostering ‘imagination’ and creativity on part of the students (Thistlethwaite et al., 2012). There is also a great need for conceptualisation of CBL as it is still practitioner focused – that is, a theoretical framework would be helpful to understand the criteria that make a successful case and of the teaching approach. In conducting a literature review for the empirical study, it was difficult to capture these criteria or tenants of CBL. Therefore this present research theorises the criteria for a successful case, which impact the effectiveness of CBL. These include case selection, case design, case complexity, case length and the case quantity (Hong and Yu, 2017; Andersen and Schiano, 2014).

In addition to contributing this theoretical framework for CBL, the research also proposes a ‘collective case building’ method which sees students as partners, involving them in the co-construction of the case as a participatory learning method (Dooley et al., 2016).

How does collective case building work?

The below table is helpful in both understanding what I call the traditional case based method (lecturer driven case method) and the collective case based method (student augmented case method).

Table 1: Editorial control shared between teacher and students (Collective Case Building), (Qureshi, 2019)

Examining the above features, students can be partners in a number of features of a case: the problem, context, and outcomes as shown in Table 1. When students are involved in these elements of a case through shared editorial control, I call this collective case building. For a detailed analysis of these elements of the collective case building approach, read pages 73-75 of the full research article. The key points to note here are that students are always involved in determining the outcomes of the case which is why it has been set. This may include correctly diagnosing a medical problem by studying the facts of the medical issue a patient is facing. However, very rarely are students involved in the actual design of the content of the case or shaping the context or problem itself, as these are normally developed by the teacher. I argue that involving students in all four aspects of the case as shown in the table above (called student case augmentation), students can control the narrative and can personalise the case to their own experiences, which improves the learning experience.

How effective is collective case building?

Collective case building is an effective teaching method or assessment tool as it provides an opportunity for students to problem solve and present issues that are important to them and as such, it immerses them in the learning process (Hedges and Cullen, 2012). Through sharing editorial control, students have freedom to shape the narrative of the case which can be empowering and can improve their discipline specific knowledge (Qureshi, 2019).

The students skill set should consist of augmentation abilities (i.e. ability to extend or shape the design of the case based on the four aspects in Table 1). In the current context this is about case augmentation, however the notion can apply more broadly to the ability of the student to take a limited or confined idea and apply creativity and research skills to be able to successfully expand the loci of issues under consideration. This is because the process of augmenting a case requires students to understand the context of the case and possible outcomes.

Business and management student case study

I conducted a quantitative study with business and management students to examine the impact of collective case building. This was measured through students’ collective efficacy and team working abilities, in order to capture the ‘collectiveness’ required in the new case method.

Collective efficacy was measured using a single question in a questionnaire in a Likert Scale from 1 to 5 (1 equalling strongly disagree and 5 equalling strong agree) with three statements: “Please express how likely or unlikely it is that your group would be able to”: 1) agree on issues that are relevant to the topic being discussed; 2) can put aside any differences in order to reach a collective decision; 3) build respect for each other’s particular interests.

The task

Students were given the case study on Tata (multinational corporation) and asked to augment the case study in into the features of a case study: content, context, problem, and outcomes (see Table 1). This case was chosen because it can introduce students to a socially responsible employer, which is a manufacturing company that is also sustainable in its manufacturing processes and materials.

I hypothesised that higher collectiveness should increase students’ case augmentation abilities and knowledge of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). In the small sample studied, I found a strong and positive association, where high collective efficacy and teamwork fostered by the collective case building method improved students CSR knowledge. Whilst team working abilities did not improve students’ case augmentation abilities, collective efficacy did prove to be statistically significant.

To continue the conversation about collective base building, contact Saad Qureshi or share your thoughts and ideas about the different ways students can engage in learning via YammerTwitter or LinkedIn.


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