Mary M. Walczak, Chemistry Deparment, St. Olaf College, Northfield, MN
Juliette M. Lantz, Chemistry Department, Drew University, Madison, NJ
- To motivate students to embrace active learning pedagogies in their science courses, and begin fostering a classroom atmosphere that is conducive to student involvement.
- To introduce students to the case discussion method as a valuable active learning pedagogy.
- To serve as an ice breaker in the first week of class; to promote camaraderie and group skills in the classroom.
- To prepare students for their next life transition, from college to a career. To help students consider ways to make themselves employable and competitive in the job market.
- To promote undergraduate research, internships, independent projects, advanced writing, close interaction with faculty, and computer proficiency as valuable experiences for undergraduates.
Use of the Case:
This case is designed to be used at the very beginning of a course, preferably on the first or second day. It is designed to be equally useful in any type of science course at an introductory (majors or non-majors) or advanced level, in any field from chemistry to environmental science to biology. The case motivates students for active learning pedagogies throughout the course, and also demonstrates how they can use their course work to gain skills that may make them employable. For best results, the instructor should follow this case with a handout or discussion of what active learning strategies will be employed in this particular class.
Additionally, this case can be used to allow upper-level students to explore the transition from college to a career, and help them translate their education experiences into marketable skills. It can serve to inspire students to take a more active role in their full educational endeavor, and to consider research, internships, independent projects, etc., as activities that are vital to their professional development.
A manager of a scientific consulting firm has approval to hire an entry level scientist. Since his group already covers the basic fields of science, he has the freedom to hire someone without having to fill a vacancy in a particular expertise. From the five applicant portfolios in front of him, the employer has pulled out the performance evaluations which have been written by faculty familiar with the students and their work. He must choose one applicant to invite for an interview later that week.
II) FACILITATING THE CASE
It is recommended that the case be handed out to students at a previous meeting unless the instructor can allow adequate time to read the case in class.
Variation 1: For first-year students who are likely taking their first science course in college, it is helpful to use small group discussions for the bulk of the case analysis. This practice makes the students who are reticent to speak in a large group more likely to participate. Towards the end of the exercise, after discussing their ideas with a small group of peers, students may feel more comfortable volunteering their thoughts and conclusions with the whole class. Thus, after briefly introducing the case to the class, small groups of 3-6 students should be given the task of arriving at a group consensus about who should be called for an interview. Following this, the groups are asked to report back and a full class discussion ensues.
Variation 2: For upper level students who are more comfortable speaking in the classroom, this case could be a full class discussion from the start. As a class, the students could be asked to discern the employers strongest criteria in choosing a candidate and form a strategy for making the choice of who to call for an interview. It is helpful to have small groups form to choose the best applicant, as the variation in the choice for the number one candidate fuels additional class discussion.
If you as an instructor are printing out the candidate evalution forms for classroom use, note that they are intended to each be a one page (front and back) document, to lend them the most authentic appearance. They are also most easily handled by the students in this single page form.
To achieve this formatting, it is best to download the candidate evaluations as PDF files which can be opened by using Adobe's Acrobat Reader. The evaluations can then be easily printed, though you will have to add signatures in the apropriate areas, and circle the overall ranking of each applicant. In photocopying, each candidate's evalution can be made into the one page "form" described above.
If you need a printed version of this case to be sent to you, please contact either of the authors (email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org).
Student Assigment Prior to Class Meeting:
- Read "A Case in Point" carefully.
- Read through the five evaluations again, making notes to yourself as necessary.
- a. Rank the candidates from 1-5, with #1 being your top choice, and list your reasons for your rankings.
orb. For each candidate, list what you feel are the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate in regards to the advertised position.
- Be prepared for a high level of participation at our next meeting, as a class and in smaller groups.
Questions to facilitate case discussion:
What is the task before Ken?
What are Kens priorities in terms of all the administrative tasks before him?
What are the challenges Ken faces in his position?
What suggestions do you have for Ken, i.e., how would you go about his task?
What factors would you weigh?
What qualities would you consider?
Small Group Challenge:
Decide on a strategy for choosing the best candidate.
Re-examine your notes and assessments and work with your groups to decide on the rating for the candidates. Rate the candidates from 1-5, with one being your top choice. (If time is short, students could be asked to pick their 1-2 candidates, or their top and bottom candidates.)
Who is your top candidate? Give 2-3 reasons or justification for your choice. Give one justification why each of the others was given a particular ranking.
Course Specific Notes:
What skills did your group feel were the most important for a candidate to possess?
How did your group arrive at a consensus?
How did the students who had these skills acquire them?
Are there other ways to arrive at these skills?
Here, the focus of the case is to get students actively involved in a classroom activity and to point out the advantages of active learning modes. A group of three students will work diligently to examine the traits of each candidate and will arrive at a decision, while a group of 5-6 students will have the additional complication of trying to reach a group consensus. It is instructive to not tip off the students as to what the instructor is trying to accomplish in this case exercise. Rather, the overall goals for the case can be discussed as a class at the end of the exercise, or the beginning of the next class period. Ideally, this discussion should be followed by an outline of what other learning strategies and course activities will be used throughout the semester to help the students begin to build some of the skills that they have just decided were valuable.
Here the focus is on students realizing that they can take some responsibility for the quality of their undergraduate experience. By giving them a glimpse of employer expectations, they can begin to look at their own range of college experiences and begin to evaluate their own strengths and weaknesses. Thus, it is helpful to follow up this case with a discussion about career choices, faculty evaluations and recommendation letters, resume writing, or a discussion of other available opportunities. It may also be a time to discuss student anxieties about their future and the competition they face upon leaving the educational setting. Students continuing on to graduate school can also benefit from an awareness of what kinds of skills they will need beyond the purely academic course work.
Pitfalls to Avoid in Case Discussion
Based on the candidate letters, no one candidate is the obvious choice. In the classes where we have used this case each candidate gets at least one groups #1 vote. If a particular class unanimously chooses a single candidate the instructor should try to find out what skills the class thought this person had that made him or her stand out from the other candidates. By pointing out the value of other skills that some of the other candidates possess, some of the groups may wish to recast their vote.
Students need to be given a strict time limit for their evaluation procedure, as there is often a wide variation in the amount of time needed for various groups to reach a consensus. A decision could be made to allow students to complete their group work outside of class time, but this tends to lose the immediacy and pertinence of the discussion.
Possible Follow-up Assignments
III. ANALYSIS OF KEY SUBJECTS
- Was there a candidate who stood out as the clear #1 choice to you at the beginning of class? To your whole group?
- What steps did your group take to arrive at a decision?
- a. List 3 skills that YOUR top candidate possessed.
b. What is the evidence of these skills - how are they seen in the candidates performance?
c. How did the candidate acquire these skills?
- List 3 things you felt YOU learned or experienced through this exercise.
- What relevance do you think this exercise has to this course?
- Personally evaluate your own strengths and weaknesses. What areas do you want to improve in, and how can you go about doing so?
- Is there a candidate or combination of 2 candidates that you feel bear some similarity to you?
1. Background and Motivation for Using This Case
This case was developed in an effort to show our students how participating in active learning exercises in their classes can benefit them. Students have often been preconditioned to expect that science classes are places where they are passive - the instructor lectures and they sit, take notes, and listen. When done early in the semester, this case helps combat the passive attitude and encourages students to take a more active role in the classroom, while helping to foster an atmosphere where they can do so.
To accomplish this goal, it is necessary that the case be done as early as possible in the term. Ideally this would be a first day exercise; however, the amount of reading necessary might make it more suitable for the second day. It is important to set the tone and the expectations for the term early on. Waiting to start active learning after two weeks or a month of "lecturing on the basics" is self-defeating. By then the students have fallen into the passive learning pattern and will be uncomfortable, or worse, resent active learning exercises, as they may see them as more demanding on their part and less efficient at preparing them for exams.
The value of this case is three-fold. First, it gives students a glimpse of life after college or graduate school: someday they will be applying for jobs. Students are naive about job searching in general and the expectations of companies in particular. Often students feel that their grade point average is the bottom line and other considerations are irrelevant. Unfortunately, employers see things nearly the opposite: high grades are not enough if the person doesnt possess good communication skills and a broad academic foundation. They also see that the job market can be very competitive.
Second, the students realize that they will someday need their college professors to write letters of recommendation or evaluation for them. From the range of letters in the case it is clear that a professor can write a more personal letter if they know the student better. This encourages students to form a strong faculty-student link, and to get involved in departmental and campus activities.
Third, the students realize that the skills that they thought were important can be developed in their college courses if they embrace the active learning exercises. They can develop their own portfolio into something marketable. A report detailing a laboratory synthesis that one student might consider busy work could be used by another student as an example of their technical writing.
2. Comments on the Candidate Evaluation Letters
We are cognizant of the fact that it is not common to include a candidates weaknesses so strongly, if at all, in a letter of recommendation. Weaknesses are sometimes referred to in doublespeak, as in "Joe is working hard on his speaking skills," which implies the candidate is possibly not yet fully proficient in that area. In other instances, certain skills are simply not referred to at all; thus, if an employer receives three letters that never mention a candidates writing, it may be indicative of the fact that the candidate is not very well developed in this area. While many college faculty are aware of these subtleties, we did not feel that this was something that students would be nearly as comfortable with in this mode and they may have missed these points altogether. We felt that this would be greatly detrimental to the complexity and tension of the case. Thus, we chose to use an evaluation letter rather than a recommendation letter, as it would not be as unreasonable for this to include some of the areas where a candidate still needed work. However, the distinction should be discussed with the students, especially upper level students who may soon be asking for letters of recommendation.
3. Summaries of the Candidates
Summaries of the candidates are provided in a separate answer key to the case, which is password-protected. To access this information, go to the key. You will be prompted for a username and password. If you have not yet registered with us, you can see whether you are eligible for an account by reviewing our password policy and then apply online or write to email@example.com.
IV. STUDENT REACTIONS
"I think this helps put this class into perspective with my career goals. I was skeptical about the relevance [of the exercise] while doing it, but ... I started thinking/wondering if Im doing the things these people did as described by the evaluations, both good and bad." (first-year student)
"This [exercise] is relevant [to this class] because it demonstrates there is more than just facts and formulas to be learned. It is important to learn how to be a good communicator and team player in order to get more out of a chemistry class." (first-year student)
"I learned that there is not one particular skill that helps a candidate appear superior to other candidates. It seems that an entire "picture" of a person is needed to effectively understand that given persons capabilities. It is also important to designate what skills are valuable when looking at a candidate in order to have some form of criteria that allows a more refined selection process of a candidate. But on the flip side, if I were a candidate who approached a professor, for example, to write a recommendation (evaluation) for me, I would want to have that professor know me to a degree where she could write about several aspects of my work and person and not just list what I "did or did not do in class."" (senior student)
References on The Case Teaching Method
Austin, J.E. "Teaching Notes: Communicating the Teachers Wisdom," © President and Fellows of Harvard College, 1993, #5-793-105.
Barnes, L.B.; Christensen, C.R.; Hansen, A.J. Eds. "Teaching and the Case Method," 3rd Edition, Harvard Business School Press: Boston, MA, 1994.
Boehrer, J.; Linsky, M. "Teaching with Cases: Learning to Question." In M.D. Svinicki (ed.), The Changing Face of College Teaching, New Directions for Teaching and Learning, No. 42, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 1990.
Boehrer, J. "How to Teach a Case" © President and Fellows of Harvard College, 1995, #N18-95-1285.0.
Christensen, C.R.; Garvin, D.A.; Sweet, A. Eds. "Education for Judgement: The Artistry of Discussion Leadership," Harvard Business School Press: Boston, MA, 1991.
Conant, J.B.; Nash, L.K.; Roller, D.; Roller D.H.D. Harvard Case Histories in Experimental Science, Vol. 1 and 2, Conant, J.B.; Nash, L.K. Eds. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA, 1964.
Coppola, B.P. "Progress in Practice: Teaching and Learning with Case Studies", The Chemical Educator, 1996, 1(4), S1430-4171 (96) 04050-2.
Herreid, C. F. "Case Studies in Science - A Novel Method of Science Education" J. College Science Teaching, 1994, 221-9.
Hitchner, S.B., Jr. "Preparation of Teaching Notes," " © President and Fellows of Harvard College, 1977, #N14-77-189.0.
Lantz, J.M.; Walczak, M. M. "The Elements of a Chemistry Case: Teaching Chemistry Using the Case Discussion Method," Chem. Educator, 1(6), 1997 S 1430-1471 (97) 06070-6. Available URL:http://journals.springer-ny.com/chedr
Robyn, D. "What Makes a Good Case?" © President and Fellows of Harvard College, 1985, #N15-86-673.0.
Wheatley, Jack, "The Use of Case Studies in the Science Classroom", J. College Science Teaching, 1986, 428-31.
Other Cases by Lantz and Walczak
Lantz, J.M.; Walczak, M. M. "The Elements of a Chemistry Case: Teaching Chemistry Using the Case Discussion Method," Chem. Educator, 1(6), 1997 S 1430-1471 (97) 06070-6. Available URL: http://journals.springer-ny.com/chedr This article contains the case "Hommers Mining Dilemma."
Peaslee, G.; Lantz, J.M.; Walczak, M. M. "The Benign Hamburger," J. College Science Teaching, 1998, in press.
For other cases by Lantz and Walczak visit our web site: http://www.stolaf.edu/people/walczak/cases.html
The authors are grateful for financial support for this project from the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation Special Grants Program in the Sciences award SG-97-048, the PEW Midstates Science and Math Consortium, and the Chemistry Departments of St. Olaf and Siena Colleges. Publication of this case on the web was made possible case with the support of the National Science Foundation (NSF Award #9752799).
We also thank Gail Carlson, Anne Walter, and Beth Abdella for help with the original conceptualization of the case and with crafting some of the student evaluations.