Home

The Big Picture
Our Story
Our Class
Calendar
Research
The Case Study

Making History!!!

Case Studies in Pre-service Teacher Education
Julie Howerton



Introduction
Case studies in preservice education are emerging as the one of the most effective ways to bridge the gap between theory and practice.  Many professors in teacher education institutions use them to improve students’ situational cognition, and to force teachers to “think on their feet” about issues that arise in the class and the schools.  Situational cognition is defined by the choices made in situation as they arise in the classroom.  For example, after reading and discussing several cases about teachers dealing with behavior management problems, preservice teachers will have a better understanding of the situation, as well as the potential outcomes (Shulman 1992).  The previous discussion from the case studies will benefit preservice teachers in their own future classroom management skills and instruction. 
Videoconferencing in education is expanding the walls of the classroom in innovative and exciting ways.  Using telecommunications software and Netscape, preservice teacher education students at the University of Virginia and the University of South Florida discussed many educational issues.  Distance education has many implications for both preservice and in-service teachers.   Throughout the seven-week discussion over the Internet and on a synchronous newsgroup, the students read the case study of “Julia:” the first year teacher who had planned a technology project with the Bill of Rights.  These students talked through Julia’s frustrations at the same time that they were dealing with the advantages and challenges that technology presented.  For the purposes of this paper, this project was divided into several different foci; the final product is a collaboration of these parts. I focused on using case studies in preservice teacher education.  This growing trend has attracted attention for its effectiveness, and there are several professors in the Curry School of Education who focus their class entirely on the discussion of case studies.   I was most interested in the effects of case studies on preservice teachers’ “situational cognition.”  The case study of “Julia” and the Bill of Rights gave us the issues to discuss, but the entire experience was also a case study in itself. 

Literature Review
In the literature on case studies in preservice teacher education, Bliss and Mazur (1996) discuss how case studies allow teachers to reflect on their own teaching, and on what they want to focus in their professional development.  Case studies encourage preservice and veteran teachers to take more risks in their teaching, because they have thought through the consequences of their actions and other educational issues.  The experiences of using case studies fosters more critical self-reflection in classroom decisions.  Cooper (1995) compiled a collection of case studies for preservice educators because they are so effective for fostering critical thinking skills and problem solving within the context of the classroom.  For example, a subject of one case study was a young white female teacher, who was teaching her first year in a predominantly black school.  She was confronted with a challenge when her school organized a pep rally so that the students could sing the black national anthem.  This young teacher felt ostracized and separated from her students, but also understood the importance of identifying with other African-Americans in celebration of their race.  The case study allowed for discussion about race, and making school relevant for everyone, not just the teachers.  More importantly, the case studies can bridge the gap between educational theory and practice, making methodology classes more relevant.  Shulman (1992) hails case studies for their effectiveness is fine-tuning “situational cognition.”  Shulman defines situational cognition as the ability to predict actions, and consequences that may arise in certain situations.  These case studies provide the context in which students can use their theoretical pedagogy to solve a problem or issue in education.

Methodology
 Data was gathered through the lens of action research: actively seeking out information about issues or problems and seeking a solution, through personal interviews and observations (Becoming Critical, Falmer Press, 1986).   The purpose in collecting this data was to identify the specific phenomenon of case-study use in preservice teacher education, and how that translated into improving the ability of unseasoned teachers to reflect when confronted with a pressing issue. 
I interviewed four three students over email and one face-to-face, and two professors directly, and one via email.  I directly observed the students who were evaluating cases on a regular basis, and can judge the effectiveness of this approach objectively for my own research.  Through direct observation and interaction, I obtained a first-hand perspective regarding how the case studies improve teachers’ ability to work through the problems of education. There is a push to use case studies in teacher education because they introduce scenarios where students of teaching can apply the pedagogical knowledge they have learned in their methods classes to real problems that arise, without sacrificing student time or teacher confidence. 

Interview Protocol
In this study, I interviewed two Curry School of Education professors who consistently use case studies in their courses (see appendix 1). Dr. James Kauffman is a professor of Special Education, and used cases studies in his Behavior Management course. These cases allow pre-service special and general educators to work through situations with anti-social students. I also observed in Dr. Kauffman’s class when pre-service teachers work through cases and create possible solutions involving problem students.  Dr. Robert McNergney used case studies in an elementary teacher education class where students worked through the range of educational issues that teachers confront.  
Finally, I interviewed elementary pre-service teachers (Michelle Hebert, Cortney Kvancz, Michael Dombrow, and Chris Kim) who participated in CaseNet and also videoconferencing where they collaboratively solved hypothetical problems in the elementary classroom (see appendix 2). These cases were posted on the Internet; several colleges and school districts participated in this program.  The students worked in teams to analyze a variety of cases, which, again, addressed issues pertinent to teaching as a profession.  I was interested in discovering their rationale for using case studies, how cases were created to be most effective, and also how students responded to the cases. In keeping with action research and qualitative analysis of data, I identified the issue facing them as bridging the gap between formal pedagogy and practical implementation.  These interviews and observations gave me the opportunity to gauge the students’ and professors’ understanding about the effectiveness of using case studies in pre-service teacher education.  
I also interviewed professors outside of the Curry School that also used case studies to understand the perspective from a pre-professional standpoint. Professor Rich DeMong, used case studies in the McIntyre School of Commerce to allow students the opportunity to handle finances and to affect their professional development and their “situational cognition.”
 I then complied a list of responses that detail why case studies are used in methods and pre-professional courses, as well as the methodology of creating an effective case study.  I collected responses from pre-service teachers that outline how the case studies were effective or ineffective in their own professional development.

Findings
 There are several objectives that all three of the professor laid out in similar terms; these rationales for using case studies in their instruction. Through more formal research, I found that case studies have been quite effective in improving teachers’ “situational cognition” and allowed the students to be involved in the “hands-on” problem solving (Shulman 1992).  Although the students examined the case studies in methods classes, they were able to generalize the outcomes and solutions over a range of situations.  Consequently, the students who had been exposed to case studies echoed those same four strands when they pointed to the effectiveness of discussing case studies in their own preservice education. The four objectives for including case studies are: the introduction of issues or dilemmas, introduction of different perspectives, bridging the gap between theory and practice, and collaboration between preservice teachers and classroom teachers.  

I.  Issues/Problems/Dilemmas
Both students and professors alike stressed the importance of case studies to merely expose preservice professionals to the problems that they might encounter in the classroom, or the working world.  The case studies in CaseNET and other methods classes presented such issues as behavior management, technology inequity, grading issues, ethical dilemmas, and copyright laws. These issues are often overlooked in the pedagogy of teaching, but cases allow them to be introduced and  discussed.  In addition, solutions were offered for dealing with these educational issues.  "Student teaching is good, but you don't get confronted with the range of issues so it's nice to have a little bit of experience with what could happen.  So when you get into the classroom, you're not shocked."  Most of all, the case studies sought to raise awareness of the wealth of issues that all teachers confront.  As one student said, "I think the benefit of case studies is that they make me think about issues before they even happen."
II.  Perspectives
 Another benefit in reading and discussing case studies is the insight students gained from looking at situations from different perspectives.    "Most cases contain more than one issue, and as they are analyzed, they often present more than one perspective, appropriate action and consequence."  Students asserted that examining cases collaboratively with their peers, and with the facilitation of the professors, helped them devise solutions they may not have thought of on their own.  "Gaining the experience of considering different individual's perspectives and who might be affected by my classroom actions, will broaden my insight.  Similarly, pre-professional students were more able to think "outside of the box" as they looked at all the possible solutions instead of the most obvious. In the CaseNET example, students were connected to other educators around the country.  This also helped them gain perspective regarding the issues that were presented in the case.  

III.  Bridging the Gap
 The most pervasive effect of the case studies in pre-professional education was bridging the gap between the theoretical perspective of the classroom, and the practice of the real world.  These two aspects of learning and implementation are often difficult to reconcile, but case studies present the real world situations in a medium that allows for more time and flexibility. However, the students were always expected to create solutions for the problems, as if they were in a classroom, or a real world setting.  "Being able to read about these issues and to reflect on them outside the context of a demanding classroom environment in which the teacher must make split-second decisions, makes me feel prepared to address such issues before they even happen."  Many of the students interviewed were preparing to enter the world of teaching within a few months, and examining case studies added to their confidence in being able to effectively deal with classroom issues.  "We have the fortune to see simulated cases and are given the flexibility to suggest adjustments or define an entirely different course."   The students hailed the case studies as "real life applications" without the real life consequences.    Curry School Professor Robert McNergney, instructor in the CaseNET class, explained that cases help students to work on their 
"problem-solving skills in the context of a real problem instead of hypothetically.  The students are applying rather than acquiring knowledge of how to react in certain situations.  They learn to think more like teachers because it's real life and not just like a task."                                                                  

Case studies are "slices of life"  between the often theoretical pedagogy from methods courses  and the practicality of the classroom, and afforded students the opportunity to think through the choices made in the cases.

IV.  Collaboration
 The majority of classes that used case studies in pre-professional curriculums also employed the group dynamic to encourage teamwork, and foster the greatest possibility for a range of solutions.  Commerce Professor Rich DeMong highlighted teamwork as the “most realistic representation of the working world, because people work together in teams to solve problems, and this is what will prepare them for that."   Similarly, preservice teachers were encouraged by the collaboration that helped solve classroom problems more effectively.  "The strength of using a case study is that a number of people can 'work' on it together to discuss what's going on."  Teachers are charged with the task of preparing students for the "real world," and these preservice teachers showed that they could model these skills of teamwork and collaboration.  "There is a cooperative setting because teachers get to work together [ in CaseNET].  We are connected through technology, schools all over the world as well as local ideas come out through the videoconferencing and discussions.  We get perspectives from all over the world, and from experienced teachers in the classroom." 
Summary
 Case studies are an effective way to expose pre-service educators to the issues that they will encounter in their own classrooms.  They afford the opportunity to learn from and reflect on  classroom situations without the stress or demands of the real classroom.  The cases introduce issues such as behavior management and dealing with parents, so that beginning teachers will have some experience in those situations. By having this experience and having an anticipated response, the teachers will improve their “situational cognition” because they know what to expect.  Examining case studies allows students to see situations from different perspectives, and the brainstorming process allows solutions to expand.  Pre-service teachers found themselves looking at a range of solutions instead of limiting themselves to the more obvious ones.  Preservice teachers were pleased with the way that case studies helped them bridge the gap between the "art of teaching" and the reality they would encounter in the classroom.  They were no longer learning in a vacuum, but applying the knowledge they had accumulated through their methods courses.  
Technology also represents an exciting  trend in education today.  The students in the social studies methods classes and the CaseNET used videoconferencing as a medium to share ideas and discussion.  Most of the students agreed that the interface of the Internet or the videoconferencing screens made the discussion of case studies more interactive.  In fact, one class drew parallels from the technology case study they were discussing, and the troubles they were experiencing with the technology themselves; they felt as though they were living the case study.   Using technology with content is a powerful motivator for students, and this could also be applied to preservice teacher education.  Finally, examining case studies through class discussions, and more broadly through videoconferencing, allows pre-service teachers to collaborate to find effective solutions to educational problems, and also to build communication.  This aspect of using case studies strengthens the profession and the teaching community.
 Case studies should continue to be an integral part of teacher education, because they build professional development, and strengthen the profession.  Additionally, they could be used in teacher in-services to promote consistency across schools and school districts in dealing with issues such as parents, and standards of learning.  Case studies encourage the participants to reflect on the implications and the consequences of their choices, and this would also buttress the profession of teaching.  Finally, the growing trends in distance education afford exciting opportunities for teacher collaboration, especially in the discussion of case studies in education.  Videoconferencing and newsgroups can open lines of communication between teachers across the globe, and solutions and perspectives can be shared in a whole new way.  This would truly be making history!